The California Prison Focus Dignity for Women Prisoners Campaign
by Sara Olson

 gender  public-policy  racism  sexuality

The California Prison Focus campaign to end cross-gender pat searches and resultant signed agreement with CDC Director, Jeanne Woodford, has sent panic coursing through the guards and lower-level administration staff at Central California Women’s Facility. One Captain said, “this will never fly in this institution.”

They view this development as the first salvo in an attack on the guard union’s decade-long stranglehold of control over the state’s prison, domination of state legislators via campaign contributions and threats of political retaliation, and manipulation of governors and the state budget at the expense of citizen healthcare, education and other major taxpayer-funded programs. The guard union here is fighting back by taking a stand on correctional officer seniority issues in reassignment to work positions, a turnover that occurs per institutional regulations every two years. Female guards don’t have, in many cases, the job seniority that the males do. Distributing positions per seniority is causing problems because women will have to be available for pat searches in a greater number of locations than previously required. Thus, they will have to be assigned in areas that they have not earned via union seniority. If the union can use the seniority issue to prevent that, it can beat back the agreement to stop cross-gender pat searches.

The California Department of Corrections and its law enforcement cohorty, the guard union (aka CCPOA-California Correctional Peace Officers Association) tend to act as if they are above, or outside, the law. Why? Because they can. Until the recent flurry of judicial and newspaper attention in the last two years, except for the occasional media flare-up such as the one concerning the guard-sponsored gladiatorial contest between inmates at Corcorann Prison, no one’s looking at what’s happening in these places. The majority of women in CCWF and other prisons are African-Ameican, Latino, and, if white-very poor. Racism and poverty fill the prisons and no one cares. A campaign over the last 25 years, driven by politicians and the television media, to demonize prisoners and to legalize mass incarceration has terrorized the general population and hardened peoples’ hearts to the truth. A virtual concentration-camp system has materialized in California and elsewhere, out in the middle of nowhere, erecting these prisons out of sight and out of mind.

Women prisoners at CCWF are grateful to California Prison Focus for leading the dignity campaign to stop cross-gender pat searches. It shines some light on the hidden dominion of the CDC and onthe guards who run it. Please continue to put pressure on the people - Jeanne Woodford and state legislators - who can bring the pat search issue to a successful resolution. thank you for your willingness to tell the public about the policies that control and constrict the lives of women in California’s prisons.