What happened to Annabella Landsberg? Just another agonizing death in HMP Peterborough

Annabella Landsberg

Annabella Landsberg died, or was executed, September 6, 2017, at HMP Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire, England. Two years later, an inquest is taking place. Annabella Landsberg fled Zimbabwe, following a gang rape. She was HIV+; she was also diabetic. At the time of her death, Annabella Landsberg was 45 years old and the mother of three children. The story of her death `begins’ September 2, 2017. On September 2, Annabella Landsberg lay on the floor, saying she couldn’t get up. She grabbed at the sink, trying to stand. When an officer walked in, she grabbed at the officer’s leg. A second officer pressed the alarm. The staff decided that Annabella Landsberg wasn’t having difficulties standing but rather was being “obstructive”. They left her on the floor. That was 6 pm, September 2. The staff left Annabella Landsberg on the floor, without food or medication, until 3 pm the next day. Throughout that time, staff report that Annabella Landsberg was “moaning and mumbling incoherently.” No one did anything. Finally, a nurse came in, told Annabella Landsberg to stand up, called her “pathetic”, threw water on her, and left. A second nurse came in, decided that perhaps Annabella Landsberg wasn’t malingering, called the ambulance and off she went. On September 6, she died … or was executed. Just another day in the hellhole that is HMP Peterborough.

Since its opening in March 2005, HMP Peterborough has been touted as a model private prison. Sodexo Justice Services `manages’ HMP Peterborough, which houses, or contains, both men and women. The women are mostly remand prisoners, awaiting trial. Everyone is supposed to be short-term, low level, and generally available to `rehabilitation.’ Peterborough brought to the United Kingdom, and in large degree to the world, “payment by results,” in which the prison corporation would be paid based on prisoner re-entry results. Some in England wondered if Peterborough might be the way forward, the path out of the neoliberal prison forest. Some in the United States did as well. It wasn’t. In 2017, payment by result was dropped and replaced with something even worse.

From September 11 – 27, 2017, days after Annabella Landsberg died, the Chief Inspector of Prisons conducted an unannounced inspection of Peterborough: “Most women only stayed at Peterborough for a few weeks and in our survey 89% said they arrived at the prison with problems; 65% of women said they felt depressed and over a quarter said they felt suicidal. Worryingly, 66% said they had mental health problems … We were particularly concerned about safety, and this is the first women’s prison in several years to have been assessed as ‘not sufficiently good’ in this area … Since our last inspection … outcomes had deteriorated in Safety and Respect.” The Inspector described the deteriorating conditions: “Use of force was far too high at more than double what we usually see in women’s prisons; we saw examples where not every opportunity to de-escalate the situation had been used. Use of strip- searching was also too high, which was particularly disappointing given the heavy investment in training staff about how past trauma can be reignited in the prison setting.” 

In 2013, Nadine Wright, a woman living with mental health illnesses, heroin addiction, and isolation, did not receive her benefits, and so was left barely living, desperately poor, somewhere below hand-to-mouth. Nadine Wright stole some food, was arrested and sent to Peterborough. Nadine Wright was pregnant when she was arrested. While in her cell, with a nurse in attendance, Nadine Wright went into labor and suffered a miscarriage. The nurse then left the cell. She left the fetus in the cell. No one came to clean up the cell. Nadine Wright had to clean up her own blood: “There was blood everywhere and she was made to clean it up. The baby was not removed from the cell. It was quite appalling. It was very traumatic. She only received health care three days later, after the governor intervened.”

The line from Nadine Wright to Annabella Landsberg is direct. What crime did Nadine Wright commit that she should have been tortured so? Attempted survival. What crime did Annabella Landsberg commit that she should have suffered the contemporary version of being drawn and quartered? Attempted survival. The staff carried out the crimes committed in HMP Peterborough but they were designed and committed by the State. How long, and how many more iterations of Nadine Wright and Annabella Landsberg, must we `discover’ before something is finally done?

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)