top of page

Prison Abuse in CA “Behavior Modification Units”

From the Sacramento Bee here and here:

“A Bee investigation into the behavior units, including signed affidavits, conversations and correspondence with 18 inmates, has uncovered evidence of racism and cruelty at the High Desert facility. Inmates described hours-long strip-searches in a snow-covered exercise yard. They said correctional officers tried to provoke attacks between inmates, spread human excrement on cell doors and roughed up those who peacefully resisted mistreatment.

Behavior units at other prisons were marked by extreme isolation and deprivation – long periods in a cell without education, social contact, TV or radio, according to inmate complaints and recent visits by The Bee. An inmate of the Salinas Valley State Prison behavior unit won a lawsuit last year to get regular access to the prison yard after five months without exercise, sunlight or fresh air.

The Bee’s investigation also revealed a broad effort by corrections officials to hide the concerns of prisoners and of the department’s own experts. Their final report, released only after The Bee requested it in April, downplayed the abuses.

More than half of the 164 inmates who had passed through the High Desert behavior unit by fall 2007 were black, while African Americans made up about a third of the prison’s total population. Inmates said blacks routinely are targeted.

Guards labeled the behavior modification unit the “black monkey unit,” inmates said. Officers joked, Brannigan said, about how “monkeys” are “always hanging around in there” – a macabre reference to suicide attempts by prisoners of color.”

From the second piece:

“Behavior units were created in six California prisons as a middle ground between the general prison population and security housing that inmates call “the hole.” The behavior units were designed for troublemakers or those who reject cellmates. Since their inception in 2005, well over 1,500 inmates have passed through behavior units, where reduced privileges are supposed to be combined with “life skills” classes.

A Bee investigation found that the units are marked by extreme isolation and deprivation. Most of the classes were halted by budget cuts. Some inmates endure lives devoid of exercise, social interaction, even time outside of the cell – for months on end. In interviews, many seemed confused about the purpose of the units and desperate about their future.

The term “behavior modification” has a controversial past. From the 1950s to the 1970s, behavior modification scientists subjected inmates to sensory-deprivation, pharmaceutical, electroshock and surgical experiments meant to restrain criminal impulses. Some of the tests were conducted at the California Medical Facility prison in Vacaville.

A state research report on the High Desert unit, recently released after being withheld by prison officials for nearly two years, said extreme deprivation had earned that unit a reputation for being harsher than the hole. In interviews with The Bee, many inmates said the same was true across the prison system.”


If there is such a thing as “criminality” it inheres almost entirely in the people who put on uniforms. If you want to stop crime, destroy the system. And again: academics are stupid.

Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook - Black Circle
  • Twitter - Black Circle
  • Instagram
bottom of page