Thursday, August 8, 2013
California prisons' photo ban leaves legacy of blurred identities
News 10 — The snapshots are old and discolored, capturing the faces of men behind bars in California's vast penal system and those destined to enter it. Some are wide-eyed. Others cast hard stares. One inmate, a bony heroin addict dressed in baggy prison denim, stares submissively into the camera.
Dating back as far as the 1980s, the photographs would be unremarkable except for this detail: They were the last pictures of the men seen by their families and even by the prisoners themselves.
For a quarter-century, California outlawed personal photographs for inmates held in isolation in special security housing units. Over the years, the restrictions affected thousands of inmates in four prisons: California State Prison, Corcoran; California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi; California State Prison, Sacramento; and Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City.
While prison officials photographed the inmates for administrative purposes, those images were not passed on to families, making the men all but invisible to relatives living hundreds and even thousands of miles away.
For years, prison staff defended the ban, contending that personal photographs were circulated by prison gang leaders as calling cards, both to advise other members that they're still in charge and to pass on orders. continue reading...