Reportback from HEARING in Jorge Rico’s Case Against Sleep-Depriving Checks

Report on Jorge Rico Hearing

by Charlie Hinton

A number of hardy souls ventured to Sacramento on May 18, 2018 to a federal court hearing on CDCr’s motion to dismiss Jorge Rico’s suit opposing the every half hour Guard One “security/welfare checks” that take place in isolation units throughout the state. With Guard One, guards press a metal baton into a metal receiver positioned either in or besides cell doors, making a loud disruptive noise in most cases, waking prisoners up every 30 minutes and causing sleep deprivation. The good news is that the magistrate judge, Deborah Barnes, gave every indication she will deny CDCr’s motion and will move the case to its next stage. She suggested several times to CDCr’s lawyers that at this very early stage of the case, there was no basis for a motion to dismiss, and she said at least twice “I’m really struggling with your arguments.”

Rico Rally photo,5-18-18

There are currently 6 suits against the “checks” before this judge, and Kate Falkenstien, above in the center wearing a pink blouse, represents 3 of them, including that of Jorge Rico. In a press conference after the hearing, she explained the 3 arguments of CDCr.

In a motion they filed the day before, CDCr claims that because Mr. Rico has been moved from Pelican Bay SHU to general population, the case is now moot. The judge asked “Can’t he again be moved into SHU?” Which is exactly what has happened. During the last year or so, he’s gone from SHU to RCGP (from where he filed the suit) to SHU to Ad Seg  to SHU and now to GP.

The judge said that Rico’s claim would be viable for damages, but it was “questionable” whether injunctive relief could be sought.  [The judge’s point being that, at the present time, the conduct that would be enjoined does not affect Rico, the sole plaintiff in this case, because he is no longer in SHU.]

Prisoner rights campaigner Marie Levin commented outside the courthouse, “Regardless of Mr. Rico’s present or future housing assignment, he still suffered what he suffered when he suffered it.”

Second, CDCr argues that although sleep deprivation is illegal, they don’t think it’s illegal to keep people awake in this way. They didn’t know it was wrong. Ms. Falkenstien brought up a case from Alabama, Hope v. Pelzer, in which Alabama prison guards tied Mr. Hope to a hitching post with his shirt off in the sun for seven hours, offering him water twice and never a bathroom break. He sued, under the grounds that this was a violation of the 8th amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Alabama said they knew it was illegal to tie a person for a sustained time to a fence or a cell door, but they didn’t think it was illegal to tie a person to a hitching post. The Supreme Court ruled for Mr. Hope.

CDCr’s third argument is that the Coleman judge has already ruled that Guard One is acceptable. Ms. Falkenstien argued for Rico that Coleman was a case involving mental illness, and neither Jorge nor many other prisoners undergoing the “checks” are mentally ill, and that even if one case has been decided, each person should be able to be heard in court.

In Ms. Falkenstien’s original brief in opposition to CDCr’s motion to dismiss, she argued 1) an Eighth Amendment challenge to the Guard One checks
 was not actually litigated in Coleman, 2) Rico Is neither a Coleman Class Member nor in privity 
with Class Members, and 3) the Coleman order can also be collaterally challenged, 
because none of the Coleman class representatives are 
affected by the Guard One checks.

Commenting on CDCr’s claims, the judge remarked that it was well established that sleep deprivation can rise to the level of an 8th Amendment violation. She said she was having a hard time with CDCr’s argument, and further, that she would be shocked to find any mention of sleep deprivation in Coleman, or anything in Coleman saying that if the checks using the Guard One system cause sleep deprivation, “that’s okay.”

Judge Barnes declined to dismiss the case and on Monday, May 21, 2018 she ordered the parties to brief the mootness issue (about Mr. Rico currently being out of the SHU) before she rules on the motion to dismiss.  The briefing is going to take about a month in total, so we won’t have a final answer about whether the case will be dismissed until the end of June at the earliest. We are optimistic, however, she will dismiss CDCr’s motion and move forward with the case.

pdf of this Report (with photo) HERE

PTSD SC: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Solitary Confinement

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Baridi J. Williamson

published in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper:
http://sfbayview.com/2018/02/ptsd-sc-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-solitary-confinement/

California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr) had been locking classes of prisoners up in solitary confinement since the ‘60s as part of CDCr’s para-military low-intensity warfare, to break the minds and spirits of its subjects, California’s prisoner class. CDCr’s solitary confinement has two operating components: 1) punishing you and 2) physically and mentally destroying you.

In the 1970s, CDCr’s report to then Gov. Ronald Reagan on revolutionary organizations and gangs resulted in Reagan ordering the CDCr director to lock up all radicals, militants, revolutionaries and jailhouse lawyers who were considered “trouble-makers.”[i] And a 1986 report by the CDCr task force stated that during the ‘60s and ‘70s, California’s prisoners became “politicized” through the influence of outside “radical, social movements.”

And conscious prisoners began to “demand” their human, constitutional and civil rights,[ii] as exemplified by those politicized prisoners of war (PPOW) like W.L. Nolen.[iii] In the late ‘60s, Nolen and other PPOWs filed a civil rights class action case challenging the inhumane, degrading conditions and institutional racism that was prevalent at Soledad Prison’s solitary confinement O-wing,[iv] as well as throughout CDCr’s prison system to date.

The 1986 CDCr task force report recommended that CDCr build “supermax” prisons for this politicized class of prisoners, which was echoed by the California prison guards’ union (known today as CCPOA) in continuing their low-intensity warfare upon California prisoners up into and through the ‘80s.

Shortly thereafter, California government through its apparatus CDCr, built its solitary confinement torture sites, such as Security Housing Units (SHUs) and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Segs) at Tehachapi in December 1986, New Folsom in December 1987, Corcoran in December 1988 and at Pelican Bay State Prison in December of 1989. All were designed with the malicious intent to destroy human lives through their diabolical low-intensity warfare scheme of mass validation – group punishment – indeterminate SHU classification and enhanced “debriefing” interrogation, known as “snitch, parole or die!”

Each of California’s governors and CDCr cabinet secretaries from 1977 to 2015 knowingly enhanced their system to become more repressive upon the prisoners held in solitary confinement in the SHUs. We prisoners have known for the past decades that California citizens have not condoned the torture of California prisoners. Nevertheless, since the ‘60s, each state governor and legislature knowingly sanctioned solitary confinement torture.

California’s CDCr – with the winks and nods of lawmakers and judges – has held countless prisoners in solitary confinement, whether it is called Ad-Seg, Management Control Unit, Adjustment Center, SHU or Administrative SHU, longer than any prison system within the United States, ranging up to 45 years of torture and acts of racial discrimination from Soledad Prison’s O-wing to PBSP’s new form of solitary confinement torture.

The case of Madrid v. Gomez was the first acknowledgement on the part of California authorities and judiciary recognizing the harm that CDCr had been causing – mental torture – to those held in solitary confinement across the state’s prison system.[v]

We prisoners have known for the past decades that California citizens have not condoned the torture of California prisoners. Nevertheless, since the ‘60s, each state governor and legislature knowingly sanctioned solitary confinement torture.

The Madrid case touched on the harsh conditions and treatment toward the solitary confinement prisoners at PBSP. It is a clear fact that during the years 1989 to 1994, PBSP had one of the most notorious Violence Control Units (VCUs) in the U.S. CDCr-PBSP officials utilized the VCU for to violate prisoners’ human, constitutional and civil rights by beating us and destroying the minds and spirits of so many of us for years.

An example of how some prisoners would find themselves forced into PBSP’s VCU is when the CDCr bus would arrive at PBSP and park outside the entrance doorway to solitary confinement – Facilities C and D. A squad of goons dressed in paramilitary gear with black gloves, shields and riot helmets would be there waiting. They called themselves the “Welcoming Committee.”

These guards, describing themselves as the Green Wall guard gang, using “G/W” and “7/23” as symbols for “Green Wall,” would roam through the SHU corridors assaulting, beating, and scalding prisoners. See Madrid v. Gomez.

The Welcoming Committee would select one or more prisoners and pull them off the bus – usually choosing those the transportation guards accused of “talking loud.” They would take each one to the side and jump on him, then drag him off through the brightly lighted doorway.

These guards, describing themselves as the Green Wall guard gang, using “G/W” and “7/23” as symbols for “Green Wall,” would roam through the SHU corridors assaulting, beating, and scalding prisoners.

When the rest of the prisoners were escorted off the bus into the corridor to be warehoused in the general SHU cells, they would see those beaten prisoners dragged off the bus “hog-tied”[vi] and lying on their stomachs or crouched in a fetal position, sometimes in a pool of blood.[vii] Later, they were dragged off to the VCU, where they were targeted with intense mind-breaking operations.

When these prisoners were eventually taken out of VCU and housed in the general SHU cells, they mostly displayed insanity – smearing feces all over their bodies, screaming, yelling, banging cups, throwing urine.[viii] And it was only when prisoners began to go public about the VCU at PBSP that CDCr ceased those practices.[ix]

The effects of solitary confinement at PBSP compelled CDCr to establish Psychiatric Service Units (PSUs) in response to the Madrid ruling for remedying the conditions that were destroying the minds of all prisoners who were held captive from the time of the Madrid ruling in 1995 through 2014, but they were poor and ineffective. Those released to the PSU from SHU fared no better than others held in solitary confinement at PBSP.

Prisoners in SHU continued to suffer mental, emotional and physical harm with no remedy made available by CDCr until we were released out to General Population units by the Departmental Review Board (DRB) between 2012 and 2014 and the Ashker v. Brown class action settlement in 2015.

These released prisoners were coming from a torture chamber, where by necessity they created coping skills like self-medicating. Typically, when coming out of solitary confinement, women and men prisoners show signs of depressive disorder and symptoms characteristic of self-mutilation, mood deterioration and depression, traumatic stress disorder, hopelessness, panic disorder, anger, obsessive-compulsive disorder, irritability, anhedonia, fatigue, feelings of guilt, loss of appetite, nervousness, insomnia, worry, increased heart rate and respiration, sweating, hyperarousal, serious problems with socialization, paranoia, loss of appetite, as well as cognitive issues, nightmares, muscle tension, intrusive thoughts, fear of losing control, and difficulty concentrating.[x]

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FEB 23 RALLY & COURT HEARING: California Prisoners moved to “General Population” from SHU are STILL being held in Solitary Confinement

Please come out to show your support on February 23rd for people to be put in a true general population setting with regular access to yard, day room, programming, jobs, fresh air, phone, and other means of social interaction and environmental stimulation.

Rally with us and be in court for oral argument in this important hearing in Ashker v. Governor of California.

Friday, February 23, 2018
Phillip Burton Federal Courthouse, 450 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94012

12:00 pm: RALLY outside the SF Courthouse
1:00 pm: PACK THE COURTROOM, Courtroom #1, 17th Floor

Show the judge we still support those incarcerated in solitary/SHU-like conditions!

We will head inside the courthouse at 12:40pm. You must pass through a metal detector and present ID to enter the courthouse.

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/2011774719037446/

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) will be there! Feb 23- Oral Argument in Ashker v. Governor of CA

Stop the Torture

“My total out-of-cell time for the entire month was 16.83 hours”

To supporters of human rights,

On February 23, 2018 in San Francisco, an important motion will be heard in Ashker v. Governor (aka Ashker v. Brown), the federal class action lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement in California. As a result of the settlement in Ashker, over 1400 people were released from solitary confinement Security Housing Units (SHU) to what the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) calls “General Population.”  Yet, many of the class members released from SHU continue to suffer conditions of extreme isolation. Hardly ever getting out-of-cell time, they have been forced to spend as much or more time locked in their cells as when they were in SHU, with little to no rehabilitative or educational programming or social interaction with other people.

On February 23,  Jules Lobel, of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Ashker legal team, will be arguing a motion challenging these SHU-like general population units as a violation of the settlement agreement.

A prisoner who is no longer in SHU after 15 years, explains his new “general population” conditions at Calipatria:

“… Out of cell time is regularly cancelled or restricted. Yard time is scheduled 4 times per week, but is often available only 1 or 2 times per week. Showers and telephone calls, which are supposed to be available every other day, are infrequent, and we must choose one or the other. … I leave my cell for 20-25 minutes for breakfast, and many days, this is my only out-of-cell time. …The conditions in ‘general population’ in Calipatria are similar to SHU… I have limited social interaction and intellectual stimulation. I rarely go outside…I have difficulty maintaining relationships with my family especially since my ability to use the telephone is so infrequent and irregular. I suffer from insomnia. I suffer from anxiety that I feel is directly linked to the irregular programming: I am anxious because I do not know what will happen next.”

Carol Strickman, of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and the Ashker legal team, states:

“On Friday, February 23, the San Francisco district court magistrate will hear argument on our motion regarding the isolated conditions that many of our class members are experiencing in the Level IV maximum security prisons that they were transferred to. Their conditions are so extreme that our correctional expert states, ‘These prisoners are not actually in what reasonably may be considered general population: rather, they are in a form of restrictive housing as these terms are commonly understood within the corrections profession.’ We are encouraging interested parties to attend the hearing.”

RALLY AT 12PM before the hearing, outside of the courthouse
HEARING AT 1PM in Courtroom 1, on the 17th floor. (Remember to bring ID)

Please pass this message on to fellow supporters of human rights who may be able to attend on the 23rd. Check the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website for upcoming details on a postcard campaign to further support the Ashker class members. https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

If you have transportation needs or offers for the Feb 23 Rally and Court Hearing, please email phssreachingout@gmail.com or call 510-426-5322 as soon as possible.

Solitary Confinement is Torture.

REPORTBACK from Feb 8th Rally, Press Conference, and Court Solidarity To End Sleep Deprivation (w/ Photos & Video)

Court Update: Judge Challenges CDCR’s Use of Solitary Confinement and Sleep Deprivation
Two lawsuits against CDCR for depriving prisoners of sleep are transferred to Coleman v Brown judge

On Feb 8, 2018, Northern District Judge Vince Chhabria held a hearing on a motion by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to dismiss civil rights lawsuits brought by two prisoners, Christopher Lipsey and Maher Suarez, who are suing CDCR for violation of their 8th amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically, they have brought their lawsuits to put an end to the sleep deprivation of prisoners caused by “security/welfare checks.” Prison guards conduct these checks in solitary confinement units throughout the state every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. Prisoners report that the checks are loud, disruptive, and abusive.

Judge Chhabria was critical of CDCR and began Thursday’s hearing by saying he thought California was getting rid of solitary confinement. He then questioned why the plaintiffs are being held in isolation. Judge Chhabria showed no indication that he would dismiss the cases or that he thought dismissal was appropriate. He also asked CDCR attorneys if it seems to them to be a “very serious problem” for people in solitary, already under extreme psychological stress and some with mental illness, to be woken up every half hour at night.

Because the “security/welfare checks” result from a stipulated order in Coleman v Governor of CA- a case in the Eastern District Courts- on Friday, February 9, Judge Chhabria, as he indicated he would do at Thursday’s hearing, transferred the cases to be heard by Judge Mueller.  Judge Mueller oversees the Coleman consent decree, which mandates adequate mental healthcare for prisoners.

This makes three civil rights cases brought by prisoners regarding harm from the “security/welfare checks” that have been transferred to the Eastern District. On Thursday, Judge Chhabria questioned the state’s contradictory positions in those cases; in some motions, the state claims the “checks” cannot be challenged by prisoners because they were decided on in Coleman, and other times the state argues that the cases should not be decided by the Coleman Judge. Attorneys from McKool Smith Hennigan, representing Lipsey and Suarez, wrote “Inmate Plaintiffs are harmed by Defendants’ inconsistency, because it allows Defendants to claim that no judge is ever the right judge to hear these cases.”

Around 40 community members and advocates with the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition held a press conference and rally on Thursday, February 8 in front of the Federal Building in support of the prisoners’ cases. One person suffering from the checks said in a letter to a Coleman official: “I ask you to listen to the voices of us prisoners and call for the immediate cessation of these “welfare/security” checks that don’t check on anything, but which make our lives a living hell.”

The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition asks you to help end the sleep deprivation by joining the prisoners’ call to end the checks.

If you know someone in solitary in a CA prison (Ad-Seg/ASU, SHU, PSU, or Condemned Units/death row), please print and send this survey to them.  They can write the PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation and send their survey responses to us, also.

Here is an 8 ½ minute VIDEO of highlights from the Rally: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GeAV8MzHlM&feature=youtu.be. Please see the FLIER and PHOTOS below from the February 8, 2018 Rally, Press Conference, and Court Solidarity for prisoners challenging the sleep deprivation.

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“We have people that are only getting out of cell twice a month.” PRISONERS UNITED & SUPPORTERS DRAW ATTENTION TO ABUSIVE ISOLATION AND MEDICAL IN ALAMEDA CO. JAILS

Nearly one third of Glenn Dyer prisoners wrap up hunger strike

By Lucas Guilkey  October 27, 2017
https://oaklandnorth.net/2017/10/27/nearly-one-third-of-glenn-dyer-prisoners-wrap-up-hunger-strike/

Last week, 125 prisoners at the Glenn Dyer Detention Facility in downtown Oakland—over 30 percent of the prisoners housed there—participated in a five-day hunger strike to protest what they say are abusive conditions of isolation and poor healthcare in Alameda County jails.

I am on hunger strike, as well as many many others here at Glenn Dyer Detention Facility,” reads a letter sent from the jail dated October 17, the third day of the hunger strike, and signed “Prisoners United,” a group formed for purposes of the hunger strike.

We are locked in our cells all day,” the letter states, saying that “out of cell time” is insufficient and “boils down to [the assigned housing deputies’] decision, which are mostly arbitrary and capricious.” The letter also outlines grievances alleging inadequate access to courts and attorneys, telephone calls, a variety of healthy food and recreation time, which are all required under California’s minimum standards codes for local detention centers.

The same day, over 30 supporters rallied outside of the Alameda County administrative building, where the county supervisors’ offices are located, to draw attention to the striking prisoners. “They are mothers and fathers in there, our parents, our siblings, our children,” said Yolanda Triana, who used to work as a reserve deputy at Santa Rita Jail in the 1970s before quitting and becoming an advocate for reform. “They are human. Give them basic dignity.”

We’re out here, to make sure [the sheriff and county supervisors] know that we’re paying attention and we’re listening,” said Marlene Sanchez, associate director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), an Oakland organization that that works with young people affected by the criminal justice system.

Speakers drew attention to both detention facilities run by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department—Glenn Dyer and Santa Rita Jail, in Dublin. They stressed the five allegations that are being made by prisoners, who are calling for an end to the use of indefinite solitary confinement, subjective practices for addressing grievances, and overuse of lockdown, which is when prisoners are confined to their cell when there is a disturbance in the facility. The prisoners also say that they are being provided with insufficient food and unsanitary clothing.

I [know] a young man in Santa Rita who has been there for five years, and has been in isolation for four, and that is unacceptable,” said Sheri Costa, the director of AL Costa Community Development Center, an East Bay organization dedicated to helping families with detained and incarcerated loved ones.  She has been doing this work for 18 years.  “We have people that are only getting out of cell twice a month,” she said.

After rallying, advocates marched two blocks down the street to the sheriff’s offices, where they delivered a letter listing the five demands to Internal Affairs Captain Emmanuel Christy.

Twenty percent of prisoners in Glenn Dyer—or 83 people—are held in “administrative segregation,” in which prisoners are held alone, in cells separate from general population, for a minimum of 23 hours per day, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.  That number is 243 at Santa Rita, or 12 percent of the prisoners currently held there.

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Serious Sleep Deprivation of CA prisoners in solitary continues- Please speak out!

Published in Prison Focus Issue 51

Sleep Deprivation Update
By The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS) Committee to End Sleep Deprivation

Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, PhD, recognized worldwide as an expert in sleep and circadian rhythms, concluded in his 10/25/2015 report: “The current practice of 30 minute wellness [sic] checks of inmates housed in the SHU is likely a cause of severe sleep disruption. This type of sleep disruption is likely worse than anything that has been provocatively studied in a laboratory. The known consequences of chronic sleep loss, including disruptions to metabolism, memory, mood, and health, are likely even more severe in these individuals.

“The mandated purpose of these wellness checks (i.e., suicide prevention) is, in fact, likely to have the opposite effect and inadvertently increase suicidality in these individuals. …There have been no direct studies of intentionally waking an individual every thirty minutes every night for days, weeks, or months, as doing so would be considered highly unethical in a research environment.”

‘Security/welfare checks’ persist in SHU’s, Ad-seg’s, Psychiatric, and Condemned Units throughout CA prisons, waking people locked in solitary confinement every 30 minutes, night and day. The PHSS Committee To End Sleep Deprivation works to end these checks.

In May 2016, we published a survey to elicit information from prisoners about the checks. Soon we’ll have a more detailed survey for you to answer about the harmful effects. We want to document the effects in detail to get the checks stopped. [HERE’s the new survey]

Systematic abuse and neglect caused and/or contributed to six recent deaths at California Institution for Women (CIW). A campaign by surviving family members and CA Coalition for Women Prisoners demanding investigation into those deaths has led to the current Joint Legislative Audit of CIW and all CDCr suicide prevention policies & practices. We have sent materials and communicated with both the Audit Committee and the CA State Auditor, the body conducting the audit for the legislature, urging they recommend a STOP to the “security/welfare checks.”

Suicide expert and Special Master in Coleman v. Brown, Lindsay Hayes and Matthew Lopes, still claim the “security/welfare checks” are suicide prevention despite the sleep deprivation and excruciating mental and physical health problems they cause. Write to Hayes and Lopes (and send us a copy) about how the checks affect(ed) you and what you think true mental health and suicide prevention require, or send one letter to the PHSS Committee, and we will forward it to Hayes and Lopes.

We also ask people not in prison to write Hayes and Lopes and urge them to stop this harmful practice. Share any personal or professional understandings of the need for sleep and the effects of sleep disruption/deprivation.

Mr. Lindsay M. Hayes,
40 Lantern Lane, Mansfield, MA 02048

Matthew A. Lopes Jr., Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West LLC,
317 Iron Horse Way, Suite 301
Providence, RI 02908

PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation, P.O. Box 5692, Eureka, CA 95502

Thank You.

Additional Notes on 4-12-17: There are at least 2 current federal lawsuits against the “security/welfare checks” due to the sleep deprivation and other harms they cause.  Also, we have been in contact with legislators about this torture and plan to revive a campaign to get the legislators to help stop the so-called “checks.” 

If you are in contact with your legislators and want to address the sleep deprivation, we invite you to contact our Committee so we can provide you with materials and accurate information. PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation, P.O. Box 5692, Eureka, CA 95502; phssreachingout@gmail.com 510.426.5322

PHSS Parole Subcommittee Request for Information

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition:
Parole Subcommittee Request for Information

The PHSS Parole Subcommittee is focusing on parole issues specific to prisoners who have been released from indeterminate SHU, both before and after the Ashker settlement. We are particularly interested in seeing language from transcripts of parole hearings and psych evaluations that contain references to unsuitability for parole based on:

1. Failure to debrief

2. Participation in the hunger strike

3. Factors related to long-term indeterminate SHU, such as inadequate programming.

We are reaching out to prisoners, family members, friends and penpals, including all those who may be familiar with prisoners for whom these issues have been raised in psych evaluations in preparation for parole, or in denials for parole.

We are asking for language from documents, both psych evaluations and BPH transcripts, in order to try to determine patterns and the extent to which these issues are stated as factors indicating unsuitability for parole.

Please provide the following information: Quoted language from documents, prisoner’s name and CDC number, and length of time in SHU. It would also help to have the date of the parole hearing. This information will be used by the committee in connection with its advocacy and may be shared with advocacy groups, as well as with CDCR, Board of Parole Hearings, and other state officials.

Send by mail to: PHSS Parole Committee, PO Box 5586, Lancaster, CA 93539

Demand Justice for Erika Rocha: Attention to Abuses and Escalating Suicide Epidemic in CA Women’s Prison

ErikaRocha.png

APRIL 25 2016 Press Release from California Coalition for Women Prisoners:

Advocates demand justice for Erika Rocha, who was 35 years old and just one day away from her Youth Parole Hearing last week when she committed suicide. Erika was incarcerated at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. The suicide rate at CIW is more than eight times the national rate for people in women’s prisons and more than five times the rate for all California prisons. In the week since Erika’s death, another suicide was reported and at least 22 more people transferred to suicide watch. The suicide watch unit is overcrowded and CIW is placing people on “overflow” in the SHU (“Security Housing Unit”).

California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) has released a statement highlighting the abuses that Erika suffered at the hands of the criminal legal system, as well as a list of demands to prevent similar tragedies from occurring and a petition to the California Legislature. CCWP is also supporting Erika’s family in raising funds for funeral services.

Erika was 14 years old when she was charged as an adult. Interrogated by police and prosecutors and threatened with a double life sentence for attempted murder, Erika pled to 19 to Life. Erika was 16 years old when she was sent to state prison. Prison staff placed her in solitary to “protect her” until she was 17, but she told CCWP that guards admitted to keeping her in solitary to protect the prison because she was too young to legally be there. At the time of her death, Erika was serving her 19th year in prison following two years in juvenile hall. She suffered from deplorable treatment for mental health issues attributable to her incarceration as a youth, including at least four indefinite terms of 2-3 years  in solitary confinement.

“We are continuing to gather information, but we know that the day before her death, Erika was released from a suicide watch unit and placed in a mental health unit where CIW is still required to take precautions to prevent deaths,” said Colby Lenz, CCWP member. “Multiple institutions, including CIW and CDCR, are responsible for this tragedy. We demand a full investigation into the ongoing crisis and high suicide rate at CIW. We ask the California Legislature to order the Office of the Inspector General to take action immediately.”

CCWP Program Coordinator, Windy Click, who met Erika in prison when she was 19, said, “Erika was always seeking help, she was lost inside an adult facility not knowing what the future held. When she asked for help they didn’t bother to help her.”

“Erika’s death is a painful example of how the criminal justice system is broken and therefore breaks people. They did this to her. She obviously didn’t see any future for herself,” said another friend of Erika’s who was also incarcerated in state prison at 16.

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Please see the list of demands and request for help below 1

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