Young Women’s Freedom Center

Fellow: April Grayson

Grant Year: 2019

Location: California, United States

Organization: Young Women’s Freedom Center

Project Title: Women’s Oversight Committee

Project Summary: Within the criminal justice system there are no gender-specific or gender-responsive resources to support the dignity and quality of life of women. California currently has the largest women’s prison in the United States and women have become the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population, with an increase of 834% over the last 40 years. As California makes progress in criminal justice reform, it fails to address women’s incarceration and the needs of those very women. 86% of women who enter into the prison system are more likely to enter with a history of abuse, trauma, and mental health problems. These issues are exacerbated by inhumane conditions and treatment in correctional facilities that dehumanize women and LGBTQ people. In many correctional facilities, women face sexual abuse by correctional staff or other individuals within the correctional setting, which often goes undocumented. They are unable to seek relief through the system because many of the rules and regulations that exist to protect incarcerated women are ignored by correctional staff. There are no existing channels for women to safely and confidentially report violations, as correctional officers have access to these very same submitted complaints. Consequently, women incarcerated in California prisons face retaliation from officers against complaints that they have filed. While the current oversight committee under the Office of the Inspector General is a positive step towards restoring a system of accountability, it falls short in providing women with the level of relief or support they need.

The Young Women’s Freedom Center will advocate for the Inspector General of California to establish a women’s oversight committee independent of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) by August 2020 to improve the protection and safety of women prisoners. The committee will consist of selected community members, including formerly incarcerated women and men and legislative representatives, who will review the accountability and auditing process for the correctional officers within CDCR and ensure the proper reporting and handling of incidents. The women’s oversight committee will impact approximately 7,000 incarcerated women and LGBTQI-identifying individuals within the state of California.