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Although the State repealed its eugenics law in 1979, coerced and forced sterilizations continued in State prisons into the 2010’s.  Attorney Cynthia Chandler, who has spent the last two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. 

Incarcerated artists collaborate with USF performing arts students for final performance

Check out the artistic collaboration between CCWF incarcerated artists and University of San Francisco performing art students that premiered via zoom on May 13, 2021. Here (and below) is the edited version of the May 13th event. It is the recording of the zoom event and with the videos. DVDs of this recording will be mailed to the inside artists.

You can view additional information about the Performing Arts and Community Exchange website, including bios, additional writing, direct actions to take, resources, and links to the videos here. 

Contribute to the Go Fund Me here. Money raised will go directly to the inside artists.

Action Alert 5/25 – SB 300 | The Sentencing Reform Act of 2021

The Sentencing Reform Act of 2021 (D-Cortese)
#SB300 Toolkit — Day of Action 5/25/21
Share with this link: bit.ly/SB300toolkit

Please join us TODAY for a Day of Action in support of SB 300, 

The Sentencing Reform Act of 2021.

SB 300 will address California’s unjust “felony murder special circumstance” law by ensuring that the death penalty or life without parole (LWOP) cannot be imposed on a person who did not kill, nor intend for anyone to die, during a crime. SB 300 will also ensure that life without parole is NEVER a mandatory minimum sentence in California. 

See our online SB 300 Toolkit for more details on how to call or email your State Senator to ask them to vote YES on SB 300 at this critical time!

Instructions for submitting public comment TODAY to support SB 300: