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On November 11th, five imprisoned people at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) endured extreme violence at the hands of prison guards. They immediately filed grievances against the officers and called for an independent investigation, but so far none of their requests have been met. They have now developed a more comprehensive set of demands listed in the letter below.

Family members alongside California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Justice Now, Family Unity Network and TGI Justice Project have prepared a petition and are asking the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Senate Public Safety Committee for recognition of, and response to, a set of demands penned by the incarcerated women.

My letter below. You can send your own HERE.


 

Warden Deborah K. Johnson, Scott Kernan and Senator Loni Hancock,

I recently learned about a serious incident of physical assault and sexual harassment at CCWF.

Stacy Rojas, Sandra Rocha, Yvette Ayestas, Melissa Blanchard, Sara Lara and others were subject to degrading treatment during a November 11th incident.

I join the people in prison, their family members and advocacy groups in calling for an independent investigation into the incident and the suspension, pending investigation, of the officers specified in the administrative appeals filed.

Many women and transgender or gender non-conforming people incarcerated at your facility have long histories of sexual and domestic violence and an incident such as this can trigger trauma and PTSD. Yet the officers involved in the incident are still working in close proximity to those impacted by the assault.

I strongly support the demands of the imprisoned people:

• We demand the right to document, expose, and protect ourselves to stop abuses and violations of our human rights without retaliation or punishment.
• We demand safety from retaliation and from being coerced, threatened and blackmailed to betray our imprisoned peers.
• We demand immediate and ongoing medical attention and access to mental health support services. Additionally, we demand access to mental health support if requested, due to the extreme mental stress this assault has caused as a result of the histories of trauma that this incident triggered.
• We demand an independent investigation by the Inspector General’s office.
• We demand that any internal investigation coordinated by the CDCR and through the Investigative Services Unit (ISU) be transparent both during the process and in the sharing of results and that the investigation be conducted in collaboration with legal advocates. Additionally, when ISU is requested by people in the care and custody of CDCR, and most specifically at CCWF where staff misconduct and violence at the hands of CDCR staff was reported, those requests are immediately addressed and responsibly handled.
• We demand immediate suspension of all officers specified in the appeals filed after the incident pending independent investigation. Suspension should include those higher up the chain of command, namely the Captain and Sergeant who were involved in this incident.
• We demand an immediate end to violence and brutality at the hands of prison staff and officials. We demand an end to gender-based violence in all California prisons. We connect this violence and brutality to the state violence people experience in communities of color throughout the country and demand an end to police brutality both inside and outside of prison.

I look forward to hearing your responses.

Pete Brook, San Francisco, Calif.


Send your own letter supporting the petition HERE.

dae-dae-headshot

Shadae Schmidt died in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) of California Institute for Women (CIW) on 13th March, 2014.

“I went to borrow scissors from the cops last week, and I was told that they don’t lend out scissors anymore because they have special industrial scissors now for cutting down bodies. He showed them to me. That’s how normal this is. […] We have women dropping like flies and not one person has been questioned as to why we believe they are killing themselves. I have been down almost 20 years and I have never seen anything like this. Ever.”

– Letter from prisoner at California Institute for Women (CIW) 3/21/15

In April of this year, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) provided California Senator Mark Leno with a memo RE: “Female offenders” and medical and mental health care neglect. It opened with quotes that female prisoners had provided CCWP in hundreds of in-person interviews and letters.

“Medical care here is very poor. Inmates are treated like animal. Period. We’re looked at as if we’re not human beings.” and “I’ve gone back to medical for the same issue over a 100 times. So that they can get the $5 co-pay that I don’t have to give.” and “I feel they do not care…it’s my fault or I’m lying about being paralyzed…I had to ‘prove’ I was incontinent. They made me urinate in bed. They would not give me enough catheters.”

Medical care is dire. Mental-healthcare is desperate. Four women have killed themselves at CIW in San Bernardino County in the last 18 months. The suicide rate at the facility is more than eight times the national rate for female prisoners and more than five times the rate for the California prison system as a whole.

Before the recent surge, there were three suicides at CIW in 14 years.

Leno, a Democrat, has been one of the most progressive voices in the Golden State when it comes to prison reforms. It was hoped that he’d be able to open rigorous inquiries as why women are “dropping like flies”, as to why they were hanging themselves and cutting themselves in record numbers.

CCWP got a read on the mental healthcare provision inside CA prisons through interviews and a survey (conducted in summer 2014) from prisoners in California Correction Women’s Facility (CCWF) and CIW, and others recently released. CCWP found that medical and mental health care access and treatment in Californian women prisons fell well below constitutional standards. Suicide prevention is scarce if not lacking entirely.

The AP reported last month how this is “a shocking turnaround” CIW was cited last year as a rare example of good care of California prisoners.

“The prison’s psychiatric program was promoted as a positive example in May 2014 by Matthew Lopes, a federal court-appointed overseer who monitors mental health treatment for inmates. Of six inpatient programs for mentally ill inmates statewide, he found that only the one at the women’s institution was providing proper care.”

All four women who died at CIW were receiving mental health treatment in the days before their deaths.

OFFICIAL DATA

COMPSTAT data gathered by the California Department of  CDCR backed up concerns of increased suicides and suicide attempts.

Figures from women’s prisons, over the 13 months 2/14-2/15.

CIW 16 attempted suicides 3
CCWF 7 attempted suicides 0
CMF 20 attempted suicides 1 suicide
FSP 2 attempted suicides 0 suicides

Figures from all men’s prisons not designated “high security” over the 13 months 2/14-2/15.

ASP 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CAL 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CEN 3 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CTF 6 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CVSP 1 attempted suicide 0 suicides
ISP 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
MCSP 17 attempted suicides 2 suicides
PVSP 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
SOL 8 attempted suicides 1 suicide
VSPW 7 attempted suicides 0 suicides

Source: CDCR COMPSTAT DAI Statistical Report.

CIW had more suicides reported by CDCR than any other CA prison in 2014; CIW also had an alarming number of attempted suicides in the same period. CIW had the third highest number of attempted suicides, but the highest rate of suicide attempts when adjusted for population.

THOSE THAT PASSED

Behind these tragic findings are even more tragic deaths. The deaths of Stephanie Felix, Gui Fei Zhang and Shadae Schmidt were reported by some local and solidarity press, but mostly went by unnoticed and, worse, unquestioned. For

Stephanie Felix committed suicide at CIW on 3/9/15, after previous suicide attempts and after asking for emergency mental health care several times, including that very same day. Ms. Felix had been housed in the SCU, but she was placed back in general population where her mental health declined. During a previous suicide attempt, two prisoners performed CPR on her to save her life, despite being told to stop and facing disciplinary consequences for their actions. (Reported to CCWP by letters 3/15)

Gui Fei Zhang, a 73-year-old Chinese woman, committed suicide on 2/17/15 at CIW. She was released from suicide watch back to general population the day before she killed herself. (Reported to CCWP in interviews 4/10/15)

Shadae Schmidt was a 32-year-old African-American woman who died in the CIW SHU on 3/13/14. Shadae had a stroke in February 2014 and was prematurely returned to the SHU. She was given medication that made her sick but her requests for a change in prescription were ignored. CCWP is still waiting to hear any reports of investigations into Shadae’s death. We have noticed that there is one preventable death listed in the CDCR data for the month she died. (Reported to CCWP by family and friends in 2014)

Uncovering the common causation factors between these deaths has been an ongoing concern for CCWP.

CONCLUSIONS

CCWP concluded generally that:

• Prisoners in the SHU at CIW report heightened medical and mental health care neglect

• CCWF and CIW have poor records of seeing patients in the period mandated once requests for mental health help are submitted.

• Processing time with mental health clinicians is too short – 15 minutes does not allow for adequate diagnosis, treatment, etc..

• Chronic care patients are required to be seen every 90 days, even though many patients require more medical attention; many chronic care patients are not seen every 90 days.

• Overcrowding at CCWF and CIW is still impacting mental health care access; the SCU at CIW is often overcrowded because of the increasing need for acute mental health care.

• The threat of being moved to the PIP prevents many SCU patients from seeking help.

• Patients in the SCU are increasingly cutting themselves to deal with emotional trauma and/or to get the mental health or medical attention they need.

• If people report suicidality after 2pm, mental health departments are closed and mental health workers retrieve patients from the cages (where suicidal patients are caged and cuffed) to treat patients in the emergency rooms of the medical departments — loud, chaotic environments with no chairs, and little privacy.

Specific to neglectful mental healthcare, CCWP noted that:

• Patients, including those who are very sick and/or disabled, routinely wait outside for scheduled doctor’s appointments for 2 to 5 hours in all weather (including rain and heat alerts). “Too many prisoners, too few doctors,” is the common experience.

• Patients do not feel respected, believed or listened to by their primary doctor. People are often told that they are “lying” when they report on health history, symptoms, or past treatments that have been helpful for them.

• Misdiagnoses are still too common.

• Serious lack of follow-up care after surgeries continues to be a significant problem.

• There are often significant delays in refilling prescribed medications. People are going without life-saving and chronic care medications while they wait.

• Treatment recommendations from specialists are rarely ordered and/or followed by doctors at the prisons.

• Gender non-conforming and transgender prisoners face increased medical and mental health neglect because of discrimination based on their gender non-conforming or transgender status.

• When prisoners file grievances (602s) for medical and mental health neglect, they often experience direct retaliation from healthcare providers and/or further denial of access to care.

Recommendations

Despite decades of lawsuits to remedy prison health care and court orders to reduce prison overcrowding, the inhumane conditions inside CA women’s prisons continue. The CCWP has called for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding all deaths at CIW in 2014 and 2015. The CDCR says it is monitoring CIW more closely than any other prison in the system.

CCWP calls, sensibly, for a reduction of overcrowding through the implementation of existing release programs. It also calls for immediate transfer of all prisoners with mental health issues from the SHU.

dae-dae-headshot

Shadae “Dae Dae” Schmidt died in February 3rd 2014 in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) of California Institution for Women, following a stroke and repeated calls to staff for different medications and treatment. Schmidt’s death is only one of seven deaths advocates say were entirely avoidable.

Activists and families of women imprisoned in California are calling for an independent inquiry into multiple deaths. Activists and families believe the deaths were preventable and many details of the circumstances of death have been concealed.

For those involved, this is an important call for transparency. And, for us, it is an important case to notice as the information gained by advocates was gleaned from interviews with women inside. No persons are bigger experts on the prison industrial complex than those held within it. The call is coordinated by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) which maintains close communication with incarcerated women and the families of incarcerated women. Without there efforts we wouldn’t know about the dangerous conditions — and alleged negligence — within.

This from the CCWP:

PRESS RELEASE

On July 30, 2014 a woman committed suicide in the Solitary Housing Unit (SHU) of the California Institution for Women (CIW), in Corona. According to information gathered by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), there have been seven preventable deaths at CIW so far in 2014 and three attempted suicides since July alone. None of these deaths have been made public by CIW or CDCR although they signify a state of crisis in the prison.

Prison officials have failed to inform bereaved family members of these deaths in a timely and respectful manner. Margie Kobashigawa, the mother of 30-year-old Alicia Thompson, who died of an alleged suicide on February 24, 2014 in the SHU, was ignored by prison staff. “Nobody from the prison would call me back, nobody would talk to me. I was planning to pick up my daughter’s body and suddenly CIW was trying to cremate her again, and quickly. To me it’s like they’re trying to hide everything,” said Margie. As she prepared her daughter for burial, she found no signs of hanging trauma to her body and has reason to believe her daughter died from some other type of violent force. On March 13, 2014 Shadae Schmidt, a 32-year-old African American woman, died in the CIW SHU. Shadae had a stroke in February 2014 and was prematurely returned to the SHU. She was given medication that made her sick but her requests for a change in prescription fell on deaf ears; and then she died.

CCWP received information regarding these two deaths from friends and family members, but other deaths, suicides and attempted suicides remain shrouded in mystery. The majority of people in the SHU have some type of mental health problem, which is exacerbated by solitary confinement. CCWP continues to hear reports that there is no medical staff to monitor people’s vital signs and mental states when physical and mental health crises occur. People scream for help and get no response at all.

Since the closure of Valley State Women’s Prison in January 2013, overcrowding at CIW has skyrocketed. Medical care has significantly deteriorated and there has been a dramatic increase in the population of the SHU and other disciplinary segregation units. Overcrowding has aggravated mental health issues causing an increase in the number of mentally disabled people in the SHU even though this is the worst place to put them.

In August 2014, in response to a court order, the CDCR released revised policies to reduce the number of people with mental health diagnoses in isolation. Policy changes are only useful if they are implemented. It is crucial for the CDCR to transfer all people with mental health issues out of the CIW SHU as soon as possible in accordance with the court order.

Despite decades of lawsuits to remedy prison health care and court orders to reduce prison overcrowding, the inhuman conditions inside CA women’s prisons continue and have led to these tragic, violent and untimely deaths. In order to reverse the crisis at CIW, CCWP calls for the following immediate actions:

– Immediate transfer of all prisoners with mental health issues from the SHU and implementation of care programs.

– Increased healthcare staffing and care for people in the SHU.

– An independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding all deaths at CIW in 2014.

– Reduction of overcrowding through the implementation of existing release programs rather than transfers to other equally problematic prisons and jails.

PETITION

Contact the following politicians and CDCR representatives to call for an independent investigation:

Sara Malone, Chief Ombudsman
Office of the Ombudsman
1515 S. Street, Room 124 S.
Sacramento, CA 95811
Tel: (916) 327-8467 Fax: (916) 324-8263
sara.malone@cdcr.ca.gov

Kimberly Hughes, Warden CIW
Tel: (909) 597-1771
Kimberly.hughes@cdcr.ca.gov

Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson
District 19, Senate Budget Committee
Vice-Chair of Women’s Caucus
(916) 651-4019
senator.jackson@sen.ca.gov

Assemblymember Nancy Skinner
District 15, Women’s Caucus
(916) 319-2015
Assemblymember.Skinner@outreach.assembly.ca.gov

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano
District 17
(916) 319-2017
Assemblymember.Ammiano@outreach.assembly.ca.gov

Senator Mark Leno
Senator.leno@senator.ca.gov

Senator Loni Hancock
Senator.hancock@senate.ca.gov

Senator Holly Mitchell
District 26, Women’s Caucus
Public Safety Committee (916) 651-4015
Email here.

Senator Jim Beall
District 15, Senate Budget Committee
senator.beall@senator.ca.gov
(916) 651-4026

Jay Virbel, Associate Director of Female Offender Programs & Services
jay.virbel@cdcr.ca.gov
(916) 322-1627
PO Box 942883
Sacramento, CA 95811

Jeffrey Beard, CDCR Secretary
Jeff.Beard@cdcr.ca.gov
(916) 323-6001
PO Box 942883
Sacramento, CA 95811

For more information contact: California Coalition for Women Prisoners at (415) 255-7035 ext. 314 , or info@womenprisoners.org

SHUT-Down-McFarland

California used to be a private prison-free state, but as overcrowding, unconstitutional conditions and budget crises have gripped, Governor Brown and legislators have increasingly turned to the quick-fix of leasing private facilities.

“One out of 10 California inmates is serving time in a leased or private prison,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Women’s prisons are the most cramped: the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla is listed at 182% capacity in last week’s state prison census report, with 1,600 prisoners more than it was intended to hold.”

The latest addition to California’s archipelago of lockdowns is McFarland Women’s Prison operated by GEO group, one of the two largest private prison corporations in the U.S. This is a backward step, not only because it is the reopening of a prison the state doesn’t need, but because profits will be made off of the back of those imprisoned. GEO Group has a history that includes sexual abuse and poor medical care in its jails and prisons.

Grassroots organising is to protest the new prison at the end of this month. From the organisers:

RALLY AT MCFARLAND PARK, 100 FRONTAGE RD, MCFARLAND, CA, THURSDAY, JULY 31, 2014, 5 PM

Rally against McFarland Women’s Prison the GEO for-profit women’s prison recently opened in McFarland, California. Demand that the CDCR cancel its contract with GEO, release all prisoners through available alternative programs and divert the money being used to fund the prison to community-based services.

We will be linking up in McFarland with the Trail for Humanity, women and children marching across California to demand the protection of immigrant women and their families, comprehensive immigration reform and an end to racial profiling, and with members of the California Prison Moratorium Project who are joining the march.

Car caravan in the Bay Area is leaving from MacArthur BART, at 11 am, Thursday July 31, 2014. 
Information about other meeting sites to come soon.

For more campaign information and to sign up to caravan to McFarland, go to http://womenprisoners.org/ or email notomcfarlandgeo@gmail.com or call the California Coalition for Women Prisoners at 415-255-7036 ext. 4.

Women and trans people at two of California’s women’s prisons provided the following statement for our education on the matter.

STOP THE MCFARLAND GEO WOMEN’S PRISON!

We the undersigned incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and  the California Institution for Women (CIW) are outraged that CDCR has signed a contract with the GEO Group, the 2nd largest private, for-profit prison corporation in the U.S. According to the contract, GEO will open a new women’s prison in McFarland, CA by fall of 2014. We call upon California State Legislators to direct CDCR to cancel the contract with GEO and implement existing release programs instead of opening a new prison!

Once again we are shuffled around without regard for our well-being or our human rights. Since VSPW was converted to a men’s prison in January 2013, we have been subjected to overcrowding at historically high levels (CCWF is now at 185% capacity), even while the state is under court order to reduce the prison population. This is discrimination against people in women’s’ prisons!  As a result of this overcrowding, health care, mail services, food and education have greatly deteriorated. We are locked down more frequently, leading to heightened tensions, drug overdoses and suicides. The prison staff has responded by locking more people into solitary, further violating our human rights.

CDCR could easily implement existing programs to reduce overcrowding, such as: Alternative Custody Programs (ACP); Elder and Medical Parole; and Compassionate Release. Instead, on April 1, 2014 GEO announced its new contract with CDCR to open a 260 bed women’s prison with an “enhanced rehabilitation and recidivism reduction program.” This is nothing but a bad April Fool’s joke! The 260 women who are “chosen” to go to McFarland could be released through one of these other programs instead. None of us should be hauled off to showcase a so-called “gender responsive” prison and to put money in the pockets of GEO investors.

GEO is a private corporation whose business makes profit from imprisoning primarily people of color and immigrants. GEO’s press release about the new prison reports expected revenue of $9 million in McFarland’s first year. Think of how much $9 million could do for providing community-based re-entry services!

GEO has been the subject of numerous lawsuits around the country about atrocious, unconstitutional conditions. Private prisons are notorious for operating with even greater secrecy than the CDCR: assaults are 49% more frequent; racist behavior and sexual abuse by staff are widespread.

• GEO is responsible for human rights violations at many of their facilities.  In 2012 GEO was forced to close the Walnut Grove, Mississippi youth detention Center after being condemned for allowing, in the words of Fed. Judge Carlton Reeves, “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk..”

• In March 2014, 1200 people detained in GEO’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA (for immigrants) went on hunger strike to protest the grossly inadequate medical care, exorbitant commissary prices and low or NO pay for work within the center.  Other GEO prisoners have since gone on hunger strike at detention facilities in Conroe, Texas and Stewart, Georgia.

• The city of McFarland is located in an area known as an environmental cancer cluster and breeding ground for Valley Fever.  Instead of opening new prisons in this area, all of them should be shut down.

• In January of 2014, Governor Jerry Brown’s reelection campaign reported $54,400 in donations from GEO Group. GEO Group has spent $7.6 million on lobbying and campaign contributions in the U.S. in the last decade.

• GEO lobbied strongly to advance laws that increased the time served for drug convictions and other non-violent crimes through mandatory minimum sentencing, three-strikes laws, and truth-in-sentencing laws. GEO was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC) when the model bill that became AB 1070 (profiling immigrants in Arizona) was drafted. These legal changes resulted in significant profits for GEO.

• In McFarland, CA, GEO has signed a contract incentivizing prolonged incarceration over release by charging the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation less per prisoner if the facility is more than half full.

• GEO operates reentry facilities around the state, including the Taylor Street Center at in San Francisco and the Oakland Center in Oakland.  Residents experience these facilities as “re-entry prisons” that are structured to threaten and punish people rather than providing support for people to reenter community life.

It is shameful that CDCR is about to open a for-profit “boutique prison” that does nothing positive to solve the disproportionate overcrowding in the women’s prisons at this time. Assembly Members and Senators, please intervene!  Stop the GEO prison from opening. Instead use this $9 million to fully implement existing release programs immediately and fund community-based (not for-profit) reentry programs.

Thank you for listening to this urgent request,

Natalie DeMola, CCWF

Jane Dorotik, CIW

Fonda Gayden, CCWF

Anne Marie Harrison, CCWF

Valerie Juarez, CCWF

Terah Lawyer, CCWF

ChiChi Locci, CCWF

Maydee Morris, CCWF

Amy Preasmeyer, CCWF

Patrice Wallace, CCWF

If you can make it to McFarland (a typically remotely-located prison) in California’s central valley, I urge you to do so.

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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