When a loved one dies in a CDCR prison, families are often notified in a callous manner — days after the death, through a short and poorly worded letter or phone call – leaving family members traumatized.
In April 2016, Linda Reza received a message while she was at work, that her step-daughter Erica Rocha had passed away at the state prison in Chino. “That voicemail is traumatizing,” Reza said in a recent interview, though she can’t bring herself to delete the message. “I still find myself driving home from work at times crying, pissed off, and I think, through a voicemail? Really, you jackasses, through a voicemail?”
Takis Kalatzakis did not find out about his son Dimitris’ murder in 2013 until three days after the fact. Officials at Salina Valley State Prison informed him via telegram and he only later found out that his son and been violently killed by his cellmate. ‘”I was in shock,” said Kalatzakis, who was alone when he received the telegram. While setting a 24-hour time limit for notification would help, he said, it doesn’t go far enough. “The way they told me is something I’m never going to forget. (It’s like) I’m nothing.”‘ To many families, the poor notification methods symbolize the way that prison officials feel about their loved ones, and about themselves.
HSR attorney Lori Rifkin, who represents inmates’ families in wrongful death suits — including Reza and Kalatzakis — comments, ‘”This is one of the first things I hear about (from clients)…they want to tell the story and how harmful (the notification) was, and there’s no legal claim for that. It ends up being the thing that they’re never able to feel like they get a hearing on.”‘
California State Senator Connie Levya has introduced a bill up for consideration by the state Assembly that would require CA prison officials to report deaths as well as suicide attempts, serious illness and serious injury within 24 hours as part of a larger bill mandating reporting efforts to prevent suicide.
Levya says,'”It’s critical that we let families know. It’s just a matter of respect…I think sometimes people forget that they’re dealing with someone’s loved one. Being a mom myself, I can’t imagine not knowing for weeks what happened to my child.”‘
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