Governor Newsom granted 21 commutations and five pardons on Friday, March 27, 2020. CCWP welcomes Governor Newsom’s exercise of executive clemency for all of these people and we commend him for examining the public health impact of each commutation grant. At the same time we urge him to accelerate clemency at a time when large sectors of the public, including public health officials, are urging immediate action to protect vulnerable people in prisons, especially older and sick people, through commutations and other forms of expedited release.
We particularly celebrate the commutations of three women who had LWOP (Life Without Parole) sentences – Rosemary Dyer, Shyrl Lamar, and Joann Parks- as well as Suzanne Johnson who had a life sentence. All of these women were elders, some were survivors of domestic violence, all of them had already served many years in prison. We also welcome the commutations of the six men with LWOP sentences and the eleven men with life sentences.
The momentum for clemency has been fueled by a growing movement across the country to end life without parole and all forms of extreme sentencing. The same day that Governor Newsom granted these 21 commutations, thousands of people across the country participated in a #ClemencyCoast2Coast twitterstorm to urge Governor Newsom and New York Governor Cuomo to #LetThemGo!
The DROP LWOP Spring Rally on March 9, 2020 brought together an amazing group of people to demand an end to Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentencing. People who had been formerly incarcerated with LWOP sentences, loved ones of those still suffering death by incarceration, and many other advocates and friends gathered on the steps of the Capitol to speak their truths about the reality of living the death penalty in slow motion. Collectively we demonstrated that we will never stand down on our demand to commute all 5,200+ people with LWOP sentences and eliminate this cruel, arbitrary and racist sentence.
One of the most incredible aspects of the day were the many people present who had been commuted from LWOP sentences and were now free and advocating passionately for those they left behind inside prison. They, together with loved ones and advocates, made visits to legislators throughout the day. They presented their lived experience with LWOP to educate lawmakers about why it is another form of death by incarceration. The ask was for lawmakers to support more commutations by the Governor and legislative changes to the California penal code.
Thanks to Silicon Valley De-Bug for putting together this video .
Vickie Lee Hammonds, a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, and
beloved by many others, died from medical neglect at the California Institution
for Women (CIW) on June 5, 2019. She was only 55 years old. Her
death—devastating and preventable —speaks to a pattern of injuries and deaths
as well as a larger culture of disregard at CIW specifically and throughout the
CDCr more broadly, despite widespread and persistent public scrutiny. Vickie’s
family and CCWP demand that California and its institutions of human caging be
held responsible for preventable deaths in their custody, like Vickie’s, and
for practices of ongoing abuse and neglect.
Vickie was diagnosed with diabetes and chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease and had suffered through years of poor medical treatment at
CIW. She also had trouble walking even short distances, but Vickie was
continually denied access to a wheelchair despite repeated requests. Vickie’s
health worsened in the weeks leading up to her death, but she and her friends’
advocacy on her behalf was ignored. On June 4th, the day before she passed
away, Vickie’s breathing became especially strained. Despite informing the
nurse of her difficulty breathing and
that her oxygen machine was malfunctioning, Vickie was sent back to her cell
with no additional care, support or resources.
On the morning of June 5th, Vickie’s condition worsened.
Once again, Vickie was refused admission to the prison’s emergency medical unit
or transfer to the hospital. Later that night Vickie stopped breathing. Guards
performed CPR while they waited for emergency responders, but their access was
prevented because of new procedures around a newly-installed fence at the
prison. It took a full 45 minutes before
the emergency medical team was granted access and reached Vickie. By then it
was too late and Vickie was pronounced dead in the hallway outside her cell.
The horrific circumstances of Vickie’s death were compounded
by the lack of communication with her family. It was not the prison who
contacted Vickie’s sister, Alma Hammonds, but one of Vickie’s friends. And, as
if losing a family member is not devastating enough, there was also confusion and
chaos around the whereabouts of her body. “We the family of Vickie Lee Hammonds
feel that her early demise was due to a lack of proper medical treatment and a
complete lack of response to her,” Vickie’s family said in a statement.
“Vickie’s family suffered a great loss and we all are lost for words. We all
want to know why she was so neglected and allowed to die.”
For Vickie, by Taylor Lytle
Help i can’t breathe
Was her only plea
But it was not met with urgency
and now beautiful soul gone too soon
But CDCR is never accountable for their mess
So we stand here and protest
We shout the names of our lost loved one
Vickie we love you
Vickie we will
fight for you.
Vickie you won’t die in vain
Vickie we are sorry
Sorry because we couldn’t save you from a system that
The same system that claimed they wanted to help you
We, your sisters and brothers, are sorry that we are
still powerless in 2019
from preventing these systems from destroying our
CIW u r guilty
Of inmate cruelty
I have no reason
I once was a
victim you see.
No more hiding behind these gates
The truth has been told
We’re shutting you down
I promise you that even if it cost me my soul
Screaming no more deaths is becoming a little too old
The Assembly Public Safety Committee passed AB 1764 – the Forced Sterilization Compensation Program Bill, authored by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo. AB 1764 would provide victim compensation to survivors of California state sponsored sterilization between 1909 and 1979; and survivors of involuntary sterilizations in women’s state prisons after 1979.
The bill, which is
co-sponsored by California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), the
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and the California
Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) would make California the third state in
the nation to provide compensation for survivors who were sterilized under
state eugenics laws and the first to offer compensation to survivors of
involuntary sterilizations at women’s state prisons.
The number of people
sterilized under the 1909 eugenics law in California account for one third of
all the recorded sterilizations that occurred in the United States in the 20th
century. All those affected lived in state institutions and were classified as
having disabilities or were deemed “unfit for reproduction” by state entities.
It is important to note that administrators of the law at the time had broad
discretion in practice to decide who was classified as “unfit.” The majority of
sterilizations were done on women and girls, and disproportionately impacted
Latinas, who were 59% more likely to be sterilized than non-Latinas.
“For 70 years,
it was legal for Californians to be sterilized just because they were disabled
or somebody thought they were disabled. California’s Sterilization Compensation
Bill helps provide redress to disabled survivors who were wrongly sterilized
against their will,” said Susan Henderson, Executive Director, DREDF. “Taking
responsibility for this injustice is the necessary next step to guard against
future state-sanctioned abuse and discrimination.”
eugenic law was repealed in 1979, a subsequent state audit revealed that at
least 144 people had been sterilized during labor and delivery without proper
consent while incarcerated in California women’s prisons from 2006 to 2010.
Further research indicates that an additional 100 involuntary sterilizations
were performed during labor and delivery with an additional small number of
other coerced or involuntary sterilizations happening during other surgeries in
the late 1990’s. As with the
sterilizations performed under California’s eugenics law, the sterilizations
disproportionately affected people of color.
at the women’s prisons primarily targeted Black and Brown women as well as poor
white women,” said Hafsah Al-Amin, CCWP Program Coordinator. “They were
intended to stop the reproduction of a population whom the state would rather
see caged, disenfranchised and infertile.”
programs are now considered a major human rights abuse. California officials
apologized for this historical wrong in 2003. Recently the Los Angeles Board of
Supervisors issued a public apology for the non-consensual tubal ligations of
Mexican-origin women at USC/LA County Hospital in the 1960s-1970s, yet the history
and legacy of California’s eugenics laws are little known.
“The legacy of
California’s eugenics law is well-known and as the prison sterilizations show,
the repercussions continue to be felt,” said Laura Jimenez, Executive Director,
CLRJ. “As reproductive justice advocates, we recognize the insidious impact
state-sponsored policies have on the dignity and rights of poor women of color
who are often stripped of their ability to form the families they want. This
bill is a step in the right direction in remedying the violence inflicted on
This bill would help compensate verified survivors of California’s eugenic sterilization program and involuntary sterilizations at California women’s state prisons as well as establish markers at designated sites that acknowledge the compulsory sterilization of thousands of people in the state, raising awareness of the unjust sterilizations of thousands of people. Although monetary compensation cannot adequately address the harm suffered by sterilization survivors, it is a material acknowledgement of this wrong.
About California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ) CLRJ is a statewide organization committed to honoring the experiences of Latinas to uphold our dignity, our bodies, sexuality, and families. We build Latinas’ power and cultivate leadership through community education, policy advocacy, and community informed research to achieve Reproductive Justice. Learn more about California Latinas for Reproductive Justice at www.californialatinas.org About Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), founded in 1979, is a leading national civil rights law and policy center directed by individuals with disabilities and parents who have children with disabilities. DREDF works to advance the civil and human rights of people with disabilities through legal advocacy, training, education, and public policy and legislative development. Learn more about DREDF at https://dredf.org/ About California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) CCWP is a grassroots social justice organization, with members inside and outside prison, that challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC). We see the struggle for racial and gender justice as central to dismantling the PIC and we prioritize the leadership of the people, families, and communities most impacted in building this movement. Learn more at https://womensprisoners.org