CCA Sets Its Sights on Profiting off Reentry Programs in California, Nation-Wide

Beginning this month, the Correction Corporation of America (CCA), one of the nation’s largest for-profit Prison corporation, will earn $4 million dollars a year from the state of California for operating 120 bed San Diego “residential reentry facility” as part of the state’s Male Community Reentry Program. This comes 3 months after the company secured a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to consolidate two federal reentry programs into one privately owned 483-bed location.

This is not the CCA’s first foray into San Diego’s residential reentry service sector, the company purchased two halfway homes for $36 million dollars in 2013. The familiar troubles of CCA operations took its toll almost immediately. As Mark Bartlett, a former CCA guard at one of the company’s residential reentry programs who recently began a hunger strike in protest of the state’s contract with CCA, recently explained, “It’s turned into a business where they’re cutting corners on everything. Whether it’s with cutting staff on payroll, cutting food, the lack of nutrition, cutting programming.” With their new contract, it appears the state of California (no stranger to egregious conditions within their prison systems) has no desire to improve the lives of those held in their correctional systems and forgo successful reentry for a cheaper method.

The privatization of residential reentry programs is bad news for those being released from incarceration. The list of CCA’s transgressions, cost-cutting, and inhumane treatment of workers and prisoners goes on, and on, and on, and on. Meanwhile, their stocks have risen 25% this year. While some in the criminal justice reform and prison abolition movement do not view privatization as a problem worse than publicly run prisons (a point I will concede partially, as our publicly run prisons are no walk in the park), the thought that investors are profiting from the imprisonment and failed rehabilitation of human beings creates a moral quandary that renders the end of private correctional companies a fight equally important and separate from the fight to reform (or perhaps abolish) prison as we know it today.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Grassroots Leadership) (Photo Credit 2: ShadowProof)

Australia’s “I can’t breathe” moment … or not

Last night, Australians watched in horror as the investigative journalism series Four Corners showed the torture and abuse of children in a so-called juvenile justice facility in the Northern Territory. The show opens: “The image you have just seen isn’t from Guantanamo bay…. or Abu Ghraib.. but Australia in 2015… A boy, hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone. It is barbaric. This is juvenile justice in the Northern Territory, a system that punishes troubled children instead of rehabilitating them – where children as young as 10 are locked up and 13 year olds are kept in solitary confinement. Most of the images secured by Four Corners in this investigation have never been seen publicly. They are shocking – but for the sake of these children who are desperate for the truth to be known, we cannot look away.” It may “shocking” but none of it is new. We have known all along.

At a number of points in the near hour-long documentary, children are heard to plead, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” To no one’s surprise, their pleas go unattended, or worse, their pleas incite the guards to further and more intense violence. From Staten Island to Berrimah, where the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre is located, “I can’t breathe”. Eric Garner haunts the world … to no one’s surprise.

To no one’s surprise, a majority of the children in the video and center are Aboriginal. To no one’s surprise, Indigenous incarceration in Australia is rampant.

To no one’s surprise, this very torture of Aboriginal children in custody had been reported, and largely ignored, last year. It takes a video to document the destruction of a child.

When indigenous leader Nova Peris was a Senator, she raised this very issue in Parliament, and now she asks, “How many more royal commissions do Aboriginal people have to get excited about? There was a lot of hope when the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody was done, yet barely any recommendations were implemented. In 1997, the Bringing Them Home report about children in out-of-home care gave us hope, but what actually happened there, if anything? No-one listened. These kids need rehabilitation, they don’t need torture: hate breeds hate, they need to know that there is life outside. Over the years people brushed these kids off, calling them ‘little bastards’. These are kids as young as 11 years old, how are they even thinking criminal activities. Let’s look at the underlying issues here.”

To no one’s surprise, the Indigenous Affairs Minister ignored earlier reports of abuse. They didn’t “pique” his interest.

So now, the Northern Territory Minister has been fired; the “shocked” Prime Minister has called for a Royal Commission; and the guards in the video are still guarding the very children they were taped abusing.

Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Eric Garner. The new Gulag Archipelago, same as it ever was. We all share Australia’s shame. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

 

(Image Credit: Fastcodesign) (Photo Credit: ABC Four Corners)

The nation-State of Jane Doe: Torture in Texas

Welcome to the nation of Jane Doe, where State violence forces women into anonymity. Last week, two Jane Doe cases garnered national attention. In one case, a rape survivor was jailed for more than a month to “ensure” she would be present at her rapist’s trial. In the second, a U.S. citizen was forced to undergo body cavity searches at the U.S. – Mexico border. Meet Jane Doe; she is the face, body and name of citizenship in the United States today.

Last Thursday, “the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU of New Mexico announced a record settlement in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) paid a New Mexico woman $475,000 for illegally subjecting her to vaginal and anal searches after she was detained at the Cordova Bridge point of entry in El Paso … Last year the University Medical Center of El Paso paid the same woman — referred to in the lawsuit as Jane Doe to protect her privacy — a $1.1 million settlement for its collusion in the invasive searches.”

Jane Doe’s story began in 2012, as she crossed the El Paso’s Cordova Bridge from Mexico to the United States. A drug-sniffing dog alerted border agents that Jane Doe was carrying drugs. The agents conducted a strip search at the station, using a flashlight to examine her genitals and anus. Finding nothing, the agents sent Jane Doe to University Medical Center, where Jane Doe was forced to undergo observed bowel movement, an X-ray, a speculum exam of her vagina, a bimanual vaginal and rectal exam, and a CT scan. There was no warrant and Jane Doe never consented to anything. Finding nothing, border agents gave Jane Doe “a choice”: sign a medical consent form or pay for the hospital “services.” Jane Doe refused to sign, and received a bill of $5,488.51.

Jane Doe sued and last week won. According to Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, “This result could not have been achieved without Ms. Doe’s courage and perseverance. Had she succumbed to the threats of CBP agents and remained silent, who knows how many others might have suffered a similarly despicable experience.”

In another case, in 2013, a different Jane Doe was raped, in Houston, Texas. This Jane Doe lives with bipolar disorder. Three years later, in December 2015, Jane Doe was testifying against the man who raped her. Midway through her testimony, she broke down. Initially, Jane Doe was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. Once “stabilized”, Jane Doe was sent to the Harris County Jail, where she stayed for 28 days. Why was Jane Doe sent to jail? The court had a holiday break coming up, and so the prosecuting attorney dumped Jane Doe in jail so that she would complete her testimony. Jane Doe “was imprisoned in the hellhole of the Harris County Jail for no reason other than being a rape victim who struggles with a mental disability.”

Jane Doe is suing Harris County, Texas, for the abuse and torture she experienced in jail. During her month in jail, Jane Doe was assaulted, insulted, verbally abused, demeaned, and worse. She was put in with the general population, even though there is a mental health unit in the jail. After all of that, Jane Doe did exactly as she had done all along. She cooperated with officials and completed her testimony in January.

Jane Doe was in the same county jail as the man who raped her: “Her rapist was not denied medical care, psychologically tortured, brutalized by other inmates, or beaten by jail guards,”

This is the State of Jane Doe where two women, all women, become one and the same. Their suffrage and citizenship is violence and torture: sexual, psychological, physical, spiritual, economic, political. Welcome to the State of Jane Doe, no country for women.

 

(Image Credit: Moviefone)

A victory for Prisoners’ Rights in Zimbabwe!

Once again Veritas, a nongovernmental organisation based in Zimbabwe, which provides information on the work of the Parliament of Zimbabwe and the Laws of Zimbabwe and makes public domain information widely available has succeeded in advancing human rights through the Constitutional Court.  This time the rights are those of prisoners who have been sentenced to life imprisonment.  Yesterday 19th July, 2016 in a landmark judgment in the case of Makoni v Commissioner of Prisons and Another, brought by Veritas, the Court ruled that life prisoners will now be eligible for release on parole like all other prisoners.

The parole system allows the Minister of Justice, on the advice of a Board, to grant prisoners early release from prison before they have fully served their sentences.  Prisoners can be released on parole on various grounds – for example humanitarian reasons – that they have become too old or ill to be kept in prison, or, that their good behaviour in prison shows that they have reformed and will not return to a life of crime.

Only one class of prisoner was completely debarred from release on parole:  prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment.  Under section 115 of the Prisons Act the Minister was permitted to release any prisoner on licence – i.e. on parole – “other than a prisoner who has been sentenced to death or to imprisonment for life”.  What this meant was that however young a person might have been when sentenced to life imprisonment, he [and they were almost all male] would remain in prison for the rest of his life.

It was this that Veritas challenged in the Constitutional Court, arguing that sentencing someone to prison with no hope of release violated the person’s dignity and amounted to cruel or inhuman punishment in contravention of section 53 of the Constitution.

The key question for the CC was what standard to apply in determining prisoners’ rights. A high standard would mean that more prisoners’ rights will be recognized in practice. A lax standard, would mean placing a burden on prisoners that is difficult to meet, which might mean that prisoners’ rights are more theoretical than real. In this case it seems the CC has marked out a distinct approach to the question of prisoners’ rights. The CC has abandoned a cautious approach and deference to prison administration. This is a hallmark of a CC that is really trying to take a progressive approach.

The Constitutional Court agreed with Veritas’ arguments.  In a unanimous judgment delivered by Judge Patel J the Court decided that:

  • The Constitution ushered in a departure from the old approach to punishment, which emphasised retribution, towards one of social re-integration and rehabilitation of prisoners.
  • “Whole life imprisonment”, i.e. imprisonment for life without the possibility of release, constitutes a violation of human dignity and amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in breach of sections 51 and 53 of the Constitution.
  • The power of the President to order the release of life prisoners under his power of mercy in terms of section 112 of the Constitution is entirely discretionary and cannot be enforced or questioned by courts of law.  As such it does not afford adequate redress for the purpose of enforcing such prisoners’ fundamental human rights under the Constitution.
  • There was no justifiable reason, based on the public interest, to distinguish between life prisoners and other prisoners in the matter of parole; hence the exclusion of life prisoners from the parole process contravened their right to equal protection and benefit of the law under section 56(1) of the Constitution.

The court accordingly ordered that, until the Prisons Act was amended to bring it into line with the Constitution, its provisions should be applied so as to extend the right of parole to every prisoner, including those sentenced to imprisonment for life.

This case highlights the limitations of the archaic Prisons Act in its failure to respond to and redress human rights abuses and the need for redress to protect and advance the status of prisoners’ rights.

The judgment is a landmark in the advancement of human rights in Zimbabwe.  It serves as a reminder that prisoners, however heinous their crimes may have been, are human beings entitled to humane treatment. This decision of the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court is a contribution to the progressive constitutional jurisprudence which the court is building up for Zimbabwe.

 

(Image Credit: Veritas)

#BlackLivesMatter: Across the Black Atlantic, mourning Black mothers demand justice

Mzee Mohammed

we were two Black women touching our flame
and we left our dead behind us
Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us

Samaria Rice, in Cleveland, and Karla Mohammed, in Liverpool, sit across from each other at opposite ends of the Black Atlantic table, and whisper, speak, shout and howl, “Black Lives Matter.” Samaria Rice’s 12-year-old son, Tamir, was killed by a Cleveland police officer, on November 23, 2014. Karla Mohammed’s 18-year-old son, Mzee, died after being restrained by Liverpool police officers, on July 13, 2016.

Samaria Rice says, “I will never forget that day. Them taking my baby away at 12 years old, I still had nourishment to do for my son. He was only 12. He had just been 12 for five months. I still had a lot of nurturing to do for him, a lot of holding and kissing on him, and stuff like that. I know just 12 years old for a boy is like a turning point. I was guiding him in the right direction. I really was. He was really not a bad kid.”

Karla Mohammed says, “I want to ask the Lord to see justice for my son. I will not rest, I will walk in my son’s shoes until I get answers, and anyone who had a hand in my boy’s death will be brought to justice. My son will not be a number or a statistic. His death will not be in vain. I pray with my heart no mother or father go through what I am now. I would not wish this on my worst enemy. You can’t take the memories, the pictures … my son was not an animal, he was a human being.”

Samaria Rice and Karla Mohammed face each other across the pain filled abyss of their absent sons, Tamir and Mzee. They speak the same language of pain, love, and demanding justice.

This is the Black Atlantic today, from Liverpool to Cleveland and back and beyond, Black Mothers of the Disappeared surrounded by friends and supporters chanting, “Black Lives Matter”. “Black Lives Matter” is the prayer of today’s Black Atlantic. Meanwhile, Mzee Mohammed’s family is raising funds to have him sent to be buried in Jamaica. Karla Mohammed explained, “We’re here for Mzee, not for anybody else. My boy. My soldier boy. My chocolate boy. My baby boy is going to have the biggest send off, but no way on god’s greenery will my boy rest in this city. My boy is going to take his final journey and be entombed in Jamaica where he belongs. When he goes to Jamaica it’s going to open wide and he will fly like a bird. Where the song says three little birds, now there’s four little birds. My boy. My L8 soldier. My chocolate boy.”

Tamir Rice

 

(Photo Credit 1: Liverpool Echo) (Photo Credit 2: Voice of Detroit)

The United States prefers mass incarceration to mass education

Welcome to the United States of Incarceration. According to a recent federal report, from 1989 to 2013, “All states had lower expenditure growth rates for PK–12 education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections was more than 100 percentage points higher than the rate for education … Over the past three decades, state and local government expenditures on prisons and jails have increased about three times as fast as spending on elementary and secondary education.” The three decades’ long surge in police violence as well as in prison and jail deaths has been funded by taking money from schools and dumping it, along with Brown and Black bodies, into prisons and jails.

Texas leads this punitive race to the bottom. Between 1989 and 2013, Texas’s “corrections” budget increased by 850 percent, handily leading all other states. Next in line are Wyoming (712% increase), New Mexico (704% increase), and Idaho (701%). While nationally prison spending has risen three times as fast as school spending, in Texas, prison spending has risen eight times as quickly. Between 1989 and 2013, Texas’s public pre-K through 12 budget increased a mere 182%. With a three decades’ long prison – to – school discrepancy of 668%, Texas “leads” the nation.

At the postsecondary level, the situation is even worse. Currently 18 states spend more on prisons and jails than on colleges and universities.

This robbing pupils to cage prisoners scenario is explained away by harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines combined with generalized broken windows policing that results in the working poor being herded into prisons and, even more, jails. In Houston, for example, 75% of those in jail are awaiting trial. They can’t afford to post bail, and so they sit behind bars. Their collective crime is poverty.

But there’s more to mass incarceration than “unfortunate” policy. There’s urban development. A recent federal report on the prison-instead-of-school pipeline notes, “Researchers at Columbia University found that a disproportionate number of the upwards of two million people in U.S. prisons and jails come from disadvantaged neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities; the authors coined the term `million dollar blocks’ to refer to places where the concentration of incarcerated individuals is so dense that states are spending over a million dollars a year to incarcerate the residents of a single city block. Incarceration in the U.S. occurs disproportionately among people of color.”

Why invest in urban Black and Brown neighborhoods when you can ship resident bodies out of town, to failing predominantly White rural communities where land values have been forced to collapse and unemployment and precariousness reign? Follow the money. The fervid investment in prisons and jails at the expense of grade schools, colleges and universities is part of the overheated urban real estate market of “growing” and “redeveloping” cities. It’s the latest form of root shock where, thirty years ago, the racial politics of `blight’ as a form of `urban renewal’ became a targeted policy of no school left standing in Black and Brown neighborhoods, and no prison or jail cell left behind.

 

(Image Credit 1: Design4Peace) (Image Credit 2: Washington Post)

Radio WIBG: In France, in Saint Denis, Ghada Hatem opens a Women’s House

With Ghada Hatem holding, Inna Modja cuts the ribbon

With Ghada Hatem holding, Inna Modja cuts the ribbon

Two years ago Ghada Hatem, head of OBGYN at the Delafontaine Hospital, in Saint Denis, envisioned a Women’s House in Saint Denis, in the heart of the suburb of Paris that symbolizes immigration tensions and social precarity in France. Last Friday, the Women’s House was formally inaugurated.

Born in Lebanon, Ghada Hatem was fifteen when the civil war started in 1975: “It is probably what gave rise to a medical and social vocation in me.” She came to France to study medicine and choosing OBGYN as a specialty came naturally. She has always imagined exercising her “art” within a team.

Thanks to extraordinary teamwork, the Women’s House project went to completion. The day of the inauguration, a passionate and committed crowd was present along with some officials, all of them inspired by the project.

The Malian/French artist and singer Inna Modja has decided to be the benefactress of the Women’s House of Saint Denis. In her commitment to social justice, she has used her artistic expression to denounce female cutting, linking it to her engagement to end violence against women in general. As she explained, after she was cut in Mali when she was 5 against the will of her parents, “I fought to heal myself,” she remembered, first through surgery and then “step by step, I found the energy to become a woman again.”

Ghada and her colleagues received the surgical training to “repair” women who have been cut but as Ghada explains the repair is both physical and psychological and it is never a full restitution, the “scar” remains.

The House will offer many ways to address the trauma including support groups with the collaboration of Inna Modja.

While located within the hospital compound, the House has an independent entrance open to the street. Its role is to allow a free, intimate access to women who have already experienced all sorts of violence and humiliations: a place for them and with them. The need is enormous. The OBGYN department receives about 120 different nationalities and amid the 4500 births and 1000 abortions every year, and about 14% of the women had been cut. The medical system is not enough to help these women to recover their dignity.

This house should serve as a model to be reproduced everywhere it is needed.

Let’s listen to Ghada Hatem’s interview.

Ghada Hatem

Ghada Hatem

 

(Interview and photos by Brigitte Marti)

Zimbabwe: Now you have starved the women, you have struck their pots, you will be crushed

On Saturday, July 16, Zimbabwean women will go to the streets to protest hunger, starvation, deprivation, degradation, violence and all the other State programs in Zimbabwe. Like the women of Burkina Faso who carried giant spatulas and took to the streets two years ago, the women of Zimbabwe will carry and beat their pots, hoping to make the walls come tumbling down. The women are saying they have had enough of programmatic hunger and poverty, which targets women and children particularly viciously. They say, “Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokodo! A hungry woman is an angry woman.”

The past two weeks have seen major demonstration and protests, and police violence, in Zimbabwe. Over the past three months, Zimbabwe has been visibly simmering. In March, Pastor Evan Mawarire went to his Facebook page and recorded a four-minute lamentation, on the occasion of the nation’s 36th independence celebration. Cloaked in Zimbabwe’s flag, Mawarire described the symbolism of the flag’s colors and the reality of everyday lived experience in Zimbabwe. Within days, #ThisFlag appeared across Zimbabwe. As before, people said they had had enough, and, at the same time, they said that as Zimbabweans, they deserved better. They deserved to live and to thrive, with real access to decent food, education, health, employment, safety, well-being, everything.

Protests started at Beitbridge, on the border with South Africa, in response to a new government ban on certain small imports that are a mainstay and a lifeline in many communities. Cross-border traders protested, and were dealt with harshly. Then people demonstrated in Harare, and, again, were dealt with harshly. Videos started circulating showing police targeting, beating, and torturing women and children. In Bulawayo, an eighteen-month-old toddler is reported to have died of suffocation, caused by breathing in tear gas. These protests were followed by a daylong stayaway, last Wednesday. #ThisFlag begat #ZimShutDown2016

More and more people started coming into the streets, concerned at reports that the government is out of money. Zimbabwe announced it would start issuing `bonds’, aka zombie money. Meanwhile, 4 million people in the rural areas face starvation.

Women have been organizing, and are saying enough is too much. According to Grace Chirenge, “Women bear the brunt of political violence, as they are at the centre of transformation in society … We are tired of being victims and survivors of this male dominance that is doing us no good.” Samukeliso Khumalo agrees, “Tomorrow’s female war veteran won’t be the one who allegedly gunned down a helicopter but a hungry woman who definitely rode on the back of a policeman.”

Through non-violent means, women are taking the battle to the streets because the war is already in the streets and homes and kitchens and pots and empty stomachs. Across Zimbabwe, women are organizing to beat their empty pots in the streets of Bulawayo this Saturday. “Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokodo! A hungry woman is an angry woman.” Zimbabwe, you have starved the women, you have struck their pots, you will be crushed. The time is now. #BeatThePot.

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / Trends Zimbabwe) (Video Credit: YouTube / Zimbabwe HOPE TV)

We all killed Ashley Smith, Kinew James and Terry Baker, and it’s not over yet

On October 19, 2007, 19-year-old Ashley Smith died by self strangulation while seven prison guards in a Canadian women’s prison, Grand Valley Institution for Women, followed orders, watched and did nothing. By doing nothing is meant committed homicide. That was a decision of a coroner’s jury, December 19, 2013, six years and two months later. As a result of Ashley Smith’s murder, Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, issued Risky Business: An Investigation of the Treatment and Management of Chronic Self-Injury Among Federally Sentenced Women – Final Report. This also appeared in 2013. Risky Business focused on eight federally sentenced women prisoners “selected for this investigation because they were deemed to be the most high risk and chronic self-injurious women in the federally sentenced women population.” Kinew James was one of those women. Kinew James was in and out of solitary confinement. Kinew James was interviewed in the middle of 2012. In January 2013, Kinew James died, in custody, because nobody answered her pleas for help. An inquest into Kinew James’ death was supposed to start in April 2016, but it’s been indefinitely postponed. Terry Baker was another of the eight most high risk and chronically self-injurious women. On Monday, July 4, in Grand Valley Institution for Women, Terry Baker killed herself. She was pronounced dead on Wednesday. Canada claims to be shocked, and yet for nine years now the State has “done nothing”, killing woman after woman with absolute impunity. What happened to Terry Baker? Kinew James? Ashley Smith? Absolutely nothing. After scathing reports and damning juries, the murder of women living with mental illness continues unabated. Despite sincere, or not, expressions of concern, suicide among women prisoners is part of the plan. It’s the new normal, and it’s too late to protest shock or concern. Shut down the segregation units, once and for all.

Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said: “We know that she was in restraints a number of times; we suspect there were uses of force, but we don’t know that for certain and we have asked the correctional investigator to also look into it … It’s a terrible tragedy for her family, her friends, the women she served time with. It’s a tragedy all around and it’s a travesty, and it should not be happening in this country. It needs to stop. I hope the minister pays attention to this and makes a decision very quickly to end the use of segregation. Terry was a very sweet, gentle young woman except when it came to herself. She had been very self-destructive and self-harming for a number of years,” said Pate. “She’s someone who, when I last saw her in Saskatchewan, she was actually doing quite well. She was involved in a dog therapy program. From our perspective, [this] underscores exactly why we have the position of no women in segregation, particularly those with mental health issues.”

Other prisoners said she was kind and courageous, but in need of help.

The week before her death, Baker had complained to prison advocates about being forcibly bound to her bed for prolonged periods of time. She had a history of self-harming, and a revolving door relationship with solitary confinement. Rosemary Redshaw, former chaplain at Grand View, remembered Terry Baker: “I really liked her. She had a childlike sense of humor and was great to get along with. In the midst of her struggle, she seemed to get help in the time I was there.” Redshaw added that Baker should not have been in prison or in isolation.

None of this matters. Terry Baker is dead, and nothing will bring her back. Her planned death will now be desecrated by a series of reports and recriminations, just like the deaths of Ashley Smith and Kinew James. Remember this: we all killed Ashley Smith, Kinew James and Terry Baker, and it’s not over yet. Close segregation units. Don’t send people who need help to prison. Invest in mental health and wellbeing. It’s not magic.

Terry Baker’s birthday would have been July 15. She would have turned 31

 

(Photo Credit: Office of the Correctional Investigator Canada)

The “crisis” of jails in Louisville, Kentucky, is the criminal justice system

Over the past few months, jails in Kentucky have been making headlines. Earlier in the year, the headlines were about how “a pattern of employee misconduct” in one juvenile jail killed a teenage girl named Gynnya McMillen.

The new headlines, though, are about the jails in Louisville, KY, the largest city in the State. You see, Louisville’s jails are overcrowded. How overcrowded are they? To quote former inmate Jennifer Kennedy, “It was terrible…I slept on the floor, on a mat. I had to borrow a cover from someone who had one in there.”

But wait, there’s more. Louisville’s jails are so overcrowded that the State has deemed it a crisis. The director of Louisville Metro Corrections even ordered the re-opening of an old, now illegal jail. This supposedly temporary jail is illegal because the building is not up to fire evacuation standards. One judge remarked that “If they have a fire there, people are going to die.”

Even when faced with the prospect of a holocaust of prisoners, the State continued putting people in jail, and so the old, illegal jail also filled up. Now prisoners are forced to sleep in gymnasiums and use portable bathroom facilities. With every new “temporary” solution, prisoners get moved around—and moving prisoners is a violent, destabilizing process.

It’s easy to think that this overcrowding crisis is sudden and surprising, but it’s neither. The State of Kentucky created this crisis. Faced with a surplus of revenue and falling wages throughout the commonwealth, state and local governments looked to prisons and jails in which to invest excess capital. More prisons and jails mean more prisoners, an induced demand that does not depend on crime rate. This resulted in the Kentucky having the fourteenth highest overall incarceration rate in the world and the third highest women’s incarceration rate in the world.

First, the State of Kentucky knowingly hyper-incarcerates people, especially women, who worldwide are the fastest-growing prison population. The State keeps demanding more, its thirst for caged bodies never satiated, and puts these prisoners in cramped, fire-prone conditions. State officials throw up their arms, wondering how anyone could have predicted this.

How will Louisville and the State of Kentucky “solve” the crisis? The State government offered to take 200 inmates into its custody from local jails, but the state jails are just as overcrowded; state facilities were already leasing out prisoners to local jails to begin with. Instead, the State is looking to reopen two private prisons run by the CCA as another “temporary” solution. Never mind that the Kentucky CCA facilities were major harbors of sexual abuse against women prisoners.

As Louisville and Kentucky scramble for solutions, two things are clear:

  • Women prisoners, and all prisoners, matter. As the State creates and covers up its own crises, women prisoners become targets of violence to solve said crises. The pain their bodies and minds must endure directly correlates to the amount of money the State invests in prison infrastructure. Women prisoners’ space and time are inversely related to these investments. The conditions that women prisoners endure—such as the risk of being burned to death in overcrowded facilities—are also the conditions on which entire modern cities, like Louisville, are currently being developed.
  • The solution for prison overcrowding is not to build more prisons or to find more “temporary” solutions. The existence of prisons at all, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore reminds us, is a crisis in itself, a major contradiction in a supposedly “free” society that allows “un-freedom” to exist. The only real, lasting solution is to abolish prisons and create alternative forms of justice that do not inflict more violence on other human beings.

 

(Photo Credit: WDRB)