Yet another young woman of color died at the California Institution for Women (CIW) two weeks ago today. Her name is Shaylene Graves and she was 27 years old and 6 weeks away from returning home to her loving son, family and friends. CCWP is working with Shaylene’s family to hold the CA Department of Corrections (CDCR) and CIW responsible for her death. In the wake of Shaylene’s death, the prison continues to mistreat her grieving family and friends and to evade responsibility for failing to save lives.
We are writing to ask for your continued support in demanding an end to the dehumanization, abuse & preventable deaths at CIW.
Help us demand an investigation into the preventable deaths at CIW, including the ongoing suicide crisis. We encourage connecting this push to mobilizations to #SayHerName (gathering tomorrow in Detroit), #BlackLivesMatter, and the #StateOfWomen summit in DC this week (last one for the stretch).
Also, if you have personal connections with members of the CA Senate Rules Committee, the Assembly Speaker, and/or the Governor — please also make a call in honor of Shaylene Graves, Erika Rocha, as well as the many people who have attempted suicide at CIW this year alone, and ask them to support our demand for an investigation. (These 3 gov’t bodies are now the only authorized to order a state prison investigation.)
Thank you so much for your support,
California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP)
Petition for CIW investigation: bit.ly/InvestigateCIW
Petition update re Shaylene: bit.ly/ShayleneGraves
- #SayHerName #ShayleneGraves #BlackLivesMatter #ShutDownCIW #CareNotCages bit.ly/ShayleneGraves [Upload Image]
- Hold CDCR responsible for #ShayleneGraves death #SayHerName #BlackLivesMatter #ShutDownCIW bit.ly/ShayleneGraves [Upload image]
- “The prison system failed to protect her life” – #ShayleneGraves’ mom @Shaysfight #BlackLivesMatter #SayHerName [Upload image w/quote]
- Crisis continues at CIW w/more preventable deaths #ShayleneGraves #ErikaRocha #ShutDownCIW bit.ly/InvestigateCIW [Upload image]
- #ShayleneGraves #ErikaRocha End the dehumanization, abuse & deaths NOW #ShutDownCIW #BringOurFamilyHomeALIVE [Upload image]
- Shaylene was planning to start an org to support ppl coming home from prison, follow @Shaysfight support her dream [Upload image]
CCWP Calls Attention to Abuses and Escalating Suicide Crisis in California Women’s Prison!
Erika Rocha was 35 years old and one day away from her Youth Parole Hearing when she committed suicide on April 14, 2016 at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. Since her death, the suicide crisis at CIW has only worsened. Erika was 14 years old when she was charged as an adult in LA County. As a Latina youth, she was 43% more likely to be tried as an adult. Interrogated by police and prosecutors and threatened with a double life sentence for attempted murder, she pled to 19 to Life. Erika was 16 years old when she was sent to state prison in Chowchilla. Prison staff placed her in solitary to “protect her” until she was 17, but she told CCWP that guards admitted they kept her there to protect the prison because she was too young to legally be there.
At the time of her death, Erika was serving her 21st year of incarceration. She suffered from deplorable treatment for mental health issues attributable to her incarceration as a youth, including at least four indefinite terms of 2-3 years each in solitary confinement. Erika sought support for her mental health and trauma throughout her incarceration. CCWP continues to gather information, but we know that in the weeks before her death, Erika was transferred to suicide watch at least three times. The day before her death, she was released from suicide watch and placed in a mental health unit.
In 2015, the suicide rate at CIW was more than eight times the national rate for people in women’s prisons and more than five times the rate for all California prisons. In January 2016, a court-ordered suicide prevention audit concluded that CIW “continued to be a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices in the area of suicide prevention.”
We are very concerned about the conditions that led to Erika’s death, as well as its impacts on the escalating crisis at CIW. In the week since Erika’s death, another suicide was reported and at least 22 more people transferred to suicide watch. The suicide watch unit is overcrowded and CIW is placing people on “overflow” in the SHU (“Security Housing Unit”). Given extensive documentation of the harmful impacts of solitary confinement on mental health, CIW’s decision to place people in crisis in solitary shows a continued failure to properly address its extremely high suicide rates. People experiencing mental health crisis in prison need intensive support, but CIW is instead endangering their lives further by placing them in solitary confinement.
CCWP Program Coordinator, Windy Click, who met Erika in prison when she was 19, said, “Erika was always seeking help, she was lost inside an adult facility not knowing what the future held. When she asked for help they didn’t bother to help her.” Upon hearing the news of Erika’s suicide, a friend of Erika’s who was also sent to state prison at 16, said “Erika’s death is a painful example of how the criminal justice system is broken and therefore breaks people. They did this to her. She obviously couldn’t see any future for herself.”
We hold the State of California, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the California Institution for Women (CIW) responsible for Erika’s death. Erika had a devastating story to tell about the abuses she suffered in the custody of the State of California. She hoped to be involved in youth justice work once she was released.
Despite decades of lawsuits to remedy prison health care and court orders to reduce prison overcrowding, the ongoing inhumane conditions lead to tragic and untimely deaths. To reverse the crisis at CIW, CCWP calls for the following immediate actions:
Conduct a full investigation into the ongoing crisis and high suicide rate at CIW. We ask the California Governor and Legislature to order the Office of the Inspector General to take action immediately.
Increase oversight by the court-ordered Special Master on the CDCR’s ongoing failure to improve conditions for people receiving mental health treatment at CIW.
End CIW policies and practices that deny people access to lifesaving support on suicide watch. Provide people safe access to mail, phone calls, legal visits, social visits, and the Compassionate Companions peer support team. Isolating people in mental health crisis and denying them access to available support increases their chance of death.
In honor of Erika, we ask that supporters of youth justice:
Donate to help Erika’s family raise money for her services: http://bit.ly/ErikaRocha
Sign the petition to demand investigation into suicide epidemic at CIW Women’s Prison in California: http://bit.ly/InvestigateCIW
Sign & circulate The Public Safety & Rehabilitation Act of 2016 ballot initiative eliminating the power of prosecutors to direct file youth under the age of 18 into adult court.
Support SB 1052 (Lara) requiring that youth under 18 have legal access before interrogation and ensures that youth cannot waive their Miranda rights.
Support SB 1143 (Leno) to severely limit youth solitary, including room confinement.
As President Barack Obama wrote earlier this year about Kalief Browder’s suicide post-incarceration, “How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people?”
We are devastated and enraged that we did not get the opportunity to welcome Erika Rocha back into our communities. We demand justice for Erika and an end to the suicide epidemic CIW has created for its most vulnerable people inside.
On November 11th, five imprisoned people at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) endured extreme violence at the hands of prison guards. They immediately filed grievances against the officers and called for an independent investigation, but so far none of their requests have been met. They have now developed a more comprehensive set of demands listed in the letter below.
Family members and a coalition of organizations – the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Justice Now, the Family Unity Network, and the TGI Justice Project – are asking your help. in pressuring the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Senate Public Safety Committee to respond to their demands.
Please click on the link below to TAKE ACTION to pressure the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Senate Public Safety Committee to respond to their demands. And let these officials know that their is widespread public concern about this incident!
Please help spread the word on your email lists and through social media.
For Immediate Release – Monday, November 23, 2015
Imprisoned People, Family Members and Organizers Speak Out
Sacramento – On November 11th, an imprisoned person at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), faced extreme violence at the hands of prison guards. Stacy Rojas and three others were detained, physically abused, sexually harassed, strip searched in the presence of male guards, and were kept without water, food or restrooms for eleven hours. The group was illegally kept in administrative segregation without a lock up order and have been denied health care support for the injuries caused by these officers. Requests to speak with members of the prison’s Investigative Services Unit have so far been ignored.I just want to let them know that we have been physically abused, sexually harassed,” said Stacy Rojas, “and that this was just wrong. They used excessive force, totally used excessive force against us and we need help.
The public acknowledgment of excessive use of force and deadly use of force by police has increased throughout the nation. Video recordings of interactions between the police and the public have increased significantly in recent years as technology has improved and the number of distribution channels has expanded. This is not an option open to people experiencing violence from guards behind prison walls and any attempt to speak out is often met with retaliation and increased force.
Our communities in and out of lock up have lived experiences with biased policing — ranging from racial profiling, to excessive, and sometimes lethal, use of force”, stated Patrisse Cullors co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. “We hear about it more and more in the communities we live in, but rarely hear about the traumatic ways that it manifests in the California prison system. Stories like Stacy’s are happening everyday inside of California prisons and jails with little to no measures taken by authorities to keep people safe and hold law enforcement, such as prison guards accountable.”
Advocacy organizations working with people in women’s prisons are familiar with reports of abuse and violence, like that experienced at CCWF last week. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Justice Now, the Family Unity Network, the TGI Justice Project and others regularly provide legal and medical advocacy support following incidents of violence perpetrated by correctional officers at women’s prisons.This group of organizations and Stacy’s family members are requesting an independent investigation of the violence and excessive use of force used. They are requesting medical care and safe housing for Stacy and all those involved. The group also demands an end to the violence imposed on women, transgender people, gender nonconforming people, and communities of color within the California prison system.
“My sister is at the end of a fourteen year sentence and it seems as though some would wish to take that away. This has never happened [to Stacy] before. We have never had fear for my sister’s life”, said Adriana Rojas. “My sister Stacy Rojas’ constitutional rights have been violated by being stripped searched by male guards, assaulted by means of kicking and stomping, taken outdoors in near 40 degree weather, threatened with rape, humiliated, placed in holding cages for nearly 12 hours, and deprived of food and water.” Albert Jacob Rojas added, “They were denied medical attention and denied the right to speak to internal affairs. We ask that anybody who cares about human rights and women’s rights please join us in demanding justice for all.”Family members and advocates are calling for:
An immediate independent investigation into the violence and excessive force used by guards in this incident.
Suspension of guards involved pending investigation.
Comprehensive medical treatment for injuries sustained during the incident.
No retaliation for speaking out against this abuse.
Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout
Free Kelly! Domestic violence survivor serving her 19th year in prison for a crime committed by her abusive husband.
Kelly is a domestic violence survivor serving her 19th year in prison for a crime she did not commit. In 1995, Kelly’s abusive husband killed her son Justin after she put her children to sleep and left the house to run errands in preparation to leave him with her children the next day. Her ex-husband has since confessed his responsibility for Justin’s death, telling Kelly in a letter he wrote from prison last year that “I should of let you all get away from me.”
Kelly’s trial and conviction rested on the prosecution exploiting myths and misconceptions of survivors of abuse. Even Kelly’s own defense attorney told the jury that she was negligent for not leaving her abusive husband, a damaging and inaccurate argument that hurt her case. Kelly’s history of abuse began when she was less than four years old. She sustained a lifetime of rapes, beatings and other abuse by a succession of family members, acquaintances and two husbands, including the husband who killed Justin.
Kelly was not present for her son’s killing, but the DA blamed her for not escaping and saving her children sooner, ignoring the very real and documented dangers associated with attempting to leave an abusive partner. The DA also exploited Kelly’s history of abuse to suggest that she didn’t run because she enjoyed the beatings, and sacrificed her son to “please” her abusive husband. Kelly was convicted of first-degree murder for “aiding and abetting” her abusive husband, and sentenced to Life Without Possibility of Parole.
California’s Intimate Partner Battering legislation allows Kelly to petition for a review of her conviction by introducing expert testimony about her abuse that was not allowed in her trial. Kelly’s defense was severely harmed by the absence of expert testimony to explain how prolonged intimate partner battering was relevant to her case. Kelly’s lawyer and trial judge fought her request for an expert in domestic violence who could have testified on her behalf.
In prison, Kelly has the respect of prisoners and prison staff alike. She keeps her heart and spirit strong by focusing on helping other prisoners. Since learning more about domestic violence and the cycle of abuse, Kelly leads support groups for others. Kelly also works hard to raise money within the prison. She helps raise more than $9000 a year to send to a low-income school in Madera, paying for basic school supplies and computers for local kids. Kelly is also one of few approved caregivers in a Comfort Care program, where she gives needed support to dying and incapacitated prisoners.
Through the California Habeas Project and Free Battered Women, now the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), Kelly secured legal help from pro-bono attorneys at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. Kelly’s petition is currently held up in the appeals court process and the Attorney General is opposing her chance at a fair hearing.
Join us in asking our Attorney General, Kamala Harris, to withdraw her opposition to Kelly’s habeas petition and tell the court to grant her a fair hearing. Domestic violence survivors need care and support, not prison!
For more info: email@example.com
Facebook: please join the group “FreeKelly!”
Twitter: @womenprisoners (#FreeKelly)
Read Victoria Law’s article about Kelly on Truth-out:
Why Is California Keeping Kelly Savage in Prison for a Crime She Didn’t Commit?
SAVE THE DATE – SUNDAY FEBRUARY 23, 2014
A CONVERSATION WITH PIPER KERMAN,
AUTHOR OF ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK,
AND OTHER FORMERLY INCARCERATED PEOPLE
Sponsored by California Coalition for Women Prisoners & Justice Now
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland (between Telegraph and Broadway)
Wheelchair access on 28th St.
Amy Preasmyer’s powerful article was just published in the SF Bayview. CCWP has visited Amy for several years and supported her when she wanted to write about her recent terrible experience with Administrative Segregation at CCWF.
A strategy meant to break me fuels my passion for human rights
October 16, 2013
by Amy Preasmyer
I am an inmate at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, California. In April 2013, I and another individual were falsely accused of sexual assault and placed in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) immediately. I was forced to face the loss of my job assignment, property, good living quarters, placement and status in groups and organizations. I was forced to miss my scheduled final examinations for college and lost the privilege to shop, walk outside or even call home.
The federally mandated Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) protocols and the complexity of its consequences turned my world upside down in seconds.1 This protocol has no intelligence or consideration of the law or constitutional rights that the judicial system offers and in many cases merely lacks. Through PREA, I quickly learned the cruel conditions of Ad-Seg.
This false accusation under PREA meant I was abruptly removed from my bed late in the evening to face an extended wait and then a transfer to Ad-Seg. Upon entering my newly assigned chambers at 3 a.m., I found the toilet was backed up and a DD3 (EOP)2 had urinated everywhere prior to me, leaving extremely unsanitary conditions and aromas.
I was left with only a bedroll, a state issued muumuu and no panties. I was utterly distraught and in a mental state of haze and disorientation, not knowing the excessively degrading experience I would continue to face from that point forward.
The torture and anguish administered with each passing minute, the refusals, limitations, the sudden removal of rights and privileges, and the revisions established by prison officials reveals a clear abuse of authority and misuse of power.
CCWF Ad-Seg conditions and limitations include:
Inadequate (if any) legal assistance and resource access.
No phone access.
Canteen items removed from original packaging.
Absolutely NO educational or rehabilitation opportunities afforded.
No religious services.
No contact visits.
No means to properly disinfect and sanitize cells.
No sanitation in dayroom, hallways, and stairs even while escorts continually take place daily and frequently.
No efficient and proper mental health assessment, evaluation and tracking.
No razors to maintain feminine hygiene (30 day review).
And the list goes on.
I was subjected to this treatment for an investigation evidenced as false. I am forced to start over when thrown back into general population, and CDCr holds no accountability, doesn’t right their wrong, nothing.
They remain unaccountable and unmoved by the loss, humiliation and set-back I endured those countless days and nights. They failed to offer guidance, leadership or assistance in reinstating my original program, assignment and the positive participation within my community I was once commended for.
Further, the cost to arrest, charge, investigate and re-house us was absurd. No precautions were taken toward California’s budget and its continued economic crisis. Nonetheless, I was guilty until proven innocent, a constitutional right broken and overseen based on “protocols,” but in reality, it is because everything changes behind these walls.
I was subjected to this treatment for an investigation evidenced as false. I am forced to start over when thrown back into general population, and CDCr holds no accountability, doesn’t right their wrong, nothing.
In a world of hardened minds, poverty, misunderstandings and violence, PREA offers a tool for manipulation of the system, its institutions, and all of those within it.3 What is disturbing is that the woman who filed the accusation under PREA sought – and ultimately was rewarded with – a transfer to California Institute for Women (CIW), the only other institution where a woman serving a life sentence term can be housed. In addition, there was no disciplinary action for her false allegation or restitution for expenses incurred behind it.
I was sentenced as a juvenile to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), and there was an enormous capacity for me to change my life as I matured from adolescence to middle age.4 It is unnerving that my opportunity for rehabilitation and education was jeopardized and challenged by a protocol set forth by CDCr, the very department that stands firm on their claim for rehabilitation and education.
Yet, those are among the first things denied when we are placed in Ad-Seg and hold the greatest ramifications on our future successes. These are all a result of the system’s damages.
In a world of hardened minds, poverty, misunderstandings and violence, PREA offers a tool for manipulation of the system, its institutions, and all of those within it.
Must we wait for more victims before we seek and support a change? Or is CDCr simply waiting until PREA is manipulated in a way that damages them, society’s example of law-abiding citizens?
Had this woman falsely accused an officer, would that officer have been arrested and forced to relinquish rights pending results of the investigation into the accusation? Would the employee suffer a wage loss? Would disciplinary action and consequences be rendered to the accuser once charges turned out to be baseless? Are you waiting until you have to rebuild your life or are you supporting to seek change now?
After being subjected to this methodical strategy meant to break me for a mere investigative purpose based on false allegations by another inmate later evidenced, I have chosen to embark on another journey to overcome and refuse to be their puppet or their statistic. I will not allow CDCr policies or standard operating tactics to make me stray from rehabilitation, education and future re-entry into society. As many say – that is NOT an option!
I defy the daily systematic obstacles set in place to make struggles become failures. There is no expectation of success and, through this ignorant assumption, I am empowered and influenced. What was intended to discourage has fueled the passion and participation in the Human Rights Movement for humanity and peaceful resolutions when faced with resistance behind bars and in the systems of injustice.
If we believe, we can achieve. Together we can make a difference. Support restoring lives and the need for change NOW.
Send our sister some love and light: Amy Preasmyer, X-29459, CCWF 511-19-4U, P.O. Box 1508, Chowchilla CA 93610. This story will appear in The Fire Inside, the newsletter of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.
Fire Inside’s editorial notes:
1.Enacted by Congress in 2003, PREA (P.L. 108-79) sets protocols to prevent, identify, respond to and monitor sexual abuse of incarcerated or detained people in custody. PREA aims to address sexual abuse as it may occur between inmates or may be perpetrated by correctional facility staff. Grant funding is available at both the state and local level of government to implement PREA. PREA also mandates that information on rape and sexual abuse be collected and made available as part of the monitoring provision of the act. For more information, see http://nicic.gov/prea.
2. EOP stands for Enhanced Outpatient Program, a program designed for inmates who are categorized as having a disability that makes it difficult for them to interact with the general population in prison but not so serious that they require inpatient care. DD3 is a designation within the EOP classification.
3: This occurs in a context of severe overcrowding following the conversion of Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) to a men’s prison, as over a thousand women and transgender prisoners were transferred from VSPW to either CCWF or California Institute for Women (CIW) in Corona, outside of Los Angeles. CCWF is currently functioning at close to 200 percent of its design capacity.
4.: According to the ACLU, there are approximately 2,570 children sentenced to LWOP in the United States, including children sentenced as young as 13 years old. The United States is the only country in the world that sentences youth to LWOP. See https://www.aclu.org/blog/tag/juvenile-life-without-parole.
The Chowchilla Freedom Rally made big waves in the local media! Below is a compiled list of the media coverage of the rally including radio interviews, television segments local to the Central Valley and articles written about the solidarity actions held in Santa Clara, Philadelphia and London.
Chowchilla Freedom Rally: It Just Ain’t Right, Interchange Blogspot, 2/2/13
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle with Ida McCray, Adrienne Skye Roberts, Windy Click, Community Video 1/30/13
Many speak out against possible CIM expansion, Daily Bulletin 1/30/13
Officials insist inmates’ needs are being met at Central California Women’s Facility, Merced Sun-Star 1/29/13
Inside the women’s prison in Chowchilla, CBS 1/28/13
Protest against prison overcrowding draws hundreds, KSBY 1/27/13
Manifestación de la Libertad, Univision 1/27/13
VIDEO: Hundreds of prison protestors rally outside of Chowchilla, Merced Sun-Star 1/26/13
Thousands Rally Against Prison Overcrowding, KSEE 1/26/13
Protest against prison overcrowding draws hundreds, The Tribune 1/26/13
Group to Protest Outside Jail Saturday, Redwood City Patch 1/26/13
Groups set to protest crowding at Chowchilla women’s prison, Merced Sun-Star 1/24/13
Mumia Abu-Jamal Speaks Out Against Crowding More Into Chowchilla Rally Jan, Prison Radio 1/16/13
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is converting Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) into a men’s prison in response to a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce overcrowding. Instead of releasing people and closing VSPW, they are squeezing over 1,000 women and transgender people into the two remaining women’s prisons. The population of the other women’s prison in Chowchilla, Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) is dangerously close to 4,000 even though its maximum capacity is 2,000. The conversion has aggravated overcrowding, created dangerous conditions, and health care is already getting much worse. What’s more, they have added yet another men’s prison to their inhumane system. We’ve had enough! Come show support for all people locked up in Chowchilla’s prisons and tell the Federal Judges that overcrowding must stop now!
CHOWCHILLA FREEDOM RALLY
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Rides available by bus and carpool.
Caravans leaving from MacArthur BART in Oakland at 10:30AM and Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood at 8:30AM. We will gather at 2PM at SE corner of Ave. 24 and Fairmead Blvd off Highway 99 in Chowchilla.
Rally begins at 3PM at VSPW.
OVERCROWDING = DEATH
BRING OUR LOVED ONES HOME!
COMMUNITY RELEASE PROGRAMS * PAROLE FOR ELDERS * RELEASE FOR MEDICAL REASONS * END LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE (LWOP)
Solidarity actions encouraged! If you cannot make the rally or do not live in California, we encourage you to organize a solidarity action on the same day in your community. Hold a demonstration in front of the DOC offices or the county jail, organize a speak-out against prisons in a public space, stand in solidarity the Chowchilla Freedom Rally! Please let us know how we can support you! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in helping organize this event? Join our coalition! Our next meeting is Wednesday, January 2, 2013 from 6 – 8PM at the CCWP offices. 1540 Market Street, Suite 490, San Francisco. Or contact email@example.com.
The Chowchilla Freedom Rally Coalition includes members from California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Justice NOW, All Of Us Or None, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, Fired Up!, Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project, Critical Resistance, Youth Justice Coalition, Global Women’s Strike, Occupy 4 Prisoners, Asian Pacific Islander Support Committee and the California Prison Moratorium Project.