Tonight, advocates and families will convene a vigil and rally at the prison, California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona, California, marking one year since the devastating death of 27-year-old African American, Shaylene “Light Blue” Graves. Graves was imprisoned at CIW at the time of her death and was only six weeks away from release. For days, Graves begged guards to move her to a different cell when she felt endangered, but CIW staff ignored her. Since 2013, at least 15 women have died at CIW as a result of multiple forms of abusive practices which amount to psychological torture. These practices include ignoring desperate pleas for help by imprisoned people in mental health and medical crisis. Despite changes in CIW’s top administration in 2016, reports of ongoing psychological torture at CIW continue. The vigil will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Sheri Graves, mother of Shaylene, has been working with advocates at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) to bring more attention to the human rights crisis at CIW. “CIW staff failed to protect my daughter’s life,” she stated. “The fact that Shaylene’s death is part of an ongoing pattern of disregard for human life at CIW makes this loss all the more devastating. Shaylene was an exceptional person with a big heart and so much promise. She was looking forward to her release and was working on her vision to begin a non-profit organization called Out of the Blue to support people coming out of prison. In memory of Shaylene and all of the people who have lost their lives at CIW, we demand full transparency, full accountability, and an end to these torture practices.”
CIW’s suicide rate is more than 8 times the national rate for people in women’s prisons, and more than 5 times the rate for all California prisons. “Shaylene’s death is part of a pattern of neglect and psychological torture at CIW,” said Colby Lenz, an advocate at CCWP. “CIW uses “suicide watch” confinement as another form of solitary confinement, which has been identified as a form of psychological torture by incarcerated people, human rights experts, and legal advocates. As part of this torture, CIW punishes people in “suicide watch” confinement with intensive isolation that blocks them from visits and calls from families and friends. CIW also regularly fails to notify families about the status of their endangered loved ones, including blocking access to their legal and medical files even after death. Currently, “suicide watch” is overcrowded and CCWP continues to receive weekly reports of suicide attempts at CIW.”
Shaylene Graves died shortly after 35-year-old Erika Rocha hung herself at CIW in April 2016 after being forced in “suicide watch” solitary confinement. “I don’t want any other family to go through what my family has gone through,” stated Rocha’s sister, Freida Rocha. Advocates and families demand the end of all forms of psychological torture within CIW, including the end of “suicide watch” confinement practices. As part of fulfilling the demand for transparency and accountability, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) should make available public reports on compliance with the August 2016 Coleman settlement court order regarding mental health services and suicide prevention protocols. They also demand that those in confinement have full access to visits and calls from families and friends, and the immediate transfer of all medical and legal information to family members if their imprisoned loved ones are in life-threatening situations or have died while incarcerated at CIW.