22,000 uses of force

New report finds extremely frequent state violence against people with mental health diagnoses in California prisons

Layne Mullett
Director of Media Relations


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New report finds extremely frequent state violence against people with mental health diagnoses in California prisons

OAKLAND, CA (April 24, 2024) –  A new report finds California jails and prisons use force against prisoners to an extraordinary degree, frequently with militarized equipment such as rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas—and the problem is getting worse. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) documents this hidden practice in a report released today titled 22,000 Uses of Force: Hidden Violence of Militarized Weapons in California Prisons and Jails. AFSC is calling on political leaders in California to take immediate steps to end this state violence.

Prison and jail personnel’s use of militarized equipment is primarily and disproportionately carried out against people with mental illness. AFSC found that in more than half of California prisons, mentally ill people were more than twice as likely to be subject to uses of force than others in prison. Moreover, prison staff are increasing their use of force on people with mental health diagnoses. In the three years of 2021-2023, state prison staff documented 22,315 uses of force against prisoners. Rubber bullets, tear gas, batons, and pepper spray were used against incarcerated people an average of more than 10 times every single day, on a population of just 95,000 people.

“Many people have been rightly indignant at police violence in political protests when images of that brutality are broadcast widely,” said John Lindsay-Poland, co-director of AFSC’s California Healing Justice program, which produced the report. “But the massive use of militarized weaponry against people with mental illness, hidden behind prison walls, cries out for attention and action.”

This violence against people in prisons and jails is hidden from public view and faces little or no accountability, as procedural and legal avenues for incarcerated people who are subject to such violence are extremely limited.

The report analyzes court documents, interviews, published materials, and records of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR), some of which are publicly available and others which were obtained through public records requests. This information was used to create an original map showing exactly where excessive force incidents were clustered, which can be seen at: https://afsc.org/uses-of-force.

While researching the report, AFSC staff found that CDCR and some county sheriffs have yet to publish information on the militarized weaponry they use in prisons and jails, as required by state law AB 481. Some of these agencies also use dangerous “scattershot” munitions against prisoners, with no policies to safeguard civil liberties, which are also required by AB 481. 

AFSC called on California Attorney General Rob Bonta to issue guidance to the state’s prisons and jails to comply with these legal obligations. The group also urged county and state governments to adopt and fund measures to meet the needs of those with mental illness that can prevent crisis and incarceration, a ban on indiscriminate weapons in prisons and jails, and a significant reduction in the CDCR’s budget for militarized equipment.


The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) promotes a world free of violence, inequality, and oppression. Guided by the Quaker belief in the divine light within each person, we nurture the seeds of change and the respect for human life to fundamentally transform our societies and institutions. We work with people and partners worldwide, of all faiths and backgrounds, to meet urgent community needs, challenge injustice, and build peace.