Why Are So Many Women Attempting Suicide In California’s Prisons?

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Why Are So Many Women Attempting Suicide In California’s Prisons?

Why Are So Many Women Attempting Suicide In California’s Prisons?


Shadae Schmidt died in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) of California Institute for Women (CIW) on 13th March, 2014.

“I went to borrow scissors from the cops last week, and I was told that they don’t lend out scissors anymore because they have special industrial scissors now for cutting down bodies. He showed them to me. That’s how normal this is. […] We have women dropping like flies and not one person has been questioned as to why we believe they are killing themselves. I have been down almost 20 years and I have never seen anything like this…

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Why Are So Many Women Attempting Suicide In California’s Prisons?

Why Are So Many Women Attempting Suicide In California’s Prisons?

Why Are So Many Women Attempting Suicide In California’s Prisons?


Shadae Schmidt died in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) of California Institute for Women (CIW) on 13th March, 2014.

“I went to borrow scissors from the cops last week, and I was told that they don’t lend out scissors anymore because they have special industrial scissors now for cutting down bodies. He showed them to me. That’s how normal this is. […] We have women dropping like flies and not one person has been questioned as to why we believe they are killing themselves. I have been down almost 20 years and I have never seen anything like this. Ever.”

– Letter from prisoner at California Institute for Women (CIW) 3/21/15

In April of this year, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) provided California Senator Mark Leno with a memo RE: “Female offenders” and medical and mental health care neglect. It opened with quotes that female prisoners had provided CCWP in hundreds of in-person interviews and letters.

“Medical care here is very poor. Inmates are treated like animal. Period. We’re looked at as if we’re not human beings.” and “I’ve gone back to medical for the same issue over a 100 times. So that they can get the $5 co-pay that I don’t have to give.” and “I feel they do not care…it’s my fault or I’m lying about being paralyzed…I had to ‘prove’ I was incontinent. They made me urinate in bed. They would not give me enough catheters.”

Medical care is dire. Mental-healthcare is desperate. Four women have killed themselves at CIW in San Bernardino County in the last 18 months. The suicide rate at the facility is more than eight times the national rate for female prisoners and more than five times the rate for the California prison system as a whole.

Before the recent surge, there were three suicides at CIW in 14 years.

Leno, a Democrat, has been one of the most progressive voices in the Golden State when it comes to prison reforms. It was hoped that he’d be able to open rigorous inquiries as why women are “dropping like flies”, as to why they were hanging themselves and cutting themselves in record numbers.

CCWP got a read on the mental healthcare provision inside CA prisons through interviews and a survey (conducted in summer 2014) from prisoners in California Correction Women’s Facility (CCWF) and CIW, and others recently released. CCWP found that medical and mental health care access and treatment in Californian women prisons fell well below constitutional standards. Suicide prevention is scarce if not lacking entirely.

The AP reported last month how this is “a shocking turnaround” CIW was cited last year as a rare example of good care of California prisoners.

“The prison’s psychiatric program was promoted as a positive example in May 2014 by Matthew Lopes, a federal court-appointed overseer who monitors mental health treatment for inmates. Of six inpatient programs for mentally ill inmates statewide, he found that only the one at the women’s institution was providing proper care.”

All four women who died at CIW were receiving mental health treatment in the days before their deaths.


COMPSTAT data gathered by the California Department of  CDCR backed up concerns of increased suicides and suicide attempts.

Figures from women’s prisons, over the 13 months 2/14-2/15.

CIW 16 attempted suicides 3
CCWF 7 attempted suicides 0
CMF 20 attempted suicides 1 suicide
FSP 2 attempted suicides 0 suicides

Figures from all men’s prisons not designated “high security” over the 13 months 2/14-2/15.

ASP 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CAL 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CEN 3 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CTF 6 attempted suicides 0 suicides
CVSP 1 attempted suicide 0 suicides
ISP 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
MCSP 17 attempted suicides 2 suicides
PVSP 5 attempted suicides 0 suicides
SOL 8 attempted suicides 1 suicide
VSPW 7 attempted suicides 0 suicides

Source: CDCR COMPSTAT DAI Statistical Report.

CIW had more suicides reported by CDCR than any other CA prison in 2014; CIW also had an alarming number of attempted suicides in the same period. CIW had the third highest number of attempted suicides, but the highest rate of suicide attempts when adjusted for population.


Behind these tragic findings are even more tragic deaths. The deaths of Stephanie Felix, Gui Fei Zhang and Shadae Schmidt were reported by some local and solidarity press, but mostly went by unnoticed and, worse, unquestioned. For

Stephanie Felix committed suicide at CIW on 3/9/15, after previous suicide attempts and after asking for emergency mental health care several times, including that very same day. Ms. Felix had been housed in the SCU, but she was placed back in general population where her mental health declined. During a previous suicide attempt, two prisoners performed CPR on her to save her life, despite being told to stop and facing disciplinary consequences for their actions. (Reported to CCWP by letters 3/15)

Gui Fei Zhang, a 73-year-old Chinese woman, committed suicide on 2/17/15 at CIW. She was released from suicide watch back to general population the day before she killed herself. (Reported to CCWP in interviews 4/10/15)

Shadae Schmidt was a 32-year-old African-American woman who died in the CIW SHU on 3/13/14. Shadae had a stroke in February 2014 and was prematurely returned to the SHU. She was given medication that made her sick but her requests for a change in prescription were ignored. CCWP is still waiting to hear any reports of investigations into Shadae’s death. We have noticed that there is one preventable death listed in the CDCR data for the month she died. (Reported to CCWP by family and friends in 2014)

Uncovering the common causation factors between these deaths has been an ongoing concern for CCWP.


CCWP concluded generally that:

• Prisoners in the SHU at CIW report heightened medical and mental health care neglect

• CCWF and CIW have poor records of seeing patients in the period mandated once requests for mental health help are submitted.

• Processing time with mental health clinicians is too short – 15 minutes does not allow for adequate diagnosis, treatment, etc..

• Chronic care patients are required to be seen every 90 days, even though many patients require more medical attention; many chronic care patients are not seen every 90 days.

• Overcrowding at CCWF and CIW is still impacting mental health care access; the SCU at CIW is often overcrowded because of the increasing need for acute mental health care.

• The threat of being moved to the PIP prevents many SCU patients from seeking help.

• Patients in the SCU are increasingly cutting themselves to deal with emotional trauma and/or to get the mental health or medical attention they need.

• If people report suicidality after 2pm, mental health departments are closed and mental health workers retrieve patients from the cages (where suicidal patients are caged and cuffed) to treat patients in the emergency rooms of the medical departments — loud, chaotic environments with no chairs, and little privacy.

Specific to neglectful mental healthcare, CCWP noted that:

• Patients, including those who are very sick and/or disabled, routinely wait outside for scheduled doctor’s appointments for 2 to 5 hours in all weather (including rain and heat alerts). “Too many prisoners, too few doctors,” is the common experience.

• Patients do not feel respected, believed or listened to by their primary doctor. People are often told that they are “lying” when they report on health history, symptoms, or past treatments that have been helpful for them.

• Misdiagnoses are still too common.

• Serious lack of follow-up care after surgeries continues to be a significant problem.

• There are often significant delays in refilling prescribed medications. People are going without life-saving and chronic care medications while they wait.

• Treatment recommendations from specialists are rarely ordered and/or followed by doctors at the prisons.

• Gender non-conforming and transgender prisoners face increased medical and mental health neglect because of discrimination based on their gender non-conforming or transgender status.

• When prisoners file grievances (602s) for medical and mental health neglect, they often experience direct retaliation from healthcare providers and/or further denial of access to care.


Despite decades of lawsuits to remedy prison health care and court orders to reduce prison overcrowding, the inhumane conditions inside CA women’s prisons continue. The CCWP has called for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding all deaths at CIW in 2014 and 2015. The CDCR says it is monitoring CIW more closely than any other prison in the system.

CCWP calls, sensibly, for a reduction of overcrowding through the implementation of existing release programs. It also calls for immediate transfer of all prisoners with mental health issues from the SHU.


The World’s First Female Pavement Artist (1874-1934)

All My Own Work!

The Alice Colman Story

The 7th September saw the launch of my first book in print – Lady SCREEVER, the story of Alice Colman, the world’s first female pavement artist.

Lady SCREEVER book cover Lady SCREEVER book cover

At the end of the 19th century Alice endured inclement weather, overzealous policing, sexism, physical threats and marriage proposals to support her family by illustrating the streets of London.

As her work captured the public imagination, she became something of a celebrity – not just in London, but around the world. Her work covered the politics of the time, satire and popular culture, and influenced the burgeoning suffragette movement. Bold, distinctive and romantic, Alice was part of a ’screever’ movement that led to the street art we see today; an instinctive, accessible cultural movement that has shifted from subversive to celebrated, and become an accepted part of the established art world.

Alice Coleman Cir. 1914 Alice Coleman Cir. 1914

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Anti-Panhandling Laws Spread, Face Legal Challenges


Holding sign© The Associated Press

Anti-Panhandling Laws Spread, Face Legal Challenges

  • November 12, 2015
  • By Teresa Wiltz

A panhandler standing on a corner in Flagstaff, Arizona, asks passersby for help. Cities that have cracked down on panhandling have met resistance in the Courts.

Many cities—and even some states—increasingly are cracking down on panhandling, driven in large part by the unlikely combination of thriving downtowns and the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

The number of cities with outright bans on panhandling increased by 25 percent between 2011 and 2014, while the number of cities with restrictions on begging in specified public places, such as near schools or banks, rose by 20 percent, according to a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, an advocacy group.

In Cincinnati, where begging is already banned near ATMs, parking meters and restaurants, the city is considering a ban on panhandling within 50…

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Australian police beat detained woman, marched her naked in front of officers – watchdog report

© The West Australian
A newly presented report by West Australian corruption watchdog accuses the country’s police officers of beating a woman and marching her naked through the halls of a watch house in front of other officers in April 2013.

The Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) report, presented to the Parliament on Thursday, says that five police officers were involved in the harsh treatment of a woman called Joanne Martin on April 7, 2013.

The report includes a video record of the incident showing the woman identified as Joanne Martin, 33 at the time of the incident, screaming while being escorted through the reception area with only a blanket to cover her. The document claims that, during her detention, the woman was subjected to physical attacks that resulted in particular in a serious finger fracture.

“Soon after her arrival, Ms Martin found herself naked, lying face down on a floor, with a number of Watch House officers seeking to forcibly restrain her, one applying hammer blows with a fist to the shoulder blade area, a second also striking her and another using such force to try and remove a ring that it caused a serious fracture to her finger,” the report said, as quoted by the West Australian.

“A little later, Ms Martin was escorted handcuffed and with leg restraints, naked apart from a blanket, past male officers,” it added.

Joanne Martin was arrested earlier the same day in Northbridge for disorderly behavior and escorted to the East Perth Watch House, where “there was nothing to indicate [that she] was a threat to any person,” the CCC report states.

After beating Martin and parading her through the watch house the officer

s allegedly put her in a cell without returning her clothes. One officer told her she needed “to have a better attitude,” as can be heard from the footage, although no video record was taken from within the cell.

The Corruption and Crime Commission condemned the police actions by saying that “it is of considerable concern that a person could in Perth in 2013 undergo what befell Ms Martin at the Watch House on the morning of April 7, 2013.”

The report called for bringing the officers and their superiors to account. It also said the incident was a result of an “institutionalized failure” in the West Australian police chains of command.

Police ‘fundamentally disagree’ with findings

West Australian Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan denied the report’s claims and said that police “fundamentally disagree” with the CCC findings adding that the officers’ actions were within the law.

“The officers made a risk based decision as they’re entitled to do … that someone coming into the lock-up should be strip searched,” he told Australian media during a press-conference.

“They have to make a decision about how they restrain the prisoner in those circumstances,” he told Australian 6PR channel.

“We don’t agree that there was no reason to strip search that woman,” he added.
Karl O’Callaghan also emphasized that many of the issued raised by the CCC report are no longer relevant as the police had moved to a new watch house in April, 2014, after the incident had taken place.

“The new watch house has better access; it has areas where people can be properly searched. It is easier to keep an eye on the prisoners. We have a different management structure in the new watch house,” he said as quoted by the Australian 9 News.

O’Callaghan also said police was proceeding to using scanners instead of strip searches.

He did not deny the facts of beating and marching the woman through the watch house, although he gave no explanation for that.

The report admitted the police procedures had been improved after moving to the new Perth Watch House in Northbridge as well as acknowledged that there were plans to replace strip searches with body scanners.

However, the watchdog organization was “dissatisfied” with the measures taken to mitigate the risks of police misconduct and stressed that “urgent attention” was still needed in the field of training and supervision.

The incident also drew attention of the West Australia Premier, Collin Barnett, who expressed his concern by saying that “it is a very serious case,” adding that the police commissioner as well as the police minister would further speak on the issue.

“That is the CCC doing its job – oversighting police,” Collin Barnett told the West Australian.


London Film Festival Features Colombian Sex Worker Documentary


News > Culture

London Film Festival Features Colombian Sex Worker Documentary

  • Diana Navarra in an image from her film

    Diana Navarra in an image from her film’s poster. | Photo: Facebook

Published 6 November 2015

Why did a black transsexual prostitute became a lawyer fighting for human rights in Colombia? In 7 days you can find out!
After a year of participating in festivals around the world, we’ve decided it’s time our documentary about the life of Diana should be available for everyone, everywhere.
So, on the 4th of December we will publish the full documentary along with the official ‘Soy Negra, Soy Marica y Soy Puta” website.
We’re proud of the project and grateful for the endless support we’ve received from so many beautiful people around the world. We never could have come this far without…

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