Sen. Connie Leyva, (D-Chino) has championed the fight to have the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approve an independent audit of the suicides at the California Institution for Women (CIW).
The committee approved the audit in August, and it will be conducted by the office of the state auditor, Elaine Howell, and the process is expected to take about six months and be completed by Summer of 2017.
The audit is being conducted in response to an unprecedented number of preventable deaths of young women of color over the past three years at the facility. These deaths represent eight times the national average for people in women’s prisons and five times the rate for the entire California prison system.
During an 18-month period in 2014-15 at CIW, there were four suicides and more than 35 suicide attempts. Since the beginning of 2016, there have been two more deaths and countless suicide attempts.
CIW, which is located in Chino, houses 1,897 total inmates.
The suicides at CIW include that of 27-year-old Shaylene Graves, who was only six weeks away from her release date, when she died at CIW on June 1; and Erika Rocha, who was 14 years old when she was tried as an adult and 35 years old when she committed suicide on April 14. Rocha was also just one day away from her Youth Parole Hearing date.
The decision to conduct the audit came just before a protest vigil is held on Oct. 1 at CIW.
According to Colby Lenz, a member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), “We have been asking for an independent investigation of the toxic conditions causing this unprecedented suicide rate for almost three years. While we’re relieved there’s finally a state suicide audit, we need far more oversight to remedy the brutal conditions facing women and transgender people at CIW. We continue to witness and receive reports of abuses, including abusive suicide watch policies that drive people towards suicide instead of helping them.”
Black Lives Matter Inland Empire is among the groups supporting the vigil. “Black Lives Matter is an affirmation of Black life across all intersections,” said organizers from BLM. “Our fight won’t end until the elimination of all forms of state-sanctioned violence against our people. This includes the unjust laws and sentences that cage our people as well as the abusive treatment we are forced to endure at the hands of the state while incarcerated. #SayHerName” #ShayleneGraves.”
According to representatives for Sen. Leyva, the auditors are expected to talk to inmates, correctional officers, the warden and others at the facility to come up with a conclusion and a set of recommendations. The senator is also seeking information on the policies, procedures and practices as it relates to suicide prevent and reduction at CIW.