Target: California Governor Jerry Brown
Goal: Fully investigate the rising rate of suicide attempts at the California Institution for Women in Corona, and end the overuse of solitary confinement.
Suicide attempts are on the rise at the California Institution for Women in Corona. Following the death by suicide of 35-year-old Erika Rocha, yet another inmate has attempted suicide and another 22 women have been placed on Suicide Watch. The situation is so dire that the CIW’s Suicide Watch Unit has become too overcrowded to accept any more women. This has forced the CIW to transfer the “overflow” to their Security Housing Unit, where inmates are held in their solitary units for up to 23 and a half hours a day. California Governor Jerry Brown must call for an investigation into this spiraling mental health crisis at CIW in Corona, complete with demands for change.
There are a number of factors contributing to these problems that are unfolding at CIW. In the case of Erika Rocha, one can point to the fact that she was tried as an adult at the age of 14 and subsequently faced multiple stints of solitary confinement for three to four years at a time. The use of solitary confinement itself is highly problematic and is certainly worsening mental health issues for many inmates at CIW. Numerous studies and ongoing research into solitary confinement techniques repeatedly confirm that such tactics fail to prevent deaths in the case of those already facing mental health struggles. Moreover, solitary confinement often actually exacerbates mental health issues or, in cases where they were not distinctly present beforehand, can bring symptoms of depression and anxiety to frighteningly high levels.
CIW’s Suicide Watch Unit relies heavily on solitary confinement. Inmates such as Erika who are placed in the Suicide Watch Unit are subject to isolated conditions that worsen their problems. They are also routinely denied access to available support. For example, Erika was denied legal visit access to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners during her time in the Suicide Watch Unit
CIW’s reliance on solitary confinement, whether in their Suicide Watch Unit or in the Security Housing Unit, is one of the major reasons why the suicide rate there is currently eight times higher than the national rate for people in women’s prisons. A recent court-ordered suicide-prevention audit stated that CIW continues to be “a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices” regarding suicide prevention. This cannot go on any longer. Sign the petition below to urge Governor Brown to call for a full, follow-up investigation into CIW’s continued failures in managing mental health crises, complete with demands for changes in its practices.
Dear Governor Brown,
The escalating rate of suicide attempts at the California Institution for Women in Corona is deeply troubling. The fact that the CIW’s Suicide Watch Unit is so overcrowded that inmates in crisis must be transferred to the Security Housing Unit is evidence enough that something is very wrong.
The suicide rate at CIW has reached eight times the national level for people in women’s prisons. It has become increasingly clear that solitary confinement techniques, tactics upon which the CIW relies heavily with regards to inmates in crisis, are only making this problem worse. The most recent court-ordered suicide-prevention audit of CIW has begun to shed light on this issue, yet little has been done to change CIW’s practices.
We cannot continue to let CIW treat women experiencing mental health issues so poorly. I urge you to call for a full, follow-up investigation into the escalating mental health crisis at CIW, complete with demands for real changes in CIW’s practices.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: WomenPrisoners.org