Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Located on 942 acres in Kings County, Corcoran State Prison is built on what was once Tulare Lake, home of the Tachi Indians. It was the first California prison with a separate facility built exclusively to house Security Housing Unit (SHU) inmates. Nearly 21% of inmates serving indeterminate SHU terms are validated STG (security threat group) members and associates.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Brent Shelton, who is legally blind from a shotgun blast incident, is housed inside a SHU cage during yard time at Corcoran State Prison. Shelton, 41, said "solitary" is the only way to describe it. "You're living in cages," he said. "Dog cages." He's serving a life sentence for armed robbery and was placed in the SHU because of his alleged affiliation with the Mexican Mafia.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Some inmates are placed in cages with cellmates, but most are alone. One passes the time by pacing back and forth. Another does push-ups with the help of two prosthetic legs. Two men in adjacent cages discuss the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. Under state law, an inmate enters the SHU by committing a serious or violent offense while in prison. That includes murder, attempted murder, drug trafficking, arson and/or extortion.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Fifty-year-old Charles Moore, left, pictured in an outdoor cell, has spent 10 years in the SHU at Corcoran State Prison. He is pictured during yard time, which SHU prisoners receive a minimum of 10 hours a week. Moore is considered a member of the Black Guerrilla Family gang and is awaiting a transfer to another prison because of new rules.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Inmates found guilty of specified offenses -- including murder, attempted murder, drug trafficking, arson and/or extortion -- serve in determinate terms in the SHU. The prison says the maximum term is 60 months. The large metal cages are lined up in two rows under the blistering Central Valley sun just outside the prison walls. For maximum-security inmates, this is what counts as outdoor space.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

A guard checks on inmates serving time in the SHU at Corcoran State Prison. The inmates in the Security Housing Unit are considered some of the most dangerous in California's prison system. Some are separated from the general population because of violent infractions such as attacking a guard; others are deemed members of prison gangs.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

The majority of inmates in Corcoran State Prison facilities 4A and 4B are SHU inmates. The 4A facility has 1,024 beds and includes the Protective Housing Unit and a unit for prison gang members and associates wishing to drop out of their gang. The 4B facility has 1,005 beds and houses validated gang members and associates. It also houses inmates in the Disability Placement Program and the Developmentally Disabled Program.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Richard Heyer, 54, is a Corcoran State Prison inmate and lives in the SHU.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

A prison guard shows the artwork of an inmate serving two life sentences after being tried as a minor. The inmate is serving his term in the SHU at Corcoran State Prison.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

A "step-down program" enables an inmate serving an indeterminate SHU term to earn his way back to the general prison population or the sensitive-needs yard. Officials say gangs remain strong at Corcoran State Prison, with the Mexican Mafia being the largest. Several inmates refused to be interviewed, politely waving off reporters or covering their faces. "Talk to our representatives," one said inside the SHU.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

The United Nations' special investigator on torture, Juan Mendez, asked the U.S. State Department for access to California prisons five months ago, but the request hasn't been granted. A spokeswoman for the State Department, Laura Seal, said officials were open to discussing a visit but could not explain the delay. Mendez said he wanted to review the prisons after receiving petitions from inmates and their advocates alleging that the state's widespread use of indefinite solitary confinement amounted to torture.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

An empty cell in the SHU at Corcoran State Prison. Inmate leaders began a hunger strike this year to protest conditions in the secured units. About 800 inmates at Corcoran participated.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Lt. Anthony Baer, (not pictured), a spokesman at Corcoran State Prison, said the SHU helps officers keep tabs on gang activity and tamp down violence. "These are inmates who have proven they cannot play well with others," he said. However, most of the inmates at the Corcoran SHU are not there because of a specific infraction. They were "validated" as a member of a prison gang and indefinitely removed from the general population.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Under new prison rules, more evidence is required before an inmate can be considered a gang member. The cases of inmates already in SHUs are being reviewed, allowing some to be returned to the general population. Seventy-seven cases at Corcoran State Prison have been reviewed under the new rules, and the majority of inmates in those cases have been transferred to other prisons and returned to the general population.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Prisoners lie on the ground as guards respond to a security alarm during yard time for the general population at Corcoran State Prison.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Cedric Scott, 48, was deemed a member of the Black Guerrilla Family more than a decade ago and placed in the SHU. He denies having anything to do with the gang and says he only wound up there because his name appeared on another inmate's list. For years, the primary way to return to the general population was to "debrief," meaning telling law enforcement about gang activity. Scott, who is serving a life sentence for murder, said that was impossible. "How can I debrief something when I'm not even briefed?" he said.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Corcoran State Prison, which received its first inmates in 1988, was the first prison in California with an SHU. Inmates rarely leave their cells except to be escorted, handcuffed, to outdoor cages for exercise several times a week.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

A display of confiscated "shanks," handmade weapons made out of materials inmates received in prison, was shown to members of the the media by guards at Corcoran State Prison.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

The Security Housing Units across the state have been the focus of external scrutiny and prison protests. A two-month-long hunger strike that involved thousands of inmates ended in early September, and legislative hearings on the matter are scheduled. A United Nations investigator is also seeking access to the prisons to review conditions in the isolation units.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

More galleries on Framework

return to gallery

The Security Housing Unit at Corcoran State Prison

Dodgers' baseball promotion leads to forfeit

Aug. 10, 1995: Baseballs given away during a Los Angeles Dodgers promotion are tossed onto the field by upset fans during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Times staff...   View Post»

   

The Security Housing Unit at Corcoran State Prison

Reader photos: Best of Southern California moments for April 2013

We hit the ground running in April's best of Southern California Moments, with Michael Ares' image of a child running past a mural in Venice. The mural, position and pose of the...   View Post»

   

A marathon as a full-time caregiver

A marathon as a full-time caregiver

Sunday's Los Angeles Marathon will be runner John Creel's 60th. He has run at least one marathon in each of the 50 states. More impressive, he has run many of those marathons...   View Post»

   

The Security Housing Unit at Corcoran State Prison

Pictures in the News | Feb. 17, 2012

Friday's Pictures in the News begins in Austria, where The 56th Vienna Opera ball opened with a mix of culture, glamour and politics. Former James Bond star Roger Moore, 84, and...   View Post»

The Security Housing Unit at Corcoran State Prison

Photographs by Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles Times; story by Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times

CORCORAN, Calif. — The large metal cages are lined up in two rows under the blistering Central Valley sun just outside the prison walls. For maximum security inmates here, this is what counts as outdoor space.

Some inmates are placed in the cages with cellmates, but most are alone. One passes the time by pacing back and forth. Another does push-ups with the help of two prosthetic legs. Two men in adjacent cages discuss the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers.

The inmates in this part of Corcoran State Prison — known as the Security Housing Unit, or SHU — are considered some of the most dangerous in California’s prison system. Some are separated from the general population because of violent infractions such as attacking a guard; others are deemed members of prison gangs.

Reporters and photographers visited Oct. 1, 2013, as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation opened the doors to some of its most controversial facilities in the midst of heightened concern over prison conditions. To continue story click here.

No comments yet

Add a comment or a question.

If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate. Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.

Required

Required, will not be published