California bans inmates rights lawyer from prisons

John A. Imani, right, joins about 75 demonstrators on July 8 in support of Pelican Bay inmates who are on a hunger strike in protest of conditions at state prisons.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

California corrections officials have barred a prominent legal advocate from visiting prison inmates, saying they are investigating unspecified threats created by one of her volunteers.

Marilyn McMahon, executive director of California Prison Focus, on Wednesday said she was sent a fax informing her that her access to inmates participating in a statewide hunger strike — as well as inmates anywhere else in the state — has been cut off. In addition to advocating on behalf of inmates, McMahon is a member of the mediation team assembled to work as a go-between state corrections officials and protest leaders.

The letter, bearing Tuesday’s date and the signature of corrections Undersecretary Martin Hoshino, cites a pending investigation into an unspecified “threat” created by a retired paralegal who worked as a volunteer for McMahon and had last visited Pelican Bay inmates in May.

In a copy of the letter provided to The Times, a check mark appears next to the words “The person’s presence in the institution/facility presents a serious threat to security.” No details are provided.

California corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said late Wednesday that she was unaware of the action against McMahon and had no comment. Thornton said 2,300 inmates in 15 prisons continued to refuse state meals Wednesday, the 10th day of the protest.


“It is an outrage,” said McMahon, whose organization advocates for an end to solitary confinement in California and helps inmates challenge the gang determinations that land them in indefinite isolation. She asserted that the exclusion is an attempt to sever communication lines between protesting prisoners and their advocates on the outside.

“I am a target because I do help them communicate with the outside world,” McMahon said. “We are a way of prisoners breaking through the black box.”

McMahon and another civil rights attorney were also banned from prisons during the inmate hunger strikes of 2011. Those bans were lifted months later with no findings of wrongdoing.


California moves prison protest leaders

The mentally ill are filling jails

Ex-goverors join Brown in fighting prison releases

On Twitter: @paigestjohn