CA Approves $7.5 million Reparations for Sterilization Survivors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 13, 2021

CONTACT:

California Coalition for Women Prisoners: info@womenprisoners.org

Aminah Elster: aminah@womenprisoners.org, 415-255-7036 ext. 314

Hafsah Al-Amin: hafsah@womenprisoners.org, 415-255-7036 ext. 314

California Approves $7.5 Million to Provide Reparations to Survivors of State Sponsored Forced Sterilizations

Sacramento, California (July, 2021) — On July 12, 2021 Governor Gavin Newsom approved a state budget that includes $7.5 million to provide reparations to survivors of state sponsored forced or involuntary sterilizations under California’s eugenics laws from 1909-1979 and to survivors of involuntary sterilizations in women’s state prisons after 1979. Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo was instrumental in ensuring that the allocation was included in the state budget.

California is the first state to provide reparations to survivors who were sterilized while incarcerated in its state women’s prisons. California is the third state in the nation to provide monetary compensation to survivors who were sterilized under state eugenics laws. 

“The legacy of California’s eugenics laws is well-known and the repercussions continue to be felt,” said Laura Jimenez, Executive Director, CLRJ. “As reproductive justice advocates, we recognize the continued impact these state-sponsored policies have had on the dignity and rights of poor women of color who have been stripped of their ability to form the families they want. No amount of monetary compensation will ever remedy the wrongs committed but this bill is a step in the right direction in the state taking responsibility to remedy the violence inflicted on these survivors.”

Between 1909 and 1979, California sterilized at least 20,000 people under State law — accounting for one third of eugenics sterilizations nationwide. People with disabilities, Latinas, women, and poor people were disproportionately targeted for sterilization.

Staff Attorney Carly A. Myers stated, “After 4 years of advocating for reparations, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) is heartened that California has taken a necessary f step towards ending its legacy of eugenics. We are hopeful this marks a turning point in this State’s treatment of people with disabilities and others who have been targeted for reproductive oppression.”

Although the State repealed its eugenics law in 1979, coerced and forced sterilizations continued in State prisons into the 2010’s.  Attorney Cynthia Chandler, who has spent the last two decades advocating for imprisoned sterilization survivors, points out: “Forced and involuntary sterilizations have never stopped in California.  Lack of government accountability for its eugenic past made possible the contemporary sterilization abuse in CA prisons and more recently in the Georgia Irwin immigration detention center.”

Between 2006 and 2010, a state audit revealed that at least 144 people, the majority of whom identify as Black and Latinx, were illegally sterilized during labor and delivery while in custody in women’s prisons. 

“The California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) hails this groundbreaking reparations program for incarcerated women and trans people who suffered involuntary sterilization while in California prisons,” stated Aminah Elster, CCWP’s Campaign and Policy Coordinator. “We hope this victory paves the way for other BIPOC communities to achieve additional forms of reparations in response to centuries of state sanctioned violence and abuse.”  Elster went on to comment, “CCWP and the co-sponsor organizations are committed to ensuring that all the eligible survivors of sterilization abuse are notified and able to apply for compensation under the program.  We are in touch with many incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who should be eligible for compensation but there is a lot more outreach that needs to be done.”

Coerced sterilization of people in women’s prisons was the subject of the feature-length documentary, Belly of the Beast which was released in fall 2020. “I’m thrilled Belly of the Beast contributed to this historic moment and we will continue to shine a light on our nation’s dark past until these heinous practices are eradicated,” says Director/Producer Erika Cohn. The PBS re-release, in celebration of this historic victory, starts today on PBS.org: https://www.pbs.org/video/belly-of-the-beast-7puv5r/ and will be streaming for free through the end of July.

Sterilization survivor and film participant, Kelli Dillon, who is also the founder of the organization Back to the Basics says, “To this day, many survivors who were sterilized while in prison still don’t know that their reproductive capacities were stolen from them. With the launch of reparations, we will finally receive justice that we have fought so long for and the healing process can truly begin. It’s time.”

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This budget request was co-sponsored by Back tothe Basics Community Empowerment (B2B), California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), California Latinas forReproductive Justice (CLRJ), and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), in collaboration with the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab.

Gwen Levi Freed by Judge thru Compassionate Release

commondreams.org

Gwen Levi’s Release Reveals Persistent Cruelty of Mass Incarceration—Biden Must Use Clemency Powers to Stop Spread of COVID-19

July 6, 2021


For Immediate Release

Tuesday July 6, 2021, 4:13pm EDT

Scott Roberts, Senior Director of Criminal Justice and Democracy Campaigns at Color Of Change, issued this statement after a federal judge granted compassionate release to 76-year-old Gwen Levi:

“After weeks of legal battles and hard-fought advocacy from her family and supporters, Gwen Levi is finally free. Ms. Levi, a 76-year-old mother, grandmother, friend, and cancer survivor, was serving a sentence on home confinement, due to the dire health concerns in prison facilities at the height of the pandemic. But after she missed a call from a case manager during a computers skills class that she believed, with good reason, she had been approved to attend, Ms. Levi was deemed an ‘escapee,’ once again ripped from her family, and returned to jail — where she faced a high risk for COVID-19 infection and even death — on a technicality. Today, this judge’s ruling confirms what we’ve known all along: mass incarceration is a threat to health, safety, and basic human rights of Black communities, particularly in the midst of a global health crisis.

“However, for nearly 4,500 people 65 years and older, who were released to home confinement due to COVID-19, the threat of re-incarceration remains. Not just as a result of these draconian technical violations, but as the result of a legal memo issued days before Trump left office, stating that people would be returned to prison once the pandemic is declared over. For months, we have urged officials to rescind the Trump administration’s legal memo and keep elderly and immunocompromised individuals at home. But because of their inaction, thousands are at risk of being returned to prison like Ms. Levi was. Now, the only way to protect these individuals is with presidential clemency. We — along with nearly 50,000 Color Of Change members who’ve signed our petition — are urging President Biden to use his clemency powers to stop the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons, protect the sick and elderly, and keep them home.

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Clemency for Gwen Levi

After spending 16 years incarcerated in federal prisons, Gwen Levi was finally home.

Released to home confinement last June, Ms. Levi spent the past year reconnecting with her sons and grandsons, helping to take care of her elderly mother, volunteering at advocacy organizations that provide critical services for incarcerated people, and perhaps most crucially – increasing her chances of staying safe from COVID-19 as a 76-year-old cancer survivor. 

But one year after her release, Ms. Levi was sent back to prison. 

Why? Because she missed a phone call from her case manager while she was in a class to learn computer skills in order to get a job as an essential worker. 

Ms. Levi was one of thousands of people, deemed “low risk”, and released from federal prison to finish their sentences on home confinement last year due to the increased threat of the pandemic in prisons. The vast majority of those released were elderly and living with preexisting health conditions, often exacerbated by the lack of healthcare within the prison system. 

But even despite the 99.9% success rate of home confinement, the Trump Administration used its final days to issue a legal memo that would not only force people to return to federal prison, but also require people to pay their own way back. 

We tried to move the Department of Justice to rescind the memo, but were met with silence. Now Ms. Levi is back in a cage. 

Now is the time to call on President Biden to use his powers of clemency to release Ms. Levi from prison and protect 4,500 others just like her who are at risk of being sent back when the pandemic is declared over.  

It’s clear that this is about punishment, not public safety or rehabilitation. Ms. Levi was trying to better herself and as a result was sent to live in a cage.

If the Biden Administration won’t grant clemency to Ms. Levi and keep 4,500 people at home – he will be presiding over the fastest expansion of the federal prison population in history.

This is not what we voted for. 

Ms. Levi deserves better, and she needs our support. 

Add your name to the call for justice. Let’s move President Biden to grant clemency for Ms. Levi and 4,500 others on home confinement. 

Historic Racial Justice Act Is Signed!

CCWP is proud to have co-sponsored the Racial Justice Act!

Governor Signs Landmark Legislation Advancing Racial Justice in California

A historic, first-of-its-kind law in the State, the California Racial Justice Act  prohibits the use of race, ethnicity, or national origin in sentencing and convictions

SACRAMENTO – The Governor today signed the historic California Racial Justice Act, also known as Assembly Bill 2542 (AB 2542), which asserts civil rights in the California court system and addresses racial discrimination that leads to unfair convictions and sentencing.

“I am grateful to Governor Newsom for signing AB 2542 and his commitment to rooting out racism from our courts,” said Assemblymember Kalra (D-San Jose), lead author of AB 2542. “With the signing of this bill and other actions he has taken, the Governor has well established himself as a national leader on compassionate, thoughtful criminal justice reform.”

“Although there is still much more work to do in fixing our broken criminal justice system, the Racial Justice Act is a historic foundational step in upholding Constitutional protections for everyone and moving us closer to a system that truly reflects justice for all,” he added. “The Racial Justice Act puts into law a manifestation of a continuing struggle most recently represented by millions in the streets demanding racial justice.”

The Racial Justice Act, joint-authored by Assemblymembers Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), and Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), is the first law of its kind in California that prohibits the state from using:

·         Explicit bias against a defendant based on race, ethnicity, or national origin

·         Statistical disparities in charging, sentencing, and conviction

·         Bias at trial and in jury selection

Systemic racial disparities are pervasive in mass incarceration in California, where Black men are over eight times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. Nearly a hundred advocacy organizations across the state have urged support for the landmark bill to address systemic racism in the court system.

“The Racial Justice Act is a step toward addressing the deep-rooted racism in our courts and in healing for communities plagued by harmful policies and overrepresented in our prisons and courts,” said Fatimeh Khan, California Healing Justice Program Co-Director of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). “In its 70 years working on criminal legal issues in California, the AFSC has witnessed the entrenchment of racist policies that have devastated Black and Brown communities. We thank Governor Newsom for signing such a powerful piece of legislation.”

“Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders, and other people of color are adversely affected by our court system, which intentionally and unintentionally further criminalizes people based on race and immigration status,” said Liza Chu, California Policy Manager at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California. “Amidst the upheaval of 2020, we thank Governor Newsom for enacting the Racial Justice Act to prioritize fairness and equal treatment under the law.”

“Governor Gavin Newsom, by signing AB 2542 you are moving California toward a more equitable and fair judicial process for black people,” said Romarilyn Ralston, a formerly incarcerated organizer and advocate with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “We are grateful for Governor Newsom’s leadership in this bold step toward ending discriminatory and racially biased practices in our courts. AB 2542 is an unprecedented piece of legislation and long overdue in correcting a historically anti-black legal-punishment system.”

“We are thankful that Governor Newsom signed the Racial Justice Act and are proud of our state for taking a first step at confronting the racist roots of the criminal legal system,” said Amber-Rose Howard, Executive Director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “Far too many Black families have been torn apart due to systemic racism and it is time that we address that trauma in our courts. I look forward to our state moving forward in centering racial justice as we continue to address our role in the incarceration crisis.”

“When we confront the pandemics that divide us, we step boldly on the necessary path towards healing,” said Derick Morgan, Policy Associate with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “Ella Baker Center stands proudly with Governor Gavin Newsom, our state Legislature, and the athletes, students and advocates in meeting this moment to confront racism and systemic bias in our systems of justice.”

“We are deeply grateful that Governor Newsom has signed this historic legislation to confront racism in California’s courts,” said Dora Rose, Deputy Director of the League of Women Voters of California, “The bottom line is that we can’t keep having trials with all white juries. We can’t continue to allow racially coded language that triggers bias in the courtroom. And we must stop the systemically disproportionate arrest and sentencing that is tearing up our Black communities. The Racial Justice Act will help us accomplish those ends.”

“I am extremely grateful to the Governor for signing the California Racial Justice Act because, despite recent reforms, California’s racial disparities in convictions and sentences are among the nation’s worst,” said Ken Spence, Senior Policy Advisor for NextGen California. “By establishing a framework for defendants to challenge the systemic racism and bias in our criminal courts, I am hopeful that the RJA will push our justice system to more closely live up to its ideals.”

“The over 140,000 home care and child care providers represented by UDW are mostly women and people of color and our families have for too long been harmed by a justice system that purports to be blind but in practice judges us primarily on the color of our skin,” said Doug Moore, Executive Director of UDW/AFSCME 3930. “By passing AB 2542, California has recognized this harm and taken a meaningful step toward ending it. On behalf of our membership, I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing AB 2542 and moving toward a justice system that treats all Californians as equals.”

The principal coauthors of AB 2542 are Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Senators Steve Bradford (D-Gardena), Lena Gonzalez (D- Long Beach), and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). The bill is also coauthored by Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Kansen Chu (D-Milpitas), Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Marc Levine (D-Marin County), Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), and Dr. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Senators María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

AB 2542 is sponsored by American Friends Service Committee, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the League of Women Voters of California, NextGen, and United Domestic Workers, AFSCME, Local 3930.

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Full text of the bill here.

Welcome Home Patricia!

CCWP welcomes Patricia Wright home amid COVID-19 prison outbreaks.

Patricia released from CIW on July 21, 2020

Grassroots advocacy & public support were key to Patricia’s release 

July 21, 2020
Patricia Wright, a 69-year-old Black mother and grandmother, survivor of domestic violence, and terminally-ill cancer patient, was released today under emergency order from Governor Newsom. Family, friends, and advocates from the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), a grassroots advocacy group who mobilized for her release, gathered at the California Institution for Women (CIW) this morning to see her wheeled out to freedom.
Wright had been serving a sentence of Life Without Possibility of Parole (LWOP) while undergoing chemotherapy for terminal cancer. Patricia is also legally blind and suffers from other serious ailments. Patricia was not eligible for any state COVID-19 release effort, nor for the state’s compassionate release program, because people serving LWOP are excluded from these pathways to release, regardless of terminal illness.

Patricia and her family have been organizing for her release since she was incarcerated, and CCWP has been working with Patricia and her family for 11 years. Advocates and family members expressed their joy at seeing Patricia free and deep gratitude to all who supported her release, including those who signed and circulated her petition. Alfey Ramdhan, Patricia’s youngest son, said, “I haven’t had my mom in so many years. We’ve missed so many milestones, but now I have her back and that motherly love that I’ve been missing for all those years. I feel like I have my security back, my confidence back, which I lost when my mom went to prison when I was 11 or 12.” 
Patricia’s sister, Chantel Bonet, also shared her family’s joy at finally seeing her free, stating, “Speaking on behalf of the whole family, we thank God, CCWP, and Governor Newsom for his humanitarian act of mercy — releasing Patricia Wright from prison after 23 years due to her terminal cancer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been terrifying for our family. We hope Governor Newsom will show compassion and release more elderly and seriously ill people.” 

CCWP advocates emphasized that there are tens of thousands of others in Patricia’s situation still behind bars. Sarah Rodriguez from CCWP said, “While we greatly appreciate Governor Newsom’s action in releasing Patricia Wright, we are concerned with the ongoing exclusion of people serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentences from compassionate release, elder parole, and early releases recently announced by CDCR.”

Between 1992–2017, the population of people serving Life Without Parole in the U.S. grew by 400%. California has one of the largest populations of people serving LWOP in the country — many of whom are elderly or medically at-risk. Advocates have urged Governor Newsom to wield his commutation power quickly and decisively to grant relief to those serving LWOP and other extremely long sentences so that they too may have a chance to survive the humanitarian crisis in California prisons that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Please take action today to support the release of more at-risk incarcerated people!

Hear more from Patricia’s family in this Guardian article out today.

See Patricia Wright’s message to Gavin Newsom

Patricia with her sisters
Patricia with children and grandchildren
Patricia, family and some CCWP advocates