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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Officials open Security Housing Unit at Corcoran prison to reporters

LA TimesThe large metal cages are lined up in two rows under the blistering Central Valley sun just outside the prison walls. For maximum security inmates here, this is what counts as outdoor space.

Some inmates are placed in the cages with cellmates, but most are alone. One passes the time by pacing back and forth. Another does push-ups with the help of two prosthetic legs. Two men in adjacent cages discuss the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers.

The inmates in this part of Corcoran State Prison — known as the Security Housing Unit, or SHU — are considered some of the most dangerous in California's prison system. Some are separated from the general population because of violent infractions like attacking a guard; others are deemed members of prison gangs.

Reporters visited Tuesday as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation opened the doors to some of its most controversial facilities in the midst of heightened concern over prison conditions.

"It's a good thing to be transparent," Corcoran Warden Connie Gipson said.

Another tour will be held Thursday at Pelican Bay State Prison near the Oregon border.

Corcoran, which received its first inmates in 1988, was the first prison in California with an SHU. Inmates rarely leave their cells except to be escorted, handcuffed, to the outdoor cages for exercise several times a week.

The Security Housing Units around the state have been the focus of external scrutiny and prison protests. A two-month-long hunger strike that involved thousands of inmates ended in early September, and legislative hearings are scheduled to begin next week. A United Nations investigator is also seeking access to the prisons to review conditions in the isolation units. continue reading...

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