Mule Creek State Prison

Summary

Following a complaint and as part of the Grand Jury’s mandatory review of prisons, the Grand Jury reviewed the operation of the prison. The complaint alleged, among other things, that the security procedures for level I inmates were inadequate.

The Grand Jury found the prison well run and maintained. The Grand Jury concluded that the security procedures for level II, III, and IV inmates are adequate. However, the Grand Jury concluded that security procedures for level I inmates need improvement.

Findings

  1. The prison design keeps level I inmates separated from the main population. The level I detention facility houses about 354 inmates.
  2. The level I housing facility contains two separate open bay dormitories. Each bay accommodates up to 200 inmates.
  3. The dormitory control room is flush to the wall. The officer can only see one wall of the dormitory.
  4. Inmate lockers at the foot of beds obscure the officer’s view of inmates in the dormitory.
  5. Six and eight foot chain-link fences surround the level I facilities. There is no security wire on top of the fences.
  6. Inmates leaving or returning to the level I area check in and out by picture I.D.
  7. State vehicles are parked in an unsecured parking lot just outside the level I housing area.
  8. There is a guard tower across the road from this parking area. The tower officer’s main responsibility is constant surveillance of the levels II, III, and IV areas. The tower officer conducts only occasional surveillance of the parking.
  9. There are no patrols assigned to the outer fence to secure level I inmates.
  10. The Department does not staff the front entrance guard booth.
  11. People entering or leaving the prison grounds are not checked.
  12. Officers randomly count level I inmates and document the count at least once each hour.
  13. The Immigration and Naturalizations Service (INS) recently changed its policy regarding illegal immigrants incarcerated in state prison. Under the new policy, the INS deports illegal immigrants upon release from prison.
  14. Most inmate escapes involve level I inmates with INS holds.
  15. The Department of Corrections no longer houses level I inmates with INS holds at Mule Creek.
  16. The administrative staff exhibited a casual attitude regarding the escape potential of level I inmates.

Conclusions

    1. Inmates with INS holds pose a greater escape potential than other level I inmates.
    2. Poor design of the level I barracks control room increases security problems.
    3. The location of inmate lockers in the level I barracks increases security problems.
    4. Parking patrol vehicles in the unsecured lot on the southeast side of the level I barracks poses a security problem.
    5. The lack of vehicle patrol of the perimeter fence pose an escape risk for level I inmates.
    6. Lack of staffing for the entrance guard booth increases security risks.
    7. Failure to check visitors in or out of the prison grounds creates the potential for smuggling contraband into the facility.

Recommendations

1. Request that CalTrans and the county to post signs along state highways and county roads near the prison reading "You are in a prison area. Beware of hitchhikers."

2. Rearrange beds and lockers in the level I dormitory to eliminate hiding places.

3. Construct a control room with a 360-degree unobstructed view of the level I dormitory.

4. Place security wire on all fences in the areas accessible to level I inmates.

5. Park all state vehicles in a locked and secure area when not in use.

6. Staff the front gate guard booth to prevent contraband and unauthorized people from entering or leaving unchallenged.

    1. Institute a full-time outer fence patrol of the prison grounds.

Comment Requirements

The Grand Jury requests that the Warden respond to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court within 60 days from the official filing date of this report as required by Penal Code 933(c).

Authority to Investigate

Penal Code Section 919(b) provides that the Grand Jury shall inquire into the condition and operation of public prisons within the county. As required by Penal Code Section 916, at least twelve Grand Jurors voted to review the operations of Mule Creek Prison.

Method of Review

Members of the Grand Jury conducted interviews with the following people:

Members of the Grand Jury also visited the prison.

Background

Mule Creek Prison is located along Highway 104 in Ione. Opened in June 1987 as one of thirty-three state prisons, it sits on 866 acres. With a staff of 871 and an annual operating budget of 67 million dollars, the prison is Amador County’s largest employer.

 

The prison provides vocational training to inmates. Classes include air conditioning, refrigeration, auto mechanics, computer, dry cleaning, electrical maintenance, graphic arts, landscaping, gardening, meat cutting, cabinetry, welding, and small engine repair. Inmates can earn a high school certificate or GED.

The institution has its own sanitary district for recycling and management of wastewater. They also recycle scrap metal and other salvageable materials from the prison and from other state agencies.

Originally designed for 1700 inmates, the prison currently contains approximately 3500 inmates. It is now more than fifty percent overcrowded. There are 354 level I inmates, 480 level II inmates, 1731 level III inmates, and 985 level IV inmates.

To accommodate overcrowding, Mule Creek converted gymnasiums into dormitories to house level II inmates. Because of overcrowding, Mule Creek plans to triple bunk inmates in the gymnasium and use the dayroom as open bay housing.

As in all state prisons, inmates perform most low-level maintenance work. Only level I inmates work outside the secured areas of the prison.

Most escapes from Mule Creek occur among unsecured level I inmates with INS holds. INS’s policy is to deport all illegal aliens upon their release from prison. Therefore, inmates with an INS hold view escape as an option since they face deportation.

The Amador County Grand Jury made its first visit to Mule Creek State Prison on December 10, 1997. Shortly thereafter, the California Department of Corrections changed the policy on level I inmates. The Department now houses all level I inmates who have or may incur an INS hold at one of three other prisons.

Before the Grand Jury’s first visit, the prison experienced an excessive number of escapes from the level I area. During its first visit, the Grand Jury felt the prison administrative staff exhibited a casual attitude regarding the escape potential of level I inmates. The result of this attitude was lax security procedures. Following the Grand Jury’s second visit, the prison changed its inmate count policy. The new policy requires officers in charge of the crew to count inmates hourly and log every count.

The custodial staff is responsible for the health, welfare, discipline, housing, and education of the inmates. Correctional personnel constantly supervise level I inmates working in the community on public service projects. Working at no cost to government agencies, they perform work that otherwise would not be done.

Supplementary Information

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