California prisoners are killed at a rate double the national average—and sex offenders account for a disproportionate number of victims, according to an AP analysis of corrections records. Male sex offenders made up about 15% of the prison population but accounted for nearly 30% of homicide victims. The deaths—23 out of 78 deaths cataloged since 2007—come despite the state's special housing units designed to protect the most vulnerable inmates, including sex offenders, often marked men behind bars. In some cases, they've been killed among the general prison population, and in others, within the special units by violent cellmates. Officials acknowledge that those units, which also house inmates trying to quit gangs, have spawned their own gangs. Corrections officials blamed a rise in the prison homicide rate on an overhaul that keeps lower-level offenders in county lockups, leaving prisons with a higher percentage of sex offenders and violent gang members.
- Overall, 162 California prisoners were killed from 2001 to 2012, or 8 per 100,000 prisoners—double the national average.
- From 2012 to 2013, the most recent years data were available, the rate rose to 15 per 100,000, though corrections officials said deaths dropped last year.
- The report looked at 11 homicide cases closed in the first half of 2014; 10 victims were sensitive-needs inmates. Eight were sex offenders.
"They're going to clean up anybody on that yard with 'hot charges,'" says a former inmate and convicted sex offender. The state had a high-profile inmate homicide in 2003, when John Geoghan, a former Catholic priest whose sex abuse conviction rocked the church, was killed by a fellow inmate. Says the son of a sex offender murdered by his cellmate: "The very day they let him into the yard, he was filing complaints, 'Get me the hell out of here. This is not safe. I'm going to get killed out here.'"