Shaylene "Blue" GravesShaylene Blue committed suicide at CIW just six days before her scheduled release.

Shaylene “Blue” Graves
Shaylene Blue committed suicide at CIW just six days before her scheduled release.

Erika Rocha and Shaylene “Blue” Graves both committed suicide at CIW this year. Why are there so many suicides at CIW, and what can be done about it?

CORONA, Calif.June 8, 2016PRLog — There has been yet another suicide reported at the Correctional Institute for Women in Corona, CA, otherwise known as CIW. According to change.org, Shaylene “Blue” Graves committed suicide at CIW on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. The 27-year old African American women was set to be released from prison just six weeks later.

Shaylene’s upcoming release date is cause for concern. Because she was close to going home, many CIW inmates are screaming “Fowl play!” Shaylene Grave’s death, just six weeks before her scheduled for release, also has her family fuming. They are demanding answers!

So far this year, every reported suicide at CIW has been a young woman of color. This is also causing an uproar as loved ones of CIW inmates seek answers. But, many fear the answers may never come as many inmates are terrified of speaking out. Since all phone calls are monitored, not to mention only about 15 minutes long, there’s grave concern about speaking out during calls home.

The Death of CIW Inmate Erika Rocha

Erika Rocha was a 35-year old inmate at CIW. On April 14, 2016, she committed suicide, according to CIW officials. Her Youth Parole Hearing was set to take place the very next day. Because of the nature of her sentencing, it was very likely that she would be granted parole.

At the age of 14 years old, LA County charged Erika Rocha as an adult. According to statistics, “she was 43% more likely to be tried as an adult“, simply because she was a Latina youth. After intense interrogations from police, and threats of a double life sentence from prosecutors, the young teen took a plea. She pled guilty to an attempted murder charge, and received 19 years-to-life.

Transferred to Adult Prison as a Youth

Inmate Erika Rocha committed suicide at CIW the day before her youth parole hearing.

Inmate Erika Rocha committed suicide at CIW the day before her youth parole hearing.

Ericka remained in the youth system until she turned 16-years old. That’s when she was transferred to the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) system. Her first stop was Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), more commonly known as Chowchilla. Not only is this the largest correctional facility for women in the US, but it houses the death row for women in the state of California.

Because of just how “rough and tough” Chowchilla is, prison officials decided to place Erika in solitary confinement. She remained there, “for her protection”, until she was 17 years old. But, she told the California Coalition for Women Prisoners that correctional officers admitted to her that they kept her there:

“…to protect the prison because she was too young to legally be there.”

Why Did Ericka Rocha Commit Suicide?

When Erika died, she was on her 21st year in prison. She was suffering from disgraceful treatment for issues related to mental health. These issues are attributable to her being placed in an adult prison as a youth. There are even reports of her spending no less that four indefinite terms in solitary confinement of 2-3 years each.

Throughout her entire incarceration, Erika tried to get help for her mental health problems. Just weeks before her reported suicide, there were at least three occasions where she was placed on suicide watch. The day before she died, she was transferred from suicide watch to a unit designed for mental health inmates. This revolving door system was the cause of her lack of mental care.

What’s Causing the Suicides at CIW?

CIW Warden Kimberly Hughes is responsible for the safety of the women at CIW. So, what is she doing about the extremely high suicide rate at the Corona, CA Women's Prison.

CIW Warden Kimberly Hughes is responsible for the safety of the women at CIW. So, what is she doing about the extremely high suicide rate at the Corona, CA Women’s Prison.

So, what is the cause of the high suicide rate at CIW? It’s being contributed to the deplorable conditions at the Corona, CA women’s prison. These suicides are creating a crisis at CIW. They are having major impacts on the morale and emotional stability of other inmates. Since Ericka’s suicide, more than 22 other inmates have been placed on suicide watch.

And, there lies another problem… the suicide watch unit is grossly overcrowded. This has led to CIW officials putting women in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) on what they call “overflow.” The SHU is solitary confinement, which was designed for punishment. This is something CIW Warden Kimberly Hughes needs to be looking to change… immediately!

But, extensive research has shown that there are solitary confinement has harmful impacts on mental health. Therefore, the decision to transfer women in crisis to solitary confinement is yet another failure by CIW and the CDCR system. These women need intensive mental health support, not solitary confinement, which can only make matters worse for anyone in mental crisis.

How Can You Help the CIW Suicide Rate?

The suicide rate at CIW is seriously out of control. And, something needs to be done. According to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP):

“In 2015, the suicide rate at 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.”

More information is coming out about the life and death of CIW inmate Shaylene “Blue” Graves AKA Shaylene Graves. CCWP and Prison Rideshare Network are working hard to help uncover information through research and interviews with inmates and prison officials.

In the meantime, we need your help to bring more attention to the suicide crisis at CIW. Click here or click below to sign the petition to demand an investigation into the suicide epidemic at CIW Women’s Prison in Corona, CA.

#CDCR #CDCRPrisons #CIW #CIWSuicides #CIWSuicideEpidemic #ShayleneGraves #ErikaRocha #HerLifeMatters #TheirLivesMatter #PrisonersLivesMatter

Do you know of any women who have committed suicide while incarcerated? If so, what prison and what state? And, what are your thoughts on it? Share your thoughts with the Prison Rideshare Network in the comments below.

Renee Patterson writes prison stories, prison news and biographies about famous prisoners. Ms. Patterson is a prison daughter, sister, cousin and friend. She’s authored numerous eBooks about prison wives, prison fiances, prison husbands, prison kids, prison parents and other prison loved ones. Renee currently writes content for the Prison Rideshare Network Blog related to the injustices within the CDCR prison system, and US prison systems in general.