Warden Janel Espinoza of the California Correctional Women’s Facility (CCWF) has high hopes for the women incarcerated there. Among her many goals is the successful transformation of inmates to become assets to their family and society.
In late August, Espinoza visited San Quentin State Prison to learn about some of its programs to use for the women at CCWF. It was her first time visiting the prison.
“Historic,” is how she de- scribed the 166-year-old prison.
“It’s majestic, beautiful and breathtaking,” she said with a smile. “Now I know why Mr. Davis (Warden Ron Davis) came up to San Quentin,” Espinoza spoke with the San Quentin News on her visit.
Espinoza discussed establishing a mentoring program to help guide young women in a positive direction before they go down the wrong path once they arrive in prison.
“We don’t want them to just survive in prison. We want them to thrive,” Espinoza said. “We have to give them a chance.”
Espinoza explained that a lot of the women in prison have made bad decisions.
“The women are (pulled) into the crime,” she said, “typically by following a male codefendant.
“Women are resilient,” Espinoza said women’s recidivism rates are lower than men. She said Gov. Jerry Brown has commuted the sentences of more than a dozen women and none have returned to prison.
“I believe it was because they were given the right tools,” she said.
Espinoza said CCWF has 128 rehabilitative programs that range from Prison Industry Authority jobs in optical, carpentry and vocational trades, as well as academic and face-to-face college through University of California, Merced.
“They can transform if they allow themselves to,” Espinoza said. “Everyone’s allowed an opportunity. What I’ve learned is that they are able to get in touch with themselves emotionally.”
“They have to become vulnerable,” Espinoza said about the younger inmates. “It’s easier to keep that barrier up,” but vulnerability allows them to be honest with themselves, and that’s when the process of rehabilitation begins.
Espinoza said if inmates are given the tools to show they can accomplish something positive, they will live up to the expectations placed on them. She also came to see how San Quentin organized its music program and to have a dialogue with the criminal justice reform organization CUT50. Espinoza said at CCWF they “strive for incentive based programs.”
Espinoza said that some 49 percent of women in prison have some form of mental health issues, but she wants them to know there is hope. She said they should have the possibility to parole and reunite with their families and strengthen bonds with their children.
Espinoza started her career with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 1996 working as a Medical Technical Assistant at Wasco State Prison. In 1999, she became a correctional counselor I at Corcoran State Prison. In 2002, she was promoted to a CCII supervisor at SATF Corcoran, then to facility captain in 2004. Later, she became an associate warden. She worked as chief deputy warden at CCWF and has been warden there for one year.