Imprisoned People Facing Medical Neglect and Violence, Family Members and Organizers Speak Out

Press release received per email:
For Immediate Release – Monday, November 23, 2015
 
Imprisoned People Facing Medical Neglect and Violence, Family Members and Organizers Speak Out
 
Press Contact: Dolores Canales, Family Unity Network, (714)290-9077 dol1canales@gmail.com  or Hannah McFaull, Justice Now, (415) 813.7715 hannah@justicenow.org
 
Sacramento – On November 11th, an imprisoned person at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), faced extreme violence at the hands of prison guards. Stacy Rojas and three others were detained, physically abused, sexually harassed, strip searched in the presence of male guards, and were kept without water, food or restrooms for eleven hours. The group was illegally kept in administrative segregation without a lock up order and have been denied health care support for the injuries caused by these officers. Requests to speak with members of the prison’s Investigative Services Unit have so far been ignored.
 
“I just want to let them know that we have been physically abused, sexually harassed,” said Stacy Rojas, “and that this was just wrong. They used excessive force, totally used excessive force against us and we need help.”
 
The public acknowledgment of excessive use of force and deadly use of force by police has increased throughout the nation. Video recordings of interactions between the police and the public have increased significantly in recent years as technology has improved and the number of distribution channels has expanded. This is not an option open to people experiencing violence from guards behind prison walls and any attempt to speak out is often met with retaliation and increased force.
 
“Our communities in and out of lock up have lived experiences with biased policing — ranging from racial profiling, to excessive, and sometimes lethal, use of force”, stated Patrisse Cullors co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. “We hear about it more and more in the communities we live in, but rarely hear about the traumatic ways that it manifests in the California prison system. Stories like Stacy’s are happening everyday inside of California prisons and jails with little to no measures taken by authorities to keep people safe and hold law enforcement, such as prison guards accountable.”
 
Advocacy organizations working with people in women’s prisons are familiar with reports of abuse and violence, like that experienced at CCWF last week. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Justice Now, the Family Unity Network, the TGI Justice Project and others regularly provide legal and medical advocacy support following incidents of violence perpetrated by correctional officers at women’s prisons.
 
This group of organizations and Stacy’s family members are requesting an independent investigation of the violence and excessive use of force used. They are requesting medical care and safe housing for Stacy and all those involved. The group also demands an end to the violence imposed on women, transgender people, gender nonconforming people, and communities of color within the California prison system.
 
“My sister is at the end of a fourteen year sentence and it seems as though some would wish to take that away. This has never happened [to Stacy] before. We have never had fear for my sister’s life”, said Adriana Rojas. “My sister Stacy Rojas’ constitutional rights have been violated by being stripped searched by male guards, assaulted by means of kicking and stomping, taken outdoors in near 40 degree weather, threatened with rape, humiliated, placed in holding cages for nearly 12 hours, and deprived of food and water.” Albert Jacob Rojas added, “They were denied medical attention and denied the right to speak to internal affairs. We ask that anybody who cares about human rights and women’s rights please join us in demanding justice for all.”
 
Family members and advocates are calling for:
  • An immediate independent investigation into the violence and excessive force used by guards in this incident.
  • Suspension of guards involved pending investigation.
  • Comprehensive medical treatment for injuries sustained during the incident.
  • No retaliation for speaking out against this abuse.
 
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Please Sign these letters for healthcare for people in prison in California!

Being in physical distress locked in a cell turns into a truly terrifying experience when you can hear the cops banter with each other about you being a “crybaby”…and they’ll get to it when they have finished cutting it up with each other. It’s especially terrifying when you are experiencing symptoms you don’t understand & you have witnessed others calling for help only to learn that person didn’t survive.
-Sonja Marcus, formerly incarcerated woman, survived 18 years in prison


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.
PLEASE CALL, EMAIL, WRITE or FAX these people with the demands above:
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
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

Also from CURB
Please sign here to sign CURB’s letter for decent healthcare at CSP-Corcoran!

Solitary Confinement in Women’s Prisons in California: Important Message to the Politicians

Received by email: 

October 17, 2013

To:  Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner
From:   Diana Block & Misty Rojo, California Coalition for Women Prisoners

“Last night another girl hung herself, and as they drug her out of her cell and down the stairs and put her on the stretcher it occurred to me that it’s become so common, so common it hurts. I mean I woke up out of my sleep and got off my bunk, got a sip of water and looked out the window and there they were silently dragging her out, no alarm, no sense of emergency or urgency. Just your run of the mill ordinarily scheduled suicide. Nothing special going on here, just all in a day’s work. I don’t know. I laid in bed, praying her spirit would fight for her life since she obviously didn’t have the strength to fight for it herself. By the time breakfast rolled around her bed was already filled by a new inmate. Like rotating cattle.” (Excerpt from a recent letter from a woman in CIW’s SHU)

Dear Assemblywoman Skinner:

The California Coalition for Women Prisoners (www.womenprisoners.org) is a grassroots advocacy organization that works with women and transgender prisoners in California’s prisons and jails. Many of our members live in your District. We are also active in the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition which deals with issues of solitary confinement in California prisons.  Unfortunately, we were unable to attend the recent hearing on solitary confinement which was held on October 9th, but some of us were able to watch on CalChannel. We appreciate your focus at that hearing on information regarding solitary confinement in the women’s prisons.

Much less is known about solitary in the women’s prisons than about conditions in male facilities.  Over the past several months, CCWP has been trying to gather information and testimony about these conditions.  One thing that has become clear is that the recent conversion of Valley State Prison for Women into a male facility (VSP) has led to a dramatic increase in the use of solitary confinement: Ad Seg at CCWF and the SHU at CIW.  Concurrently, there have been several suicides in Ad Seg and the SHU in recent months, at least one from an alleged “overdose.” The excerpt from the letter quoted above is one of many that indicates how desperate the situation is.  

We write to ask that your office initiate an investigation into women’s solitary confinement conditions.  This could include on-site visits of the SHU and Ad Seg. Legislators did visit the SHU at VSPW in 2000 as part of Senator Polanco’s  hearings about the women’s prisons in 2000. They were appalled by what they saw.  In particular, they witnessed women who were held in cages being given “therapy”  for their mental health issues.  Those “therapy cages” are still being used today in both women’s and men’s isolation facilities.

We believe that several key factors have contributed to the increase in the use of solitary in the women’s prisons. 

  • First is the use of the category  “enemy concerns” to designate women/trans prisoners to Ad Seg and the SHU.  “Enemy concerns” is a documented disagreement between inmates that may have led to threats or acts of violence. However, the documentation can be up to decades old in a person’s central file and the person may have been successfully programming in general population for years.  When they are transferred to a new prison, they are put in segregated housing based on this documentation in their file, even when they don’t have any disciplinary issues.
  •  The existence of “enemy concerns” tags for prisoners transferred from VSPW to CCWF or CIW has caused them to be placed in segregated housingindefinitely due to a lack of other alternatives.  Even though women are being placed in isolation for their “protection”, they lose all privileges and are kept in solitary cells for 22-24 hours per day just as women who are there for disciplinary reasons
  •  Because there are no protective housing units for women, they can be kept indefinitely in segregated/solitary housing if enemy issues are involved.  Using the “enemy concerns” label to keep women in the SHU for indeterminate amounts of time is similar to the use of the “gang affiliation” label in the men’s prisons and is increasing the average amount of time that women spend in Ad Seg and the SHU.
  • The extreme overcrowding at CCWF (currently at 173.4% of capacity) has caused increased tensions and conflicts which have led to fights and assaults resulting in more people being placed in Ad Seg/SHU either thru “enemy concerns” designation or disciplinary reasons.
  • The deteriorating conditions in the women’s prisons aggravate mental health issues which also have led to increased placements in Ad Seg/SHU.
  • We are hoping that your office can help further investigate the situation of women in solitary which is largely invisible but is getting worse all the time. Some questions that we think should be answered include:

    1.  How many women/trans prisoners are in Administrative Segregation at CCWF and the SHU at CIW?

    2. What is the average length of time that women are held in Ad Seg/SHU?  What is the longest amount of time that women are being kept in the SHU?

    3. Of the women and trans prisoners in Ad Seg and the SHU how many are there for disciplinary reasons and how many for “enemy concerns?”

    4. Has there been a thorough investigation into recent suicides in Ad Seg and the SHU and if so what are the findings?

    5. What % of women in Ad Seg/SHU were receiving some form of mental health diagnosis and treatment before they were placed in solitary?

    Again, we appreciate your concern for women in solitary and hope that your office can help shine a light on increased use of Ad Seg and the SHU for women/trans prisoners in this period.  We also think it would be important to specifically include women and isolation  at the next hearing on solitary confinement which is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles.  We would be happy to discuss this issue in more depth with you.

    Thank you!

    Diana Block and Misty Rojo, CCWP

    415-255-7036 ext. 314 or info@womenprisoners.org

    CC: Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock