“Two steps forward – We won’t step back,” declares the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) on their website.
The grassroots social justice organization has been a voice for the often forgotten incarcerated women and transgender populations for more than 20 years.
The CCWP brought attention to a high number of suicide attempts and deaths occurring at the California Institution for Women (CIW).
Advocates for the Los Angeles CCWP chapter visit inmates weekly at Chino’s CIW. They push to see those on suicide watch and insist this issue no longer be treated as “business as usual.”
In 2016, CCWP held a vigil directly in front of CIW with the families, friends and women formerly incarcerated in the prison.
“When I faced the hardest situation of my life, CCWP was there for me,” said Sheri Graves, a grieving mother at the vigil. “The very day I received the tragic news of the death of my daughter, Shaylene Graves, CCWP reached out to me and my family.”
Prior to the vigil, the group gathered in Oakland at Eastside Arts Alliance for a town hall event titled, ‘Shout Their Names.’ The grief-stricken crowd chanted, “Shout their names; no more deaths; bring our loved ones home alive,” reported the CCWP’s Fire Inside Newsletter. The newsletter highlights the struggles and transformation of women prisoners through its members inside and outside of prison.
As the organization continues the struggle for awareness of suicides and deaths in CIW, they are preparing to provide legal advocacy and support at all the women’s prisons in California. Five teams will visit on a bi-monthly basis. Currently the L.A. team is being expanded to respond to the CIW crisis.
The wardens at CIW and Central California Women’s Facility chose retirement in 2016 after the head of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation determined that change in leadership at those prisons was necessary following recent reviews that identified problems, according to Assistant Secretary of Communications Jeffrey Callison. Molly Hill was appointed CIW warden in May 2017. She had been acting warden since 2016 and served as chief deputy administrator in 2016. Derral Adams has been acting warden at CCWF since July 2016.
CIW has implemented changes that are yielding positive results. Those changes include increased training for staff; amplification of additional rehabilitative programs focused on giving inmates an education and skills (community college, computer coding, gardening, self-help), the establishment of town hall meetings between the warden and inmates and an increased focus on mental health programs.
“We finally succeeded in winning an independent investigation of CIW by the State Auditor,” reports the group website. “We built community at the same time as we advocated for systemic policy changes.”
CCWP is networking with people across the nation to resist escalating racist, sexist, heightened criminalization and imprisonment of immigrants, the website noted.
In addition to these efforts and successes, CCWP collaborated with the Trans Advocacy Group, to coordinate more support for trans-men held in women’s prisons. They have launched “A Living Chance,” a multimedia storytelling project, about women sentenced to Life Without Parole (LWOP), highlighting unjust sentencing. CCWP also participated in the national “Survived & Punished” network, which advocates for people like Bresha Meadows, a young Black woman who was arrested for defending herself against her abusive father.
“Together, collectively, we will stand firm on our core principles of justice and love,” CCWP declares on its website.
California Coalition for Women Prisoners 1540 Market St., Suite 490 San Francisco, CA 94102
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