Throwing A Spotlight On Women Prison Inmates' Coronavirus Fears
Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.
Lashauna Blanks is an inmate at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. She has a job washing the prison ambulance and other vehicles that transport sick inmates to the hospital.
There's no way to say for sure, but Blanks fears she gave the virus to her cellmate.
"There's over a thousand women in here, and it just so happens that my roommate gets COVID-19," she told us in a phone interview. "That's just crazy."
Blanks -- incarcerated since 2012 for voluntary manslaughter and slated for parole in a year -- said she was informed about her cellmate's illness and quarantined two days after she disappeared from their cell.
Still, Blanks was not tested, per state prison policy. Neither was fellow inmate April Harris, who lives on the same floor.
DON'T MISS ANY L.A. CORONAVIRUS NEWS
Get our daily newsletters for the latest on COVID-19 and other top local headlines.
"They took our temperatures twice a day, slammed us down, brought our food and our medication to the doors," said Harris, who's been behind bars for more than 26 years for second degree murder. She said it was weeks before she was able to use the phone and pick up items at the prison commissary.
California Correctional Health Care Services policy, developed by medical experts following CDC recommendations, is to only test close contacts of positive cases if they develop symptoms of the virus, or if there's a significant outbreak at a prison.
Still, Harris and Blanks feel overshadowed by the higher numbers of cases and more media attention at men's prisons experiencing larger outbreaks.
'IT'S PATRIARCHY. IT'S SEXISM.'
Romarilyn Ralston spent 23 years incarcerated herself and is now the program director for Project Rebound, a program that assists formerly incarcerated people at Cal State Fullerton.
"It's this invisible population behind bars," Ralston said of female prisoners. "Let's just keep it real: It's patriarchy. It's sexism."
"Women are still considered second-class citizens, and when we become incarcerated, we're forgotten," she said.
There are over 5,000 female inmates in the state prison system, with the vast majority at CIW and the Central California Women's Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla.
There are more than 113,000 male state prison inmates.
While there are far fewer women prisoners, data from the prison reform nonprofit The Prison Policy Institute shows that women's incarceration has grown at twice the rate of men since the 1980s.
'A TICKING TIME BOMB?'
Only 17 of CIW's 1,566 inmates have been tested for COVID-19, along with four of CCWF's 2,689 prisoners.
Those ratios are not dissimilar from most of the men's state prisons.
But Blanks and Harris are worried, given the relative lack of attention paid to women's prisons.
"I feel like we could be sitting on a ticking time bomb right now with so many more people affected that we don't know," Harris said.
Ralston of Project Rebound said she's also keeping a close eye on the number of cases among staff at women's prisons. As of Wednesday, four employees in the two largest women's facilities had tested positive.
"As their numbers go up, our numbers will go up," she said.
Southern California's Snow-Capped Mountains Are Beautiful. Here's Where To Maximize The View (And Snap A Great Picture)It's been many, many years since we saw this much snow in our mountains. Going up there right now isn't safe, but here are some places where you can enjoy the view and snap a pic.
April Valentine died at Centinela Hospital. Her daughter was born by emergency C-section. She'd gone into the pregnancy with a plan, knowing Black mothers like herself were at higher risk.
A look at years past when snows creeped into our citified neighborhoods, away from the mountains and foothills.
In the face of a drier future, that iconic piece of Americana is on its way out in Southern California.
Another Missing Hiker Has Been Found Dead In San Gabriels As Search For Actor Julian Sands ContinuesBob Gregory, 62, went missing the same day as Sands. His body was recovered near Mount Islip.