CCWF Conditions Deteriorate: CCWP's Open Letter to Prison Officials - Continued Action Needed
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We write out of grave concern for the deteriorating mental health conditions inside Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) produced by the institution’s inadequate and disorderly response to the escalating COVID crisis. The CDCR’s response to the surge in positive cases in recent weeks is negatively impacting the mental health of people housed in the institution as they struggle to survive the virus itself amidst the chaos produced by ineffective, confused, and arbitrary protocols. There has been at least one suicide attempt witnessed by several people within recent days. Another person has communicated to family members that they are experiencing a mental breakdown and many families and advocates are receiving messages of escalating alarm.
We note the following decisions and actions on the part of the CDCr that are contributing to this untenable situation:
- Frequent relocation across rooms, units, and yards (in some cases, as often as two times in three days) in a haphazard and ill-conceived effort to establish a quarantine which continues to merge those who have tested positive with those who have not; daily, people live in fear of becoming sick and also of being suddenly moved.
- Separation from support networks inside as a result of the massive relocation/dislocation process.
- Separation from property, including legal paperwork, leaving people unprepared to navigate their current cases, resentencing and board hearings.
- Lack of communication about both the institution’s response plan as well as the virus and health recommendations; the circulation of misinformation/disinformation and the withholding of information about COVID and about the prison’s larger plans for safely containing and addressing the viral outbreak exacerbates anxiety and confusion.
- Disruption of sleep due to late night bed moves, including instances where guards unlock rooms in the middle of the night, without lights or without identifying themselves, in order to relocate individuals who have recently tested positive to already established housing relations and unfamiliar rooms;
- Disruption of communication, including obstacles and restricted access for connecting with families and loved ones outside; this includes limited to no access to electricity for charging tablets, poor WiFi connection in multiple units, and limited programming that restricts and constricts access to phones and kiosks;
- Callousness, contempt, and cruelty of guards, who inmates have expressed mock and humiliate them in the midst of the chaos and their efforts to protect and advocate for their own safety; this includes reports of guards ignoring calls for urgent medical support and acting without appropriate superior officers present, thus contributing to the sense that there is little accountability or oversight in the present moment;
- Disruption of social contact, for example as programming is limited and meal time is no longer a common activity but restricted to room by room delivery; this exacerbates the experience of isolation and fear. While recognizing that efforts to curb transmission may necessarily result in less contact, efforts must be made to account for this through outdoor yard time or increased access to communications.
- Delayed access to medical and mental health care;
- Limited access to showers, exercise and/or fresh air, with some inmates only allowed to leave a room of 8 people once every three days.
As evidence of the impact of these policies:
- There has been at least one suicide attempt with several witnesses within recent days.
- Families and advocates have received messages of escalating alarm from other incarcerated people for the mental well-being of several specific individuals yet it is difficult to reach out or connect with these people, or even know if they are receiving any form of care.
- At least one person has communicated to family and advocates that they are experiencing a mental breakdown as a result of the stress, anxiety, and fear produced by the situation above.
- Incarcerated people express a growing agitation and anxiety produced by the sound of approaching carts, not knowing if, when, or how quickly they may be relocated.
- According to one person, the stress and anxiety produced the institution’s response to COVID is worse than the stress and anxiety of facing the death penalty.
Immediate steps must be taken to assess the current conditions outlined above and to revise current policies that are contributing to the deteriorating mental health situation at CCWF.