On September 8, 2020 and March 11, 2021, in Armstrong v. Newsom, 94-2304 (N.D. Cal.), Judge Claudia Wilken issued two orders intended to stop officers in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) from abusing and discriminating against people with disabilities.  On February 2, 2023, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed these orders almost in their entirety, and affirmed CDCR’s obligation to hold prison staff accountable for ongoing discrimination, abuse, and retaliation against incarcerated people with disabilities. 

Judge Wilken’s orders found that systemic abuses against incarcerated people with disabilities at six prisons—R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility (San Diego, CA), CSP – Los Angeles County (Lancaster, CA), CSP – Corcoran (Corcoran, CA), Kern Valley State Prison (Delano, CA), Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (Corcoran, CA), and California Institution for Women (Corona, CA)—violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and prior court orders.  As a remedy, the Court required CDCR to develop plans to install security cameras and use body worn-cameras (BWCs), reform the staff investigation and disciplinary process, and increase supervisory staffing on all yards.  BWCs and fixed security cameras are now operational and the additional sergeants have been staffed at all six prisons.  The Court also appointed an expert to oversee implementation of the mandated reforms.  Armstrong v. Newsom, 484 F. Supp. 3d 808 (N.D. Cal. 2020); Armstrong v. Newsom, 2021 WL 933106 (N.D. Cal. 2021). 

In March 2022, after eighteen months of negotiations with CDCR and the Court ruling in Plaintiffs’ favor on two sets of objections to CDCR’s proposal, CDCR finalized the remedial plans to comply with the Court’s orders.  As part of the remedial plans, CDCR must overhaul its staff misconduct investigation and discipline process to better hold staff accountable for violating the rights of incarcerated people with disabilities.  These reforms began to be implemented at the six prisons in 2022. 

The Ninth Circuit’s February 2023 opinion affirmed almost all of the remedies in the district court’s orders.  The court vacated only two remedies—additional staff and reforms to pepper-spray policies—and did so only at five of the six prisons addressed in the orders on appeal.  Of note, CDCR has already implemented and embraced both of those remedies at the five impacted prisons.

CDCR must also produce to us and to the Court Expert staff misconduct investigation files so that we can monitor if CDCR is complying with the remedial plans and if the changes to the system will result in increased transparency and accountability.  Plaintiffs’ counsel will post redacted versions of our monitoring reports on our website. 

In addition, in response to our litigation, CDCR has plans to install fixed surveillance cameras at all of its prisons and has begun implementing body-worn cameras at four additional prisons (California Correctional Women’s Facility (Chowchilla), CSP – Sacramento (Folsom), Salinas Valley State Prison (Soledad), California Correctional Institution (Tehachapi).

Plaintiffs’ counsel and the Court’s expert are charged with monitoring Court Orders at six prisons aimed at remedying failures to hold staff accountable for misconduct.  Each quarter Plaintiffs review a sample of staff complaint investigations from the six prisons to determine (1) if these investigations are complete and unbiased, (2) if appropriate and consistent discipline is being imposed, and (3) if staff are complying with body-worn camera policies.  Thus far, we have reviewed hundreds of cases from all six prisons. The reports below summarize our findings.  Unfortunately, we conclude that failures with investigations and accountability persist.  We have identified investigators who failed to retain and review available video footage which is essential to the outcome of an investigation.  We have also identified other evidence of poor decision making in investigations, such as failing to interview or even identify the subject of the allegation.  These failures occur at all levels including local prison investigations and Office of Internal Affairs investigations.  Where misconduct did occur, we have identified cases where Wardens continue to fail to sustain findings of misconduct or to impose appropriate discipline.  More often than not, officers are issued some type of corrective action such as training or a Letter of Instruction, rather than discipline, even in cases involving violent and unnecessary uses of force.  We are committed to reporting on problems with CDCR’s staff complaint process until full compliance with court ordered requirements for conducting complete and unbiased investigations is achieved.   

Plaintiffs Review of CDCR Accountability System, 02-09-24, redacted

Plaintiffs Review of CDCR Accountability System, 11-6-23, redacted 

Plaintiffs Review of CDCR Accountability System, 08-11-23, redacted

Plaintiffs Review of CDCR Accountability System, 05-12-23, redacted 

Plaintiffs Review of CDCR Accountability System, 02-10-23, redacted

Plaintiffs Review of Investigation and Discipline Documents from RJD, SATF, COR, KVSP, 11-04-22, redacted

Plaintiffs Review of Investigation and Discipline Documents from LAC, RJD, CIW, COR, KVSP, 09-02-22, redacted

 

 

 

In November 2021, Judge Claudia Wilken issued an order in the Armstrong case requiring the Court Expert to investigate misconduct against people with disabilities incarcerated at Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison – Corcoran (SATF).  After a year-long investigation, the Court Expert issued a report on December 20, 2022 finding that Armstrong class members at SATF are living “diminished and needlessly difficult lives….[and] face harsher prison conditions, and thus greater punishment, than their peers.”  The parties then filed briefs about the steps Defendants must take to remedy ADA violations at SATF.  On February 24, 2023, Judge Wilken issued an order requiring Defendants to remedy the ADA violations at SATF and ordering the Court Expert to provide a further report in six months. 

Order re Court Expert’s Report re Treatment of People with Diabilities at SATF, 02-24-23

Order re Allegations of Mistreatment of Armstrong Class Members at SATF, 11-08-21

Court Expert’s Report Regarding Treatment of People with Disabilities at Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (SATF), 12-20-22