Cómo una cárcel de mujeres de California se convirtió en la que tuvo más contagios de coronavirus en EEUU

En diciembre de 2020, más del 25% de la población carcelaria en Central California Women’s Facility padecía de coronavirus. Las sobrevivientes cuentan las condiciones a las que fueron sometidas y las secuelas que aún persisten incluso después de recuperarse.

Univision
Por Kervy Robles

Mujeres encarceladas realizan llamadas virtuales con sus familiares desde una prisión de California. Crédito: @CACorrections

SAN FRANCISCO, California. – Los primeros contagios por coronavirus en la cárcel para mujeres más grande de California se reportaron en julio de 2020. Pocos meses después, las infecciones se multiplicaron y superaron las 500. En una entrevista con Noticias Univision 14, las sobrevivientes dan cuenta del castigo que fue dar positivo al virus y cuentan cómo las secuelas las persiguen incluso después de recuperarse.

Un mal persistente

Cuando cuatro de sus compañeras de celda dieron positivo por coronavirus el 23 de diciembre de 2020, Jacqueline Carrillo pidió salud para la víspera de Navidad. Si ese año ya parecía ajeno a los deseos de millones de personas, Carillo no sería la excepción en esa fecha tan especial. El 24 de diciembre, Carillo, de 29 años, fue transferida a una área designada para cumplir con un periodo de cuarentena tras confirmarse que estaba infectada.

Carrillo permaneció un total de 20 días en aislamiento. La fiebre sobrepasó los 100 grados de temperatura y perdió los sentidos del olfato y el gusto. A diferencia de su habitual celda, en la zona de aislamiento no podía lavar ropa ni limpiar los alrededores. Tampoco contaba con electricidad. Dar positivo por coronavirus representó, con el transcurso de los días, un castigo que no merecía.

“Al principio no nos dieron nada y nosotras, 23 muchachas, salimos y dijimos que no íbamos a entrar hasta que nos dieron algo de tomar, agua caliente, electricidad para poder llamar a nuestras familias. Nos quedamos como seis horas exigiendo”, cuenta Carillo en una llamada telefónica desde la prisión Central California Women ‘s Facility (CCWF, por sus siglas en inglés) en la ciudad de Chowchilla.

El testimonio de Carrillo es similar al de otras mujeres encarceladas en CCWF, por lo que Noticias Univision 14 contactó al Departamento de Correccionales y Rehabilitación de California (CDCR, por sus siglas en inglés) para que respondiera a estos señalamientos.

En un comunicado, Dana Simas, portavoz de la entidad estatal, afirmó que las personas encarceladas en aislamiento reciben suministros de limpieza para su habitación y las duchas. Entre los materiales se incluyen desinfectantes, limpiacristales, toallas desinfectantes para superficies duras, entre otros.

Durante la segunda semana del nuevo año, CCWF reportó más de 500 mujeres infectadas con coronavirus, es decir, más del 25 por ciento de la población padecía de la enfermedad. De modo que la cárcel para mujeres más grande de California era también la cárcel para mujeres con el mayor brote del virus en toda la nación.

En aquella semana, Jacqueline salía de cuarentena y apenas se recuperaba. Hoy en su nueva celda, Jacqueline asegura sentirse mejor, pues ya no tiene fiebre ni dolores de cabeza. Sin embargo, un mal persiste en ella: la pérdida del olfato.

Las alteraciones del olfato para algunos portadores del coronavirus son el primer síntoma, o a veces el único, y en otros casos perdura hasta mucho después por lo que investigadores médicos intentan aprender sobre este padecimiento, ofrecer una explicación y una solución lo antes posible.

“Uno puede perder el sentido del olfato durante semanas después de recuperarse y conozco a algunas personas que han pasado hasta seis meses sin recuperarlo. No tenemos una explicación definitiva de por qué ocurre esto, pero sabemos que puede suceder”, dijo el doctor Kevin Herrick del Bay Area Community Health en el condado de Santa Clara.

Fueron cuatro meses los que tuvieron que pasar para que Deshama Lanklord regresara al programa de Abuso de Sustancias donde participa como consejera. La suspensión de actividades para prevenir un brote de coronavirus en las cárceles de California privó a Lanklord y a otras más de realizar labores reglamentarias fuera de sus celdas una vez iniciada la pandemia.

De manera que el 15 de julio de 2020, cuando Lanklord es autorizada de volver al programa, ella pensó que todo regresaría a la normalidad. Pero la normalidad en estos tiempos extraños, es eso: extraña, y a su vez efímera.

“No había estado en el trabajo desde marzo. Fui a trabajar dos días y me contagié. El personal lo trajo”, cuenta Lanklord en una llamada telefónica desde CCWF, prisión a la que llegó en 2012.

Tan pronto como se supo que varias personas en el programa de Abuso de Sustancias resultaron positivas por coronavirus, se dio órdenes a los participantes de no retornar. Dada la advertencia, Lanklord, de 47 años, fue desplazada de su celda cotidiana a una de las áreas de aislamiento el 22 de julio. Un día después, se confirmó que Lanklord poseía el virus en su cuerpo, siendo una de las primeras en contraerlo en CCWF.

Con respecto a los aparentes meses de preparación, en un comunicado, Simas dijo, “en julio pasado, el CDCR trabajó en estrecha colaboración con el Receptor Federal, designado por el tribunal, y otros expertos en salud pública, sobre la atención médica para identificar cómo cada establecimiento implementaría medidas de aislamiento y cuarentena en caso de un brote de covid-19”.

A los pocos días que Lanklord contrajo el mal, un empleado de CCWF murió por causas relacionadas al coronavirus. La línea de tiempo demuestra que los primeros contagios entre las personas encarceladas fueron identificados en julio y cinco meses después surgió un brote de más de 500 mujeres infectadas.

Tras vencer el virus, Lanklord ya no presenta síntomas como dolores de cabeza y fatiga comunes durante la fase de 14 días de cuarentena que cumplió hasta el 7 de agosto de 2020. Sin embargo, uno persiste desde julio hasta la fecha: su cabello sigue cayendo.

“Cuando las personas pierden cabello, a menudo pensamos en la fiebre y las infecciones. No hay literatura que demuestre que la pérdida permanente de cabello sea provocada por el covid-19, pero podría deberse a que uno está enfermo y estresado, tiene fiebre y el sistema inmunológico está ocupado luchando contra el virus, todas estas cosas podrían causar la pérdida de cabello”, explicó el doctor Herrick.

‘¿Qué hay de las mujeres que están allí?’

La prisión de CCWF fue diseñada con el propósito de albergar 2,004 mujeres encarceladas. Al borde de la saturación, la prisión hoy solo cuenta con 12 camas disponibles, según un último reporte del CDCR.

Se sabe que líderes estatales advirtieron de la sobrepoblación carcelaria como un posible factor originario de una rápida propagación del covid-19, tal como lo fue en San Quintín en julio de 2020, por ejemplo. La usual división de mujeres encarceladas en CCWF es la siguiente: ocho mujeres duermen en cuatro camarotes situados en cada una de las 32 unidades por edificio.

“Incluso antes de la pandemia, cuando yo estaba adentro [en CCWF], si tenías gripe, la mitad de las personas en la celda se iba a contagiar porque compartimos el lavadero y el baño. Estás cerca y respirando el mismo aire,” dijo Ny Nourn, quien cumplió una condena en CCWF y hoy es voluntaria para la organización California Coalition Women in Prison.

Este grupo demanda que a pesar de tener meses para evitar un posible brote, la administración de CCWF no contaba con protocolos efectivos para detener el incremento de contagios por coronavirus. También cuestiona la falta de acceso a atención médica o medicamentos recetados y advierte, además, sobre la ansiedad y la depresión ante el limitado servicio de salud mental en la prisión.

“¿Qué hay de las mujeres que están allí? ¿Qué hay de las personas con condiciones médicas como mi hija, que son amadas por personas como yo? Hay muchas mujeres allí que cometieron errores y en vez de rehabilitarlas, las están amenazando y ellas viven con miedo”, cuenta Lisa, quien prefirió utilizar ese nombre porque cree que su hija, encarcelada en CCWF, podría sufrir represalias dentro de la prisión por su colaboración con la prensa.

Noticias Univision 14 obtuvo testimonios de distintas mujeres encarceladas en CCWF que decidieron permanecer en el anonimato por miedo a represalias de los empleados, como también de adjudicarse una resolución conocida como 115. Esta resolución podría resultar en la extensión de un periodo de confinamiento por años y ocasionar la negación de la libertad condicional.

Carrillo y Lanklord pertenecen al grupo de 603 mujeres que sobrevivieron al virus en prisión, mientras que en las últimas dos semanas otras 128 dieron positivo por coronavirus. El peligro es latente y los medios para prevenirlo son cada vez menos eficientes.

“Estoy en el teléfono y no puedo practicar distanciamiento social por la manera en que el edificio está construido. La siguiente persona en línea no está a seis pies. Ni siquiera podemos estar a seis pies de distancia en la tienda por la manera en que está construido”, cuenta Lankford a poco más de 60 segundos de que la llamada terminara.

Estos reos se salvaron de ser ejecutados en el “Pabellón de la Muerte” pero el coronavirus los mató

COVID Outbreak Causes Deteriorating Mental Health Conditions

CCWF Conditions Deteriorate: CCWP's Open Letter to Prison Officials - Continued Action Needed

Please continue calling & emailing, new graphics to share & target contacts available at: 

bit.ly/CCWF-Action

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.

CONTACT:

Bay Area Chapter
4400 Market St.
Oakland, CA 94608

info@womenprisoners.org
415-255-7036 ext. 4

CONTACT:

Los Angeles Chapter
P.O. Box 291585
Los Angeles, CA 90029

The Movement to Defund the Police Won’t Go Away When Biden Takes Office

truthout.org

Meghan Krausch
January 16, 2021

A group of protesters stand on a truck that is being used a road block near Jefferson Square Park on September 30, 2020, in Louisville, Kentucky.
JON CHERRY / GETTY IMAGES; EDITED: TRUTHOUT

The past year saw a major uprising across the United States as people mobilized against racist state violence in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis in May. Drawing on a divest/invest framework that abolitionists have been using for years, “defund the police” became a common demand at protests. The demand is a first step toward abolishing the prison-industrial complex by dismantling its infrastructure and shifting resources toward things people need like food, housing and community-based safety practices. From an abolitionist perspective, the events in the U.S. Capitol on January 6th have only made it clearer why more policing does not equate to more security: From their foundation, the police have always been on the side of white supremacy.

Woods Ervin, communications director of Critical Resistance, a nationwide abolitionist organization founded in 1997 by a group that included Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, put it this way: “The way that the prison industrial complex (PIC) is pitched is a one-size-fits-all model to address a variety of kinds of concerns that actually require specialized attention” — attention that doesn’t “involve bringing in more punishment, more violence, or removing people from those communities, which is what the PIC does.”

“Abolition is not about standardizing,” points out Miski Noor, co-director of Black Visions in Minneapolis. Abolition is liberating precisely because it is not homogenous and is not a pre-designed program. Imagination plays a big role — and therefore is not necessarily easily mass marketed.

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But abolition is also a broader concept, encompassing the abolition of borders and imperialism, systems of social control including foster care and many kinds of social work, and the erasure of the concept of criminality itself. “Everything has to change in order for us to actually realize abolition because so much of how we live is embedded in punishment systems,” says PG Watkins with 313Liberation Zone and the Green Light Black Futures coalition in Detroit.

Recent comments made by former president Barack Obama and other Democrats claim that the call to “defund the police” does not have enough appeal or power. Speaking to activists reveals how much these comments miss the point. The movement to defund the police is making a constant and explicit commitment to center the people who are most impacted by policing and, in particular, those who Noor refers to as having been “failed over and over again.” The movement’s approach brings the margin to the center, putting into practice threads of Black feminist theory and traditions of Black liberation in which the abolitionist movement is rooted.

Unfazed by establishment Democrats’ opposition, organizers in cities across the country are working actively on a wide variety of abolitionist projects. Some are experimental, like Black Visions’ Transformative Black-led Movement Fund, which is redistributing resources they received after the uprising in Minneapolis. Noor sees the fund as a way to “till the soil and invest in an ecosystem of arts and culture and organizing and power-building” to recover from the divestment that has harmed Black communities and Black people. Money is being distributed to healers, organizers, artists, Black businesses building community wealth, and mutual and legal aid initiatives, to name a few. In Minneapolis and other cities, projects include defunding the police, working on emergency releases from COVID-infested prisons, taking chunks out of the prison-industrial complex like life sentences without parole, creating cop-free zones, and embodying and building up other practices of abolition in their communities, including critically centering voices usually left out of political conversations.

Budgets

Although organizers have been working on divestment campaigns for years, there is new energy behind efforts to reduce policing budgets. Noor characterizes the difference as “exciting” because all of this year’s proposed budgets in the city are more than what activists felt they could demand just two years ago.

In Chicago, the city just wrapped up its budget process with the mayor’s budget — which did not substantially shift funding away from the police — passing by only a small margin, thanks to the efforts of the defund movement. This is historic, because the budget vote is “typically a process of rubber stamping the mayor’s agenda,” according to Asha Ransby-Sporn, a member of the Black Abolitionist Network and the steering committee of Defund CPD.

“What we certainly have won is a great deal of people over to our side when it comes to not just defunding the police, but also connecting that to other issues that affect Black and Brown, and poor and working people in the city,” Ransby-Sporn says, citing a recent city-sponsored survey where an overwhelming 87 percent of Chicago residents said they wanted to reallocate money away from the police and move it to other city services. Highlighting that it’s “not all about austerity,” Ransby-Sporn says Democratic mayor Lori Lightfoot has threatened council members with divesting from city services in wards where council members voted to divest from the police.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., organizers aim to cut the city’s policing budget in half over the next three years, while looking to increase taxes on the rich.

“Our agenda for next year is really going to be about ways to make sure that our state governments and our social safety nets do not go bankrupt — and that we’re not tightening budgets in ways that are going to hurt the Black people in the working class,” Makia Green, an organizer with an autonomous chapter of Black Lives Matter and the Working Families Party, says. Black Lives Matter DC is also focused on supporting public campaign financing so that regular people can run for office, like Janeese Lewis George, who just won a seat on the D.C. city council on a defund platform.

In Detroit, the budget cycle is coming up in 2021 and a major goal, according to PG Watkins, will be to “make the defund demand real.” Organizers are targeting not only the police themselves but also the surveillance program Project Greenlight, which has posted cameras at just under 700 local businesses, residential buildings, clinics, and other places in the community. The program provides real-time camera surveillance to the Detroit police department in exchange for preferential police response time.

Non-Reformist Reforms Planned for 2021

Kamau Walton, a member of Critical Resistance, says it’s clear that defunding will be a multi-year push in most places. Walton says Critical Resistance’s role is to support strategic planning and other needs as activists continue to push for defunding nationally.

Divestment, Walton says, is about “chipping away at the reach of the PIC in communities.” Abolitionists sometimes refer to practices of chipping away as “non-reformist reforms,” or changes that get the movement closer to abolition instead of reforms that simply make policing seem more palatable to those who are not really affected by it.

Ervin with Critical Resistance highlights that organizing for releases is at the top of the list for 2021, “because it’s such a red alarm emergency.” COVID, of course, makes the already toxic conditions in the prison even more dangerous. They point out that “there’s been a surprising lack of releases,” even from high-powered Democratic governors like Gavin Newsom (California), Andrew Cuomo (New York) and Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan) who have received a lot of praise for how they have handled the pandemic.

In California, Aminah Elster with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) says the group is engaged in this urgent effort to push for releases as well as several efforts to change sentencing and improve conditions within prisons. One key effort is ending “life without parole” which “in the state of California is essentially a death sentence.”

At the national level, the People’s Coalition for Safety and Freedom seeks to repeal the 1994 Crime Bill, co-written by President-elect Joe Biden, and to replace it with legislation written by people in communities most directly affected by the bill. They describe this as a revolutionary process of “people’s movement assemblies” through which people will propose and implement their own solutions at the policy level rather than having legislative solutions prescribed by those who sit outside of their (harmful) impacts, including an acknowledgement of wrongdoing in the original ’94 Crime Bill.

Watkins from Green Light Black Futures says that for organizers, a major goal for 2021 is to “normalize abolition.” “Defund the police” is a launching point to discuss and deepen organizing against all the ways that the prison industrial complex organizes and targets people on the street, in the prisons, in social services, and through the very ways our lives our organized.

Mutual Aid and Care

Abolitionists often thread their policy proposals, plans and analyses with the principles of care and love. When Makia Green talked about defunding police in D.C. — the city with the highest police per capita — they talked about how such a change would decrease the number of interactions their younger cousins have with police and stop them from being pushed into the prison system. In particular, abolitionists prioritize deep care and respect for the people who are often forgotten, marginalized, invisible and most directly harmed by the police and the prison industrial complex.

The core of Black Visions’ mission is to show this love by making Black queer and trans people and their experiences visible so they can receive the care they need and deserve. The organization actively holds space for queerness, for family, and for joy in the “fullness of our humanity.” It’s about “practicing the love and care now so that we can actually be in practice of it, so that we can create a world in which all of us can be free,” Noor says.

Elster says CCWP is also working to “wrap up our efforts to maintain communication with folks on the inside, and also fighting to make sure that they are not overlooked in this pandemic.” The group is growing their pen pal training program since there is currently no in-person visitation, continuing their “survival and release advocacy work,” and raising money in response to COVID to help currently and formerly incarcerated people with their necessities.

“We need to double up,” on taking care of each other and creating things, says Watkins in Detroit, especially with the pandemic. They continue, “I think part of the fight for abolition is showing people in real time, what types of systems of care we can create, and actually doing that experimentation in small- and large-scale ways.” As an example, Watkins describes the 313Liberation Zone project, which has set up several police-free “liberation zones” in the middle of the city for several hours or days with music, cookouts, arts and crafts, community meetings, free stores and political education. They describe the 313Liberation Zone project as a way for Detroiters to be “embodying liberation and practicing liberation in our spaces.”

Keeping the Movement Going Under a Biden/Harris Administration

Abolitionist organizers want to “turn this spark from last year into a fire,” Ervin says. From California to Detroit, people are refocusing on the importance of political education as a tool to keep the momentum going from this summer’s uprisings. In Minneapolis, Black Visions has been holding Sunday Salons to answer questions about abolition, while Elster says she’s really excited about the possibilities that may grow from the new coalitions that have formed this year with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

Ransby-Sporn says she believes “political education is fundamental to building a base and growing a movement, because that’s where you get people on the same page about what we’re actually fighting for.” In political education spaces, we can work together to “build a new common sense of how we think the world should look.”

One reason there is so much investment in political education as local campaigns transition into 2021 is because they fear cooptation as the new Democratic administration enters the White House. Biden and Harris are “actually well versed at being able to absorb radical movements,” says Ervin, and emphasizes that activists need to be aware of this in our organizing. The new administration is expected to present “false alternatives” of “21st century policing 2.0,” as Walton put it. Examples of these include body cameras and bias trainings, which only expand the resources being given to the PIC rather than shift resources away into community-controlled, noncarceral alternatives. Meanwhile, these initiatives do not deter the very things they aim to prevent; chokeholds were already banned in New York City when Eric Garner was murdered by the NYPD. Organizers and scholars have repeatedly shown such “reformist reforms” are ineffective at best.

Abolitionists remind us that the Black Lives Matter movement itself became necessary and began under the Obama/Biden administration. These activists are skeptical about the Biden/Harris administration’s openness to “non-reformist reforms.” Regardless, organizers will continue to target city and state budgets, to demand non-policing resources that support communities in flourishing, and refuse to shrink their political imaginations. This movement is not backing off once Trump leaves the White House.

For Immediate Release: Assemblymember Kalra Announces New California Racial Justice Act for All

For Immediate Release
January 15, 2021

Contact:
Roseryn Bhudsabourg, Director of Communications
Office of Assemblymember Ash Kalra
Office: (916) 319-2027
roseryn.bhudsabourg@asm.ca.gov

Assemblymember Kalra Announces New California Racial Justice Act for All

The legislation challenging racial bias in court cases would ensure the recently-signed Racial Justice Act can be applied retroactively for all Californians

SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) today announced the introduction of the California Racial Justice Act for All, AB 256, which extends the protections provided in last year’s AB 2542, a first-of-its-kind law in the state prohibiting the use of race, ethnicity, or national origin in sentencing and convictions. The bill is joint-authored by Assemblymembers Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), and Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles).

“As we commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday today, we must also remember to help champion his civil rights legacy, evoking his pursuit for racial justice, equality, and freedom for all Americans,” said Assemblymember Kalra. “I am humbled to be able to honor Dr. King’s memory and leadership through action by introducing the California Racial Justice Act for All. While passing last year’s bill was a major step towards addressing institutionalized and implicit racial bias in our courts, the work is not done. It is incumbent upon us to make sure that all Californians are afforded an opportunity to pursue justice by making the measure retroactive—ensuring that these new protections are rightfully extended to those who have already been harmed by unfair convictions and sentences.”

“The California Racial Justice Act created a critical and historic path forward for Black and Brown people to pursue justice in the face of racially discriminatory treatment during the criminal legal process,” said Mica Doctoroff, Legislative Attorney at the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy. “We are proud to join the diverse group of cosponsors behind this effort to challenge and confront systemic racism in California’s criminal legal system.”

Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2542 (Kalra, Chapter 317, Statutes of 2020) into law in December and the bill has already prompted justice advocates in other states to champion similar measures. While AB 2542 made it possible for a person charged or convicted of a crime to challenge racial bias in their case, it was prospective only, excluding judgments rendered prior to Jan. 1, 2021.

“Racial bias in our criminal legal system is pervasive and pernicious,” said Stephanie Doute, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of California. “The Racial Justice Act, passed last year, gives people the opportunity to challenge racial bias in the criminal legal process if it occurs after January 1, 2021. That was a huge step forward. It is now vital to extend this groundbreaking reform so that it’s available to everyone who has been unfairly imprisoned or sentenced as the result of bias in our justice system.”

“In establishing a framework for defendants to challenge the known systemic racism and bias in our criminal courts, the Racial Justice Act was a tremendous step forward,” said Ken Spence, Senior Policy Advisor for NextGen. “However, our work will remain incomplete unless we expand its protections, retroactively, to all impacted people, to those whose lives have already been savaged by an unjust system.”

“Full systemic accountability requires full retroactivity,” said Aminah Elster, Campaign and Policy Coordinator for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “Protections against racial bias and unfair sentencing schemes at work in our criminal legal system must be extended to all. By extending these protections to those already harmed, California can set an example to other states by demonstrating clear accountability and a commitment to racial justice, equality, and freedom for everyone.”

The California Racial Justice Act is a countermeasure to address a widely condemned 1987 legal precedent established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of McCleskey v. Kemp. The McCleskey decision has the functional effect of requiring that criminal defendants prove intentional discrimination when challenging racial bias in their legal process. This unreasonably high standard is almost impossible to meet without direct proof that the racially discriminatory behavior was conscious, deliberate, and targeted, thereby hindering legal means for a person to remedy racial bias in their case. The Court’s majority, however, also observed that State Legislatures concerned about racial bias in the criminal justice system could act to address it.

“The criminal justice system was designed as a mechanism of racialized control. There is nothing accidental about racism infecting every step of the criminal justice system from policing, to the courtroom, to incarceration, and even after release,” said Taina Vargas, Executive Director of Initiate Justice. “We must continue to root out institutional racism and match California’s progressive image to its daily realities. We applaud Assemblymember Kalra for championing this cause and standing up for the most vulnerable members of society.”

Many incarcerated Californians have had their convictions and sentences upheld despite blatantly racist statements by attorneys, judges, jurors, and expert witnesses, the exclusion of all, or nearly all, Black or Latino people from serving on a jury, and stark statistical evidence showing systemic bias in charging and sentencing.

Systemic racial disparities are pervasive in mass incarceration in the state, where according to the Public Policy Institute of California, four out of every ten people incarcerated in state prison are African American men—ten times the imprisonment rate for white men.

The principal coauthors of AB 256 are Assemblymembers Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Senators Steve Bradford (D-Gardena) and Lena Gonzalez (D- Long Beach). The bill is also coauthored by Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), Alex Lee (D-San Jose), Marc Levine (D-Marin County), Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), and Senators María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

The legislation is sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Friends Service Committee, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Initiate Justice, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the League of Women Voters of California, and NextGen.

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Assemblymember Ash Kalra was first elected to the California Legislature in 2016, representing the 27th District, which encompasses approximately half of San Jose and includes all of downtown. In 2020, he was re-elected to his third term. Assemblymember Kalra is the Chair of the State Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and also currently serves as a member on the Housing and Community Development, Judiciary, Transportation, and Water, Parks, and Wildlife committees.

Statement from Lisa Montgomery’s Following her Execution

Update from Lisa’s organizing team 1/12/21 [source: instagram @herwholetruth]

image sourced from @herwholetruth instagram 1/13/21 with caption “Not a monster, not a saint. A person who deserves to live.”

“We are devastated and outraged. SCOTUS denies #LisaMontgomery her request for a stay of execution so that the district court can hold a hearing to determine whether she is competent to be executed. Her execution can go forward, even though she has a tenuous grasp of reality.”


Attorney Statement: 1/12/21

The following is a statement released by Lisa Montgomery’s attorney late last night. The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame. No one disagrees that Mrs. Montgomery was the victim of unspeakable torture and sex trafficking. No one can credibly dispute Mrs. Montgomery’s longstanding debilitating mental disease – diagnosed and treated for the first time by the Bureau of Prisons’ own doctors. Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution. The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway. Violating the Constitution, federal law, its own regulations, and longstanding norms along the way. The government stopped at nothing in its zeal to kill this damaged and delusional woman. After we, her attorneys, contracted COVID-19 during our travels to visit her after her execution was scheduled, the government fought tooth and nail against any delay to allow us to recover so we could represent her effectively. Then they violated the law in multiple ways in rescheduling her execution for the final days of the Trump Administration. As courts agreed Lisa’s case presented important legal issues warranting serious consideration – including whether she was competent to execute – the government hammered onward with appeals. By insisting on an execution during a pandemic, this administration demonstrated its reckless disregard for human life of innocent citizens. Executions are super-spreader events. The government knows this. Yet, they put the lives of every single person who must participate in these “events” as well as every one of those persons’ friends, families, neighbors, co-workers, and who knows how many other people. Because this administration was so afraid that the next one might choose Life over Death, they put the lives and health of US citizens in grave danger. In the midst of all this litigation, Lisa’s request for clemency remained before President Trump. It was supported by thousands of organizations and individuals – faith leaders, anti-violence advocates, conservative leaders, international organizations, and many more. But the President did nothing. He had not even the decency to formally deny – or even acknowledge – Lisa’s clemency application, though it is hard to imagine a case more deserving of executive intervention than this one. Lisa Montgomery’s execution was far from justice. She should never have faced a death sentence in the first place, as no other woman has faced execution for a similar crime. And Lisa was much more than the tragic crime she committed, a crime for which she felt deep remorse before she lost all touch with reality in the days before her execution. Lisa was also much more than the horrors inflicted upon her, the sexual violence and abuse she endured at the hands of those who were supposed to love, nurture, and protect her. Lisa was a loving mother, grandmother, and sister who adored her family. She was a devout Christian who loved Christmas and created beautiful angels for those lucky enough to receive her gifts. Lisa often became trapped in the prison of her mind, losing touch with reality for periods of time. But when not gripped by psychosis, she was a gentle and caring person whom I was honored to know and to represent. Lisa Nouri, Amy Harwell and I represented Mrs. Montgomery for eight years. We loved her very much and she loved us. She honored us with her truth and trusted us to share it in a way that not only told her story, but that could help other women. Even though President Trump could not be the hero we asked him to be, we are here to say to every woman and girl who has been the victim of violence and degradation: You matter. Your pain matters. You are more than a victim. You are a survivor. Do not let anyone humiliate or shame you. You deserve to be loved. In the past week, we have seen just how far President Trump and his administration will go in their disdain for justice and the rule of law. This failed government adds itself to the long list of people and institutions who failed Lisa. We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again. -Kelley Henry, attorney for Lisa Montgomery-January 13, 2021

The following is a statement released by Lisa Montgomery’s attorney late last night. The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame. No one disagrees that Mrs. Montgomery was the victim of unspeakable torture and sex trafficking. No one can credibly dispute Mrs. Montgomery’s longstanding debilitating mental disease – diagnosed and treated for the first time by the Bureau of Prisons’ own doctors. Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution. The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway. Violating the Constitution, federal law, its own regulations, and longstanding norms along the way. The government stopped at nothing in its zeal to kill this damaged and delusional woman. After we, her attorneys, contracted COVID-19 during our travels to visit her after her execution was scheduled, the government fought tooth and nail against any delay to allow us to recover so we could represent her effectively. Then they violated the law in multiple ways in rescheduling her execution for the final days of the Trump Administration. As courts agreed Lisa’s case presented important legal issues warranting serious consideration – including whether she was competent to execute – the government hammered onward with appeals. By insisting on an execution during a pandemic, this administration demonstrated its reckless disregard for human life of innocent citizens. Executions are super-spreader events. The government knows this. Yet, they put the lives of every single person who must participate in these “events” as well as every one of those persons’ friends, families, neighbors, co-workers, and who knows how many other people. Because this administration was so afraid that the next one might choose Life over Death, they put the lives and health of US citizens in grave danger. In the midst of all this litigation, Lisa’s request for clemency remained before President Trump. It was supported by thousands of organizations and individuals – faith leaders, anti-violence advocates, conservative leaders, international organizations, and many more. But the President did nothing. He had not even the decency to formally deny – or even acknowledge – Lisa’s clemency application, though it is hard to imagine a case more deserving of executive intervention than this one. Lisa Montgomery’s execution was far from justice. She should never have faced a death sentence in the first place, as no other woman has faced execution for a similar crime. And Lisa was much more than the tragic crime she committed, a crime for which she felt deep remorse before she lost all touch with reality in the days before her execution. Lisa was also much more than the horrors inflicted upon her, the sexual violence and abuse she endured at the hands of those who were supposed to love, nurture, and protect her. Lisa was a loving mother, grandmother, and sister who adored her family. She was a devout Christian who loved Christmas and created beautiful angels for those lucky enough to receive her gifts. Lisa often became trapped in the prison of her mind, losing touch with reality for periods of time. But when not gripped by psychosis, she was a gentle and caring person whom I was honored to know and to represent. Lisa Nouri, Amy Harwell and I represented Mrs. Montgomery for eight years. We loved her very much and she loved us. She honored us with her truth and trusted us to share it in a way that not only told her story, but that could help other women. Even though President Trump could not be the hero we asked him to be, we are here to say to every woman and girl who has been the victim of violence and degradation: You matter. Your pain matters. You are more than a victim. You are a survivor. Do not let anyone humiliate or shame you. You deserve to be loved. In the past week, we have seen just how far President Trump and his administration will go in their disdain for justice and the rule of law. This failed government adds itself to the long list of people and institutions who failed Lisa. We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again. -Kelley Henry, attorney for Lisa Montgomery-January 13, 2021