Historic Racial Justice Act Is Signed!

CCWP is proud to have co-sponsored the Racial Justice Act!

Governor Signs Landmark Legislation Advancing Racial Justice in California

A historic, first-of-its-kind law in the State, the California Racial Justice Act  prohibits the use of race, ethnicity, or national origin in sentencing and convictions

SACRAMENTO – The Governor today signed the historic California Racial Justice Act, also known as Assembly Bill 2542 (AB 2542), which asserts civil rights in the California court system and addresses racial discrimination that leads to unfair convictions and sentencing.

“I am grateful to Governor Newsom for signing AB 2542 and his commitment to rooting out racism from our courts,” said Assemblymember Kalra (D-San Jose), lead author of AB 2542. “With the signing of this bill and other actions he has taken, the Governor has well established himself as a national leader on compassionate, thoughtful criminal justice reform.”

“Although there is still much more work to do in fixing our broken criminal justice system, the Racial Justice Act is a historic foundational step in upholding Constitutional protections for everyone and moving us closer to a system that truly reflects justice for all,” he added. “The Racial Justice Act puts into law a manifestation of a continuing struggle most recently represented by millions in the streets demanding racial justice.”

The Racial Justice Act, joint-authored by Assemblymembers Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), and Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), is the first law of its kind in California that prohibits the state from using:

·         Explicit bias against a defendant based on race, ethnicity, or national origin

·         Statistical disparities in charging, sentencing, and conviction

·         Bias at trial and in jury selection

Systemic racial disparities are pervasive in mass incarceration in California, where Black men are over eight times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. Nearly a hundred advocacy organizations across the state have urged support for the landmark bill to address systemic racism in the court system.

“The Racial Justice Act is a step toward addressing the deep-rooted racism in our courts and in healing for communities plagued by harmful policies and overrepresented in our prisons and courts,” said Fatimeh Khan, California Healing Justice Program Co-Director of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). “In its 70 years working on criminal legal issues in California, the AFSC has witnessed the entrenchment of racist policies that have devastated Black and Brown communities. We thank Governor Newsom for signing such a powerful piece of legislation.”

“Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders, and other people of color are adversely affected by our court system, which intentionally and unintentionally further criminalizes people based on race and immigration status,” said Liza Chu, California Policy Manager at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California. “Amidst the upheaval of 2020, we thank Governor Newsom for enacting the Racial Justice Act to prioritize fairness and equal treatment under the law.”

“Governor Gavin Newsom, by signing AB 2542 you are moving California toward a more equitable and fair judicial process for black people,” said Romarilyn Ralston, a formerly incarcerated organizer and advocate with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “We are grateful for Governor Newsom’s leadership in this bold step toward ending discriminatory and racially biased practices in our courts. AB 2542 is an unprecedented piece of legislation and long overdue in correcting a historically anti-black legal-punishment system.”

“We are thankful that Governor Newsom signed the Racial Justice Act and are proud of our state for taking a first step at confronting the racist roots of the criminal legal system,” said Amber-Rose Howard, Executive Director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “Far too many Black families have been torn apart due to systemic racism and it is time that we address that trauma in our courts. I look forward to our state moving forward in centering racial justice as we continue to address our role in the incarceration crisis.”

“When we confront the pandemics that divide us, we step boldly on the necessary path towards healing,” said Derick Morgan, Policy Associate with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “Ella Baker Center stands proudly with Governor Gavin Newsom, our state Legislature, and the athletes, students and advocates in meeting this moment to confront racism and systemic bias in our systems of justice.”

“We are deeply grateful that Governor Newsom has signed this historic legislation to confront racism in California’s courts,” said Dora Rose, Deputy Director of the League of Women Voters of California, “The bottom line is that we can’t keep having trials with all white juries. We can’t continue to allow racially coded language that triggers bias in the courtroom. And we must stop the systemically disproportionate arrest and sentencing that is tearing up our Black communities. The Racial Justice Act will help us accomplish those ends.”

“I am extremely grateful to the Governor for signing the California Racial Justice Act because, despite recent reforms, California’s racial disparities in convictions and sentences are among the nation’s worst,” said Ken Spence, Senior Policy Advisor for NextGen California. “By establishing a framework for defendants to challenge the systemic racism and bias in our criminal courts, I am hopeful that the RJA will push our justice system to more closely live up to its ideals.”

“The over 140,000 home care and child care providers represented by UDW are mostly women and people of color and our families have for too long been harmed by a justice system that purports to be blind but in practice judges us primarily on the color of our skin,” said Doug Moore, Executive Director of UDW/AFSCME 3930. “By passing AB 2542, California has recognized this harm and taken a meaningful step toward ending it. On behalf of our membership, I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing AB 2542 and moving toward a justice system that treats all Californians as equals.”

The principal coauthors of AB 2542 are Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Senators Steve Bradford (D-Gardena), Lena Gonzalez (D- Long Beach), and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). The bill is also coauthored by Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Kansen Chu (D-Milpitas), Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Marc Levine (D-Marin County), Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), and Dr. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Senators María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

AB 2542 is sponsored by American Friends Service Committee, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the League of Women Voters of California, NextGen, and United Domestic Workers, AFSCME, Local 3930.

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Full text of the bill here.

Welcome Home Patricia!

CCWP welcomes Patricia Wright home amid COVID-19 prison outbreaks

Patricia released from CIW on July 21, 2020

Grassroots advocacy & public support were key to Patricia’s release 

July 21, 2020
Patricia Wright, a 69-year-old Black mother and grandmother, survivor of domestic violence, and terminally-ill cancer patient, was released today under emergency order from Governor Newsom. Family, friends, and advocates from the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), a grassroots advocacy group who mobilized for her release, gathered at the California Institution for Women (CIW) this morning to see her wheeled out to freedom.
Wright had been serving a sentence of Life Without Possibility of Parole (LWOP) while undergoing chemotherapy for terminal cancer. Patricia is also legally blind and suffers from other serious ailments. Patricia was not eligible for any state COVID-19 release effort, nor for the state’s compassionate release program, because people serving LWOP are excluded from these pathways to release, regardless of terminal illness.

Patricia and her family have been organizing for her release since she was incarcerated, and CCWP has been working with Patricia and her family for 11 years. Advocates and family members expressed their joy at seeing Patricia free and deep gratitude to all who supported her release, including those who signed and circulated her petition. Alfey Ramdhan, Patricia’s youngest son, said, “I haven’t had my mom in so many years. We’ve missed so many milestones, but now I have her back and that motherly love that I’ve been missing for all those years. I feel like I have my security back, my confidence back, which I lost when my mom went to prison when I was 11 or 12.” 
Patricia’s sister, Chantel Bonet, also shared her family’s joy at finally seeing her free, stating, “Speaking on behalf of the whole family, we thank God, CCWP, and Governor Newsom for his humanitarian act of mercy — releasing Patricia Wright from prison after 23 years due to her terminal cancer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been terrifying for our family. We hope Governor Newsom will show compassion and release more elderly and seriously ill people.” 

CCWP advocates emphasized that there are tens of thousands of others in Patricia’s situation still behind bars. Sarah Rodriguez from CCWP said, “While we greatly appreciate Governor Newsom’s action in releasing Patricia Wright, we are concerned with the ongoing exclusion of people serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentences from compassionate release, elder parole, and early releases recently announced by CDCR.”

Between 1992–2017, the population of people serving Life Without Parole in the U.S. grew by 400%. California has one of the largest populations of people serving LWOP in the country — many of whom are elderly or medically at-risk. Advocates have urged Governor Newsom to wield his commutation power quickly and decisively to grant relief to those serving LWOP and other extremely long sentences so that they too may have a chance to survive the humanitarian crisis in California prisons that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Please take action today to support the release of more at-risk incarcerated people!

Hear more from Patricia’s family in this Guardian article out today.

See Patricia Wright’s message to Gavin Newsom

Pat sisters.jpg
Patricia with her sisters

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Patricia with children and grandchildren


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Patricia, family and some CCWP advocates

“Women’s prison journal: State prisoner’s daily diary during pandemic”

April Harris – After becoming infected with the coronavirus, April Harris, 44, spent a month in an isolation cell at the California Institution for Women, a state prison in Southern California where an outbreak has spread through the population.
Photo Courtesy James Brown

This Story features CCWP members April Harris and Rianne Theriaultodom, as well as additional CCWP spokespeople who spoke out anonymously. Article facilitated by CCWP’s media team.

SF Chronicle

Jason Fagone June 12, 2020 Updated: June 12, 2020

April Harris, a 44-year-old inmate at a California women’s prison, tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-May. Since then she has battled a dry cough, but that’s not the bad part of being sick behind bars.

The bad part, she says, is the atmosphere of neglect and chaos that has taken hold as the virus burns through the California Institution for Women, a 1,500-inmate prison in Riverside County owned and operated by the state. The bad part is listening to the screams of her fellow prisoners and her friends.

“Someone is yelling for help over and over and over,” Harris wrote on May 20 in a running journal of her experiences, which she eventually shared with prisoner advocacy groups and The Chronicle through a prison email service called JPay. “No one is coming. This one is scaring me. She keeps screaming. It’s piercing.”

Four days earlier, in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, officials at the institution had transferred many infected prisoners to a part of the facility once used for training inmates to fight wildfires. There the prisoners have been quarantined in isolation, with little ability to leave their cells — even to take showers — and only sporadic access to email and phone calls.

“Some of these women haven’t showered in four days,” Harris wrote in another journal entry on May 20. “An inmate ran out of her room when they opened her door for breakfast and is refusing to go back in. She is screaming she wants to talk to her family.”

Lydia Alvarez sits on her bunk bed, which she had to cover with a prison-issue blanket. Her bed is in a converted day room shared by 38 women at the California Institution for Women in Corona, where the inmate population of 1,500 is at an all-time high.

Lydia Alvarez sits on her bunk bed, which she had to cover with a prison-issue blanket. Her bed is in a converted day room shared by 38 women at the California Institution for Women in Corona, where the inmate population of 1,500 is at an all-time high.Photo: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Throughout the last two weeks of May, Harris continued to document the shrieks and pleas of her fellow prisoners. Sometimes, she wrote in her journal, the women were protesting against the severe conditions in the unit, and other times they were calling for medical help — seemingly for health conditions unrelated to the virus, though it wasn’t always clear. According to Harris’ journal, help often did not arrive in a timely way:

May 20, 9:30 p.m.: The girls are busting out their windows. The girl next to me has officially lost her mind. I can hear glass breaking while she is screaming.

May 23, 2:44 p.m.: Someone is screaming medical emergency. Now everyone is banging [on their cell doors].

May 26, 7:38 p.m.: People are screaming that they are going to hang themselves. The banging is the loudest since I’ve been here. Someone called [that she was having] chest pains. The officer is here. He is calling for the ambulance. I feel sick.


Harris is just one of thousands of inmates across the state being held in quarantine as officials struggle to halt raging outbreaks. There are now 3,148 prisoners and 482 employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus throughout California’s 35 prisons, according to state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation data. The bulk of the cases are concentrated in six large clusters, one at the women’s prison and the other five at men’s prisons in Central and Southern California. So far, 14 prisoners and two staffers have died, and the number of infected prisoners has risen steeply, multiplying sixfold between May 1 and June 1.

The state Corrections Department says it has taken “extraordinary and unprecedented measures” to fight the virus, spokeswoman Dana Simas said in an email statement responding to questions from The Chronicle.

But, according to Harris and six other women prisoners who emailed The Chronicle through JPay, as well as several advocacy groups that monitor the California corrections system, the reality of a prison virus outbreak is messy and dangerous.

Four women said that in the early days of the outbreak, they were forced by supervisors to clean areas where infected prisoners had been living, potentially exposing them to the virus. Later, when some women tested positive and were sent to isolated areas of the prison, they say they experienced dirty rooms, shortages of water, few cleaning supplies and neglect and verbal abuse by guards.

On top of that, the prisoners who were isolated after testing positive received almost no information about what would happen to them, they said, sparking panic. According to Harris, at least two women under lockdown tried to commit suicide in late May; one of those women set fire to the mattress in her cell.

“I feel as if we are being so punished for having this virus,” Harris wrote.

Simas, the state spokeswoman, denied many of the women’s allegations and did not comment on others. But the stories of the prisoners, combined with rising case numbers at multiple prisons, suggest that the state’s current strategy is failing.

And if a prisoner gets infected, her life, according to sources at the California Institution for Women, soon becomes a nightmare.


Rianne Theriaultodom first heard the term “COVID-19” in March. A prisoner at the women’s institution, she had been taking a computer coding class, but that month classes were canceled because of the strange new disease, she told The Chronicle in an email.

Theriaultodom, 37, said she is serving a sentence of seven years to life for aggravated mayhem. She said her childhood was shaped “by violence and abuse,” and she arrived in prison with a fourth-grade education. Since then, she said, she has earned her G.E.D. and worked toward a degree in sociology, with emotional support from her friend April Harris. Normally, they live four doors from each other. Theiraultodom calls Harris “an awesome person” who “inspires much of my growth.”

The two friends would soon get sick and join each other in lockdown.

On April 6, a young woman in Theriaultodom’s housing unit said she did not feel well and was taken to the hospital. The next day, Theriaultodom said, “our housing staff put on gloves and a mask to pack [the sick prisoner’s] property. The mask scared us all pretty bad because this was our first time seeing an officer with a mask. So we all scrambled like ants in a desperate search for anything we could make a mask out of.”

At that point, there were 31 confirmed infections at other state prisons, including a cluster of 18 cases at a men’s prison just 5 miles away in Chino, the California Institution for Men. (Since then, the outbreak at Chino has ballooned, with about 700 confirmed infections and 12 deaths.) Multiple prisoners at the California Institution for Women told The Chronicle that it was common practice for staff to go back and forth between the women’s and men’s prisons, potentially spreading infection from one institution to the other. (Simas denied that any staff were moving between the two prisons.)

Since the start of the pandemic, prisoner advocates have appealed to Gov. Gavin Newsom and federal courts to order the release of tens of thousands of prisoners. They have pointed out that the California prison system is overcrowded, operating at 124% of its design capacity, making it difficult if not impossible for prisoners to socially distance.

Medical experts who do not work for the prison system have urged the state to prevent inevitable sickness and death by releasing large numbers of prisoners who pose a low risk of reoffending. Newsom and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra have resisted these demands, arguing in court that broad releases are unnecessary and would harm public safety. Instead, the state has taken smaller steps, speeding up the release of some prisoners already scheduled to get out within 60 days and shifting others around inside prisons to create more space.

But advocacy groups say that the state’s opposition to sweeping releases has deprived it of the most effective tool for managing the pandemic.

“It’s just an incredibly dangerous situation that they are creating and that they are responsible for,” said Lizzie Buchen, criminal justice director for the ACLU of Northern California. “They’re doing everything that they can think of to avoid releasing people. And it is absolutely futile.”

The outbreak at the California Institution for Women shows the limitations of the state’s incremental approach.

After the first woman tested positive for the coronavirus, and a second woman on April 15, the virus came for Theriaultodom. She says she has the autoimmune disease lupus and takes medicine to suppress her immune system, making her more vulnerable.

She woke up one morning “in pain from my head to my feet,” started to cough and soon tested positive. As testing at the prison increased, dozens more women were confirmed to be infected.

Prison staff began scrambling to contain the outbreak. They handed out bandanas and masks to prisoners. Those with symptoms were treated in the prison’s medical treatment center or isolated in cells, while others who may have been exposed were placed under a 14-day quarantine.

And in a decision that heightened tensions, staff also ordered healthy prisoners to disinfect contaminated areas of the facility, including rooms in the medical center where infected patients were isolated.

Some women at the prison work for the California Prison Industry Authority, or CALPIA, earning between 40 cents and $1 per hour to clean medical areas as part of a team called Healthcare Facilities Maintenance. On April 16, according to an email from a nursing supervisor at the prison that was obtained by The Chronicle, prisoners on the maintenance team were required to clean the isolation rooms of COVID-19 patients every day while wearing a mask and “while patient remains on the bed.”

Several women protested; they say they were being asked to reuse masks multiple times and feared exposing themselves to the virus.

“I am unable to sleep with the thought of that,” one member of the cleaning crew emailed The Chronicle in mid-April. She did not want to be named for fear of retribution, and the newspaper agreed under the terms of our sourcing policy. “This virus is something new and we need to be safe at the end of the day and I do not feel safe. My face mask didn’t even seem to have a proper fit to my face.”

The prisoner said she was told that if she refused to clean the rooms, she would be disciplined by a CALPIA supervisor.

Simas said no women were forced to perform that duty — they could choose not to report for work — but confirmed that prisoners were expected to clean the rooms of COVID-19 patients and faced disciplinary action if they declined.

“Incarcerated individuals apply to work and if they don’t show for work, just as you or I in a real-working environment, they will receive verbal then written warnings and later could be unassigned,” she said in a statement.

The California Institution for Women in Corona (Riverside County) has an inmate population of 1,500.

The California Institution for Women in Corona (Riverside County) has an inmate population of 1,500.Photo: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation 2004

April Harris had a job with the prison industry, too, earning no more than 13 cents an hour as a porter. She says she was ordered to scour common areas in her unit. She wore a mask and rubber gloves, but from time to time she would slide the mask down to take a breath when she got particularly hot.

A mother of three from Monterey, Harris is serving a sentence of 17 years to life for second-degree murder. She has long maintained her innocence and has spent almost 25 years in prison. Colby Lenz, an advocate with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, says she has known Harris for about 15 years and finds her to be a reliable source of information who rarely complains about prison conditions or guards.

In May, with coronavirus cases rising at the prison, officials started to move large groups of infected women to empty areas of the facility in an attempt to slow the spread. The state Corrections Department says they placed only asymptomatic women in these units; women say that some prisoners with COVID-19 symptoms were sent there.

Not long after Theriaultodom fell sick, Harris developed a dry cough that kept her up at night and she tested positive for the virus. She said she was told to gather a few personal possessions and was transferred to a different part of the prison, where the cells had no windows, the ventilation was poor and the surfaces were covered with cobwebs.

Around May 16, both women were moved again, to a 220-person housing unit in the former firefighting camp. Their cells were on opposite sides of a hall. Harris began keeping her journal, typing it on a tablet computer.

“I have been documenting everything,” the first entry begins. “I call it the Corona virus chronicles.”

Even for people who were used to being incarcerated, the isolation area was nearly unbearable. Typically, women at the prison are free to come and go from their cells from morning until night, except for 45 minutes in the afternoon. Now they were confined to their cells, two women to a cell, for more than 23 hours a day, Harris said.

She wrote that the unit felt like a place of punishment. The earliest entries in her journal describe a litany of slights and deprivations, some seemingly small, others more troubling.

When she first got to her cell in the fire camp, there was no mattress and no toilet paper, she said. After more than 12 hours, a mattress and a roll of toilet paper were finally brought to her, she wrote, by a guard who kicked the mattress into her cell with his boot, laughing. She used body wash and most of the toilet paper roll to wipe off the boot print.

According to Simas, the cells were cleaned and mattresses provided before the women arrived. She said that infected prisoners in isolation are allowed to spend time outside their cells, in the yard and dayroom, and to shower “at least every other day.”

Women who wanted to clean their cells didn’t have the supplies, multiple prisoners said. When prisoners asked guards for supplies or medical attention, they say, they were often ignored. One guard told Harris to “602 the shit” — 602 is the paperwork code for a prisoner grievance — but when she asked for a form 602, she was repeatedly denied, she wrote, and some guards hid their name tags, making it even harder for the prisoners to complain about guard misconduct.

“I honestly think that they are so overwhelmed,” Harris wrote. “I’m watching the staff break down.” Simas said that 602 forms are widely available to prisoners and that processing of the forms “has continued without interruption” during the outbreak.

One of the toughest days was May 19. Harris and Theriaultodom say a prisoner in a nearby cell had been refusing food and medicine for days, often a sign of serious mental distress.

Late that morning, Harris looked across the hall into the prisoner’s cell and saw “large flames” leaping up, she wrote. The prisoner had set fire to a mattress. “I was in shock for about two seconds. … And she was so calm just looking at me. Finally I snapped out of it and I started screaming, ‘Her room is on fire.’… I thought she was going to die and I was going to watch her burn.”

In a cell on the other end of the hall, Theriaultodom heard the shouting, saw smoke and panicked when no staffers came. She screamed, “Please don’t let us die here,” she later recalled, and “began to throw my body against the door desperate for a way out. To my relief I heard keys. They started opening our doors … there was so much smoke I could not see in front of me.”

Corrections spokeswoman Simas confirmed that there was “a small cell fire” at the prison on May 19, extinguished by staff and a prison fire crew around 11:40 a.m. No injuries were reported, she said, and the women in the unit were briefly evacuated and checked by medical staff.

Several days after the fire, according to Harris and Theriaultodom, another prisoner in the unit tried to commit suicide. Simas said she could not confirm or comment on allegations of suicide attempts due to medical privacy laws.

Harris also started to worry about Theriaultodom. Although Harris couldn’t see her friend, she could hear her voice. One day, Harris wrote, Theriaultodom began “talking crazy,” as if she might harm herself.

Harris said she only saw the mental health staff in the unit when they came by to slide sheets of puzzles, coloring paper and yoga exercises under the prisoners’ doors. Simas said that “robust mental health services” are available to all inmates at the prison and that care providers regularly visit the cells.


In the last week of May, conditions in the unit started generally to improve. Word of the women’s plight was getting out to advocacy groups, and a protest on May 23 outside the prison attracted a caravan of 80 to 100 cars. Harris’ journal noted some small acts of kindness by prison employees. Staff brought the women cups of ice, sometimes twice a day. Shower time was increased. One guard allowed the women to spray bleach on their toilets and sinks.

By that point, too, many of the women thought they could see an end to their ordeal. Staff were retesting many of the prisoners; if women tested negative, they could return to their old cells.

While awaiting her test results, Harris watched the news on a small TV in her cell. On May 30 and 31, she learned about the police killing of George Floyd, the protests, the teargassing of peaceful crowds. It seemed like the country on the outside was just as broken as it was inside. She wrote, “The world has gone mad,” then felt a pang of guilt for having dwelled on her own problems.

On June 1, Theriaultodom tested negative and was released from lockdown. Another 17 women who tested negative also were soon returned to their old cells.

Harris was not so lucky. Her test came back positive. A nurse told her she would need to remain in isolation another week.

“I’m so broken right now,” she wrote.

The hall was empty now except for Harris and about four other prisoners. Finally, after weeks of screaming and banging, all was quiet.

“I will be OK,” Harris wrote, trying to convince herself. “I’m really trying to be strong. I keep talking to myself. I keep encouraging myself.”

On June 4, according to the Corrections Department’s public COVID-19 tracker, the number of “active” virus cases at the prison dipped from a peak of 157 down to 107, meaning that 40 women had tested negative. Simas said this was proof that the isolation of the prisoners was “successful at mitigating the spread of COVID-19.” At the same time, though, the virus was leaping into new facilities, threatening prisoners and staff at two prisons that had so far avoided outbreaks — San Quentin and the California State Prison, Corcoran.

Meanwhile at the women’s prison, Harris was coming up on a month spent in isolation.

“This is pure torture on so many levels,” she wrote on June 4. “I got this though.”

Five days later, on June 9, a female prisoner with COVID-19 died at an outside hospital, according to the Corrections Department — the prison’s first virus-linked death.

The next day, still in lockdown and reading Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” to pass the time, Harris heard that one of her friends had died.

“I am beyond devastated,” she wrote. “She was so young. Our dream was to make it out of here alive. She didn’t.”

Jason Fagone is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: jason.fagone@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jfagone

#FreeOurElders for Mother’s Day

Please join us this weekend in the fight to free incarcerated mothers. The #BringThemHome Call to Action is a collective effort from families of those locked in cages and California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), to call on Governor Newsom to grant clemencies and IMMEDIATELY release Patricia Wright, Maria Adredondo, and Lucia Bravo — elders who are at extremely high risk of death and fighting for their lives. This action is in solidarity with our sisters at National Bail Out to #freeblackmamas.

While we are calling for action for the release of these women, our fight goes beyond the elderly and includes everyone imprisoned in a cage. We won’t stop until we #FreeThemAll.

For now we ask that you utilize our media toolkit below to sign the petitions, share them with as many people as possible and include the hashtags #BringThemHome and #FreeOurElders.

Love,

California Coalition for Women Prisoners

#Bringthemhome #Free Our Elders #CareNotCages Media Toolkit: 

This toolkit provides action items to participate in the campaign. See below for sample tweets and messaging for facebook and instagram.

Instructions: Share the petition site using the hashtag #BringThemHome this weekend and beyond. Organizations please post at least once a day on all of your platforms. 

Timeframe: May 9th- May 12th

FACEBOOK toolkit

Shareable link to Petitions: https://carenotcages.com/

This Mother’s Day, don’t forget about incarcerated moms & grandmas. Help us gain freedom for Grandmama Patricia, Mama Lucia, and Mama Maria by signing 3 petitions for our extremely medically-vulnerable members. Showing public support can mean the difference between life and death for these women. Sign, share, and repost. @California Coalition for Women Prisoners. 

#BringThemHome #FreeOurElders #ClemencyNow

Instagram toolkit

Sample Text: This Mother’s Day, don’t forget about the moms inside. Help us get closer to celebrating the freedom of Grandmama Patricia, Mama Lucia, and Mama Maria by signing three petitions for our extremely medically-vulnerable members. Getting enough signatures gives us a chance to get our message to the Governor’s desk. Sign, share, and repost! Instagram: @c_c_w_p Shareable link to Petitions: https://carenotcages.com/

#BringThemHome #FreeOurElders #ClemencyNow

Twitter toolkit

Shareable link to Petitions: https://carenotcages.com/

Sample Tweets (add graphics!):

1.

.@GavinNewsom #BringThemHome for Mother’s Day! Elders fighting cancer are at a huge health risk under #COVID19. Sign the petitions! https://carenotcages.com/ #BringThemHome #FreeOurElders #ClemencyNow

2. 

Join us in demanding that @GavinNewsom grant clemency for 3 medically vulnerable women this Mother’s Day by signing the petitions! https://carenotcages.com/ 

#BringThemHome #ClemencyNow #LetThemGo

3. 

Showing public support can mean the difference between life & death for these women. Please sign & share: https://carenotcages.com/ #BringThemHome #FreeOurElders #ClemencyNow

DEMAND ACTION for COVID-19 Prevention at CCWF & CIW Women’s Prisons

URGENT ACTION for COVID-19 Prevention at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) & California Institution for Women (CIW)
 Monday, April 6th from 9:00-5:00PM

Here’s how it works:

  • As soon as possible, post the graphics below on all social media platforms (organizations & individuals) — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram using the hashtags #LetThemGo, #SaveLives
  • All day April 6th, from 9:00am-5:00pm — call & email all three targets using the script provided and ask your networks to do the same


Contacts: 

Copy & paste this script and email to each official:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am reaching out with grave concern for people incarcerated at CCWF & CIW women’s prisons. At least one staff member at both prisons has tested positive for COVID-19. To prevent an uncontrollable outbreak, CDCR must immediately provide unrestricted access to cleaning and disinfecting supplies, follow the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, and take protective steps to save lives as outlined by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the Young Women’s Freedom Center, and Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition. Most importantly, CDCR must immediately release all elderly and medically high-risk people. We cannot protect public health without protecting all incarcerated people.

I strongly support the following demands:

  1. Release all elderly (50+) and medically high-risk people. 
  2. Immediately and freely distribute non-diluted cleaning and disinfecting supplies.
  3. Permit incarcerated people to wear cloth or other masks at all times & mandate the use of personal protective equipment for incarcerated and non-incarcerated medical workers.
  4. Immediately end staff movement between prisons, such as between CIW & CIM and CCWF & VSP.
  5. CDCR must ensure that incarcerated people & the public have rapid access to information as pandemic conditions continue to change. 
  6. Ensure continued access to medication & all healthcare services, telephone, JPay, and mail. During a lockdown, extend WiFi access and provide personal tablets & cellphones to all people.


CDCR’s response to this escalating situation has been inadequate and disorganized, producing reasonable panic among incarcerated people. The conditions in these prisons are life-threatening and we are counting on you to prevent this public health nightmare from escalating further. Releasing medically vulnerable people is necessary to save lives, in addition to taking immediate protective actions to prevent another prison health catastrophe. This is a matter of life and death for thousands of people and demands swift action.

 Thank you.

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Please reach out with questions and to let us know what response you received: info@womenprisoners.org

April 6, 2020

TO:

J. Clark Kelso, Federal Medical Receiver, ckelso@pacific.edu 

Ralph Diaz, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, ralph.diaz@cdcr.ca.gov

Diana Toche, Undersecretary, Health Care Services, CDCR, diana.toche@cdcr.ca.gov

Amy Miller, Director of the Division of Correctional Policy Research and Internal Oversight, CDCR, amy.miller@cdcr.ca.gov 

RE: URGENT ACTION for COVID-19 Safety and Care at CCWF & CIW

We are writing to you with great concern about the health and safety of incarcerated people in the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and the California Institution for Women (CIW) during the current public health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 23, CCWP sent a letter to Warden Richard Montes at CIW and Warden Michael Palleres at CCWF. We have yet to receive a response and, to our understanding, no significant changes have been made to provide life-saving supplies and information, or to accelerate releases for those at highest risk of deadly infection in order to reduce population density and prevent deaths. In the absence of response, staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at both CCWF and CIW.

California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) has been advocating with and for people incarcerated at CCWF and CIW for twenty-five years, particularly regarding the provision of healthcare. The Young Women’s Freedom Center (YWFC) builds the leadership of directly impacted cis & trans women, girls, and gender non-conforming people to transform the systems and policies that keep them stuck in cycles of poverty, incarceration, and violence. Comprised of over 500 directly impacted people, the Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition (SWFC) is building a powerful movement of women, girls, trans and non-binary people of color along with our families, loved ones and communities who have been harmed by the criminal justice system.

We understand that even with the best of intentions, ensuring the health and safety of large numbers of people in a confined space is difficult. However, we are receiving very distressing information from people at both CIW and CCWF regarding current conditions that make us extremely concerned about their safety and health. 

Incarcerated people are at heightened risk and an outbreak of COVID-19 inside endangers everyone: incarcerated people, staff, and the public. We understand that neither CCWF nor CIW have adequate equipment to keep incarcerated people breathing should they need it. It is of utmost importance that CDCR does everything in its power to prevent this outbreak.

We are requesting the following to protect the health & safety of people at CIW & CCWF:

1. Release all elderly (50+) and medically high-risk people. 

The only way to prevent a massive number of deaths in CA prisons is to release substantial numbers of people. Conditions at CA prisons prevent social distancing. CCWF, for example, is at 140% of capacity and neither CCWF or CIW are equipped to respond to an outbreak of COVID-19. It is not only the numbers but the degree of overcrowding in dormitory-based cells that disproportionately impacts people in women’s prisons in California. On Thursday, April 2nd, attorneys representing people in California’s prisons were heard in federal court asking for an emergency order to reduce the state’s prison population to help provide enough space in prison dormitories for a 6-foot social distancing buffer. There are at least 17,000 people in CA prisons deemed “high-risk medical” and at least 6,500 elderly. These populations are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Reducing the prison population will slow the spread of the virus and releasing those most at risk of developing serious symptoms will prevent local hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients. 

Community-based organizations are available with resources to assist with transportation and reentry for people released from CIW and CCWF.

2. Immediately and freely distribute non-diluted cleaning and disinfecting supplies.

Incarcerated people do not have access to the Center for Disease Control’s recommended cleaning and disinfecting supplies. Many have reported being unable to access soap to wash their hands. When they do have access, these supplies are diluted beyond efficiency and must be “checked out” from prison staff. Non-diluted cleaning and disinfecting supplies must be made freely available throughout the day. Outside community members must also be allowed to mail-in necessary cleaning and disinfecting supplies through vendors approved by CDCR.

3. Permit incarcerated people to wear cloth or other masks at all times & mandate the use of personal protective equipment for incarcerated & non-incarcerated medical workers.

As of April 2, the Center for Disease Control issued a statement “advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.” As people in prisons are in constant proximity and living in close quarters, they must be allowed to use masks as basic prevention from coronavirus infection. 

Incarcerated people who work as janitorial or medical support in the medical buildings do not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), including disposable gloves, masks and gowns and are then returning to their housing units, potentially carrying coronavirus with them. All medical and cleaning workers, staff and incarcerated people alike, must be provided proper PPE in order to safely perform their work responsibilities.  

4. Immediately end staff movement between prisons such as between CIW & CIM and between CCWF & VSP.

We are deeply concerned that staff are going back and forth between CIW and CIM, and between CCWF and VSP. As of April 5, there are 16 confirmed staff cases at CIM and kitchen cooks and hospital facility maintenance staff are still being allowed to work at both CIW and CIM. Staff continue to work at both VSP and CCWF as well, despite confirmed COVID-19 cases at both prisons. We demand an immediate end to staff movement between institutions.  

5. CDCR must ensure that incarcerated people & the public have rapid access to information as pandemic conditions continue to change. 

As every public health worker knows, clear communication is the key to the safety, mental health and well-being of any community during a health crisis. CDCR has been slow in communicating to those incarcerated, and messaging has often been contradicted by actions taken or by a lack of action. It is imperative that prison officials transparently communicate and coordinate response plans with the general public to ensure the safety of everyone inside and outside of the prison system. 

6. Ensure continued access to medication & all healthcare services, telephone, JPay and mail. During a lockdown, extend wifi access and provide personal tablets and cellphones to all people.

Incarcerated individuals must continue to receive access to healthcare services (medical, dental, and mental health) and daily medication as well as access to the outside world through phone, email and mail. It is essential that incarcerated people are able to maintain contact with their loved ones and reach out for support. This is/will be especially true if CDCR implements more restrictive lockdown conditions. If incarcerated people are unable to access kiosks and regular telephones, CDCR must be responsible for distributing personal tablets and cellphones so contact can be maintained. This includes extending wifi access to reach all cells.

We need swift action to prevent this public health nightmare from escalating further — a matter of life and death for thousands of people.

Sincerely,  

Hafsah Al-Amin, Policy Coordinator, hafsah@womenprisoners.org

California Coalition for Women Prisoners

Jessica Nowlan, Executive Director, jessica@youngwomenfree.org

Young Women’s Freedom Center

Amika Mota, Policy Director, amika@youngwomenfree.org

Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition

Cc: 

Sara Smith, Chief, Office of the Ombudsman, Sara.Smith@cdcr.ca.gov

Dr. Joseph Bick, Director, Correctional Health Care Services, joseph.bick@cdcr.ca.gov

Senator Nancy Skinner, Chair, Senate Public Safety Committee, senator.skinner@senate.ca.gov

Assembly Member Sydney Kamlager, Chair, Select Committee on Incarcerated Women, Assemblymember.Kamlager@assembly.ca.gov