DROP LWOP! LETTER TO GOVERNOR BROWN

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

We are writing to ask you to join with California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) in our statewide campaign to DROP LWOP and secure sentence commutations for all those serving Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP). LWOP is an inhumane sentence which denies people the possibility to rehabilitate and change.

We are asking Governor Brown to use his executive powers to commute the almost 5,000 people serving LWOP sentences — including nearly 200 women and transgender people in CA women’s prisons — to parole-eligible sentences. Because CCWP has advocated for the civil and human rights of people in CA women’s prisons for 22 years, we focus on the impact of life without parole sentencing on the 200 people serving LWOP in women’s prisons.

Will you join us? We are looking for organizations and individuals to sign on to the letter below as a first step in expressing support for this campaign.  Please feel free to contact info@womenprisoners.org or (415) 255-7036 x 4 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Thank you,

California Coalition for Women Prisoners

 Dear Governor Brown,

As grassroots, advocacy, and social justice organizations, we are writing to urge you to commute the sentences of all people serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) in California’s prisons to parole-eligible sentences.

Life Without Parole sentencing is increasingly being challenged and limited across the United States. We believe that life without parole is inhumane. It denies that people have the capacity to change, grow and be rehabilitated, and thus is known as “the other death penalty” by those serving it and by their families.

As you know, many states, including California, are legislating against sentencing youth to Life Without Parole.[i] Now it is time to take action to mitigate the impact for all people sentenced to die in prison due to this endless punishment. While commuting a sentence does not guarantee release from prison, it does guarantee that each person will have the right to see the parole board in their lifetime, rather than being sentenced to a “living death.”

People of color are disproportionately sentenced to LWOP, revealing prosecutorial bias and racial discrimination.[ii] Of the nearly 200 people serving LWOP in CA women’s prisons, the overwhelming majority are survivors of abuse, including intimate partner battering, childhood abuse, sexual violence and sex trafficking. [iii] Additionally, the majority are first-time “offenders,” and had no record prior to being sentenced to Life Without Parole.

All 5,000 people serving LWOP in CA prisons are subjected to institutional discrimination, such as:

  • They are barred from rehabilitation programs, including the majority of state-run self-help programs because of their sentences.
  • Though they are required to pay restitution, they are only eligible for jobs that pay the lowest hourly wage, currently only eight cents per hour. Because they are barred from access to higher wage opportunities, they often cannot pay restitution, and this economic burden falls on their families.
  • They are ineligible for Elder Parole and Compassionate Release when aging and terminally ill.

We urge you to take a bold stance against Life Without Parole sentencing and let California serve as a model for the rest of our nation. Please continue to take leadership on this issue and commute all those sentenced to LWOP to parole-eligible sentences, initiate a process to eliminate life without parole from the California penal code, and provide people sentenced to LWOP with opportunities for rehabilitation and redemption.

Sincerely,

CLICK HERE TO SIGN ON TO THE LETTER TO DROP LWOP

THANK YOU AND PLEASE SHARE THIS LETTER!

Notes

[i] Senate Bill 9: Fair Sentencing for Youth. http://fairsentencingforyouth.org/legislation/senate-bill-9-california-fair-sentencing-for-youth/

[ii] “Racial Disparities in Sentencing,” American Civil Liberties Union, Hearing on Reports of Racism in the Justice System of the United States, Submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 153rd Session, October 27, 2014.
https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/141027_iachr_racial_disparities_aclu_submission_0.pdf

[iii] Data gathered by CCWP members incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility and California Institution for Women. This data reflects national statistics reported by the ACLU that nearly 60% of people in women’s prisons nationwide are survivors of physical or sexual abuse, and that survivors make up 94% of the population in some women’s prisons. “Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003,” American Civil Liberties Union. https://www.aclu.org/other/prison-rape-elimination-act-2003-prea?redirect=prisoners-rights-womens-rights/prison-rape-elimination-act-2003-prea

 

 

 

CIW June 1 Vigil Highlights

DrummingThank you to the families of #ShayleneGraves, #ErikaRocha & everyone who came out and supported our Vigil on June 1 at CIW women’s prison.

Together we honored Shaylene “Light Blue” Graves on the one-year anniversary of her death in custody, linking her preventable death to at least 15 more preventable deaths in the past 3 years at CIW. Together we continued the fight to end state-sanctioned death & abuse at CIW, demanding #CareNotCages. We connected directly with incarcerated people across the barbed wire before they were locked down, chanting “We see you, we miss you, we love you, we got you!” They cheered and chanted back “Shut down CIW!”

We thanked supporters for adding community pressure which helped our legal team visit with incarcerated people on “Suicide Watch” that same day – access routinely denied by prison staff. Special thanks to Sheri Michael Keara Robert Linda Freida Victoria Geraldine Jayda Melina Lisa Romarilyn Amber Rose Taylor Alisa Vishal Rachel Willy Nolasco Chisa Stephanie Colby Krystal Ren Elliot Emily Grace Brian James Sam Grace Daniel Michael, Moore & Alex. Thanks to our powerful drummers: Oscar, Timothy Reyes & Lawson Bush! Thanks to our coalition support: Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles Black Lives Matter IE, Critical Resistance Los Angeles, Dignity and Power Now Survived and Punished & Think Outside the Cage @Photos@ Chisa Hughes.

ShayleneShine YOur light across the wallsPowerful line

PRESS RELEASE – CIW VIGIL THURSDAY JUNE 1

CIW Vigil 2For Immediate Release – May 30, 2017

CONTACTS

Colby Lenz, California Coalition for Women Prisoners
colby@womenprisoners.org
Sheri Graves, mother of Shaylene Graves

Sherimgraves@gmail.com

Psychological Torture Continues at Women’s Prison

Families, Advocates Demand End to Neglect & “Suicide Watch” Confinement

WHEN: Thursday, June 1, 2017, 7:00-8:30pm

WHERE: California Institution for Women (CIW), 16756 Chino Corona Rd, Corona, CA 92880

PRESS RELEASE:

On June 1, 2017, advocates and families will convene a vigil and rally at the prison, California Institution for Women (CIW), marking one year since the devastating death of 27-year-old African American, Shaylene “Light Blue” Graves.  Graves was imprisoned at CIW at the time of her death and was only six weeks away from release.  For days, Graves begged guards to move her to a different cell when she felt endangered, but CIW staff ignored her.  Since 2013, at least 15 women have died at CIW as a result of multiple forms of abusive practices which amount to psychological torture.  These practices include ignoring desperate pleas for help by imprisoned people in mental health and medical crisis.  Despite changes in CIW’s top administration in 2016, reports of ongoing psychological torture at CIW continue.

Sheri Graves, mother of Shaylene, has been working with advocates at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) to bring more attention to the human rights crisis at CIW.  “CIW staff failed to protect my daughter’s life,” she stated.  “The fact that Shaylene’s death is part of an ongoing pattern of disregard for human life at CIW makes this loss all the more devastating.  Shaylene was an exceptional person with a big heart and so much promise. She was looking forward to her release and was working on her vision to begin a non-profit organization called Out of the Blue to support people coming out of prison. In memory of Shaylene and all of the people who have lost their lives at CIW, we demand full transparency, full accountability, and an end to these torture practices.”

CIW’s suicide rate is more than 8 times the national rate for people in women’s prisons, and more than 5 times the rate for all California prisons.  “Shaylene’s death is part of a pattern of neglect and psychological torture at CIW,” said Colby Lenz, an advocate at CCWP.  “CIW uses “suicide watch” confinement as another form of solitary confinement, which has been identified as a form of psychological torture by incarcerated people, human rights experts, and legal advocates.  As part of this torture, CIW punishes people in “suicide watch” confinement with intensive isolation that blocks them from visits and calls from families and friends.  CIW also regularly fails to notify families about the status of their endangered loved ones, including blocking access to their legal and medical files even after death.  Currently, “suicide watch” is overcrowded and we continue to receive weekly reports of suicide attempts at CIW.”

Shaylene Graves died shortly after 35-year-old Erika Rocha hung herself at CIW in April 2016 after being forced in “suicide watch” solitary confinement.  “I don’t want any other family to go through what my family has gone through,” stated Rocha’s sister, Freida Rocha.  Advocates and families demand the end of all forms of psychological torture within CIW, including the end of “suicide watch” confinement practices.  As part of fulfilling the demand for transparency and accountability, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) should make available public reports on compliance with the August 2016 Coleman settlement court order regarding mental health services and suicide prevention protocols.  They also demand that those in confinement have full access to visits and calls from families and friends, and the immediate transfer of all medical and legal information to family members if their imprisoned loved ones are in life-threatening situations or have died while incarcerated at CIW.

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LWOP COMMUTATIONS FOR SUE RUSSO & KEN HARTMAN!

CCWP welcomes Governor Brown’s granting of 72 pardons and seven commutations on April 15, 2017 (See more information)  We are especially glad that he commuted the LWOP sentence of Kenneth Hartman who has long led the fight against LWOP as “the other death penalty,” and the LWOP sentence of Sue Russo, a survivor of domestic violence, who CCWP works with and has served almost twenty-three years at CCWF.  Our hearts go out to all the other people with LWOP sentences who were hoping for commutations at this time.  We are committed to moving forward CCWP’s campaign to win Commutations for All people with LWOP and to put an end to this cruel but far too usual sentence completely.

 

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CCWP 2016 Highlights- Please donate today!

When I faced the hardest situation of my life, CCWP was there for me. The very day I received the tragic news of the death of my daughter, Shaylene Graves, in a California state women’s prison, CCWP reached out to me and my family. Through CCWP’s tireless efforts, my family has been given the strength to ?ght for justice and seek answers in Shaylene’s death. Through CCWP, I have been introduced to other families that share my grief and struggle. All of our families have been given a voice through CCWP’s incredible organization and dedication. – Sheri Graves

Dear CCWP Community,

SHOUT THEIR NAMES! NO MORE DEATHS! BRING OUR LOVED ONES HOME ALIVE!  These calls of grief and rage reverberated through a Town Hall in Oakland this past July and two months later at a vigil directly in front of the California Institution Women (CIW).  CCWP organized these events working closely with family members of people who have died at CIW due to overcrowding, solitary confinement, lack of mental health services and racist neglect.  After three years of insisting that the epidemic of suicide and death at CIW could not be ignored by the prison authorities or the California legislature, we finally succeeded in winning an independent investigation of CIW by the State Auditor, one step towards needed change. Our continued pressure also helped push the dysfunctional wardens at CIW and CCWF into early retirement.

We raised our demands to prison officials and the legislature through media, hearings, vigils, and town halls.  At the same time, we expanded our visits to the people inside, encouraging their courageous efforts to support each other.  We partnered with the women at CIW to respond to the traumatic impact of repeated losses.  We let family members and loved ones know that they did not have to deal with this crisis alone.  We were able to sustain this struggle against the callous disregard of the prison authorities and the lawmakers because we built community at the same time as we advocated for systemic policy changes.

Other major highlights of 2016 include:

  • A Living Chance multi-media storytelling project was included as part of a major exhibit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. A Living Chance uses storytelling and art to educate about the injustice of Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentencing.
  • Participation in the national Survived & Punished network which helped to publicize and mobilize people to support Bresha Meadows, a young Black woman who was arrested for defending herself and her family from her father who had a long history of abusing them.
  • Participation in the Trans Advocacy Group, a collaborative of organizations working to support incarcerated transgender people in California. CCWP helps the group coordinate more consistent support for trans men held in women’s prisons, and advocates for trans women in CA prisons.
  • Participation in the SF No More Jails coalition which defeated a proposed SF county jail rebuild in December 2015.Participation in the city’s working group for alternatives to incarceration.
  • Continuation of our Fired Up! empowerment group in the SF County jail, our Spitfire Speakers’ Bureau and The Fire Inside Newsletter, now in its twenty-first year of publication.
  • Sustaining five visiting teams that provide legal advocacy and support at all the women’s state prisons on a bi-monthly basis and expanding out L.A. team to respond to the CIW crisis.

We cannot do this without you, our community!  Please donate today.

  • Support CCWP’s work in 2017 on a foundational level by becoming a monthly sustainer.
  • If you can’t commit to a monthly donation, please make a generous one-time contribution.
  • Please also consider planning a legacy gift for the future through a bequest, a living trust or a beneficiary designation.

Your contribution will support:

  • Salaries for our two dedicated part-time staff members.
  • Expenses for prison visits including car rentals, gas and food for the people we visit.
  • Stipends for the formerly incarcerated members of our Speakers’ Bureau.
  • Printing and mailing costs for The Fire Inside newsletter.

Please donate today.

In this grim political moment, we join with people across the country in preparing to resist escalating racist, sexist and economic attacks from a new ultra right-wing administration.  Heightened criminalization and imprisonment of immigrants is one of the many planned assaults that we intend to fight. Together, collectively, we will stand firm on our core principles of justice and love.
Hafsah Al-Amin & Windy Click
Program Coordinators