Sexual Abuse Response and Prevention Working Group Addresses Reforms Necessary for California Women’s Prisons

By Helen Shamamyan

SACRAMENTO, CA – With the release of their latest report, the Sexual Abuse Response and Prevention working group (SARP) detailed the significant recommendations made to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to reduce and prevent sexual abuse within the prisons.

Using interview evidence from two state women’s prisons, the SARP group’s report delved into the flaws with which facilities handle cases of sexual assault and harassment as experienced by inmates.

As stated in the article by the Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition, the two prisons targeted were the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and the California Institution for Women (CIW).

The report referenced makes key recommendations necessary to remedy the increasingly urgent issues surrounding the sexual abuse of incarcerated women, such as the “expedited release for survivors” of abuse by CDCR staff, “cultural transformation within CDCR,” enhanced “collaboration” with “Rape Crisis Centers” and service provisions for survivors, “institutional accountability,” and “revamping the investigation and reporting process.”

Executive Director of Sister Warriors, Amika Mota, expressed immense gratitude to “the incarcerated women and trans people who bravely shared their experiences. Their courage is the cornerstone of our work and the drive behind our recommendations.”

Mota added, “This report is a step towards acknowledging the systemic issues within our carceral system and presents an opportunity for significant reform. It’s imperative that these recommendations are taken seriously and implemented swiftly to safeguard the well-being and safety of incarcerated people.”

State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland) commented, “The LWC has been honored to witness the new and important collaboration between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition, and advocates for people incarcerated in women’s prisons that has developed since the LWC-sponsored briefing on sexual harassment and assault at California women’s prisons held last August.

“I’m excited to see all of the hard work by prison workers, prison reform activists, and, most importantly, people incarcerated in our women’s prisons who shared their stories and ideas for improvement that the working group included in this crucial report.”

“In preparing this report, the working group looked at both the root causes of staff sexual violence in carceral settings as well as more technical issues with the functioning of statutes, regulations, and policies related to the operation of CDCR facilities,” as stated in the “Executive Summary” of the aforementioned report.

The SARP’s “Executive Summary” also clarified that the feedback that informed their recommendations “was primarily collected in person at town hall meetings inside both CCWF and CIW as well as via confidential legal mail and several small in-person group discussions.”

In the recorded briefing with the California Women’s Caucus, posted by the “California Senate Democrats,” Colby Lenz made a moving statement about sexual assault and harassment of incarcerated women.

Lenz stated, “Over the past two decades, I have witnessed survivors terrified to report due to direct threats from abusive officers, survivors being blamed and harassed for the violence they experienced, being held in segregation and stripped of clothing and basic needs as punishment for reporting rape.

“These are survivors who manage the shame, self-blame, and loathing that is perpetuated by the system, and that survivors inside and out of prison grapple with.”

About The Author

I am a student from Southern California that's graduating this year from UC Berkeley. Prior to coming here, I worked as a court watch/ law clerk for a PEO in worker's comp cases of California warehouses. I reported the hearing summaries and outcomes to the employer and maintained correspondence with the attornies prior to and after each hearing on behalf of my boss. I have nearly completed by Bachelors in English, and I am planning on taking a break year before delving into law school to study civil rights defense.

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