California lawmaker addresses sexual abuse, retaliation in prisons

A California lawmaker is pushing to address sexual abuse in prisons after dozens of women have suffered at the hands of correctional officers in both state prison and the federal facility, FCI Dublin – and then also suffered retaliation for reporting it. 

Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley,) who is also chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, introduced SB 898, which would extend the time allowed for all survivors of prison or jail staff sexual abuse to file civil complaints until after they have been released from custody and reduce the sentence for victims of proven sexual abuse by staff by up to one year, among other provisions.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee approved SB 898 this week. 

"No person, no matter what they did to be sentenced to prison or jail, should be forced to endure the brutal crime of rape or sexual assault — and then be punished for reporting it," Sen. Nancy Skinner said Wednesday in a statement. "SB 898 will provide whistleblower protections for survivors who have the courage to come forward, and will allow for a reduction in prison time for incarcerated individuals who were proven to have suffered from such assaults."

The bill would also provide special resentencing considerations for victims of proven staff sexual abuse, protect whistleblowers from retaliation for 90 days after they report sexual abuse, require investigations of cases of retaliation within 72 hours of reporting and provide additional protections for whistleblowers who are victims of retaliation.

Skinner is pushing this legislation after the ongoing sexual abuse by prison staff at California women’s prisons. 

Last year, correctional officer Gregory Rodriguez was charged with raping and sexual assaulting nearly two dozen women incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. 

In addition, more than 120 women have sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation alleging widespread sexual assault and harassment by prison staff at Chowchilla and at the California Institution for Women in Chino. 

And earlier this year, the federal women’s prison in Dublin, where seven officers have been sentenced to prison for sex crimes, was closed after a judge found it to be a "dysfunctional mess."  More than 60 women have sued the Bureau of Prisons and individual officers alleging sexual violations at FBI Dublin. 

In Los Angeles County probation camps, Skinner's office said there has also been widespread sexual abuse against hundreds, if not thousands, of girls, prompting California’s two U.S. Senators to call for the U.S. Department of Justice to intercede. Los Angeles County officials estimated that county taxpayers would need to pay approximately $3 billion resolving claims for sexual abuse perpetrated by officers against children in probation camps. 

The bill now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Lisa Fernandez's spouse works in Sen. Skinner's office.