The Massacre of the Innocents


By William Jay Smith

Because I believe in the community of little children,
Because I have suffered such little children to be slain;
I have gazed upon the sunlight, dazed, bewildered,
As is a child by nothing more than rain.

Not until I can no longer climb,
Until my life becomes the tallest tree,
And every limb of it a lint of shame,
Shall I look out in time, in time to see

Again those who were so small they could but die,
Who had only their vast innocence to give:
That I may tell them, pointing down the sky,
How very beautiful it was to live.

(Poetry August 1946, p 241)


(Image Credit 1: Peter Paul Rubens, The Massacre of the Innocents / Art Gallery of Ontario)

(Image Credit 2: Léon Cognate, Massacre des Innocents / Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes)

Women Fighting Against Miami’s Housing Crisis

Women of color have always been at the forefront of advocacy, resistance, and social change. On Tuesday, May 3, 2022, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners approved the Miami Tenants Bill of Rights. Behind its creation and passage was the Miami Workers Center, which “organiz[es] towards dignity, power, and self-determination with workers, tenants, and families in Miami, FL,” many of whom are low-wage earning women of color working in the service industry and as care workers. Miami women have been mobilizing and protesting against Miami’s housing crisis, and many spoke before the commission detailing their living conditions and abusive experiences with landlords. At the Miami-Dade County Hall, Mercedes Cabrera, a 38-year-old mother living in private housing subsidized by a federal Section 8 housing voucher, presented to the Miami-Dade County Commission photos of flooded floors and damaged walls, and pleaded for protection against a landlord attempting to evict her because she reported the poor conditions of her housing to authorities. Cabrera asserted to the County Commission, “We have no rights at all. It’s all biased in favor of landlords.” Miami’s housing crisis is not only an economic issue, it is a public health and human security issue.

The Tenants Bill of Rights includes protections for withholding rent to pay for neglected repairs by allowing tenants to deduct the costs of repairs from their rent bills. It establishes the county Office of Housing Advocacy, which creates a telephone hotline for tenants who need assistance and oversees compliance with tenant rules. It protects tenants from retaliation if they seek government help in dealing with a landlord, particularly if the landlord pursues an eviction if a tenant called the helpline within the last 60 days. Additionally, the bill requires landlords to notify tenants of a sale of their home at closing and help them identify a new landlord. It prevents discrimination based on past evictions by prohibiting general questions about evictions during the application process, although landlords can still research past evictions. Black and Hispanic mothers and children are disproportionately impacted by eviction. They are “three times more likely to be evicted than another tenant owning the same amount of back rent.” Having an eviction on one’s record makes finding another place to rent challenging. At the same time, Miami Workers Center reports that less than ten percent of tenants in eviction court have access to legal representation.

Women are disproportionately impacted by Miami’s housing crisis, especially women of color. In 2016, 20.5% of women in Miami lived under the poverty line, nearly five percent more than men. Miami is the most unaffordable housing market in the country, with rent prices up 30% to 40% across Miami. As wages remain stagnant and expenses rise, it is becoming harder and harder for Miamians, especially low-wage, service industry and care workers, to get by. The cost of living in Miami is 14% higher than the national average. According to the Community Justice Project, 20,363 evictions were filed from the beginning of the pandemic (March 12, 2020) through December 31, 2021.

Along with housing costs, housing discrimination is also rising.  In the first three months of 2022, one in four complaints to the Miami-Dade Commission on Human Rights was related to housing. Erin New, the director of the commission, states that in addition to housing complaints, there is also an increase in complaints related to ‘source of income’”, which harms vulnerable populations. The majority of complaints, New says, are “members of traditionally underserved, disadvantaged groups. People of color. People with disabilities. Members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Housing security is critical for formerly incarcerated people and to prevent incarceration. Many nuisance crime arrests in Miami are related to homelessness. In 2021, for example, the City of Miami commissioners passed a resolution 4 to 1 that makes homeless encampments illegal, even though housing prices have nearly doubled and wages do not align with rising costs. Without access to affordable and stable housing, it is almost impossible for individuals to avoid homelessness or actions of survival that are deemed illegal. Women of color are the most vulnerable to becoming homeless after incarceration and face high recidivism rates.

The Miami Tenants Bill of Rights is a victory for tenants, workers, and youth, but, as the Miami Workers Center says, “it is only as strong as it is enforced.” It does not solve the housing crisis, but it is the first step in holding the government and landlords accountable for providing secure housing. The people who build and sustain Miami, the domestic workers, service workers, teachers, janitors, and home care workers, deserve to live here affordably without the fear of eviction and homelessness, and people need protection from arbitrary incarceration. Tenants, and women, are continuing to build power in Miami-Dade.


(By Madeline Ley)

(Madeline Ley is a Miami-based, born and raised in Miami, activist)

(Photo credit: Miami Workers Center)

The global prison population is at an all-time high. Women are the fastest growing prison population, still and again.

Penal Reform International and the Thailand Institute of Justice released Global Prison Trends 2022. While not particularly surprising, it is still a sobering read. First, the global prison population is at an all-time high; 11.5 million people are currently reported as incarcerated. It must be recalled that many countries don’t gather data on prison populations, and other refuse to make public the data they have. 121 countries report prisons above official capacity … in the middle, still, of a highly contagious pandemic. 33% of incarcerated people are awaiting trial, innocent until something or other. Overall, the prison population has risen 24% since 2000. Women are the center of that catastrophic rise: “The number of women in prison has increased 33% over the past 20 years, compared to a 25% rise among men.” Where are the women?

What accounts for the rate of women’s incarceration? The short, and long, answer is patriarchy, misogyny. Women are particularly targeted by the ongoing so-called War on Drugs, especially across Latin America, as well as India, Indonesia, Kenya, Russia, South Africa and Uganda. While women make up a small fraction of people currently on death row, the vast majority are on death row for drug offenses. In Malaysia, for example, 90% of the women on death row were convicted of a drug offense, compared to 70% of the men. Women are also particularly targeted by laws that criminalize poverty and status. For example, 42 African countries criminalize people with no fixed address or means of subsistence. Petty survival theft is treated as a major felony. Women have been arrested for taking discarded food from restaurant trash receptacles.

Globally, the use of formal life imprisonment sentences has increased. In the United States, for example, since 2008, the number of women serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole has increased 43%. In the United States, one of every fifteen incarcerated women is serving a life sentence, up 19% over thirteen years. Where are the women? In prison, for life.

Globally, the situation for indigenous women has worsened. In Canada, 48% of incarcerated women are Native women. In New Zealand, 60% of incarcerated women are Māori and Pacific women. In New Zealand prisons, Māori women make up as much as almost 80% of those sent into solitary. Further, still in New Zealand, Māori and Pacific women make up 93% of women segregated for 15 days or longer. Where are the indigenous women? In solitary.

Over 740,000 women are in prison. Increasingly, those women are in for longer and longer sentences. Over the past three decades, the number of women serving an indeterminate sentence in England and Wales has increased by 241%. In country after country, women serving life sentences, or sentences that might as well be life sentences, are living with trauma, abuse, violence. Those histories are seldom considered, and the prisons have little to no appropriate health or healing services. `Status offense’ laws – abortion, adultery, sexwork – target increasing numbers of women.

Reproductive health is practically nonexistent for incarcerated women, although eleven countries have passed laws to prohibit the incarceration of pregnant women. Incarcerated women disproportionately live with mental health issues. For example, in England Wales, 70% of incarcerated women, and 48% of incarcerated men, live with mental health `problems’. Self harm and suicide are rampant among incarcerated women. More incarcerated women live with HIV than incarcerated men. According to UNAIDS, in 2020, the average HIV prevalence among women in prison was 5.2%, for men 2.9%.

Globally, prisons are increasingly and more intensely overcrowded. Although women are the fastest growing prison population, they are still the minority. This means they have least access to water and to sanitation. Little drinking water, no toilets, broken toilets are commonplace for incarcerated women.

The global prison population has reached an all-time high. Women are the fastest growing prison population, still and again: Low-income women, Indigenous and Aboriginal women, women of color, minority women, LGBTIQ+ women, elder women, younger women, homeless women, shackdweller women, women living with trauma, women survivors of violence, and so many other women. Nation-states have invested heavily in this program and continue to do so. Last year, at least 21 countries announced their plans to build more prisons. Alabama announced it will use Covid relief funds to build a new women’s prison. The struggle continues.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Penal Reform International)

NO NEW JAILS: Asian American history and community opposition to the Manhattan Chinatown “Megajail”


The United States likes to present itself as “the best country in the world” but the only thing they are best at is incarcerating individuals. Over the last fifty years, the United States carceral system has expanded dramatically. It incarcerates a large proportion of its population, more than any other country in the modern world. This carceral crisis in the US targets the poor, people of color, and increasingly, women.

The US has pumped billions into the carceral system including funding the police state, sustaining carceral establishments such as jails, prisons and immigrant detention centers, and building new ones. Much like the proposed “megajail” that will be built in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan, New York.

The community-based organization Welcome to Chinatown reports that the Chinatown megajail project is estimated to cost $8.3 billion and that its construction would last for five years, ending in 2027. On March 20, 2022, two thousand protestors showed up to the proposed site of construction to rally against the project and its devastating consequences for Chinatown and its people.

In his campaign, Mayor Eric Adams promised to close Rikers and build other, “humane” jails, to create borough-based prisons instead. It must be noted that the city and Adams have plans to build new jails in all of the New York City boroughs, except for Staten Island. In April 2021, when Adams was still a candidate for mayor, he declared that he opposed the construction of the jail from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. However, as mayor, he approved the project and its $8.3 billion budget.

With the construction of the megajail, the city and its leaders are once again proving that they have never cared about the dignity nor affirmed the humanity of Chinatown’s residents, majority of whom are Chinese American-Asian American, elderly, working class, and families. Aside from the initial demolition, the construction of the jail will negatively impact the neighborhood’s small businesses and restaurants that are already struggling through the pandemic and the rise of Anti-Asian hate and racism in recent months.

Abolition scholars and activists and scholars such as Assata Shakur and Julia Sudbury have pointed out that building jails is more profitable than investing in care institutions, such as schools, hospitals, and community centers. The lack of care institutions and social safety nets also pushes people into the carceral system, so the system fulfills its purpose by neglecting its citizens.

Protests against the building of the megajail have been ongoing and I turn towards two movements that have helped increase the movement’s visibility and urgency. After the summer of 2020, during which protests across the US sparked after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police brutality, the rise of the Defund the Police and No New Jails followed. Another breakpoint that followed as the rise of Anti-Asian hate and explicit violence due to the fake news connecting Asians (East Asians in particular) to the origin and spread of COVID-19, which was also spurred by the racist former president Donald Trump. These two moments contributed to the resistance and organizing of the Chinatown community (and Asian American individuals and communities around the country) against the megajail.

There has been a dramatic and alarming increase in anti-Asian violence ranging from verbal abuse casually stated towards Asian individuals, to attacking elderly Asians in Chinatown, to the shooting of 8 individuals, including 6 women of Asian descent, at a spa and wellness district in Atlanta, Georgia. However, these individual acts of violence do not stand by themselves. They are a part of a larger and more imbedded culture of systemic violence normalized against Asian Americans, which has hurt and marginalized our communities.

While the protests and mobilizations against the Chinatown megajail continue, it is important to keep our eyes on existing campaign efforts such as Welcome to Chinatown and the efforts of the community on social media. The construction of jails and the disruption and harming of communities is not an isolated case in Chinatown. I believe that continuing the discussion and fight against the carceral system is also the underlying mode of action we can currently do. There can be no liberation from Anti-Asian hate and the threat of the Chinatown megajail without the liberation of the incarcerated, those in poverty, and other communities of color.


(By Wella Lobaton)

(Photo Credit 1: AMNY The Villager / Dean Moses) (Photo Credit 2: AMNY The Villager / Dean Moses)

Friday’s factory fire in New Delhi was yet another planned massacre of women workers

Woman worker’s shoe outside the burned building

On Friday, May 13, a fire broke out in a “commercial building” in the Mundka suburb of New Delhi. As of two days later, at least 27 people were killed, or better murdered. That number is expected to rise. “Women made up the majority of … workers.” Again. The building had a factory. The factory owners have been arrested. The building had two owners. The owners have been arrested. Their arrest will not bring back the 27 people, the majority if not all of whom are women.

The building is stories tall. The building has never passed any fire department inspection. The building had no fire safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers. The building had no fire exit. Most of the people who died, the twenty-seven “charred bodies” that were recovered, died of asphyxiation. The only exit to the building was blocked “by rubbish”. The staircases were packed with cartons. Those inside never had a chance. Women made up the majority of workers.

According Atul Garg, the Delhi Fire Chief, “It seems the entire building was illegal.” Illegal and in plain sight. The area in which the building stands is village land, zoned only for residential and small shops. Commercial enterprises on village lands are prohibited. “However, commercial activity in these areas is rampant.” Four stories high, completely and visibly illegal.

The women manufactured and assembled CCTVs and WiFi routers. They are the latest addition to the roster of women workers sacrificed to the global, national, and local economies. December 11, 2019: “Sunday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers: We know”. July 16, 2019: “Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers”. January 22, 2018: “The factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers”. Women made up the majority of workers.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: BBC)


The Lessons of Angela Davis in a Carceral Culture

Recently, my mother’s Facetime call interrupted me during a day of intense work. I took her phone call expecting it to provide a much-needed break. My mother is a public-school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, where she specializes in working with kindergarteners with special needs. She is overworked and underpaid, but rarely complains because she truly feels called to the work. Thus, I was surprised to hear how upset she sounded when I answered the phone. She told me about something concerning one of her students, an incident with her student’s mother that resulted in her arrest. The family is living in a local homeless shelter run by a church in the community. The mother who was arrested, a single mom of three boys, has struggled with keeping her job throughout the pandemic, leading her into an immense amount of stress. My mother and her student’s mother have worked together closely to support him— so much so that when he was supposed to move from kindergarten to first grade, the boy’s mother asked the school to allow my mom to become a first-grade special teacher so that my mom could keep supporting her son. My mother has gotten to know her over the past two years of working together and has listened as she confided in her about the difficulty of her circumstances. As a single mom herself, my mother expressed how much she has always respected her for doing “the best she can.” Two nights earlier, the homeless shelter where they were staying called the police on the mother for getting into a physical altercation with her oldest son after he stayed out past the shelter’s curfew. Now, the mother is in jail facing a felony conviction, and being held without bail because the court considers her to be a ‘threat’ to her children. This leaves her sons to stay with their grandmother who lives forty-five minutes away, outside of Atlanta.

I was drawn to abolition because of my acute awareness of how the carceral system fails my community. I saw my stepdad’s mental illness and addiction become criminalized, leading him to spend five years in prison during my childhood. I saw the way that metal detectors and drug dogs in my middle school’s hallways instilled fear in my peers. I saw the city of Atlanta profit off of Black food, music, and pride, then turn around and line the streets with riot-gear-wearing police officers when my community protested the murder of Rayshard Brooks, an unarmed Black man whom the police killed after responding to a complaint about him sleeping in his car. However, despite years of reading about abolition, talking to friends and family about how prisons cause harm, and unpacking the way the carceral system has  perpetuated trauma in my own life, I still find myself saddened and frustrated after conversations like the one I had with my mother about situations I find deeply unjust. What does it accomplish to imprison a Black, homeless single mother and kidnap her away from her children when they are already struggling? Why are they holding her without bail, forcing her to spend more time away from her children? Why did the homeless shelter— a place that should serve as a safe space for families— view calling the police as the ‘solution’ to an instance of violence that made them uncomfortable? In the context of the state of Georgia’s January 2022 decision to spend $600M on the construction of two new prison facilities, what other ways could our community pool together the resources that are spent funding police and prisons to support people like this mother?

I think it is essential to ask ourselves and our society these questions, and consider Angela Davis, who argues that prisons disappear human beings. In Are Prisons Obsolete, Davis describes how prison abolitionists are met with surprise and distrust by those unaware of the movement who find it unimaginable to live in a social order “that does not rely on the threat of sequestering people in dreadful places designed to separate them from their communities and families.” Elsewhere, she explores how imprisonment has become the automatic response to social problems, saying “homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.” Angela Davis asks us to question our assumptions about prison. While I have never assumed that prisons are functional sites for ‘rehabilitation,’ I continue to feel sick to my stomach oat their cruelty and waste. For the family of my mother’s student, I cannot accept that putting a homeless, Black single mother of three in prison for up to ten years over one unfortunate moment will do anything more than perpetuate violence and harm.


(By Susan EB Grant)

(Image Credit: Tameca Cole / Art in America)

When they begin to torture the trees: State violence against people living with disabilities

Two stories, one in England the other in the United States, speak to the torture to which people living with disabilities are subjected, all in the name of justice. In England, a Black, 17-year-old, non-verbal British boy, a child who had never left England, was identified by the police as Nigerian and sent to immigrant detention, to prepare for deportation. In the United States, Kelly Masten, 38-years-old, has the mental capacity of a six-year-old. Kelly Masten is also non-verbal. Her grandmother called the police to ask for help. The police came, took Masten away, not to the hospital but to jail, where she stayed for ten days. When she finally was sent to hospital, she was in a coma and covered in bruises.

The English story is that a Black, 17-year-old, non-verbal British boy was in hospital in Kent. He ran away, apparently made it to Manchester, where the family used to live, then turned around to return to London. Without money, papers, shoes, phone. He was picked up on the train, for fare violation. The police took him and, according to their report, `interviewed’ the non-verbal Black child who `informed’ them he was Nigerian. And so of course they flipped him over to immigration. Of course. The non-verbal child, who had never spoken in his life, spoke to the police and told them he is Nigerian, the non-verbal child who had never left England.

The United States story is that Kelly Masten, 38-years-old, with the mental capacity of a six-year-old, and non-verbal, bit her grandmother, who is her legal guardian. Her grandmother called 911. The police arrived, assured the grandmother that, after a medical examination, her granddaughter would be taken to John Peter Smith Hospital, in Fort Worth, Texas. She wasn’t. Instead, Kelly Masten was dumped in the `notorious’ Tarrant County Jail. The grandmother told the police that Kelly Masten suffers from a condition that causes violent seizures and that she had to take her medications regularly. The police said they would make sure. They didn’t. When Kelly Masten refused her medication, the staff said, “Fine.” Ten days later, when she finally went to the hospital, covered in bruises, she was in a coma. Kelly Masten is, today, in a coma.

The boy’s mother and sister are furious. The woman’s grandmother and sister are furious. The State claims,  on one hand, nothing wrong really occurred, and, on the other hand, it was an unfortunate but solitary failure. There was no failure. There is a practice of torture. Black, nonverbal child shows up, clearly in distress … send him to Nigeria. Nonverbal adult woman shows up in distress … send her into a coma.

Alice Walker saw this, in her poem aptly entitled, “Torture”


When they torture your mother
plant a tree
When they torture your father
plant a tree
When they torture your brother
and your sister
plant a tree
When they assassinate
your leaders
and lovers
plant a tree
When they torture you
too bad
to talk
plant a tree.
When they begin to torture
the trees
and cut down the forest
they have made
start another.”

Who will finally start another forest?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Jenny Hozer / MoMA)

Manitoba could be moving towards ending solitary confinement … finally

On May 21, 2021, two people incarcerated in Manitoba sued the province over their practice of solitary confinement. On plaintiff, Virgil Charles Gamblin, had been in solitary confinement from December 2020, or six straight months. The other, a juvenile, 17 years old, had been in solitary nine times since July 2020. The two argued that solitary confinement is torture, and, as such, is cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, “a dungeon inside a prison”. As their attorney, James Sayce, noted, “They’ve shown real courage in coming forward and putting their name down on this claim, and they’ve shown real courage.” This past week, their case was certified as a class action, meaning it now covers thousands of people who were tortured by the state.

Manitoba’s solitary confinement cells are often smaller than parking spaces, with no windows, sleeping mats on the floors. They are often covered in filth, blood and excrement. Junior Moar spent time in Manitoba’s dungeons: “It’s just not a place for a human being to be in there like that, not like a caged animal. An animal shouldn’t even be treated like that.”

Covid made, or better was used as an alibi, to make a terrible situation worse. For example, from 2019 to 2020, prolonged solitary confinement of incarcerated youth increased tenfold. Prolonged solitary confinement is 15 days or longer. Children were thrown into dungeons ostensibly for their own protection. As one child explained, “The way they do it, they’re not helping us.” These numbers came from a report that was an update of an earlier report two years prior. None of this is new, and yet it continues.

In province after province, case after case, the State’s use of solitary confinement has been successfully challenged. Ontario was successfully sued, as were the federal prisons. Class action suits in British Columbia, Alberta, and Nova Scotia are moving forward. Again and again, when presented with the evidence, the courts decide that solitary confinement is [a] unconstitutional and a violation of human and civil rights because [b] it’s torture. Solitary confinement is torture. Why is that so difficult to comprehend? What is our investment in this particular form of torture? Why do we need victim after victim, in the thousands and tens of thousands, having the courage to testify to the trauma imposed on them in the name of justice before we break the cycle of torture?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: “Solitary Confinement”, mural by David Alfaro Siquieros, completed 1961)

In Tennessee, as everywhere, austerity is a policy of laissez-faire femicide

“Austerity is a profoundly feminist issue.”
Sarah Marie Hall

The headline reads, “‘Trapped:’ Lack of affordable housing for domestic violence survivors”. The story takes place in Nashville, but really it could be almost anywhere in the world. A woman leaves her abusive partner, secures a Section 8 housing voucher, finds a place to live. Then, apparently without warning, she’s given an eviction notice. She’s given ten days to vacate the apartment. With a hot real estate market and landlords loathe to accept housing voucher recipients, she returned to her abusive partner’s residence: “”I feel defeated, I feel hopeless, I feel trapped, I feel like I don’t have a way out … It just kind of sucks the life out of you; it makes you want to give up after you have tried so hard.” It just kind of sucks the life out of you.

Here’s how the story keeps being told: Rents are skyrocketing, eviction filings are rising rapidly, domestic violence survivors are caught in a double, or multiple, bind. It’s a shame, but, you know, market forces are market forces. That story provides an alibi for all predators, in private practice, in this case real estate, as well as at the state level. This is a tale of a public policy of abandonment through austerity. Austerity always targets women. It just kind of sucks the life out of you. Austerity is a policy of laissez faire femicide.

Last year, two reports documented that England’s four year experiment with austerity, 2010 to 2014, resulted in an additional 57,550 deaths. Life expectancy among low-income women, especially women of color, had actually declined. More recent studies show that inequality and poverty in England have had catastrophic effect: “Life expectancy for women in the poorest parts of England is less than the overall life expectancy for women in every OECD country in the world besides Mexico.” Women have been hardest hit by rising poverty, growing inequality, increasing labor market segmentation, all fueled and intensified by austerity. It just kind of sucks the life out of you.

In Brazil, “the burden of retrenchment in social spending in Brazil has been overwhelmingly borne by women”: cuts in social reproduction, such as day-care center; in policies to combat gender-based violence and guarantee economic autonomy; in areas where women represent the bulk of the workforce, such as health and education. Cuts in cash transfer programs, in programs designed to support single-parent families, and programs designed to combat and prevent domestic violence all have targeted and devastated women. It was bad before the pandemic; the last three years have been worse. From Nashville to Rio, the line is direct.

In the Netherlands, from 2011 on, the State cut more than 55 billion euros from its social services budget as it increased taxes in ways which hit the poorest the hardest, especially women of color. The Dutch government claimed it was replacing the welfare state with a “participation society”, in which “everyone who is able, is asked to take responsibility for their own life and environment”. That didn’t work economically for Reagan or Thatcher or Clinton, but it did work politically, stigmatizing anyone and every community needing any sort of assistance. At the epicenter of the assault, women of color.

If you are having a sense of déjà vu all over again, that’s because we have been here before, and then again and again and again. So, let’s agree that it’s time, way past time, to stop using the market-forces alibi to justify failed policies that result in the death, slow or fast, of women, and especially of women of color and low-income women. Austerity aims to just kind of suck the life out of you. As such, austerity is a policy of laissez-faire femicide. Really, another, better world is possible.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo credit: Pluto Press)

Alabama and Tennessee banned shackling incarcerated pregnant people. Will the staff ignore the law?

On April 8, 2022, the Alabama legislature passed a bill that bans the use of waist and leg shackles on incarcerated people during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period, and specifies the conditions under wrist restraints may be used during the postpartum period. Alabama Governor Ivey signed the bill. On April 21, the Tennessee legislature passed its version of a bill banning the use of shackles on incarcerated pregnant people during pregnancy, labor and delivery. It also prohibits shackling incarcerated pregnant people behind the back or to another inmate. Both bills took years to pass, years of advocacy, organizing and just plain pushing on the part of legislators, formerly incarcerated people, such as Pamela Winn, and others. That leaves 13 states with no restrictions on the shackling in pregnant people. Further, even among the 37 states that have passed legislation banning the use of shackles on pregnant people, the laws are often riddled with exceptions and vagaries that leave judgement to the discretion of prison staff. This begs two questions, at the very least. First, why is it so difficult to ban shackling people who are pregnant, in labor, in delivery, or postpartum. Second, what is our collective investment in this form of torture that makes it so impermeable to common sense, medical knowledge, decency, humanity?

In 2009, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant people during labor and delivery. In 2015, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant people during in-custody transportation and the eight-week postpartum recovery period. In February 2018, Jane Doe was forced to undergo labor and delivery while her ankles were shackled, and her wrists were handcuffed to the bed. Who did this? The New York Police Department. Why? Because they could. Because she was already a Jane Doe, as far as they were concerned. The attending doctors asked the police to remove the restraints. The police said no. The doctors said New York state law bans the use of restraints. The police replied that the NYPD’s Patrol Guide required restraints and, importantly, the Patrol Guide supersedes state law. In April 2021, New York and Jane Doe settled the case. Jane Doe received $750,000. None of the attending officers was disciplined. They’re still on the job.

On January 7, 2020, police in Dayton, Minnesota, in Hennepin County, broke into a home thinking a resident was involved in the purchase of a stolen snowblower. He wasn’t. The police broke in. The house was occupied by a couple, both 26 years old, who were expecting the birth of their first child, in two weeks. The man was taken to jail and booked on charges that, after a year and a half, were dropped. The woman was taken, in handcuffs, and dumped in the Hennepin County Jail, where staff ignored her pleas for help. When she described her excruciating back pains, she was told it was stress. When her waters broke, she had to prove she wasn’t lying, and then she was finally taken to the hospital, a few blocks away. Throughout the transport and most of the delivery, the woman was shackled. She is suing the local police and jail and others for violation of her Constitutional rights as well as denial of medical care. The jail says they take this all very seriously. The thing is that, in 2015, Minnesota unanimously passed and then enacted An act relating to public safety; addressing the needs of incarcerated women related to pregnancy and childbirth. The act bans the use of shackles, sort of: “A representative of a correctional facility may not restrain a woman known to be pregnant unless the representative makes an individualized determination that restraints are reasonably necessary for the legitimate safety and security needs of the woman, correctional staff, or public.” Is the representative of the correctional facility trained to make that determination? No. But no matter. It’s up to them. At no time did anyone say that the woman in question was a threat or danger or a risk of flight. In fact, she was described by jail records as “cooperative with staff throughout the entire process.” After a long and arduous labor, the woman gave birth to a healthy child … in a toxic environment. The father remained in jail for days; the traumatized mother went into depression.

These are just two examples of the situation, even when laws have finally been passed banning the use of shackles on incarcerated people in pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum. What do these laws mean when staff ignore them and with impunity? What do they mean to those giving birth, their families and communities? As well, what do they tell us about the rule of law? Why do we have a greater investment in shackles and handcuffs than we do in law, justice, decency, humanity? What will it take to break the chains, once and for all? It should not be this difficult to stop shackling people in childbirth. It should not be this difficult to stop shackling pregnant people. What exactly is our investment in the torture, trauma, humiliation of pregnant people?


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Radical Doula) (Image Credit 2: New York Times / Andrea Dezsö)