In the name of dignity, North Carolina is about to limit shackling pregnant incarcerated women!

Three years ago, March 26, 2018, the North Carolina Director of Prisons responded to SisterSong and other members of the Coalitions to End Shackling in North Carolina and officially ended the shackling of incarcerated women in childbirth. It was a momentous occasion and, in its way, a joyous and hopeful day. For the past three years, North Carolina legislators have tried to expand on that decision and now, finally, it seems they are ready to move forward. Yesterday, August 25, 2021, the Senate voted unanimously to approve a partial ban on pregnant women serving time in North Carolina prisons. The House had unanimously passed a similar bill in May, and now looks set to pass this bill, probably unanimously, and then pass it on to the Governor for signature. As Senator Natalie Murdock, Democrat from Durham, noted, “This is just transformational work. Folks have been in talks about this for years.”

While state prisons were already limited as to when a pregnant woman could be shackled and were banned altogether from shackling a woman in childbirth, the rules were both too vague and too often ignored or “left to the discretion” of staff. This bill codifies, in law, the rules. It limits shackling during the second and third trimesters, labor and delivery, for a six-week postpartum recovery period. If a staff member decides restraints are required, those restraints can only be wrist cuffs and that decision initiates a report to the warden, who then sends all the reports, on a determined regular basis, to the Department of Public Safety Leadership.

While the matter of staff compliance remains, as it always does, the transformational unanimity of the legislature suggests that, at least for the foreseeable future, there will be eyes on the prisons, at least in this matter. Additionally, by insisting on making explicit in law the appropriate treatment and care for women, the North Carolina legislature is demonstrating the conclusion recently reached by researchers of carceral pregnancy and childbirth: “Incarcerated pregnant people and their babies deserve better care that is codified in policy”.

Along with constraint limitations, the bill says newborn babies must remain with their mothers after delivery; mothers must be incarcerated within 250 miles of their babies until the children reach one year old; mothers must have two visits weekly with their children. Pregnant women must be allotted bottom bunks or beds no more than 3 feet off the floor. Guards can’t conduct body cavity searches on pregnant women.

At another time, the question of why it takes three years to arrive at a common sense, clear policy will be debated. For now, though, a celebration is in order. Yesterday’s Senate vote was a unanimous affirmation of the original House bill, House Bill 608, “An Act To Promote The Dignity Of Women Who Are Incarcerated.” Let us all celebrate the promotion of women’s dignity, everywhere, always. That would be just and transformational work.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Radical Doula)

 

 

We must address the racist cruelty: Of eviction

Standing outside a Virginia courthouse, waiting for justice

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”
Heather Heyer

The pandemic turned the economy upside down and inside out, or so we are told. We are also told, still, that `we are all in it together’. Welcome to the place where the theater of cruelty merges with the wretched of the earth, and, through the cataclysmic changes, the worst remains the same and absolutely ordinary. We are talking, once more, of eviction. Two reports appeared today, both focusing on Georgia. In one, we learn that, among African Americans, youth and housing insecurity are primary causes of “vaccine hesitancy”. In the other, we learn that, in the Atlanta metro area, evictions are concentrated in low income and Black, Indigenous, People of Color, BIPOC, neighborhoods. At one level, we learn that we have learned nothing, since, as both reports suggest, these patterns preceded the pandemic and have `simply’ continued. What are we to do with that `simplicity’, with the persistence of systemic racism in the real estate industry as in the courts? And what is to be done?

According to a study of “vaccine hesitancy” among African Americans in Georgia, “COVID-related housing insecurity—difficulty paying the rent or mortgage or even eviction—increased the odds of vaccine resistance sevenfold”. Actually, housing insecurity increased those odds by 7.3-fold. Why does housing insecurity increase those odds so dramatically? According to the report, those living with `housing insecurity’ tend to live in highly segregated neighborhoods, are low wage essential workers, and have little to no access to health care systems. They’re not `hesitant’, they’re excluded. For “highly segregated neighborhood”, read “ghetto”. For “low wage essential worker”, read “indebted servant” or, better, “serf”. Again, that’s not hesitation. That’s feudalism.

According to the second report, five counties make up 63% of the Atlanta metropolitan area population and 74% of its occupied rental units. During the pandemic, eviction filings continued, especially in “hotspots”, census tracts that were below 80% of the Area Median Income, or AMI, and were 50% or more Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. These hotspots were not a surprise to the researchers, since, prior to the pandemic, the same neighborhoods were eviction hotspots and the same patterns devastated those neighborhoods, communities, families and individuals. As the authors note at the outset of their report, “An eviction marks a crisis point of housing instability that ripples into nearly every facet of a person’s life and harms future chances of housing security …. With the added urgency of a global pandemic, the impacts of eviction mushroom and tighten the nexus between individual outcomes like an eviction and community-level harm.” In the Atlanta metro area, as across the United States, evictions are working as planned, condemning majority BIPOC communities, especially low- to moderate-income BIPOC communities, to a certain death sentence. None of this is new, even if its context makes it seem worse than before.

We “learn” this week that in Virginia, the Virginia that has improved on its shameful history of mass evictions, high eviction rates, and easy eviction procedures, in that Virginia, “Black women … are disproportionately evicted.” We “learn” this week that in New York, the New York that only recently started distributing any rent relief funds, Black women make up nearly two-thirds of those applying for rent relief. Again, that relief has only now started, barely, reaching people.

In light of the new CDC Eviction Moratorium, and the challenges to it which are currently being argued before the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court that barely kept the last CDC Eviction Moratorium going and, with a single vague sentence, tried to gut the New York State Eviction Moratorium, the Eviction Lab took a look at the first iteration of CDC Eviction Moratorium. Here’s what they found: “A large number of eviction cases originate from a relatively small number of Census tracts … Neighborhoods with high eviction filing rates prior to the pandemic continued to see the highest rates during the CDC moratorium … Neighborhoods with high eviction filing rates prior to the pandemic continued to see the highest rates during the CDC moratorium … Prior to the pandemic, Black renters received a disproportionate share of all eviction filings: they made up 22% of all renters in ETS sites, but received 35% of eviction filings. They continued to be over-represented during the CDC moratorium period, receiving 33% of filings.”

What they found is that we have learned absolutely nothing. Where is the outrage at the predictability of these findings? Around the country, activists are pushing, often with success, for right to counsel, where every tenant would have an attorney present and engaged, long before every going to court; Just Cause restrictions, which would require that landlords give just cause before not renewing a lease; sealing eviction records; mandatory mediation; and more. Those are all important policies. At the same time, we have a reckoning due. Where is the outrage at the loss of life, the devastation, the twenty first century version of feudalism? Why does it take a plague for people to begin paying attention to our neighbors, and have we actually begun paying attention, if, in the end, each study concludes that the present and the past are one and the same.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: ABC News / AP / Ben Finley)

We must address the spectacular, and spectacularly ordinary, cruelty: Of eviction

Cori Bush

“The Mafia is not an outsider in this world; it is perfectly at home. Indeed, in the integrated spectacle it stands as the model of all advanced commercial enterprises”
Guy Debord: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

At midnight Saturday, as July turned into August, the CDC moratorium on evictions ended. On Tuesday evening, the CDC announced a new set of protections from evictions for those living in communities suffering substantial to high incidences of Covid. This is a 60-day reprieve for which we all owe Representative Cori Bush more than a great deal of thanks. She lit a path out of the darkness, in more ways than one. Cori Bush taught us humanity matters, Black women matter, Brown women matter, Black and Brown children and communities matter, humanity matters. We need that lesson, desperately, as we slog, drenched, in a national theater of cruelty. Consider what happened between midnight, Saturday night, and Tuesday evening. Consider the spectacular, and spectacularly ordinarily cruelty, that greeted and awaited the most vulnerable among us.

St. Louis already had 126 eviction orders pending, and more promised, lots more. In response, St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts announced that he would triple his eviction crew. Sheriff Betts hoped to conduct as many as 30 evictions per day, starting August 9. He explained, “Right off the bat we want to clean up that 126 evictions.” Removing people from their homes in the middle of a pandemic has become an act of cleaning up, if not cleansing.

In New Orleans, located in the epicenter of the current Delta variant crisis, Constable Edwin M. Shorty Jr. issued an order. In order to facilitate the anticipated heavy eviction workload, all full-time and reserve deputies had to be vaccinated by August 16. On Monday, New Orleans’ busiest housing court 58 eviction filings, up from the pandemic moratorium average of one a day. The headline more or less says it all: “New Orleans landlords take advantage of eviction moratorium’s end, file to eject dozens”.

Lest anyone feel geographically smug, on Monday landlords rushed to file evictions in Rhode Island, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. In Idaho, where judges had never recognized the moratorium, it was eviction business as usual. In Connecticut, eviction orders spiked: “Before the federal order was reinstated Wednesday, judges in Connecticut signed a surge of orders that allow state marshals to remove tenants and their belongings from their homes….The 154 families that judges gave the nod to be evicted Monday and Tuesday is double the number of evictions that were being granted in recent weeks. It also mirrors pre-pandemic eviction levels.” Look in that mirror, do not look away. In Delaware, “new eviction filings … spiked to a level not seen since March 2020.” Is this the much heralded return to normal? In Pittsburgh, “on Monday, a day after the federal eviction moratorium ended, court filings to evict people increased 420%.” In Harris County, Texas, there have been 254 eviction filings, between Monday and Thursday of this week. What eviction moratorium? What tenant protections? Where? Not here. Not wherever you’re sitting right now, reading this.

In Georgia, on Friday, July 30, hours before the CDC moratorium would end, faced with 145 writs of eviction and 1650 writs pending, DeKalb Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson signed a new emergency order creating a ban on evictions throughout the county for another 60 days. In her order, Judge Jackson noted, “Without an eviction moratorium, many DeKalb County residents face imminent dispossession of their residences due to widespread arrearages owed to landlords. It is estimated that DeKalb County tenants owe approximately $50,000,000.00 in rent arrearage to landlords. Many of the landlords owed will be legally entitled to proceed with dispossessory actions once the eviction moratorium is lifted. Evictions can have long-lasting consequences for families and individuals, potentially disrupting school and education, worsening health, displacing neighborhood networks of support, and making it more difficult to find safe, affordable housing in the future. Perhaps most importantly, a lack of stable housing directly increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.”

Some people prepared by increasing their eviction crews, others by telling them to `man up’ and take the jab, others by pushing paper as quickly as they could. Other people, like Cori Bush and Asha Jackson, looked at the need, despair, pain, suffering, fear, terror, destruction, they looked at the human tragedy unfolding and they said NO to the inevitability of power, NO to the Mafia model governance, and YES to humanity. Which side are you on?

DeKalb Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: Matt McClain/The Washington Post) (Photo Credit 2: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

We must address the cruelty: Of eviction

At midnight last night, the CDC moratorium on evictions ended. Despite the Delta variant of Covid raging through the country, and the certainty that eviction increases the incidence of Covid. Despite billions of dollars in rent relief sitting idly, criminally, in state coffers, frozen because no one could figure out that for people in distress to have to go through intricate application processes would be both inhuman and futile. Despite the knowledge that the first to suffer, and the ones to suffer most deeply and for the longest period, will be children, especially children of color, children in low to moderate income households. Children. Despite the knowledge that single mothers, which means children, will be the ones to suffer. Despite months of mounting debts, of mounting certainty of imminent eviction once the moratorium ends, despite months of stasis, now, at whatever follows the eleventh hour, now the agencies are `scrambling’. Where were they, where was everyone, for the past six months? We must address the cruelty of this moment. We must address the cruelty of eviction.

Over $40 billion has been allocated for rent relief. That money has been sent to state and local governments, who were supposed to pass it on. Most haven’t. As of now, $3 billion has been distributed. State and local governments `explain’ that there was so much to do, so much money, so many applicants, so much staffing, so much so muchness. Many state and local governments didn’t open their application processes until June. They knew when the moratorium was set to end. State and local government after state and local government now `urges’ and `encourages’ tenants and landlords to apply. Even though, as in Louisiana, of 24,000 tenants who already applied, only 3,000 have been approved. That’s 24,000 households, of which 3,000 have been approved. Those 3,000 don’t necessarily have checks in hand, but they do have approval. For the others, the line has gone dead. And for the other others, the ones who waited to apply or didn’t know, the sky has fallen, as the hospitals in Louisiana fill to overflowing. 

This was all decreed decades ago, with the decision to finance everything with real estate taxes, giving corporate landlords complete and total dominion. They used eviction filings as a routine means of threatening tenants. They continued to do so during the moratorium, and with impunity. Only now, Congress is just beginning to investigate major corporate landlords who routinely  violated the moratorium as well as the rights and lives of thousands of people across the United States.

And what about the children? Children will be the first and last to suffer, and by all accounts, we just don’t care. Or worse. We take pleasure in the suffering of children, other people’s children. In July, Spain extended its eviction moratorium until the end of October. Specifically, Spain extended its eviction for vulnerable people, including children, minors, dependents, and survivors of sexual violence. Spain has also provided additional support, financial and otherwise, to those who have suffered economic distress due to and during the pandemic. Why does Spain cherish its children more than the United States?

Cruelty occurs when people commit violence because they’re indifferent to the pain of others or they take pleasure in inflicting pain on others. The cruelty of eviction addresses our system of disposable populations, whole Black and Brown neighborhoods and communities, all trying to make it through another day, all told, “Too bad. We tried. The check is in the mail, but you won’t get it. So sorry.” The eviction moratorium ended last night at midnight. The check is in the mail. 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: The New York Times / Sally Ryan)

Cuba: Another Perspective from the USA

Recently Cuba’s streets filled with compatriots protesting the government and the shortages of food and healthcare. There were others on the streets (including Cuba’s President Diaz-Canal) clamoring for the right of Cuba to be independent of U.S. domination. The situation on this tiny island of 11 million people (approximate number of undocumented immigrants currently in the USA) is very hard for us to understand.

Over the past 22 years, I have traveled 12 times to Cuba, often with faculty and students from Berea College. On each visit, I understand a little more about this unique country. For example, on my first visit to attend a women’s studies conference at the University of Havana, I learned that before the fall of the Soviet Union, there were no shortages of any kind. People had food, shelter, healthcare, transportation, music and sports. Russia filled the material void after the United States signed the embargo against Cuba. When we stopped trading with Cuba sixty years ago, their world class cigars became contraband in our country; we were not allowed to travel there unless we were journalists, artists or researchers like myself. Under the charismatic leadership of Fidel Castro, Cuba maintained its dignity as a country who begged to differ with the United States about its social and economic lifestyle.

In 1989, when the Soviet Union dissolved, Cubans had to figure out how to live without Russia’s generous subsidy, particularly to its sugar industry. Bicycles became the mode of transportation. Cubans named these years “the special period.” I remember hearing a colleague say that Cuba could survive the loss of support from the Soviet Union because people were well educated; they were smart enough to become innovative. Professionals, including university professors, returned to their rural roots and started inventing machines to improve agriculture and transportation. Cuba was reliant (like the USA) on petroleum products for its agricultural system. Immediately, Cubans began to regenerate their soils to make them ready for organic plantings that did not require imports of fertilizers and pesticides. Urban gardens sprang up all over the country. In fact, Cuba was lauded as a world leader in “greening the environment.” I will never forget the joy of eating a papaya without the contaminants of agrochemicals.

Most Americans are unaware that Cuba is a medical superpower. Citizens there enjoy free concierge health coverage because doctors live in their neighborhoods and attend to them day and night. Cuba has so many doctors it can send them to other countries that are short of medical personnel. In fact, medical service is the major export of the Cuban economy. The quality of healthcare in Cuba rivals that of the United States even though medical supplies are scarce. My own daughter arrived in Cuba a year ago with a perforated appendix. She received the same treatment (laparoscopic surgery) that she would have received in Connecticut. Most of us have no idea that Cuba has developed multiple effective vaccines for Covid. Unfortunately, Cuba lacks syringes to administer the vaccine to its population. What if we were not able to import syringes to vaccinate our own population? Would we take to the streets too?

These days life is grim once again in Cuba. For the past decade and more, Cuba has enjoyed a gradual opening of its economy to various forms of entrepreneurial activities. Cooperatives and privately owned businesses flourished during the recent golden age of tourism. But President Trump’s policies (to date not reversed by the Biden administration) changed all of that. Like the fall of the Soviet Union, the advent of Covid has further crippled the economy—made all the harder by sanctions imposed by the United States. Recently there was a large outpouring of citizens in much the same way as we Americans come out to protest when we are unhappy. Unfortunately, for Cuba, there are multiple forces, including President Biden, bearing down on this country in this difficult time.  We have little idea what this might be like for Cubans. The closest we come to this kind of feeling is 9/11 when outsiders took down the twin towers in New York.

Cuba has a different social agenda from our own. Some would say that its socialist system puts people before profits. This means that nobody is left behind. Sound familiar? We have used these words to describe our own social safety net in the United States. But there is one important difference. For sixty years, our government has refused to trade with Cuba and exacts punishment on other countries who want to do business with Cuba. It has been our explicit policy “to deny money and supplies to Cuba…to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government” (U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, 1960). I don’t think we as Americans have a category for the kind of hardship Cuba continues to endure because the United States does not like its economic structure. We find ourselves offended when the Cuban government shuts down the internet to the U.S. voices who are undermining the country’s well-being. If we had a better understanding of Cuba’s relationship to the United States, we would be slow to criticize the government’s efforts to protect its citizens from U.S. efforts to undermine its sovereignty.

One way that we can exercise our privilege as Americans is to engage in actions that help our Cuban neighbors. Bullying Cuba into changing its economic system is not one of them. The best way to support the Cuban people is to end the unproductive embargo. Every year the United Nations votes overwhelmingly to demand an end to the embargo. This summer the USA and Israel were the only countries to vote against it. We can exercise our own human rights by supporting our elected officials to get behind legislation to end the embargo. Currently Senator Bernie Sanders and other congressional members are leading the way. Why don’t we employ our human right to free speech and get on board with the rest of the world to lift the suffering we are causing to our neighbors 90 miles south of Florida.

(By Peggy Rivage-Seul: Peggy Rivage-Seul is Professor of Women’s Studies, Coordinator for the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Director of the Women in Public Service Project at Berea College)

(Photo credit: author)

Sierra Leone abolishes the death penalty and offers the world a new decolonizing dawn!

Wrongly convicted of capital offense, MK spent six years in a small, dirty cell, which had a capacity of 300, then housing no less than 1400 inmates.

On Friday, July 23,2021, Sierra Leone’s Parliament voted unanimously to abolish the death penalty. Unanimously. While the outcome was pretty much expected, the unanimity of Members of Parliament is worth noting and celebrating. Parliamentarians joined advocates and others in decrying the inhumanity and barbarity of executions and of the entire apparatus attached to the death penalty. Equally, Members of Parliament joined advocates and others in declaring that vote to end the death penalty was another phase of the decolonization project. As Sabrina Mahtani, co-founder of AdvocAid, a leading Sierra Leonean organization opposing the death penalty, noted, “The death penalty is a colonial imposition, and these laws were inherited from the U.K.” It’s time, it way past time, for all those who suffered colonialism, who continue to struggle with the legacy and imbedded consciousness of colonialism, to decolonize, to abolish the death penalty and much more.

Sierra Leone is very clear about at least part of the “much more”. In principle, Sierra Leone has stopped executing people since 1998, but it has continued to segregate those convicted of capital offenses to death rows, where they sit and wait … for nothing or worse. Along with eliminating executions, the new legislation eliminates mandatory life sentences. This is particularly important for survivors of sexual violence, predominantly women and girls. According to Sabrina Mahtani, “This will allow judges to have judicial discretion to take into account all the circumstances of a case, such as a history of gender-based violence or mental illness, and hopefully prevent the injustices that have happened in the past.” 

Since its founding in 2006, “AdvocAid has actively campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty and provided free legal representation for women and men on death row to challenge their convictions and death sentences. AdvocAid has secured the release of six women and three men on death row through appeals or presidential pardon applications.” Here’s the story of one of those women, call her Aminata.

In 2009, Aminata was a 17-year-old girl living in Kenema, in the eastern part of Sierra Leone. She was an orphan who had little or no formal education and could not read or write. She had been in a relationship with someone who was abusive, and so left him. Or better, she left the relationship. The young man was the son of the landlord of the compound in which Aminata lived, and so, despite her having ended their relationship, what did not end was the physical violence. He continue to beat Aminata. Finally, one day, while being beaten with a rubber pipe, Aminata picked up a knife and defended herself. She was arrested and tried … sort of. Sort of because, although Aminata was 17 years old and therefore a juvenile, she was tried in adult court because [a] she had no birth certificate and so [b], despite her protestations, the police registered her age as 18. Aminata was shipped off to the maximum security prison in Freetown. In 2010, Aminata was sentenced to death. AdvocAid appealed. The case was not heard for another four years: “Finally, 9 years after she was sentenced to death, her appeal was granted and her sentence was quashed …. Sadly Aminata’s story is not uncommon.”

While the British were not the first to conduct executions on African soil, they did bring and institutionalize the notion of “capital punishment … as not just a method of … punishment, but an integral aspect of colonial networks of power and violence.” As Aminata’s story shows, those networks of power and violence continue, in Sierra Leone as elsewhere, until they are rooted out. AdvocAid’s Legal Manager, Julia Gbloh said: “The death penalty is the act of legalizing murder and its abolishment highlights a new dawn in our nation.” It is a new dawn for Sierra Leone and hopefully for the world, including the United States. As Sabrina Mahtani explained, “Here’s a small country in West Africa that had a brutal civil war 20 years ago and they’ve managed to abolish the death penalty. They would actually be an example for you, U.S., rather than it always being the other way around.” 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: AdvocAid)

In Australia, Aboriginal women and girls disproportionately sent to prison and jail are disproportionately strip-searched. We know. What are we going to do about it?

The Alexander Maconochie Centre 

Excessive strip-searching shines light on discrimination of Aboriginal women in the criminal justice system”. An article with that headline appeared yesterday. While the research and argument of the article is unimpeachable, one wonders about the shining light. The discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women by and in the Australian so-called criminal justice program is a longstanding open secret. In 2018, Human Rights Watch issued a report, which noted, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population, and 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous peers.” A version of that statement, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”, had appeared in major reports in 201020112012201320142015,2016, and 2017. Now it’s 2021, and where are we … and who are we?

Last year, the Redfern Legal Centre reported that police in New South Wales continued to strip search children, some as young as 11 years old. In one year alone, NSW police conducted 96 strip searches of children. To no one’s surprise, those strip searches disproportionately assaulted Aboriginal children. This was no surprise, because strip searches generally target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and especially women and girls. Not only was the practice continuing, it was actually rising in number for Aboriginal children. Redfern is pursuing a landmark class action suit against the New South Wales police. While that would be important, these searches have occurred, for decades, in plain sight. Where are we … and who are we?

In January of this year, former Western Australia and New South Wales police came forward to discuss their experiences as police officers. They described a routine, and cynical, process of boosting arrest numbers by targeting Aboriginal communities, and especially children. Although strip searches are supposed to be only for “exceptional and extreme circumstances”, Aboriginal children were routinely strip searched. Their crime, their exceptionality, their extreme circumstance, was their bodies, their culture, their identity. One police officer remembered that strip searching a 10-year-old Aboriginal child was “one of the worst moments” of his eight-year career as a police officer. What was that moment for that 10-year-old child, one wonders, and where is he … and who is he now?

In March, it was reported that, earlier in the year, a 37-year-old Aboriginal woman was strip searched by four guards, in riot gear, in front of male detainees. Why? Because. This occurred at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, in the Australian Capital Territory. The Australian government boasts that the Alexander Maconochie Centre is “a human rights compliant” facility. Aboriginal leaders disagree. So does the woman, who wrote, “Here I ask you to remember that I am a rape victim, so you can only imagine the horror, the screams, the degrading feeling, the absolute fear and shame I was experiencing.”

Here I ask you to remember. 

In the first week of July, the Human Rights Legal Centre reported that from October 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021, there had been 208 strip searches conducted on women detainees at the same Alexander Maconochie Centre. Of those, 121, or 58%, were performed on Aboriginal women. At that time, Aboriginal women comprised 44% of the women held at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Just being Aboriginal women made them exceptional and extreme. Again to no one’s surprise, of the 208 searches, three resulted in the discovery of contraband. The others were the price Aboriginal women pay for being Aboriginal women in Australia.

The lack of surprise is the point. In 2003, Debbie Kilroy, Director of Sisters Inside Inc, wrote, “Prisoners are strip-searched because it is a highly effective way to control women … Routine and random strip-searching is conducted in order to punish women and to control them.” The strip searching of women in Australia’s prisons is routine, but hardly random, in that it targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls, who are sent in disproportionate numbers into “human rights compliant’ prison and jail hellholes. We know. We’ve known for a long time. What are we going to do about it?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Andrew Finch / City News)

Women dying in jails across the United States: This is what catastrophe looks like

Tomorrow, Sunday, July 18, the United Nations will celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day. With that in mind, on Friday, July 16, the United Nations released its first global research data on the state of prisons over the past twenty years. It’s predictably grim, especially for women. Globally, one in three incarcerated persons has not been found guilty by a court of justice. Either they are awaiting trial or they are simply being held. This means overcrowded conditions, which means spikes in covid, as we’re seeing this week in Missouri’s prisons. A surge in prison population = a spike in covid. For women, this means a global war on women and girls. From 2000 to 2019, the number of prisoners worldwide increased by more than 25 per cent. During that period, the number of women in prison increased by 33% while the increase for men was 25%. According to the UN, “the female share of the global prison population has increased, from 6.1% in 2000 to 7.2% in 2019.” What does this trend look like in the United States? Catastrophic, and especially so for women being held in jails.

According to the latest jails report from the U.S. Department of Justice, from 2008 to 2018, the female jail population increased by 15% while the male population decreased by 9%. From 2005 to 2018, the female incarceration rate rose by 10%, while the male rate of incarceration dropped by 14%. Between 2008 and 2018, the female jail population rose by 15%, the male jail population dropped by 9%. In terms of criminal justice systems and, specifically, policing and incarceration, the past twenty years have been catastrophic for women globally and nationally.

What does catastrophe look like? According to the most recent U.S. Department of Justice report on mortality in jails, “In 2018, females held in local jails had a higher rate of mortality …  than males.” Chronic diseases, especially respiratory infections, cancer, heart disease; suicide; drug and alcohol related problems are `credited’ as cause of death, but the cause of death is jail itself. While the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, the United Nations report covers two decades, 2000 to 2019, and this is only the second time since 2000, when the Department of Justice started reporting on the situation in jails across the United States, that women had a higher jail mortality rate than men, and that was in 2018, before the pandemic.

Tomorrow, July 18, is Nelson Mandela International Day. Earlier this week, July 13, marked the sixth anniversary of the death of Sandra Bland, in a jail in Texas. Since then, the situation for women in jails across the United States has only worsened. The UN report concludes: “Measures can be taken to counteract the relative increase in the female prison population, including the development and implementation of gender-specific options for diversion and non-custodial measures at every stage of the criminal justice process. Such measures should take into account the history of victimization of many women offenders and their caretaking responsibilities, as well as mitigating factors, such as lack of a criminal history and the nature and severity of the offense.” In other words, find and enforce ways of keeping women out of jail. How many more women must die before we hear and act on this common and evidence-supported sense? 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy Institute)

The Myth of “Market Forces”: Speculators, Not Demand, Are Raising the Rent Too Damn High

On Friday, Joe Biden signed an executive order “intended to increase competition within the nation’s economy and to limit corporate dominance, factors the White House says have led to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers while dampening pay and restricting the freedom to change jobs.” Non-compete clausesprohibit workers from “competing’ with a current employer by joining another group in the same business sector. These clauses are also known as restrictive covenants. They restrict freedom. You know what else restricts people’s freedom? Raising the rent by 30 percent in a single swoop, and that is what is happening around the country. This is not a story of “market forces”. This is a story of speculators drawing excessive profit from the veins of working people, especially women of color.

Nationally, rents have risen 7.5% since January, three times the average rate of rise. Meanwhile, according to Apartments.com, “household debt is at levels not seen since the Great Financial Crisis or wartime.” In every price category, rents for single-family homes are rising quickly. Rents on lower-middle priced single family homes have risen 4.8%, up from 2.5%, almost a 100% increase. 

For forty years of neoliberal urban development, the United States has steadily decreased the affordable housing stock. Trickle down development, irrespective of which party was in control of the municipality, and the drive to purchase global city status, meaning hordes of low-wage service sector workers servicing and serving a minority of upwardly mobile `clients’, turned urban real estate into the playground of the corporate speculators, many of whom used eviction, formal and `informal’, as a regular means of investment. Remember, during this past year’s eviction moratorium, the majority of eviction filings were done by a relatively small group of corporate landlords. Remember as well that prior to this past year’s eviction moratorium, the majority of eviction filings were done by a relatively small group of corporate landlords. Plus ça change, plus on meurt.

The current skyrocketing of rents is described as a `natural consequence’ of market forces. More people suddenly want rental units in places where there aren’t enough, but for those seeking affordable housing, or even somewhat affordable housing, this is the latest, more dire chapter of a novel they’ve been living in for decades. A woman in Phoenix wakes up one day and gets a note saying her rent is going up, effectively immediately, almost $400 a month, or 33 percent. She is informed she has four days to decide. There’s really nowhere else to go:  “It almost feels like there is nowhere to go. It’s just insane everywhere. It feels like I’m being chased out of my own home, and it’s the worst feeling in the world.” There is nowhere to go, she is being chased out of her own home, it is the worst feeling in the world. When she moves, as she will, her move will not be counted as an eviction, partly because there was no filing and more because, as a renter, she has little to no rights and less power.

Landlords … are realizing the power they suddenly have.” There’s nothing sudden about landlords’ power. Remember, in many places, the reasons rent relief hasn’t reached tenants is because landlords decided it wasn’t worth it to wait months to receive the overdue rent and chose to evict their tenants anyway. Before someone says, “Not all landlords”, the landlords who own and control the largest part of the rental market are the ones who opted out of the rent relief program. The landlords who own and control the largest part of the rental market make up a disproportionate part of those evicting and an even larger portion of those filing evictions. (There are exceptions, some, too few, such as the Winn Company, but they are exceptions and have not impacted their colleagues.)

The struggle for housing, and in particular affordable housing, has entered a new and perilous phase, made all the more dire by its being absolutely predictable and even foreseen. Adding fuel to the fire is this narrative of `market forces’. Stop talking about demand and talk, instead, about corporate landlords’ decisions and actions, their power, to restrict the freedom and impair the lives of millions of people who rent homes. Want to secure freedom in housing? Restrict the unrestricted power of corporate landlords, support tenants’ rights and power. Support rent control, support right to counsel in eviction cases, support freedom. 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic Credit: CoreLogic)

In Cornton Vale, Scotland’s one women’s prison, women with complex mental health needs are routinely thrown into solitary for days on end

Today, Scotland’s Mental Welfare Commission released the findings of their investigation into the treatment of women with complex mental health needs who have the great misfortune of ending up in Scotland’s one all-women’s prison. The Commission reports that women with mental health needs were sent into solitary confinement, euphemistically called Separation and Reintegration Units, for anywhere from a day to 82 days. The cells are described as “sparse and lacking in comfort. The narratives in women’s notes suggested there was little in the way of positive sensory stimulation in the environment of the SRU. There was limited human contact and if other women in the SRU were distressed or unwell, their vocalisations were likely to be audible, disturbing and distressing. When women’s self-care deteriorated, they may also have experienced physical and sensory discomfort in this context.”

The report goes on to note, “Part of the ethos, and indeed the name of SRUs, is that offenders are reintegrated into the mainstream environment after a period of time. Reintegration did not appear to feature in the majority of cases we reviewed …. For women who were floridly unwell with acute psychosis or manic psychosis, the severity of their symptoms and level of disturbance significantly worsened in the SRU.”

None of this is surprising or new. That solitary confinement, for anyone, is torture is not new. That solitary confinement as a response to women’s health needs is torture is not new. That solitary confinement as a response to women in need is, nevertheless, altogether ordinary also is not new. That solitary confinement worsens everything is also not new. That Cornton Vale is a toxic hot mess, with high levels of suicide and self-harm is also not new. Due to its high rates of suicide and self-harm, Cornton Vale has been called the “vale of death”. None of this is new or surprising.

In 2018, the European Commission on the Prevention of Torture visited Cornton Vale: “The CPT raises serious concerns about the treatment of women prisoners held in segregation at Cornton Vale Prison …. The CPT found women who clearly were in need of urgent care and treatment in a psychiatric facility, and should not have been in a prison environment, let alone segregated for extended periods in solitary confinement under Rules 95 and 41 (accommodation in specified conditions for health or welfare reasons). Prison staff were not trained to manage the highly disturbed women.” When they returned, in 2019, they found that the situation was somewhat improved, in some senses, but that the use of segregation, and in particular long-term isolation, persisted. None of this is new or surprising.

What is new is that this is not new. On July 10, 2017, Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, wrote, “Tomorrow sees a major milestone in the transformation of our justice system. We will begin the demolition of Cornton Vale women’s prison, a move that marks the next stage in our plans to ensure Scotland’s penal policy doesn’t just punish people who’ve committed crimes – important though that is – but helps deliver safer communities in the long term.” What happened? Why, four years later, is Cornton Vale still standing? What happened to the alternatives — an 80-bed prison, five regional 20-bed facilities, community sentencing and service, and much greater funding for mental health, drug abuse, counseling? What is the investment in Cornton Vale’s catastrophic failure, such that, four years later, the vale of death, the vale of women’s slow and painful death and deaths? Haven’t there been enough inquiries and enough `discoveries’, enough corpses and enough ruined lives?

(By Dan Moshenberg)