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Report 99118 Summary - October 1999

Wasco State Prison:

Its Failure to Proactively Address Problems in Critical Equipment, Emergency Procedures, and Staff Vigilance Raises Concerns About Institutional Safety and Security

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The California Department of Corrections (CDC) and the management at Wasco State Prison (Wasco) near Bakersfield have developed many policies and procedures to ensure the safety of Wasco's staff and inmates. However, such policies are essentially useless if not enforced. As several recent incidents demonstrate, Wasco has not followed its own policies that direct management to create an atmosphere of vigilance in which emergency equipment receives sufficient maintenance and staff monitor inmates appropriately. By failing to enforce these policies effectively, Wasco has needlessly endangered both staff and inmates.

Specifically, management at Wasco has not ensured that plant equipment undergoes adequate service and that staff complete high-priority repairs promptly. Because it does not keep its equipment functioning properly, Wasco suffered an electrical failure in April 1999 that caused a total power outage lasting almost seven hours-a problem that Wasco could have prevented had management made certain that staff repaired previously identified flaws in the electrical system. By neglecting priority repairs and scheduled maintenance on critical emergency equipment, Wasco risks the occurrence of significant problems in the future.

In spite of the fact that emergency readiness is a significant part of Wasco's mission, its management has not adequately prepared the prison and its staff for emergency situations that could affect the entire institution. Although Wasco trains staff to handle certain types of emergencies, the power outage revealed that many employees had never received instruction in procedures that they should follow during an emergency of this nature. Moreover, at the time the outage occurred, neither Wasco's management nor the CDC had developed an emergency operations plan which might have aided staff that were overseeing the prison, so employees were instead forced to rely on their own experience. The fact that some of Wasco's emergency supplies were deficient only exacerbated the problems that occurred during the emergency. Furthermore, Wasco's lack of preparedness for the power outage prompts us to question the prison's readiness for infrastructure or equipment malfunctions that might arise from year 2000 (Y2K) problems. We are concerned about the extent and timing of the exercises Wasco intends to use to test the viability of its year 2000 contingency plan.

Finally, even though Wasco's policies and training emphasize the importance of staff remaining constantly alert and vigilant, recent events indicate that staff have become increasingly complacent when supervising inmates. Circumstances also suggest that an absence of managerial oversight or evaluation may be contributing to this lack of vigilance. In particular, staff and management have been lax in protecting confidential information; as a result, inmates recently gained access to documents that listed staff addresses and social security numbers. Without a heightened sense of awareness among prison staff, Wasco has no guarantee that future compromises to security will not occur. Additionally, we question the CDC's policy that allows inmates to use a detailed map of the institution. Although these conditions have not yet caused any serious repercussions, an unnecessarily risky atmosphere will remain until Wasco resolves these problems.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To prepare for the possibility of another emergency, such as the recent power outage, that could affect the entire facility, Wasco should take the following steps:

  • First identify all the high-priority repairs and preventative maintenance that its emergency equipment requires and then develop a staffing plan to eliminate quickly the backlog of repair and maintenance tasks.

  • Develop a specific plan for such institution-wide emergencies as power outages and include this plan as a supplement to its emergency operations procedures.

  • Train and drill employees to make certain they understand procedures and are prepared to act appropriately during an institution-wide emergency.
To ensure its readiness for possible infrastructure or equipment problems related to year 2000 (Y2K) computer errors, Wasco should do the following:
  • Conduct a partial or full-scale simulation of a Y2K emergency in order to test the prison's Y2K contingency plan.

  • Perform as soon as possible a drill that simulates loss of power so that management can evaluate the feasibility of Wasco's contingency plan and allow adequate time to correct any deficiencies or to adjust the plan.

  • Complete the repair and testing of its systems that rely on microprocessor chips, such as Wasco's thermostats and electronic controls for inmate cell doors, to make sure the systems comply with the CDC's year 2000 requirements.

  • Make certain that supplies of emergency equipment are adequate and that the equipment is fully functional.
To safeguard prison staff, Wasco's supervisors and managers need to cultivate an atmosphere of vigilance by setting examples with their own behavior and by closely monitoring staff interactions with inmates. When they observe staff displaying lax behavior while they are working with inmates, managers need to intervene promptly.

To prevent future problems concerning the security of confidential information, Wasco needs to take these actions:

  • Incorporate into its procedure manuals management's recent instructions about the storage and duplication of sensitive data.

  • Require staff to record in control logs any documents scheduled for shredding.
In addition, the CDC should require each correctional facility to develop a plan for handling institution-wide emergencies, such as power failures, and to include this plan in its emergency operations manual. The CDC should also eliminate the unnecessary risk associated with inmates access to detailed plans and maps of its institutions by amending the policy that allows such access.

AGENCY COMMENTS

Both Wasco State Prison and the California Department of Corrections concurred with our findings and recommendations and are taking corrective actions.















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