On Wednesday October 30th, over sixty people rallied in front of the CDCr office building in Sacramento to demand an end to the sexual and gender-based violence that has targeted trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people in California’s prisons. The spirited gathering marched, chanted and listened as many formerly incarcerated people denounced the sexual and physical abuse they endured while inside prison. Stacy Rojas, lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the CDCr about the assaults, described their efforts to document incidents of guard abuse which led to a brutal attack against them and several other people in 2015. Another speaker explained that “we are only asking for them to be held accountable. The (prison) system is designed to hurt people who don’t conform. When you speak out about that, you become endangered.”
The rally was a powerful expression of outrage at repeated
experiences of harassment and violence.
It also demonstrated a fierce determination to work to ensure changes
for those who remain behind bars. Demands included an end to the assaults and
targeting of TGNC people in prison; a strict process to hold guards and staff
accountable for abusive actions; and an end to retaliation against
whistleblowers who report abuses. Plans
are underway to hold a statewide Peoples Hearing in 2020 that can clearly
expose what’s going on in prisons in California and all over the country and
mobilize broad grassroots support for demands for change.
“It is a great honor to be the first Charisse Shumate fellow. I promise to do her name justice!“
CCWP is thrilled to announce that Laverne Dejohnette will be the inaugural fellow. We are starting this fellowship program to honor the life and legacy of Charisse Shumate, one of our incarcerated founding members. Charisse was a lead plaintiff in the 1995 lawsuit Shumate v. Wilson, which challenged the abusive, inhumane health care in California’s women’s prisons, amounting to cruel and unusual punishment. In the very first issue of The Fire Inside newsletter, which she helped start, she wrote, “If walls could talk, we would not have to beg for help.” She was a survivor who was punished with a life sentence for defending herself against domestic violence. Charisse pushed forward the conversation about the criminalization of women who resisted and embodied the phrase that she used repeatedly, “It’s not a me thing, it’s a we thing.” Charisse died in August 2001 of complications of sickle cell anemia that was never treated adequately inside prison. The Charisse Shumate Fellowship carries on her powerful spirit.
Dejohnette was released from prison in June 2019 after serving 26 years of a Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentence. When Dejohnette first came to prison, Charisse was one of the elders who helped to educate her about the need to stand up for the rights of everyone inside. After years of being resigned to her LWOP sentence, Dej began to actively advocate for commutations for herself and others inside. Right before Dejohnette was due to be released from prison, she worked with Brandi Taliano to create the quilt with CCWP’s logo that she is holding in the picture above. Dejohnette wants to use the fellowship to speak and advocate for people in women’s prisons and inspire others to be Fearless, Together and Unified. Dejohnette says, “It is a great honor to be the first Charisse Shumate fellow. I promise to do her name justice!“
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
CCWP is so happy to share the news that on December 24, 2018 Governor Brown granted 73 more commutations for people with Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentences. 13 of these are for people in women’s prisons most of whom CCWP has supported with their commutation process. 60 are for people in men’s prisons. Brown also granted 58 commutations for people with other sentences and 143 pardons. Copies of the gubernatorial commutations and pardons can be found at:
Through his unprecedented number of LWOP commutations Brown is recognizing the injustice of LWOP and other forms of extreme sentencing. Thank you to all who have supported the DROP LWOP campaign in so many ways!
Let’s build the momentum in 2019 with Governor-elect Newsom to win commutations for all 5,000+ people with LWOP sentences and end LWOP and all forms of extreme sentencing!