Data obtained by The Guardian reveals that women incarcerated in California state prisons have filed hundreds of complaints of sexual abuse by staff since 2014. However, only four officers have been terminated for sexual misconduct during this time period, and only four guards have faced criminal charges for their behavior.
One of the guards, Gregory Rodriguez, has been accused of assaulting and harassing at least 22 women at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). He retired while under investigation and is currently awaiting trial on nearly 100 charges, pleading not guilty.
The low rate of prosecutions can be attributed, in part, to the low number of cases found substantiated by the prisons and the department, which conduct the initial investigations into reports of abuse. In some instances where abuse is acknowledged, prison officials and prosecutors may determine that the behavior does not constitute a criminal violation. Additionally, district attorneys, who often work closely with law enforcement and may have ties to officers’ unions, may choose not to file charges even when clear evidence of sexual assault exists.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), 17 guards in women’s prisons have been moved to terminate for sexual misconduct since 2014. Out of these, four were terminated, while thirteen resigned or retired.
Survivors and advocates argue that the system consistently fails victims, with the investigative process appearing to serve no purpose. Keiana Aldrich, who sued the state alleging sexual abuse by four prison staffers while she was incarcerated, stated that when women speak up, the system protects predators, and officers stand together.
Aldrich’s experience reflects the challenges faced by many women who report abuse within CDCR. She alleged that she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her supervisor, Ivan Ordaz, and later by another supervisor, Samuel Navarro. Despite evidence, Navarro was neither fired nor prosecuted, and Aldrich’s claim was deemed “unsubstantiated.” Aldrich was subsequently charged with “extortion by means of force or threat” after her roommate threatened to report the officer’s misconduct. Aldrich was sentenced to solitary confinement and had her prison term extended.
In another incident, Aldrich was sexually abused by officer David Sanches, who later admitted to the prison’s investigators that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with Aldrich. However, the San Bernardino district attorney’s office declined to file charges against Sanches.
The failure to prosecute and hold accountable those responsible for sexual abuse within California women’s prisons highlights the ongoing challenges faced by survivors and the need for systemic change.