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Demand Investigation Into Suicide Epidemic at CIW Women’s Prison in California

Erika Rocha was 35 years old and one day away from her Youth Parole Hearing when she committed suicide on April 14, 2016 at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. Since her death, the suicide crisis at CIW has only worsened. Erika was 14 years old when she was charged as an adult. At the time of her death, she was serving her 21st year of incarceration. She suffered from deplorable treatment for mental health issues attributable to her incarceration as a youth, including at least four indefinite terms of 2-3 years each in solitary confinement.

We are devastated by Erika's death and hold CDCR and CIW responsible. We are also greatly concerned about the escalating suicide crisis at CIW. Another attempted suicide was reported to us this week and at least 22 more people were transferred to suicide watch. The suicide watch unit is overcrowded and CIW is placing people on “overflow” in the SHU. Given extensive documentation of the harmful impacts of solitary confinement on mental health, CIW’s decision to place people in crisis in solitary shows a continued failure to prevent deaths. Suicide watch is yet another form of solitary confinement where people in crisis are isolated and routinely denied access to available support. While on suicide watch, Erika was denied legal visit access to CCWP two weeks before her death.

In 2015, the suicide rate at the California Institution for Women (CIW) was more than eight times the national rate for people in women’s prisons and more than five times the rate for all California prisons. In 2016, a court-ordered suicide prevention audit concluded that CIW “continued to be a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices in the area of suicide prevention.” 

Please join us in asking the California Governor & the Senate Rules Committee to demand a full investigation into the ongoing failure of CIW and CDCR to prevent these tragic and untimely deaths.

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