Dozens of women at FCI Dublin detail rape and retaliation – real reform is questioned

ktvu.com

By: Lisa Fernandez

Published: September 23, 2022 5:48AM

Updated: September 25, 2022 7:34AM

When Marie Washington of San Diego was put into coronavirus quarantine at the Federal Correctional Institute at Dublin for six weeks, one guard in particular came by, shining a light in her cell, often asking to see her private parts. 

He asked her to “do stuff” with her cellmate so that he could watch. He told her that he could enter her room at any time to have his way to “f—” the “s—” out of her. 

“He would ask me…I’m sorry for my language…if my ass was real,” Washington told KTVU, recalling events that occured in September 2020. “He would ask me to dance for him. He would then flirt with my bunkie as well. We were like asking him, ‘What do you want to see? And he was like, ‘F— her. Do it now.’ And so we engaged in sexual activity and immediately we stopped because we were like uncomfortable.” 

Sexual abuse in prison is all too common an affair – officers have been charged with sex crimes anywhere women are held in custody across the country.

But there’s no other prison in the United States where so many officers – five, including the former warden – have been charged with having sex with incarcerated women than FCI Dublin, a low-security women’s prison about 40 miles east of San Francisco. 

Over the last eight months, KTVU interviewed, emailed and read the testimony of more than three dozen women who are currently incarcerated at or released from FCI Dublin, where actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were housed for their roles in the college admissions scandal. 

In interviews, the women described being raped, sexually assaulted, verbally threatened and retaliated against if they complained about what was going on. 

Linda Chaney of Sacramento said an officer repeatedly assaulted her in the kitchen and would “rub his dick” up against her butt. Her harassment took place from 2019 to 2021r, mostly in the kitchen area. Still, she kept quiet. 

“I was afraid to speak up, because for one, I didn’t want to be put in special housing,” Chaney told KTVU after she had been released. “I mean, like I didn’t want my room tore up, like, is just strange. Like, it just seemed like if you don’t go with the flow, they’re like they outcast you and treat you worser.”

Aerial shot of the all-women's prison in Dublin, Calif.

Shining a light on FCI Dublin 

There is no such thing as consensual sex in prison.  It is illegal for someone who is in a supervisory or disciplinary position to have any type of sexual contact or relationship with a person in detention. 

What’s unique about Dublin is not the egregiousness or the sheer scale of abuse,” said Susan Beaty, supervising attorney for Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, whose nonprofit provides services for incarcerated women at FCI Dublin. “What’s unique is that people are paying attention and sort of providing this opportunity to actually do something about it.”

As this increased focus is now being paid to this prison that holds about 700 women, some are hoping for change. 

And yet there is still ample skepticism that any real reform is really in the works. 

While the possibilities for reform could exist – by changing the culture, installing cameras, implementing stricter hiring protocols and launching independent investigations – observers say they don’t see much change really occurring. 

In fact, in some instances, all the attention has made certain aspects of prison retribution even worse. One woman emailed KTVU from inside FCI Dublin to say that all the stories about the abuse is causing more harm for her and the other women inside the prison in terms of punishments and Draconian rules. 

“I have seen since since since there’s been greater media attention paid to Dublin, a crackdown on communication, it’s been harder to get calls and visits,” Beaty said. “We’ve had legal mail intercepted again and again. That’s always been an issue at Dublin. But it’s gotten worse. And I think part of that is an attempt to prevent the public from speaking with survivors and prevent survivors from telling their stories.

Five correctional officers at FCI Dublin have been charged with the sexual abuse of a ward.

The five officers

Two officers – Ross Klinger and James Highhouse – have pleaded guilty to the crime of sexual abuse of a ward. Former cook Enrique Garcia is scheduled to plead guilty on Oct. 27. 

Former Warden Ray J. Garcia – who is charged with molesting a woman and ordering another to strip while he took pictures of her – and Officer John Bellhouse have entered not guilty pleas and are headed to trial. Charges stem from encounters documented in 2018 to 2021. 

Highhouse is the only one to receive punishment so far; a judge sentenced him to seven years in prison.  He lured women into his office and chapel, using faith and fear to coerce them. 

Their lawyers have repeatedly declined requests for comment. 

And the Bureau of Prisons has repeatedly declined requests for interviews and tours, although the agency has issued statements saying that the allegations, if true, are “reprehensible” and abhorrent.” 

Andrea Reyes, 34, of Perris, Riverside County, explained in an exclusive interview that former correctional officer Ross Klinger obtained access to her private health files while she was incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institute Dublin – an all-women’s prison 40 miles east of San Francisco.

Women detail sexual abuse 

The women all relayed stories with similar themes: Officers cozy up to them, promise them love and special treatment until the relationship goes sour, and then they are threatened and retaliated against if they report the abuse. 

For example: 

  • Andrea Reyes of Perris, Calif. was promised by Correctional Officer Ross Klinger that he’d marry her, and then when she found out he was having a relationship with another woman, she broke up with him – only to be threatened by him that she had to keep on having sex. Reyes also said Klinger dipped into her mental health files to use her past triggers to prey on her. She entered the relationship because she believed his promises of love.  “I believed him,” Reyes said. “I guess I was alone and I was vulnerable.”
  • M.R. said Klinger treated her the same way, bringing her Starbucks and then using her personal information to convince her into having sex. She got so depressed about this relationship that she began cutting herself, and was denied any mental health services, she said. Klinger threatened to kill her if she snitched that they were having sex.
  • L.I., an immigrant from Thailand, said that Highhouse, the prison chaplain, would dry hump her and justified his sexual requests by telling her that “everyone in the Bible has sex.” 
  • Yvonne Palmore of Hayward, Calif., said that she was once beaten up by officers for no apparent reason. When she awoke in grave pain, she said the warden was standing over her, taking pictures. To this day, she’s not exactly sure what happened to her and she said she suffers deep psychological stress.
  • From prison, Aimee Chavira emailed KTVU to say an officer whose nickname is “Dirty Dick” would lock her in her cell during COVID until she showed him her breasts through the door. The officer would keep coming to her cell to see if she was going to the bathroom. She would tell him to get away. And he would laugh at her and tell her he wouldn’t leave until she stood up from the toilet. “He began to get aggressive and this began to scare me bad,” she wrote.
  • Valerie Mercadel of Long Beach, Calif., stopped an attempted rape on her at FCI Dublin nearly 30 years ago. “I was petrified,” she said. She said she was treated like “a whore” by the male staff. “That’s how they treated us,” she said. “Like we were prostitutes.” Mercadel became a pastor upon her release. To this day, she said her mental health is poor, and she can’t shake the trauma of what happened to her.
  • Cherie Dillon of Idaho reported to authorities that her cellmate had an illegal sexual relationship with an officer – and then she was punished for speaking up about it. Dillon said her “good time” was taken away, she lost her commissary and she had to talk on the phone to her husband while handcuffed. “I will never tell another inmate that they should go to report anything to anyone higher up,” Dillon told KTVU. “Because all that’s going to happen is it’s going to make their life worse.

Dublin prison guard says she was forced out for reporting abuse

Tess Korth worked as a federal correctional officer at Dublin’s prison for 25 years, in which she reported the abuse of women. Then, she got a letter telling her she was re-assigned to a male facility in Oregon. She left. And now, she’s telling her side of the story.

And it’s not just incarcerated women who witnessed or experienced the abuse. 

Tess Korth, a former prison unit manager, told KTVU that she reported sexual and verbal abuses many times over her 25 years as an employee.

She said the treatment of the women was awful.

“The way they refer to them, like they were bitches,” Korth said. “And those were the nicer terms they used.” 

Mostly, Korth said her complaints fell on deaf ears. 

That is until May, when she believes her whisteblowing essentially forced her out of her job with a reassignment to another state. Instead of taking the new post, Korth retired, telling management to “shove it.” 

The abuse occurs because it can 

Dr. Terry Kupers of Berkeley, a forensic psychiatrist who testifies in prison and sexual abuse cases, said illegal and bad behavior occurs – because it can. 

In this case, the abuse came from the top, with the warden himself.

“Sexual abuse in prison doesn’t happen in a culture that doesn’t allow it,” Kupers said. “The women that are locked up in the prison have absolutely no power. The officers are in total control. And if they’re sexually abused, they have no one to complain to and nobody is going to do anything. That is the perfect storm for officers abusing women.” 

Throwing women in solitary confinement adds another layer onto the abuse.

“Women are terrified of solitary confinement more than men are,” Kupers said. “In solitary, you have no connection with other human beings. And that’s very important to women. So they dread being sent to solitary and therefore they don’t report. You can’t have women reporting to the very officers who are abusing them.” 

Could reforms be ahead? 

Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo and Mike Sisak first started uncovering a “hotbed of corruption” throughout the 122-federal prison system after financier Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide and they wondered how and why officers weren’t watching the nation’s most high-profile inmate. 

They found systemic issues throughout the entire Bureau of Prison system. 

Balsamo noted that prisons are shrouded in secrecy and for the first time now, even if it’s only a sliver of light, the agency is now facing increased scrutiny oversight from the public and members of Congress. 

“There’s been a shake up in leadership at the prison and all the way up the Bureau of Prisons,” Balsamo said. “I think for the first time we’re starting to see, you know, the Justice Department kind of making this a top priority, especially what’s happening at Dublin.”

For example, this summer, U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chair Jon Ossoff and Ranking Member Ron Johnson began holding hearings on the prison systems to try to uncover abuse and force reform. 

Ossoff has been extremely critical of FCI Dublin’s management, taking the former director to task during a July hearing, asking how he could promise to keep women safe in a prison that’s been nicknamed “the rape club.” 

A new Bureau of Prisons director, Colette Peters, took office on Aug. 2. 

Many hope she is a reformer. However, she declined to meet with KTVU when she visited Dublin in September, as has the new warden of the facility. 

However, on Thursday, her office issued a lengthy statement, saying that she vowed to “change the culture” at FCI Dublin. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has vowed to prosecute any officer who is found having sex with incarcerated women and sources have told KTVU that “more charges are coming.”

In August, a federal grand jury did just that; issuing an eight-count superseding indictment charging former Garcia with seven counts of sexually abusive conduct against three women who were in custody at the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin. 

“The Department of Justice takes seriously its obligation to provide safe and humane treatment to individuals in our custody,” a spokesman for the DOJ told KTVU. “Make no mistake that the Department will not tolerate this behavior by its employees, at any level, and will investigate and prosecute these cases aggressively when necessary.”

At least two dozen more officers are under investigation as part of this widening probe, KTVU has learned.

Beaty, from Centro Legal, said she is cautiously optimistic. 

“I think if there’s any cause for hope, it’s that there’s finally been light shed on the widespread issue of sexual abuse in prisons, particularly women’s prisons, and that people who were abused, women who were abused at Dublin are feeling empowered to speak out and to tell their stories,” Beaty said. 

Formerly incarcerated woman at Dublin prison says she was retaliated against for outing sexual abuse

Cherie Dillon is speaking out about her experience at the federal prison in Dublin, revealing that when she reported the sexual abuse of a peer, both women were retaliated against with extra time and solitary confinement.

Not enough security cameras 

But there are also steps not being taken, which concern those like Beaty, question whether the reform is real or just lip service. 

For example, Congress allotted money for FCI Dublin to install security cameras at its facility, which would serve as a deterrent for unwanted sex and could capture these acts on film. 

But as of March, there were at least 28 spots in the kitchen, residences and commissary that still didn’t have cameras, according to U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier’s office.  

Kupers said installing cameras is key. 

“They’re going to abuse an area of the prison that’s not on surveillance camera,” he said. “And that’s where the abuse happens.

Dublin prison officer made California woman engage in sex acts with cellmate, claim alleges

More women are coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment against correctional officers at the federal prison in Dublin.

Need for independent investigators 

Aside from wanting camera surveillance to document abuse, FCI Dublin critics also want a third-party, neutral agency to accept reports of abuse, and then investigate them independently.  

Currently, these complaints often fall on deaf ears or are looked into by Bureau of Prisons employees themselves. 

And if they are looked into, it’s often the whistleblower who suffers. 

“We have to stop the way that we have to stop the way the bureau does stuff,” Korth said. “You know, we have investigators that are the BOP. You know, how am I supposed to investigate somebody that I’ve known for 20 years?” 

Male guards in a female prison 

And then there’s the issue of having male guards watch over female inmates.

Kupers has long advocated that men should not be guarding women – especially those who are essentially living in cages. 

“This has been a problem for a long time,” Kupers said. “I don’t think male officers should be in women’s prisons except on the perimeter.”

In Michigan, for example, Kupers said that lawsuits have forced the corrections department to reach a compromise: Allowing male officers to be present in the facility, but not in the housing units or bathrooms where women dress and shower. 

“And that’s pretty much the standard around the country now,” he said.

There has been no public movement in the federal system or in California to tackle this issue. 

Dr. Terry Kupers is a forensic psychiatrist with an expertise in prison conditions.

Better hiring procedures

Korth also noted that many of the male guards who are hired, are also ex-military and who may have suffered the ill effects of war and who were never treated for their own mental issues. 

For example, Highhouse, the former prison chaplain who was sentenced to prison for forcing women to have sex with him, blamed the PTSD he suffered in the Army as the reason for his “impulse control.”

He argued unsuccessfully for leniency at his sentencing hearing, saying that he was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, suffered from depression and PTSD and was labeled clinically “disabled” as a result by Veteran’s Affairs.  

Not only that, Korth said that she has seen over the last 25 years that many officers get hired simply because of who they know. 

“The hiring practices are a joke,” she said. “I mean the bureau people are hiring the bureau people.” 

And then, Korth said, there seems to be no strict screening for new employees. 

“I mean, every other law enforcement agency makes you take a psych test or something, one of those personality tests,” Korth said.

But at FCI Dublin, Korth said there’s “nothing. I mean nothing.” 

Supervising attorney Susan Beaty at Centro Legal de La Raza in Oakland has been helping incarcerated women at FCI Dublin.

Request for release, holding leaders accountable

Beaty also has several demands for the Bureau of Prisons.

Chief among them is releasing women who have survived sexual abuse inside the prison. 

“The BOP, the DOJ need to release these survivors to their families, to their communities so that they can receive supportive services and begin to heal,” Beaty said. “I think it’s made worse by the fact that they’re forced to remain in the very cages, in the very spaces where this abuse happened.” 

In addition, the sexual assault survivors want those in leadership to be held accountable.

“Arresting a handful of bad actors is not enough,” Beaty said. “This is a systemic problem. What a lot of survivors are calling for is not just the people who abused them to be removed from their positions of power, but also the leaders who absolutely knew this abuse was happening and condoned it and allowed it to happen.” 

 Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@fox.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez 

PRESS RELEASE ON FCI DUBLIN SEXUAL ABUSE

Over 100 Advocacy Groups Demand Action from U.S. Department Of Justice To End Rampant Sexual Abuse At FCI Dublin.

Dublin CA 

Over one hundred advocacy organizations from across California and the United States have sent a public letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) demanding that the agency take immediate steps to address systemic abuse at the Federal Correctional Institute at Dublin (FCI Dublin), a federal women’s prison in Dublin, California.

The public letter comes after federal prosecutors have charged four FCI Dublin staff with sexually abusing people in their custody over a period of several years, and in the wake of a recent investigation by the Associated Press which revealed a deep-seated “culture of abuse” at the facility.

The signatories–which include the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, Centro Legal de la Raza, California National Organization for Women (NOW), Color of Change, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, The Sentencing Project, Project South, and Survived and Punished – call on the DOJ to take immediate action to address the root causes of this abuse and support incarcerated survivors. The groups demand that the DOJ:

  • Launch an independent, comprehensive investigation into staff abuse and complicity in abuse, including retaliation against survivors and their supporters;
  •  Create of unmonitored lines of communication for incarcerated people to report staff misconduct to an external, independent organization;
  • Release individuals who have been impacted by staff sexual abuse into the community;
  • Provide accessible, comprehensive medical care, including mental health care, to incarcerated survivors of staff abuse.

Diana Block, a longtime advocate with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, emphasized: “We know that the arrest, conviction, or incarceration of a handful of bad actors will not bring justice for survivors of abuse at FCI Dublin. The DOJ must take swift, sweeping action to address the institutional culture that allowed staff to perpetrate this abuse. Survivors and community organizations must be involved to break through the closed, toxic culture and conduct of FCI Dublin and the  BOP.”

Deyci Carrillo, an advocate with Centro Legal de la Raza, added: “It is impossible for FCI Dublin and the BOP to correct these egregious violations themselves. This is the third time in three decades that FCI Dublin staff have been publicly accused of sexual abuse. In the last several years, survivors who attempted to report abuse were discouraged or prevented by facility staff, and others who did report faced retaliation. Survivors are extremely vulnerable, and a disproportionate number of those impacted by this abuse are immigrants who live with the threat of deportation after incarceration. The Department of Justice must intervene.”

Advocates are awaiting a response from DOJ officials, and will continue to push for immediate, systemic action.

DV and LWOP Survivor Marisela Andrade testifies at Immigration Hearing.

6/16/22 UPDATE

Marisela Andrade maintained her dignity, courage, and strength during a grueling 4-hour immigration court hearing on June 15, 2022. With more than 50 community supporters on the phone, Marisela made her case for asylum based on the Conventions Against Torture (CAT) and then was questioned by Immigration Judge Elizabeth McGrail and Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) attorney Matt Richardson. Marisela then presented her two witnesses: Jaime Leyva, a case manager with Community Justice Center in Fresno, CA; and Dr. Susan Wilde, a clinical psychologist from Berkeley, CA, with experience working with DV and Human Trafficking survivors.

While the DHS attorney asserted that he did not think Marisela successfully met the ‘burden of proof’, Judge McGrail said she needed to deliberate and will provide a written ruling in 2 to 3 weeks. She acknowledged the strong representation Marisela provided for herself, and the impressive community support she has. Judge McGrail asked Mari if she wished to speak to her community supporters. Marisela told us, “I love you all and appreciate that you are here. I know I am not standing alone.”

DV and LWOP Survivor Marisela Andrade handed over to ICE!!

Early in the morning on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, the California Dept. Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) transferred CCWP member Marisela Andrade over to ICE agents instead of releasing her on parole.

Marisela, a survivor of domestic violence and a LWOP sentence, was expected to be released on Sunday, Dec. 5th, from the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla after more than 14 years in prison. Friends and supporters were ready to pick her up and help her get to the Fresno Reentry program she was assigned to. Instead, CDCr cruelly handed her over to ICE. She was held overnight in a temporary ICE detention center in Fresno that had no beds or decent sanitation facilities.

Marisela is now in Aurora, CO, where our compañeras Patti Waller Medina and Gabi Solano were also held. Her immigration attorney will be filing a Release Order in the hope we can bring her home to CA to continue fighting for legal status in the US.

We must pass the Vision Act (AB 937)! This would prevent the cruel double punishment of all people who have completed their sentence or are released on parole from facing detention and deportation.

#STOP ICE   #Pass The Vision Act!

SEND Marisela SOME LOVE:

     Marisela Andrade De Zarate                                                             A#074-816-783
     Aurora ICE Processing Center
     3130 North Oakland Street, Aurora, CO 80010
     (303) 361-6612

 

 

Caring Collectively for People
in Women’s Prisons

We monitor and challenge the abusive conditions inside California women’s prisons.

We fight for the release of women and trans prisoners.

We support women and trans people in their process of re-entering the community.

 

And… thank you to everyone who joined our special virtual event honoring founding CCWP member, Charisse Shumate!
Watch the event recording here.
Learn more about Charisse and her life’s work here.

 

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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