In a state of 38 million people, in a prison system of 170,000 inmates, what were the odds that prisoners known as “Psycho” and “Pollo” would end up in Cell 3-216 at California State Prison, Sacramento?
Not great, at least not without some serious manipulation of the system.
Robert Grajeda Canchola, Psycho’s real name, stands accused in Sacramento Superior Court of murdering Julian Joseph “Pollo” Barajas Jr. in the prison cell they shared in 2004.
They never should have been in the same prison, let alone the same cell. Barajas murdered Canchola’s brother after a party in Southern California in 1993.
That they were housed in the same cell is the latest example of how troubled California’s prison system is, as The Bee’s Andy Furillo detailed in chilling account last Sunday of life inside the beast.
A little more than a decade ago, authorities investigated gladiator fights among inmates that seemed to have been staged by correctional officers at Corcoran State Prison. A federal grand jury indicted eight officers; all were acquitted in 2000.
In this instance, prison authorities looked into the circumstances of the transfer. Inmates requested it, and correctional officer Celso P. Zamudio, since retired, approved it, as did a sergeant and a captain.
The staff was cleared of wrongdoing. There are excuses. Conchola and his murdered younger brother had different last names. Conchola and Barajas were not known enemies. But officers clearly made a fatal error, and there ought to be a public accounting.
If the officers were not responsible, then clearly inmates were running at least one aspect of prison life. There needs to be a more detailed investigation into what surely is no coincidence.
When correctional officer Manuel Gonzalez Jr., was stabbed to death at the California Institution for Men in January 2005, the inspector general reviewed the circumstances surrounding the incident.
In March 2005, the inspector general issued a report listing 42 recommendations needed to correct numerous safety and security deficiencies at CIM and in the statewide prison system. We need something similar in this case.
At a minimum, we would hope that the prosecutors and defense attorneys in Conchola’s criminal trial would explore what truly happened.
Not many people will grieve for Julian Joseph Barajas Jr. But the point is not whether he was good or bad.
So long as California houses inmates, the state has an obligation to protect them from one another.