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An independent panel examining a notorious California prison found that the use of deadly force was unjustified in the majority of cases and denounced how the prison system investigates violence.

Of the 31 fatal or serious shootings in Corcoran State Prison from 1989 to 1995, 24 were found to be unjustified use of deadly force, the three-member panel concluded in its report released Wednesday.

No one outside the prison system scrutinizes questionable shootings, and "no one is required to render a decision concerning the legality of a shooting," the panel said.

Also, guards at the prison about 40 miles south of Fresno did not understand which situations dictated the use of deadly force, and the policy on use of such force was poorly written, the panel said.

State Corrections Director Cal Terhune said he was troubled by the findings but considered the probe necessary.

Earlier this month, the Corrections Department agreed to pay $825,000 to settle a lawsuit over the death of Preston Tate, who was shot by guards during a fight with two other inmates.

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