Women in Prisons are often Women in Shadow

California Women Prisonerz – SHU Deathz and Suicidez – Support Investigation

 

California Women Prisonerz – SHU Deathz and Suicidez – Support Investigation

Please contact the politicians and CDCR representatives listed at the end of this press release to

FAMILIES AND ADVOCATES CALL FOR INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION INTO MULTIPLE 2014 DEATHS AND SUICIDES AT CALIFORNIA INSTITUTION FOR WOMEN (CIW)

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 atCIW,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.

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

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

http://sd26.senate.ca.gov/e-mail-holly

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

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