by Diana Block
On Tuesday, May 22 representatives of CCWP and Theresa Azhocar, mother of Theresa Cruz, attended a public hearing held by the Board of Prison Terms regarding proposed changes in regulations regarding women prisoners with Battered Women’s Syndrome. In 1996 Penal Code 4801, legislation sponsored by Senator Sheila Kuehl, became law in California after Theresa Cruz’s daughter and mother presented compelling testimony supporting its passage. This legislation directed the Board of Prison Terms to evaluate women prisoners impacted by Battered Women’s Syndrome (BWS) to determine recommendations for sentence commutation, pardon or parole. However, the regulations were never implemented and dozens of battered women prisoners remain in prison even though they are eligible for parole. Only one battered woman prisoner, Rose Ann Parker, has been given parole under Governor Davis. According to Senator Kuehl, the Parole Board “has given very minimum lip service” to the law.
Responding to a groundswell of public pressure, including legislative hearings in October 2000 which included testimony from battered women prisoners, the Board of Prison Terms finally proposed changes to the regulations in order to improve implementation of 4801. Speakers at the hearing agreed that while the proposed changes were a step in the right direction, they didn’t go far enough. Diana Block expressed her concern that “the definition of Battered Women’s Syndrome (BWS) needs to be broad enough to encompass the actual real life circumstances which bring women to the point of desperation where they commit acts which they end up being incarcerated for.” Theresa Azhocar spoke of the effort her family went through to help get 4801 passed only to see five years pass without any concrete results from the legislation. And Karen Shain concluded “The regulations can be improved on paper but if there is no impact in the real world on women getting released then it is all tokenism.”
A press conference following the hearings was well attended and there was coverage on two local TV stations as well as several newspaper articles. The hearing occurred at a time when the Board of Prison Terms has been under increasing scrutiny for not doing its job. Senator Richard Polanco’s budget committee even slashed the Board of Prison Terms budget temporarily to focus attention on the serious problems with Board policy and practice.
To protest this unjust state of affairs, prisoners have initiated a public letter writing campaign to state legislators. Their letter explains that “numerous individuals are eligible for parole and are being denied parole for no apparent reason There are too many children in our society who are being forced by “The System” to grow up without their parents by their side. These are the real victims!” According to Theresa Cruz, the letter writing campaign is an effort to ‘build an umbrella between inmates’ families and organizations Every single member in the family must mail in their letter every week It’s time for a big cry from the public!” This important effort on the part of the women should be supported. For copies of the letter please write to CCWP.