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Report Assails Conditions at State Prison for Women : Corrections: Drug dealing by inmates and staff, frightful medical care, sexual abuse and crowding are among problems cited by legislative panel.

April 11, 1990|DAN WEIKEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FRONTERA, Calif. — The California Institution for Women, the most overcrowded prison in the state, has been plagued by poor medical care, drug trafficking and charges of sexual assaults by inmates as well as staff members, according to a legislative committee report on prison conditions.

Although improvements were noted at the Frontera correctional facility, the preliminary report released this week called the prison the worst in the state for drug abuse and detailed a host of problems ranging from security breakdowns to mistreatment of pregnant inmates.

The report stated that one pregnant prisoner who was bleeding heavily could not get help for at least eight hours. She later delivered prematurely and was not notified for two weeks that her child had died, according to the report.

Investigators said another prisoner suffered a miscarriage and was told by infirmary staff to store her dead fetus in a tissue box in her cell before reporting back with it the next day.

The report by the Joint Legislative Committee on Prison Construction and Operation, chaired by state Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), is the result of an investigation into inmate complaints, allegations by the warden and news stories about prison conditions.

The scathing document describes the women's facility as the state prison with "the worst reputation for drug trafficking" and mentions that a high-ranking correctional officer might be involved.

No details about the officer or the type of wrongdoing were disclosed, and the report only made general reference to allegations of sexual abuse and harassment by inmates and members of the prison staff.

In the commissary, state investigators noted filthy conditions, chronic cockroach infestation, dangerous conditions and constant complaints from inmates about spoiled food.

"There have been some changes out there," said Robert E. Holmes, chief consultant to the legislative committee. "But I think there hasn't been an appreciable drop in complaints about sexual abuse, harassment and drug dealing by staff and inmates."

Officials of the state Department of Corrections say the California Institution for Women, with 2,100 inmates, is the most overcrowded prison in the state. The facility, off California 71 in San Bernardino County, was built for 926 prisoners in 1952.

In responding to the report, Prison Supt. Susan E. Poole said Tuesday, "My intent is to investigate anything that appears improper or illegal. My reputation is that I am a fair and conscientious person. I intend to keep it that way."

Poole primarily blamed the prison's problems on severe overcrowding that has made it a struggle just to make sure there are enough beds for the inmates.

Despite its criticism, the report described Poole as a "a caring person" and said that conditions had improved since she took over the prison. But the findings stated that Poole might not always be fully informed about prison conditions.

The release of the committee's report coincides with the recent escape and capture of Jeanette Lynn Hughes, 36, formerly of Huntington Beach, who was serving a 25-year-to-life sentence at the women's prison for murdering her husband. Hughes is fighting her extradition from El Paso, where she was captured last week with Cindy Marie Coglietti, a prison guard accused of helping her escape.

Times staff writers Ted Johnson and Jim Carlton contributed to this story.

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