A lawsuit brought by people incarcerated in California’s prison system alleges harrowing conditions that include mice and maggots falling from the ceiling in prison cafeterias, according to NBC.
The lawsuit also alleges that holes in the ceiling of state prisons allow rain and bird excrement into the buildings, leading to a build up of mold.
Mice twice fell onto the dining table and scurried into a dishwashing area in April 2018, testified inmate Marvin Dominguez, who eats twice a day in the dining hall at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran. Then a squirmy maggot dropped onto his food tray in October.
A guard advised him to sit at a different table, he said. [...]
Inmate Robert Escareno, who filed the California lawsuit, described in court how bird feces paint the dining room wall. He claims the mold and other contaminants aggravate his allergies.
California says it will spend $260 million over a period of four years to fix some of the problems in state prisons, but the total cost of repairs that are needed is estimated to be $1 billion. The lawsuit filed by inmates asks the state to take faster action.
In response to the allegations about conditions, state officials blamed incarcerated people for storing homemade alcohol and food in the roof. But advocates for the inmates say the disrepair is a systemic problem.
“Roofs are failing all over the place,” Don Specter, who is director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, and is representing Escareno. “They acknowledge the need of the roofs, [but] they’re not making arrangements so people don’t get hurt in the meantime.”
Roofs are, to put it lightly, pretty essential to keeping any facility functioning. Because of the leaks, electrical systems in these buildings are prone to shorting, and damaging fire alarms and fire suppression systems.
The state has replaced roofs in in eight of the state’s prisons, but there are still 20 left to be fixed. The budget laid out by Gov. Gavin Newsom only includes enough money to fix two of them.
There’s little hope that the issue will be quickly resolved. Kings County Superior Court Judge Donna Tarter joked recently that the problem “is not getting fixed probably in our lifetime.”
This deadlock has led prisons to look for alternate solutions, like feeding incarcerated people in their dormitories.
Battles over mistreatment of incarcerated people in California have raged for years. In 2013, over 29,000 inmates across the state went on hunger strike to protest inhumane use of solitary confinement.
In 2009, concerns about overcrowding in the state’s system had become so severe that a panel of federal judges instituted a cap on the number of people who could be incarcerated in the state. They set the cap at 137.5 percent of the system’s “designed capacity.” Thanks to reforms since then, California has generally managed to keep the number of incarcerated people under the cap. The repairs needed to fix prisons in the state could change that.
“The cushion isn’t as robust as we would like,” Corrections Secretary Ralph Diaz told state legislators in March.
California isn’t the only state that are facing criticism for their treatment of incarcerated people. This week, the Justice Department released a report describing unconstitutional conditions in Alabama prisons, which they described as “a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive.” Gruesome photos of some of the violence in the prisons were leaked to the press.
No one wants to spend money on prisons when there are so many other problems that need money to be solved, one Alabama politician said earlier this week. But inmates in California just want to be able to eat without bird shit poisoning their food.
“We all know that prison is not supposed to be comfortable,” Escareno, who filed the lawsuit in California, told a judge recently. “But at the same time it’s not designed for me to have to go and eat in a place where I’m feet away from what I know to be bird feces.”