Sexual Violence and Abuse in California Prisons

We live in a civilized society and being imprisoned does not mean giving up basic human rights. While, as a result of incarceration, inmates do have some of their rights limited and prisons are allowed to curtail certain rights based on safety and security, there are certain basic fundamental human rights that cannot be taken away from an individual, even when they have been incarcerated in prison or county jail.

The Eight Amendment to the United States Constitution protects inmates from cruel and unusual punishment. As a result, inmates are entitled to be housed in humane conditions. Furthermore, inmates are entitled to adequate mental and medical care, which for women include the right to prenatal and other necessary medical care, if they are pregnant, as well as postpartum care. Furthermore, female inmates have the right to refuse sterilization or any other birth control if they do not want it. Moreover, incarcerated individuals are entitled to freedom from discrimination, sexual harassment, the use of excessive force and assault, which includes sexual assault.

In 2003 the Prison Rape Elimination Act established a zero-tolerance policy for rape in any United States prison, which includes state as well as federal prisons. Unfortunately, sexual assault and rape in prisons across the United States continues to be a prevalent problem and countless inmates suffer as a result.

The recent revelations coming from the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, California, show how widespread staff-on-inmate sexual abuse continues to be to this day. The CCWF, is the largest female-only correctional facility in the United States and is operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Similar to other female-only facilities, the CCWF has been embroiled in allegations of sexual abuse for decades.

On December 28, 2022, the CDCR made the announcement that it has referred its internal investigation into one of CCWF’s now former correctional officers Gregory Rodriguez to the Madera County DA for charges of alleged sexual misconduct against inmates housed at CCWF.

Mr. Rodriguez had been employed as a correctional officer by the CDCR since September 1995, and served as a correctional officer at CCWF from September 2010 until August 25, 2022, when he retired as a result of the internal investigation.

The investigation itself began in July 2022, following the discovery of information that had indicated sexual misconduct by Mr. Rodriguez. CDCR’s Office of Internal Affairs (OIA) and the CCWF Investigative Service Unit (ISU) conducted the internal investigation, which identified more than 22 potential victims of Mr. Rodriguez.

The announcement by CDCR quoted Mike Pallares, the CCWF’s Acting Warden who oversaw the investigation stating, “Rodriguez shamefully hid behind his badge and used it to victimize a vulnerable population. That is one of the most abhorrent acts one can commit in a peace officer position and once my investigative team uncovered his wrongdoing, I referred it to the Madera County District Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution. We look forward to him being held accountable to the furthest extent of the law.” Since making that statement, Paralles has stepped down as Acting Warden of CCWF amid revelations that he too had been accused of sexual harassment and misconduct in the past.

While the announcement made by the CDCR includes a statement that the CDCR takes allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment, and violence seriously, and vigorously enforces its “zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence, staff sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in its institutions”, the fact of the matter is that the CCWF has been plagued by allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct for a very long time.

As early as 1999, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times reported allegations of sexual misconduct by staff at the CCWF. Moreover, in August 2016, a report by the Prison Law Office, based on interviews with over 130 CCWF inmates, revealed that the facility has “incubated an institutional culture that permits, condones, and covers up abuse.” Moreover, the report reveals that CCWF staff engaged in physical and sexual abuse, harassment, and threatening of inmates, and that custody staff perpetuated “a culture of bigotry, sexual harassment and casual misogyny addressing women not by their names, but as “bitches,” “hos,” or “whores,” or with racial epithets.”

The presence of any abuse or sexual harassment or misconduct in any state prison is unlawful and deplorable. Moreover, under California law, incarcerated individuals cannot consent to any form of sexual contact with prison staff.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual assault or any type of sexual misconduct in prison and would like to know more about your legal options, you can contact us today locally at (310) 914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at (866) 695-6714, or click here.

At the Justice Firm, our leading civil rights attorneys have decades of experience fighting for people whose rights have been violated and they can provide a safe environment where you can receive a compassionate and confidential case assessment.

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