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State sued for prison records breach

By Nicholas Grube

Triplicate staff writer

Twenty current and former employees – many of them correctional officers – are suing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the state for a major security breach in which inmates obtained employee personnel files.

Data in those records included confidential information about correctional officers, prison staff and their families, including social security numbers, drivers license numbers and home addresses. Inmates stole the documents while working in a prison warehouse that stored the sensitive materials. In total, inmates had the personnel records of 64 Pelican Bay employees.

"There's extreme concern, especially in the hands of inmates" said Darren McElfresh, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Pelican Bay, he said, houses some of the worst criminals in California, if not the entire United States.

The prison, located north of Crescent City, is home to nearly 3,500 inmates, 80 percent of whom are serving life in prison. The facility is designed to hold disruptive inmates who could not safely assimilate in other prison facilities, such as validated prison gang members.

"You're giving them access to your private information here," McElfresh said. "Do you think nothing is going to happen when you give them access?"

Aside from the financial woes that come with identity theft, McElfresh said the correctional officers have to worry about inmates "making book," or gathering personal information that could be used against them in the future. "All sorts of blackmail potentials open up," he said. "It's just staggering all the things that could happen.

"These guys walk around with eyes in the back of their heads as is. And now they're really swiveling their heads because now these people (the inmates) know where they live and have access to their accounts."

Spokesmen from the Corrections Department and from Pelican Bay State Prison could not comment on the litigation filings because they are pending cases.

"It's a top priority for us to make sure that the staff's personnel information is safeguarded," Corrections Department Spokesman Seth Unger said. "Periodically, there is a security breach ... We always respond as fast as we can anytime personnel information is compromised."

The state has 30 days to respond to the complaints, which were filed in Del Norte County Superior Court on Wednesday. Complaints are for damages and demand for a jury trial for the violation of the Information Practices Act, negligence and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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