ICE created a fake university, charged students, and then arrested them … For what?

ICE detained 146 students and 8 recruiters in a sting, where it “created” an accredited university, the University of Farmington, to lure international students into attending classes. Federal prosecutors allege that more than 600 students enrolled in the University of Farmington knew that the university was fake. 

The sting was part of a “pay to stay scheme” where, “foreign students could remain in the U.S. while working.” The scheme would have allowed students to stay in the United States as a result of foreign citizens falsely asserting that they were enrolled as full-time students in an approved educational program and were making normal progress toward completion of the course of study. But for many of the students, the university was very real. Students paid tuition to the university, hoping to receive an education, and, when they found out there would be no classes to attend, they unsuccessfully attempted to transfer. 

The University of Farmington portrayed itself as a “nationally accredited business and STEM institution to prospective students.” While nefarious, the ICE scheme is not illegal, nor is it a new low for ICE. In 2016, the DHS created the University of Northern New Jersey to charge 21 people with student and work visa fraud. Many of the students detained are from the Telugu-speaking region of India. India’s government is urging the U.S. to release the 129 students who have been arrested on immigration charges, while the 8 recruiters have been detained on criminal charges. 

According to defense attorneys, the students enrolled in the university with the intent to obtain jobs under a visa program known as CPT (Curricular Practical Training) that allows students to work in the U.S. Those programs are legitimate; the U.S. tricked students into joining the University of Farmington. The website and media was so developed for the University that there was a LinkedIn page for the “President” of Farmington, Ali Milani, and a Facebook page with a series of events hosted on the calendars. The website also claimed the university had been authorized to enroll international students by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

Attorney Prashanthi Reddy said that the students were told that they were following immigration laws: “The students paid them for tuition fees and were trapped once they realized that classes were not being held, as some didn’t have the money to transfer and pay tuition at another university. Some did transfer out, some said they called and emailed the university and asked for SEVIS to be transferred but did not get a response, some other said they were reassured by the fact that the University was accredited and listen on the ICE website.”

While this is not considered a sting operation, but baiting, students were assured that they were doing the best they could to obtain higher education in the United States and doing so legally. How well the website had been developed and the fact that students paid for such education is even more sinister. To assume the intention of the international students had been to abuse a system wherein they would be able to work is just that, an assumption. Students saw a university that promoted the teaching of business and STEM, and they wanted to continue their education. ICE used that to prey on them. For what?

(Photo Credit: ThisIsInsider)

Today’s witch-hunt: Caroline Mwatha and Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz

“The witch-hunt, then, was a war against women; it was a concerted attempt to degrade them, dehumanize them, and destroy their social power. At the same time, it was in the torture chambers and on the stakes on which the witches perished that the bourgeois ideals of womanhood and domesticity were forged. In this case, too, the witch-hunt amplified contemporary social trends. There is, in fact, an unmistakable continuity between the practices targeted by the witch-hunt and those banned by the new legislation that in the same years was introduced to regulate family life, gender and property relations.”            
Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation

The news this week reminds us that the witch hunt is thriving and in process. In Kenya, human rights defender Caroline Mwatha disappeared and then was found, dead. Police quickly determined that the cause of Caroline Mwatha’s death was a “botched” abortion. While questions abound concerning that report, not in question is the severity of Kenya’s restrictions on abortions and on women’s access to reproductive health care and justice. In El Salvador, yesterday, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz walked out of the hellhole of Ilopango Women’s Prison, where she had been held for almost three years for “aggravated homicide”, which judgment was based on Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz not having sought prenatal care while she was pregnant. We live in the world that spins between Caroline Mwatha and Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz.

On February 6, Caroline Mwatha was reported missing. Caroline Mwatha lived and worked in the Dandora neighborhood of Nairobi, where she had founded the Dandora Community Justice Centre. Caroline Mwatha was well known for her investigations into extrajudicial killings, specifically, and police abuses more generally. She was a fierce and dedicated human and women’s rights defender and warrior. At the same time, she was a pregnant woman living in Kenya. According to certain reports, Caroline Mwatha chose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. According to all reports, Kenya is an especially dangerous place in which to make that choice. That danger is caused by especially harsh restrictions as well as by government political policies. In November 2018, Marie Stopes Kenya, the single largest provider of safe abortions in the country, was forced to close its abortion operations. Meanwhile, also last year, the government reported that every year in Kenya about 2,600 women die from unsafe abortions. That’s seven women every dayWhat killed Caroline Mwatha? Evelyn Opondo, Africa director at the Center for Reproductive Rights, put it simply: “Caroline did not have to die. Her death was preventable. She is just one of so many women who are killed needlessly due to unsafe abortion in clinics run by ‘quacks’.” Caroline Mwatha did not have to die, but she was executed by state policy.

In July 2017, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was found guilty of aggravated homicide. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was a high school student at the time, who was repeatedly raped by a gang member. She became pregnant. She didn’t know she was pregnant. She knew that she had stomach pains, but, because she also was bleeding, she thought she wasn’t pregnant. Then In April 2016, she gave birth in the bathroom of her family’s home. She passed out. When she regained consciousness, she was arrested. At the trial, medical experts couldn’t ascertain whether the fetus died in utero or after the birth. The prosecution maintained that Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz had not sought prenatal care because she didn’t want the child. The judge agreed, and sentenced Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz to thirty years in prison. After a little less than three years in the hellhole of Ilopango Women’s Prison, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz was granted a new trial. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz can stay out of prison until a new trial, April 4. Mariana Moisa, of Agrupacion Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto, or Citizen’s Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion, noted, “In 2019 we shouldn’t be fighting for the presumption of innocence when a woman loses a pregnancy. We shouldn’t have to be proving that motherhood is not related to crime. We should have full human rights as Salvadoran women.”

Kenyan activists mourn the death of Caroline Mwatha. Salvadoran activists celebrate the release of Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz. These are pages in the history of the witch-hunt. While both Kenya and El Salvador explain their anti-abortion policies as a consequence of their being “religious”, the tie that binds the two is the marriage of patriarchy and capitalism at whose altar the power and knowledge of autonomous, self-aware women is demonized and criminalized. Caroline Mwatha wanted help, and instead she was given a death sentence. Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz needed help, and instead she was given a 30-year-sentence, which is akin to a death sentence. That’s the modern witch-hunt, and it must end now. It’s time, it’s way past time, to demand justice for Caroline Mwatha, Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz, and all the women subjected to the witch-hunt. Shut it down … now!

Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz 

(Image Credit: Hivisasa) (Photo Credit: BBC / AFP)

When your prison location dictates the services you do and don’t receive

In North Dakota, in 2003, a women’s prison was moved from Bismarck to the farming town of New England. In 2019, the governor is considering moving the women back to Bismarck, predominantly because of claims that it is focusing on the economic impact to the struggling town. For women, the impact would be obvious since they are not receiving the same treatments and rehabilitation as the men currently incarcerated in Bismarck.

The move would have a large impact on the treatments women could receive, especially in comparison to men. For example, incarcerated men receive a wider variety of rehabilitation services unavailable to women incarcerated in New England. These include medical and rehabilitative services; access to medication assisted treatment to help overcome addictions; community access to medical or dental services; care coordination and peer support.

Governor Burgum has contended that the need is obvious, and that the state has the responsibility to treat men and women inmates equally. Responding to problems of wide disparity between inmates’ care, Burgum has instituted a series of reforms addressing corrections and behavioral health services, all of which are meant to improve the women’s prison, a key to the Governor’s desire to transform North Dakota government. 

On the other hand, the incarcerated women have been at the center of a controversy, in which New England residents have protested moving the inmates because of the economic toil it would have on the town. State lawmakers have yet to approve the move. Those opposed to the move are mobilizing; former inmates have spoken out in favor of the move. Townsfolk are not pitted against women inmates clamoring for better services that will take care of them and help prevent their re-entry into the criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, the care they have received out in New England has been inadequate, at best. A pregnant woman receiving methadone treatment for an opioid addiction was about to be moved to the women’s prison, when her doctor intervened to keep her in the county jail, where medication-assisted addiction treatment is available. Without the treatment, methadone withdrawal could have put the fetus in peril and caused a miscarriage. 

90 percent of the women in the Dakota Women’s Correctional Center, in New England, come from communities in central and eastern North Dakota. They come from towns hundreds of miles from New England, and there is no bus service to New England. Three in four of the women have children under the age of 18; more than half of the inmates reoffend as well, continuing a cycle of recidivism for them and harm for their children. 

The Dakota Women’s Correctional Center provides New England with a grand total of 56 jobs, while, according to the Governor, the surrounding southwestern North Dakota has between 800 and 1,000 job offerings. “If it’s about jobs in southwestern North Dakota, we’ve got a lot of unfilled jobs,” Burgum has noted. Governor Burgum insists that the move is about better rehabilitation, giving women the chance to lead better and more productive lives through rehabilitation: “That’s what the focus has to be. It’s not about how we make better prison jobs.” 

(Photo Credit: Chris Flynn / The Forum)

Ending solitary confinement, the problem that doesn’t “exist” in New Jersey

Nafeesah Goldsmith

Nafeesah Goldsmith is a community organizer with the nonprofit organization Jersey City Together. She graduated Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree and is working towards a Master’s in Criminal Justice at Monmouth University. She has been working to curtail the practice of solitary confinement in New Jersey, as she has had first hand experience of its abuse. For nearly 13 years, Nafeesah Goldsmith was incarcerated for at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility and was forced to spend nearly 60 days in solitary confinement—in the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, a male inmate facility since Edna Mahan did not have its own isolation ward (now, it does).

There Goldsmith spent two months of isolation, “with the exception of 45 minutes of recreation time, most days, in the prison yard. She said she sometimes went without showering, depending on the mood of the guards. To pass the time she spoke with isolated prisoners through the vents and the toilet, sometimes playing a makeshift version of hangman.” 

For inmates in segregation, the most traumatizing aspect is the dehumanizing treatment they face while in solitary confinement. Goldsmith is still reminded of the anguished cries from the other solitary cells: “You hear nothing but screams and it’s loud and there’s banging. You have people having mental episodes and people having medical emergencies. You have people with seizures and you have people attempting suicide.” That is only some of the horror that people suffer in solitary, or as New Jersey calls it, administrative segregation.

Seizing on the nomenclature of the term for solitary confinement, in 2016 former Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill to restrict the practice to 15 or 20 consecutive days over a two-month period. The bill would have also sought to exempt mentally ill or pregnant inmates and require daily medical evaluations for those in isolation. His excuse? The piece of legislation, “seeks to resolve a problem that does not exist in New Jersey.”

But the problem very much does exist in the Garden State. Of the roughly 80,000 inmates in the United States currently in isolation, New Jersey holds 1,500. New Jersey ranks fourth in the country in the amount of time it places people in isolation. As far back as 2011 the United Nations claimed such punishment amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Today, however, there is a turn of opinion in the Garden State, and another bill is back on the table. A-314/S-3261 would have similar exemptions as the bill Christie vetoed, and expand it to include people over 21 and young and 65 and older, and people with developmental disabilities and serious mental conditions. Survivors are telling their stories and forcing others who would not have interacted with the criminal justice system to examine the uses and abuses of solitary confinement. It is forcing the citizens of New Jersey to recognize that we are not treating other people with respect and dignity the moment that they are labeled “prisoner.” 

Nafeesah Goldsmith’s bravery and willingness to come forward with her story, along with those of others, is helping to make significant and positive changes in New Jersey as regards our treatment of incarcerated human beings. She is willing to tell her story at schools, at coalition events, and to anyone who will listen. It’s time we started to listen. 

(Photo Credit: Asbury Park Press / Doug Ford)

Don’t build better prisons; build a better world!

According to a report released today, the culmination of two years study of women prisoners in HMP Drake Hall in England, 64 percent of the 173 women interviewed and analyzed were living with brain injury. 64% of women prisoners are living with brain injury. The overwhelming majority had sustained traumatic brain injury due to domestic violence. 96% of the women reported that they had experienced “domestic abuse victimization.” The report notes, “Women with undiagnosed brain injuries, without the provision of specialised and informed support, may struggle to engage in rehabilitation programmes necessary to reduce recidivism, resulting in a higher risk of reoffending.”

Brain injuries would cause women towards behaviors that would land them in jail, particularly “emotional dysregulation (inability to control anger, aggression).” Women end up in jail for short terms. Upon release, the women predictably return to jail within the next year. In jail, the behaviors associated with brain injury – poor memory, lack of concentration, slowness to process information, poor impulse control – keep women from succeeding in any way. It’s a perfect system of entrapment wedded to abandonment. What is left after all this? Damaged women, dead women. Women prisoners self-harm at a rate five times that of men prisoners. Year after year, studies show that for women in England and Wales, `safety in custody’ means harm, death, hopelessness. Much of this is old news.

What is new is the documented prevalence of brain injury among women prisoners. Part of the study involved the establishment of a Brain Injury Linkworker service, which provided the women with desperately needed assistance from trained professionals. While the results are positive and encouraging, there’s one glaring missing from the study. Should these women have been in prison in the first place? Many of the so-called offenses derive in large part from brain injury, and that only increases and intensifies with the repeat offenses. While installing a Brain Injury Linkworker service in every prison and jail, beginning with women’s prisons, is important, more important and immediate should be providing care and assistance to women before they ever enter the criminal justice universe. Perhaps, instead of building better prisons, we might try to build a better world. Another world is possible. 

(Image Credit: The Mental Elf)

Tracy Whited and, once again, the hellhole that is the Harris County Jail

Tracy Whited

Welcome to another year in the hellhole that is the Harris County Jail. On Saturday, January 12, 42-year-old Tracy Whited was picked up on a misdemeanor. She had allegedly knifed her ex-boyfriend’s car. She then tried to walk away from booking, and so was hit with a second misdemeanor. When Tracy Whited appear in court, the hearing officer rejected a no-cash personal bond. Instead, Tracy Whited was hit with a $3000 bail, which she could not afford. On Monday morning, Tracy Whited was found, by another inmate, hanging with a bedsheet from her bunkbed. On Monday, after being found hanging and cut down, Tracy Whited was issued a personal bond. She was in hospital by then. On Wednesday, Tracy Whited died. Tracy Whited was the fifth `apparent’ suicide in the Harris County Jail in two years. The Harris County Sheriff says jail conditions are improving. A state Senator says he’s considering putting the Harris County Jail under state supervision, basically putting it in receivership. The two sides argue, and Tracy Whited is dead.

The Harris County Jail has been sued time and again for its violations of prisoners’ Constitutional rights. In the past two years, the Harris County Jail has been found in noncompliance five times. Again, in the past two years, the Harris County Jail has been home to five “apparent” suicides. The jail is overcrowded, fetid, and worse. Who’s overcrowding the jail? People awaiting trial … innocent until proven guilty. According to the Harris County Jail’s most recent reports, this is what the jail population looks like on the last day of typical recent months. On the last day of October 2018, of 9794 inmates, 8301 were pretrial. On the last day of September 2018, of 9804 inmates, 8482 were awaiting trial. In August 2018, of 9677 inmates, 8261 were awaiting trial. The Harris County Jail monthly census report, going back to January 2015 shows that, while the numbers may vary, though only slightly, the percentages stay more or less fixed. On any given month, well over 80% of those sitting, and often dying, in Harris County Jail are pretrial, the overwhelmingly majority of whom are there because they couldn’t afford bail. No. The overwhelming majority are there because Harris County insists that everyone must pay to play. That’s why it’s called criminal justice.

Tracy Whited was only the most recent in this cavalcade of those not rich enough to qualify for something like justice, and so poor enough to be condemned to death. In August 2018, Debora Lyons was picked up on a theft charge. Her bail was at $1500. Within days, she was found hanging from a bedsheet in the Harris County Jail. These deaths are not accidents nor are they suicides. They are a public program of abandonment. Debora Lyons last year and Tracy Whited this year were `left to their own devices’, which means they were left to hang from bedsheets.

In 2013, a women, referred to as Jane Doe, was rapedJane Doe lives with bipolar disorder. In December 2015, Jane Doe testified 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, waiting for the trial to proceed. 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.”

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. She was assaulted by staff who said they were confused and thought she was the rapist. In the end as throughout, Jane Doe cooperated with officials and completed her testimony, in January 2016.

In July 2016 Jane Doe sued Harris County. In July, “Jane Doe” was renamed “Jenny”. Jenny’s mother sued Harris County as she pushed legislators to address the nightmare situation. In April 2017, the Texas Senate unanimously and without debate approved “Jenny’s Law” requires a defense attorney be appointed for witnesses and victims and that would receive a full hearing before a judge could sign a writ of attachment and send them off to jail in order to secure their testimony at trial. Jenny’s mother wrote, “Putting a victim in jail should never be an option. Today Jenny is still struggling with the entire trauma she endured by the rapist and also being re-victimized by the justice system.”

The line from Jenny to Tracy Whited is direct. Tracy Whited is dead because she couldn’t come up with $3000. Debora Lyons couldn’t find $1500. How much is your life worth? Atrocities will continue in the Harris County Jail, and beyond, until the bail-to-prison pipeline is shut down, once and for all. Maybe one day, Texas will enact a Tracy’s Law, ending bail and beginning the long slow walk to justice and healing. Until then, corpses will continue to pile up. It’s in the numbers.

(Photo Credit: Houston Chronicle)

In Saudi Arabia, reports of torture of women’s rights activists

Loujain Al-Hathloul

Women’s and human rights activists, who have been arrested and arbitrarily detained for their activism, are being abused in Saudi Arabia prisons. Amnesty International obtained new reports of torture and escalating abuse of human rights activists who had been detained since May 2018. Their testimony matched earlier Amnesty reports concerning ten activist women prisoners who were tortured in November 2018. The new reports document that the incarcerated have been subjected to torture, including sexual abuse, during their first three months of detention, when they were detained informally in an unknown location. “One woman activist was wrongly told by an interrogator that her family members had died, and was made to believe this for an entire month. According to another account, two activists were forced to kiss each other while interrogators watched. One activist reported that interrogators had forced water into her mouth as she was shouting while being torture. Others reported being tortured with electric shocks.” 

Earlier reports state that while informally detained, activists were tortured with electric shocks and flogged repeatedly, which caused some to be unable to walk or even stand properly. More recent reports expand the number of activists who have experienced such torture while in prison. 

The activists – including Loujain al-Hathloul; Eman al-Nahjan; Aziza al-Yousef; Shadan al-Anezi; and Nouf Abdulaziz – were moved from the Dhahban Prison in Jeddag to Al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh. Other activists, including Samar Badawi and Amal al-Harbi, are still in Dhahban Prison. Nassima al-Sada was moved to al-Mabahith Prison in Damman. All activists have been detained for months without being formally charged or referred to trial. The crackdown on human rights activists saw a wave of arrests and raids of political and activist organizations, including the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, human rights lawyers and academics. 

Saudi Arabia has dismissed Amnesty’s claims, calling them baseless while also defending their use of their own independent investigation into the allegations. Saudi backed investigators visited the women in prison and interviewed the detainees. Given Saudi Arabia’s involvement  in the killing of journalist and regime-critic Jamal Khashoggi and the high-profile case of 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammad, the latest cases of human rights abuses from the Saudi regime could damage their ability “to attract foreign investment” and so any State-sponsored investigations are highly suspect.

The women and activists detained are being used as political pawns for good international PR in Saudi Arabia. Insiders have hoped that the women will be released in time to coincide with a signification international event, like the 2020 G20 Summit set to be held in Riyadh. They hope the Saudi regime will attempt to wrap up any more “embarrassing things” on the international stage before the meeting is set to take place. Activists like Bessma Momani, a professor at the University of Waterloo, and groups of other academics, are working to nominate al-Hatloul for the Nobel Peace Prize, with the hope that the importance of the nomination highlights “a young person who wants nothing more than to see half of her country have the same legal rights as the other half.” 

(Photo Credit: CBC)

Dafne McPherson Veloz and Leyla Güven ask, “When will we know freedom?”

Leyla Güven leaves prison

On Friday, January 25, 55-year-old Leyla Güven walked out of Diyarbakır Prison, in southeastern Turkey. Leyla Güven had been on hunger strike for 79 days and was in poor health when she was released. Leyla Güven had been in prison since January 2018. On Thursday, January 24, 29-year-old Dafne McPherson Veloz walked out of prison in San Juan del Río, in Querétaro in north central Mexico. Dafne McPherson Veloz had spent three years and four months in prison of a 16-year sentence. News media report Leyla Güven as “released” from prison, as “freed”. News media report also describe Dafne McPherson Veloz as “freed” and “released.” Leyla Güven still faces trial and a possible sentence of 100 years. Upon leaving prison, Dafne McPherson Veloz said, “They stole those years from me, but I made myself stronger and harder.” What is freedom in this world, this world where women are routinely falsely accused and held? When the age of mass and hyper incarceration is over, will we have any means of recognizing freedom? Will we know freedom?

In 2015, Dafne McPherson Veloz worked in department store. She was the mother of a three-year-old child. One day, Dafne McPherson Veloz felt abdominal pains. They grew severe. She went to the restroom. The pains persisted. Finally, to her great surprise, Dafne McPherson Veloz gave birth to a child, who subsequently died of asphyxiation. Dafne McPherson Veloz went into shock and fainted in the bathroom. Immediately afterwards, she was charged with and convicted of homicide and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Dafne McPherson Veloz spent over three years behind bars, all the time maintaining her innocence. Doctors say she suffered from hypothyroidism, the symptoms of which masked the pregnancy. Although Dafne McPherson Veloz went to the doctors, none mentioned that she was or might be pregnant. Dafne McPherson Veloz and her attorneys have argued consistently that her trial was improper, both because of inadequate evidence and because the judge relied on “stereotypes” of how a woman, a “good mother”, should live. In other words, Dafne McPherson Veloz “should have known” she was pregnant and so she was found guilty of murder.

Prior to her arrest, Dafne McPherson Veloz was not well known. Leyla Güven, on the other hand, is a prominent Kurdish activist, an elected official who has been detained before. Leyla Güven is an MP for the People’s Democratic Party, a pro-Kurdish party; and is a Co-Chair for the Democratic Society Congress. According to a recent statement by Angela Davis, “Leyla Güven … has been on an indefinite hunger strike for the last two months. Having dedicated her political efforts over the years to the struggle against the Turkish state’s illegal military invasions and occupations of Kurdish regions and against Turkey’s continuing human rights abuses, she now offers her life in protest of the isolation of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and other Kurdish political prisoners. Ms. Guven is a major inspiration to people throughout the world who believe in peace, justice and liberation. I join all those who support her and stand in condemnation of the repressive conditions of Mr. Ocalan’s imprisonment.” Leyla Güven faces more than 100 years in prison for the crime of having criticized Turkish military operations in the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria. 

We could name other women prisoners in Turkey and Mexico, and pretty much everywhere else in the world. Mexico has its particularities as does Turkey, and so the disturbing aspect here is that of the mirroring. When Dafne McPherson Veloz walked out of prison, she said the prosecutors “didn’t investigate… They didn’t do a thing … That’s why there are people inside who shouldn’t be in prison.” She added, “The only thing I can say to other women who are in my situation is never lose hope.”

Where women’s life time is stolen, what is freedom? Where women continue to be threatened, what is freedom? Where women must live with the trauma and memory of having been caged, what is freedom? Where prisons become hellholes that house 85-year-old women and two-year-old girls, and everyone in between, what is freedom? It’s time, it’s way past time, to investigate freedom itself, to do something, to pull not only the innocent but the scarred out of prison. It’s time once again to never lose hope. It’s the only thing I can say.

Dafne McPherson Veloz minutes after being told she will leave prison

(Photo Credit 1: Bianet) (Photo Credit 2: El Pais)

What goes on in New Jersey’s county jails? Overcrowding. Suicide. Death.

Hudson County jail

In 2018, New Jersey was embroiled in a federal investigation into rampant sexual abusein the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for women. That investigation culminated in several criminal investigations, indictments of correctional officers and a committee hearing that hopefully will bring some positive changes to the state prison – if positive changesand prisoncan be put together in the same sentence. But what is going on in New Jersey’s county jails may be even more insidious and too often falls under the radar. Twenty of the state’s 21 counties have jails, and they operate with little oversight from the state DOC.

According to the latest figures available from the DOJ, the Garden State jails have the highest per-capita death rate among the 30 states with the largest jail populations. The biggest driver of rising death rates was suicides committed by people suffering from untreated drug addictions and mental illnesses.

The rate of suicides in New Jersey county jails has risen an average of 55% each year between 2012 and 2016. With the exception of Hudson County, these deaths have garnered very little government attention, and action. Hudson County increased spending on mental health and stepped up screenings as part of the intake process for prisoners. Even so, in Hudson County, of 17 recorded deaths at the jail since 2013, officials could only find six incident reports. Between June 2017 and March 2018 alone, six inmates died in the Hudson County jail.  

Cynthia Acosta committed suicide at the Hudson County jail. Acosta had been receiving help for drug abuse and admitted herself to an inpatient mental health program at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Medication was helping to stabilize her, according to her brother, David Acosta. 

Ready to find her own place and about to file for housing assistance, Cynthia Acosta needed a copy of her identification record. She drove to a government office in Hoboken despite having a suspended driver’s license and was arrested by North Bergen police officers for past traffic violations. Her medicine was left in the car after her arrest. Three days later she was dead. 

Cynthia’s death was preventable. Having been booked in the Hudson facility, she was housed in the combined medical and mental health unit, “a small, windowless, triangle-shaped room bordered by three cells, a shower and a nurses’ station.” The Director of the jail has acknowledged that the nurses didn’t have enough training and resources to deal with mental health issues. Neverthelss, he claimed defended that inmates were properly monitored … despite the suicide rate.

The issues do not stop at North Jersey. In Cumberland County, a man from Vineland became the seventh inmate to die from suicide at the county jail since 2015. The Atlantic County Jail has had six suicides in the past three years. Housing inmates and then completely disregarding their need for mental heath has become normalized across New Jersey. Multiple lawsuits against county jails have become the new norm, with family members demanding answers. 

Meanwhile, county contracts with ICE have led to massive overcrowding in county jails. Bergen County jails nearly tripled its capacity for federal detainees. Hudson county is at 134% of its capacity. The three biggest county governments – Bergen, Hudson, and Essex – are now earning a total of $6 milliona month to hold immigrants in their county jails. Bergen County’s contract with ICE contributes to 7.4% of Bergen’s “miscellaneous” non-tax revenues. Holding undocumented immigrants is big business.

Hidden in plain sight, New Jersey’s county jails contribute to such notorious abuses and neglect that they should be front and center of media headlines. But being quiet and closing our eyes is very good for business.

Cynthia Acosta and brother David Acosta

(Photo Credit 1: Reena Rose Sibayan / Jersey Jour/ NJ.com) (Photo Credit 2: David Acosta / NJ.com)

Why does Wales insist on incarcerating so many women?

Wales, England and Scotland lead Western Europe in rates of incarceration

Today, the Wales Governance Centreat Cardiff University released a report, Sentencing and Immediate Custody in Wales: A Factfile. It’s the first report to disaggregate Wales incarceration figures from those of England. Wales has the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe, with England a close second. Wales comes in at 148 per 100,000; England at 141 per 100,000; Scotland at 135 per 100,000 and bursting at the seams. Northern Ireland lags with a mere 78 per 100,000. (The United States clocks in at 698 per 100,000). The numbers in Wales reflect a State criminal justice system that is deeply racist and misogynist. The report concludes, “While the discovery that Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe is a cause of major concern, equally disturbing is that such an alarming trend has emerged in Wales without detection.” The alarming trend is “that non-White Welsh prisoners are overrepresented in prison and that the likelihood of receiving a short-term sentence is greater for those sentenced in Wales than in England.” Who receives the short-term sentences? Women.

Women: “Women are more likely to be given shorter custodial sentences than men. More than three quarters (78.6%) of all females sentenced to immediate custody in Wales between 2010 and 2017 were handed sentences of less than 12 months. This compared to 67% of male offenders sentenced in Wales during this period. The frequent use of short-term sentences often brings considerable `chaos and disruption’ to the lives of women and their families. Recent research has also shown that women sentenced to short-term custodial sentences are more likely to re-offend than those sentenced to a court order … One in four women (24.8%) sentenced to immediate custody in Wales were sentenced to a period of one month or less in prison between 2010 and 2017. This compared to a rate of 15.2% for men in Wales.”

At one level, none of this is new. England and Wales, taken together, have had the highest prison population rate in Western Europe since 1999Year after year after year, the incidence of women’s suicide and women’s self-harm while in custody has broken previous records. What is new is that Wales is worse, and that the cornerstone of being Incarcerator Number One is race and gender. The report does not provide intersectional data, for example the treatment of Black women in Wales, but one can only imagine that if it’s bad of Black people and it’s bad for women…

Why does Wales insist on incarcerating so many women? Protection. The State is [a] protecting women from themselves and [b] protecting women as vulnerable beings. Women are being arrested more often for minor offenses, and then are being imprisoned for short periods of time, all this despite volumes of research that document that short-term “custodial sentences” do not work. Put differently, they succeed in further and more deeply enmeshing women into prison networks. What is the mechanism that combines pipeline and revolving door? Ask the women of Wales. For women, living in Wales, “one of the poorest parts of the UK”, has become both a survival to prison pipeline and a never-ending and ever faster spinning revolving door. Tell the Welch government, tell the “justice agencies in Wales as well as civil society organisations and academic researchers” that living as a woman is not a crime.

(Infographic: BBC)