Prison Scandal at Coalinga




AndersonDenizens of the prison operated by the California Department of Mental Health (DMH) in Coalinga, California are challenging the conditions of their confinement. As much as 75% of the population has been on strike for two months, refusing to cooperate with a compulsory program of mind control. A number of the inmates participated in a hunger strike, to call attention to conditions at this unit of the American gulag.

The strike came to public attention through a press release issued jointly by detainees and the support group Friends and Families of California Detainees.  It was also highlighted in an evening news broadcast from Pacifica Radio station KPFA on August 24, 2007 ( audio available here, and transcript here ).

Ostensibly (and officially), these men are “civil detainees” and Coalinga, opened in 2005 as an “example” of a “state-of-the-art forensic facility,” is a “hospital,” not a prison.  Ostensibly, the detainees are undergoing “medical treatment” for “mental illnesses.”  Although they completed their sentences in California’s state prisons for “sex crimes,” they were not released.  Instead, they have been labeled as “sexually violent predators” and confined indefinitely.  Critics have charged that the controversial SVP program, instituted in 1998, is based on public fear instead of science, and that the hospital functions essentially as ex post facto imprisonment, or an unconstitutional extension of detainees’ prison sentences imposed after their time has been served.

In the KPFA report, Allan Marshall, director of Friends and Families of California Detainees, explained: “The term ‘sexually violent predator’ has unfortunately come into some popularity in this country and has come to mean something quite different from what any reasonable person would expect sexually violent would mean. Factors such as the age of the victim, the number of the victims and whether they are related or not. Those are factors which they take into consideration in calling someone sexually violent -- not at all what we would typically think of [as] violent. So they have sort of redefined terms which I believe is a means to inflame public opinion, and I think that has resulted in very Draconian, citizen based demand for further punishment of sex offenders.”

In their press release, Coalinga detainees charge the hospital administration with a wide range of abuses and raise the concern that the opacity of the system may also hide extensive corruption.  Inmates claim they are subjected to extremely restrictive and arbitrary rules and procedures, poorly cared for by insufficient medical staff, inadequately fed and not allowed to see beyond the hospital walls.Coalinga

A particular point of concern is the coercive program of collective interrogation and conditioning, passed off by administrators as “treatment.”  A premise of psychiatric practice is that a patient must be willingly engaged in a therapeutic project – a prerequisite which the SVP program fails to meet by its very nature.

At the same time, the periodic assessments that are supposed to be performed to determine whether an inmate is eligible for confinement seem to be missing in action: “Our number one issue is the assessments which they have never done on any of us. I’ve been here at this hospital for eleven months and I’ve never seen a psychiatrist. They’ve never done an evaluation to determine where I’m at or what I need for treatment or what’s necessary for me to be released or any of that stuff” says inmate Michael St. Martin in the KPFA report.

The DMH has had difficulty staffing the program.   High staff turnover rates and a dearth of licensed psychologists and medical staff have been cited by the detainees as ongoing issues at the prison.  According to St. Martin, “they don’t have any staff here. They had 11 psychologists. They’re now down to 8 psychologists because three just left. Of those 8 psychologists, only four of them are licensed so they only have 4 licensed clinicians. They have 3 psychiatrists here at the hospital for about 700 people and those psychiatrists have been brought in from India. The second thing is that we have this huge, huge deficit of doctors here -- medical doctors.”

Inmates in this California unit of the American gulag have expressed concern that the Coalinga program, rather than being therapeutic or rehabilitative, is actually designed to collect information and facilitate biased staff “evaluations” slanted to keep them confined forever.  Critics are also concerned that the commitments may not be based upon an inmate’s actions so much as his expressed beliefs.

The hospital’s founding director, Walter Thomas Voss, had no credentials in the fields of psychology, psychiatry or medicine.  According to the press release announcing his appointment in 2002, Voss was a Navy veteran with a BA degree from the University of Phoenix and 25 years of experience as an administrator of medical facilities within the California Department of Corrections -- facilities which have received extensive press coverage for their shockingly inadequate standard of care.  Voss has since resigned and his replacement has also resigned.

Updates on the strike and conditions at Coalinga can be obtained by e-mail from   detainees@gmail.com

###

For more info:

Voices of the Gulag:  http://www.voicesofthegulag.org

Coalinga detainees' press release

Transcript of KPFA report

KPFA Evening News broadcast archive:  http://www.kpfa.org/archives/index.php?arch=21970

Voss appointment press release:  http://www.dmh.cahwnet.gov/press/docs/voss_press_release.pdf

DMH Coalinga web site:  http://www.dmh.ca.gov/Services_and_Programs/State_Hospitals/Coalinga/default.asp


Copyright © NAMBLA, 2007. All rights reserved.