Our investment in cruelty and despair: Nauru continues


“I had said I wasn’t going to write no more poems like this
I made a mistake”
Gil Scott-Heron

On Wednesday, the headline read: “What is our future?’: the Nauru detention centre was empty. Now 100 asylum seekers are held there”. We’re ba-a-a-ack! Not haunted by supernatural beings, but rather by our own supposedly democratic natures that insist on greeting those who need help by treating them as just so much garbage, dumping them anywhere but here. In this instance, the anywhere is Nauru. Nauru, which closed for all of two minutes is up and running, and not running again.

At the end of June 2023, Human Rights Watch reported, “Over the weekend, the last refugee held on the island country of Nauru under the Australian government’s abusive offshore processing policy was finally evacuated to Australia. Despite the good news, the Australian government remains committed to its unlawful and expensive policy of offshore processing of asylum seekers. In this year’s budget, the government allocated AU$1.5 billion (US$1 billion) over the next four years to fund offshore operations.” After eleven years, the immigration processing center, which processed almost no one, was finally closed, that place which both Human Rights Watch and Médecins Sans Frontières described as a place of “indefinite despair” and “sustained abuse”, descriptions which were documented and, tragically, repeated year in and year out, from 2011 on. Finally, that particular site of abuse and despair was empty.

Or was it? If Nauru was closed, what was Australia allocating a billion US dollars for? In July 2023, the BBC asked the same question, and their answer, in a word, was deterrence. The fact that researchers have repeatedly found that offshore processing has little to no effect on maritime arrivals. Why would Australia, and Australia is just an example here of an attitude and policy shared by many so-called receiving countries, invest so much money in a policy that doesn’t work? Indefinite despair.

In September, Nauru greeted the first “new” batch of asylum seekers. This month already, 37 have arrived. If history is any indication, they will spend years there. Medical care on Nauru is limited, at best, when there’s any care at all: “There is no dedicated torture and trauma counselling available to asylum seekers, and specialist care – such as ear nose and throat, eye, renal, and hearing specialists – are not available.” Why would someone fleeing “severe persecution” of all sorts need or want torture or trauma counselling?

Since 2013, we’ve written repeatedly about the cruelty and routine torture taking place at Nauru. That’s what a billion US dollars buys, for four years at least, a house of cruelty, a camp of despair. In 2012, Marianne Evers, a trained counsellor and a nurse with more than 40 years’ experience, signed up to work for six weeks at Nauru. She lasted three weeks. In 2013, speaking of Nauru, she said, “I actually liken it to a concentration camp.” Not surprisingly, the Australian government took offense at the likening, “I think invoking concentration camp is a disgrace.” Calling the camp on Nauru Island a “concentration camp” was a disgrace, but the camp itself … was just fine. And it still is.


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image credit:  Zarina: Despair from Home Is a Foreign Place / Museum of Modern Art)

Australia’s investment in the cruelty of spit hoods: “I can’t breathe”

On July 25, 2016,  Australians watched in horror as the investigative journalism series Four Corners showed the torture and abuse of children in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory. The scenes were from 2015. Children, sometimes as young as 10 years old, were thrown into solitary, or shackled, strapped into a chair, head covered with a so-called spit hood, and left alone, for hours. For hours, children moaned, cried, whispered, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe”. Australians were shocked and horrified, or so they said. In November 2021, Selesa Tafaifa, a 44-year-old Samoan woman, died in custody, in the Townsville Women’s Correctional Centre. Selelesa Tafaifa died writhing on the floor, with a spit hood over her head, wheezing, moaning, crying, whispering, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” According to the Commission for Children and Young People Annual Report 2022 -2023, tabled today in the Parliament of Victoria, “In February 2023, a child under the age of 18 in adult custody contacted the Commission and reported that prison officers had applied a spit hood on him earlier that day. The Commission established an individual inquiry.” Yet again, Australians will express shock and horror. Liana Buchanan, Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People in the state of Victoria, said she was “shocked”: “I almost couldn’t believe it. We like to think in Victoria that we avoid the very worst abuses of children in custody, that sometimes unfortunately we see in other parts of the country. This case unfortunately showed me that is not true.” We like to think. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. We like to think.

Each of these stories should have been enough, and yet, obviously, they weren’t, and of course these are the stories we know, the stories that have been `uncovered’ by the press, as in the Don Dale case seven years ago, or by state commissions, that express shock and concern and then offer remedies of sorts, and family members, such as those of Selesa Tafaifa at the inquest now taking place, who sit in tears, watching the video of their loved one’s death. Selesa Tafaifa’s family’s attorney noted, “The family hopes to expose the truths behind her death … to ensure that what Selesa was forced to endure never happens again to anyone’s mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, grandfather. They want to do what they can to ensure that what happened to their beloved Selesa never happens to any other human being.”

Almost immediately after the expression of shock and horror come the procedural questions. Did the staff overreact? Did the child, did Selesa Tafaifa, did the children in Don Dale actually spit at anyone? These questions defer attention from the real issue. In reporting on Selesa Tafaifa’s death, it was noted that “spit hoods were used 82 times across Queensland prisons last year.” It was further noted that “The use of spit hoods and restraint chairs was described as `inhumane’ by a 2017 royal commission into the protection and detention of children in the Northern Territory, which recommended they no longer be used. Spit hoods are not used in Victoria or New South Wales.” And yet today, a Commission reports that a child in adult custody in Victoria was subjected to spit hoods, among other atrocities. This kind of fog is what happens when torture becomes an administrative rather than a moral and ethical issue of justice.

Selesa Tafaifa’s family knows the way forward. Ban spit hoods. The Commission for Children and Young People is, in its way, equally clear: “children should not be held in adult prisons.” The Commission further calls for the prohibition of use of spit hoods on prisoners under the age of 18. While we would wish for a total ban, at the very least this is a preliminary step. Seven years from now, will we again read, in shock and horror, about a child being subjected to a spit hood, about someone dying, writhing on the floor, choking inside a spit hood? Will we continue to be haunted by “I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I         can’t    breathe”?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Karla Dickens, To see or not to see / Art Gallery of New South Wales)

A day or two in the life (and death) of an incarcerating world

Estimated tuberculosis incidence in prisons (cases per 100 000 person-years) by country in 2019

We’ve passed the hottest day in recorded history. How’s it going, otherwise? Let’s consider the world of prisons, jails, and other forms of locking people up and away. Here’s how we’ve been, at least how we’ve been recorded over the last couple days. Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights condemned France for its cruel and usually overcrowded and otherwise degrading prisons. Also this week, France’s Inspector General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty condemned the prison in Perpignan for “undignified conditions”. Ireland has the highest number of prisoners and the greatest levels of overcrowding in its history. Women in the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility are suffering state torture and dying at alarming rates. A teenage Aboriginal girl held in Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Center tried to kill herself. Authorities refused to notify anyone. Why would they? It’s just another Aboriginal prison statistic. And finally, globally, nearly half of all TB cases in prisons and jails go undetected. Incarcerated people are dying. This is a skim of the past four days.

In 2020, 32 incarcerated people from six prisons sued France for inhumane conditions, especially for intense overcrowding. At the center of this was the Fresnes Prison, the second largest prison in France and one of three prisons `serving’ the Paris region. At the time, France’s prisons were at around 116% capacity. Fresnes Prison was at close to 200% capacity. The European Court of Human Rights convicted and fined France for violating inmates’ rights, specifically “the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment and … the right to an effective remedy”. Fresnes Prison had already been convicted for similar offenses two years earlier. Yesterday, the same European Court of Human Rights again convicted and fined France, again for violation of rights in Fresnes Prison. This time, along with the general conditions, especially the overcrowding, the plaintiffs also protested full body searches. Today, France’s prisons are at 120% capacity. Given the mass arrests of those protesting police violence, that situation is expected to worsen. Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty published her findings concerning the conditions at the Perpignan Prison, in Pyrénées-Orientales Department in southern France. The report begins by noting that a place designed for no more than 132 persons currently houses 315, or 239% capacity. From there the report went downhill: “endemic overcrowding, toxic material accommodation conditions, unsanitary conditions, proliferation of pests, systematic searches, disproportionate use of force and means of restraint”. This is not the first time that the prison in Perpignan has been cited. Plus ça change …

Speaking of the eternal return of the same, the Irish prisons are overcrowded at a historic level. The most overcrowded is the Dóchas Centre, which is at almost 120% of capacity. The Irish government is reported to be “scrambling” now in response, despite this being a longstanding issue. Rather than build more mental health facilities and more support services, the response has been to build more prisons.

Yesterday, a one-on-one companion observer for incarcerated women at the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility (WNMCF) published her observations of the lethal conditions in the institution, where last three years three of her patients died of suicide and many others attempted suicide: “not only did the prison staff fail to save these women’s lives, but the abuse, neglect, disregard, and maliciousness of prison staff pushed them to the point of desperation that made them feel death was the only option.” They didn’t fail, they refused. In 2022, New Mexico paid over $860,000 to settle allegations of rape and sexual abuse at its women’s prisons. Again, staff “failed” to respond to appropriately, “looking the other way”. They didn’t fail; they refused. There’s a humanitarian crisis at Western New Mexico Correctional Facility … and beyond.

There’s a humanitarian crisis at the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre as well. The Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre is the only juvenile detention center in South Australia. This week, it was reported that an Aboriginal teenage girl tried to commit suicide in early 2023, and the detention center didn’t inform anyone for months. Actually, they never did actually report the incident. They didn’t see the need. The girl, a sexual abuse survivor, was arrested on some minor offences. Bail was recommended, but because of mental health issues, she was remanded for assessment. When she tried to commit suicide, the staff intervened and took her to the hospital. Then, they reported that they took her to the hospital as a precaution. It was only two months later, when her attorney read court-ordered hospital psychiatric reports, only then did she find out that her client had tried to kill herself. The prison staff never informed her of that. They didn’t fail, they refused. Lately, children at Kurlana Tapa have been locked in their cells 23 hours a day, and incidents of self-harm have skyrocketed. Australia finds this “shocking”.

Finally, a study came out, reported on this week, that studied the global situation of tuberculosis in prisons and jails in 2019, that is prior to Covid. The study found the following: “The high incidence rate globally and across regions, low case-detection rates, and consistency over time indicate that this population represents an important, underprioritised group for tuberculosis control. Continued failure to detect, treat, and prevent tuberculosis in prisons will result in unnecessary disease and deaths of many incarcerated individuals.” Nearly half of TB cases among incarcerated people go undetected. Again, not failure, refusal.

From France to Ireland to the United States to Australia to entire world, prisons and jails are dangerous and often lethal. If we know, as we now do, that prisons and jails, especially but not only overcrowded institutions, breed tuberculosis which goes `undetected’ if we know, as we now do, that sending people to those places results in `unnecessary disease and deaths’, and we won’t discuss the concept of necessity here, how can we continue to send people, women, children, anyone, to those places? Just another day or two in the life (and death) of an incarcerating world.


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic Credit: The Lancet Public Health)

A Western Australia prisoner transport van forced Anna to endure hours in urine-soaked clothes. Why? Because she’s Aboriginal.

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: first as tragedy, then as farce.

                                                            Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

According to a report, “The transport of regional and remote prisoners”, released Monday, April 3, by the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services of Western Australia, history repeated itself recently. The report describes “Anna’s journey”, a “transport welfare fail”. It then notes that the exact same failure happened to another incarcerated woman … two weeks earlier. The report opens, “This review was prompted by a few recent incidents that raised questions for us about the conditions under which prisoners were being transported across regional Western Australia. It was also undertaken against a historical backdrop of the tragic case of Mr Ward who died during a prisoner transport in 2008. We set out to seek assurance that the gains made since 2008 have been sustained.” The report ends, “There is a clear gap in the monitoring of … movement services at regional locations, which should be addressed by the Department. This aligns with the findings of the Coroner following the death of Mr Ward, and a recommendation for the Department to conduct regular reviews of transport contractor services in regional locations (Hope, 2009).” What does it mean that a failure in 2022, reported in 2023, “aligns” with findings and recommendations, issued in 2009, concerning an incident in 2008?

In 2022, Anna entered Greenough Regional Prison, for the third time. The staff at Greenough knew Anna. Flagged as living with schizophrenia, Anna was known to have an extensive psychiatric history, including frequent episodes of self-harm and suicidal behavior. This time, in her first week or so, Anna was reported twice for uncooperative and erratic behavior. She stopped taking her medications. Despite her non-compliant and erratic behavior, it was decided to move Anna to Bandyup Women’s Prison. The pre-transfer report described Anna as “satisfactory – no major concerns”. When staff tried to place Anna on a plane headed for Bandyup, Anna urinated on herself in the transport vehicle and refused to wear a mask. The trip was cancelled. As Anna was being returned to Greenough, staff issued a new plan, with no mention of schizophrenia or any other issues. The new plan was to transport Anna by van the 400 some kilometers to Bandyup.

A week later, Anna was bundled, shackled and handcuffed, into the security pod of an escort van, and off they went. The journey was 4 hours and 35 minutes. During that trip, early on, Anna, still handcuffed and shackled, urinated. There was no CCTV footage or cell phone call recordings. There was no documentation of anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps that’s because there was nothing out of the ordinary. Two hours in wet clothes, shackled and handcuffed in a so-called security pod. All in a day’s work … if the person is an Aboriginal woman.

Anna’s story ends in redundancy: “Prior to Anna’s transfer, another female prisoner departed Greenough in early April 2022 and urinated in the vehicle. Upon arrival to Bandyup, staff were made aware that this prisoner had urinated in the pod during the journey. Many of the issues we identified with Anna’s experience were also present in this earlier case …. It is concerning, and disappointing, that staff failed to learn from this earlier incident and implement measures, such as bringing a change of clothes or a towel, that would have helped protect the dignity and welfare of Anna during her journey a few weeks later.”

It is concerning and disappointing, and altogether predictable. Staff did not fail to learn, they did not even have to refuse to learn, because there has been no reason to. Throughout the report, the Inspector invokes the tragic case of Mr. Ward, who died in a prisoner transport in Western Australia. In January 2008, Mr. Ward, 46 years old, a respected elder, was taken on a 220 mile ride across the blistering Central Desert to face a drunk driving charge. Mr. Ward had represented the Ngaanyatjarra lands across Australia and at international fora. The people who drove Mr. Ward threw him into the back of a Mazda van, into the security “pod” with metal seating and no air conditioning. All male remand prisoners are considered dangerous, or “high risk”. That Mr. Ward was known to be cooperative and congenial was irrelevant. For his own safety and welfare, he had to go in the back. The trip took almost four hours. The temperatures that day were 40 degrees Celsius, 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Mr. Ward died of heatstroke. He died with third degree burns. Mr. Ward cooked to death, slowly and in excruciating pain.

In a 2001 government study, identical Mazda `pods’ were described as “not fit for humans to be transported in.” They were seen as “a death waiting to happen.”  In the intervening decade, there were other major reports, two in 2005, in 2006. In 2008, Mr. Ward was dumped into the oven of the back of that Mazda. When asked about the implications of Mr. Ward’s story, Keith Hamburger, the principal author of the 2005 report, responded, “That’s a matter of great concern because this is not rocket science, we’re dealing here with duty of care.”

A duty of care. In 2022, that duty of care meant two Aboriginal women, separately, abused. The list of Aboriginal women who died in custody, in Western Australia alone, is long: Maureen Mandijarra, 2012; Ms. Dhu, 2014; Cherdeena Wynne, 2019; JC, 2019. Many die in police custody, others in prisoner transport vans, others in their cells. Year after year, the Inspector of Custodial Services for Western Australia has described Anna’s ultimate destination, Bandyup Women’s Prison, the only women’s prison in Western Australia, as a hellhole. Speaking of Bandyup, the Inspector said, “I wanted to know how such an event could occur in a 21st Century Australian prison and to prevent it happening again.” First as tragedy, then as farce does not mean the second time is funny. For those forced to suffer, the pain is new, and yet not new, each time. The farce is in the expressions of surprise, discovery, concern of the perpetrators. It is concerning and disappointing … and happening somewhere right now.


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Ngayarta Kujarra by Jakayu Biljabu, Yikartu Bumba, May Chapman, Nyanjilpayi Nancy Chapman, Doreen Chapman, Linda James, Donna Loxton, Mulyatingki Marney, Reena Rogers, Beatrice Simpson, Ronelle Simpson, and Muntararr Rosie Williams / The National Gallery of Victoria)


In prisons miles and years apart, Dannielle Lowe and Autumn Harris died of easily curable diseases as staff refused to provide care

The bridge between last year and this could be the story of two women who died of preventable, curable illnesses while in custody, died over long periods calling for help, periods during with other incarcerated women called to the staff to take care of them. No one came … or worse, they came, and the situation worsened. Autumn Harris was 34 years old when she died in the Walker County Jail, in Alabama, on December 5, 2018. Her story was reported on today because her family is suing the company that provided, or refused to provide, health care for those in the jail. Dannielle Lowe, 41, a First Nation woman, mother of eight children died, on December 21, 2022, in the Wandoo rehabilitation prison at Murdoch in Perth, Australia. Her story was reported on today because advocates, like Debbie Kilroy, have brought the incident forward. This is “criminal justice,” and especially for women. Remember, there was no systemic failure, there was systemic refusal.

Autumn Harris’ story is short, as was her life. Autumn Harris was accused of having stolen $40. She failed to appear at her misdemeanor hearing for petty theft. She was picked up and dumped in the Walker County Jail, where she lasted three weeks. When she was brought into the jail, she informed the staff that she was diagnosed with pneumonia. When Autumn Harris was booked, she turned over her pneumonia medications. The staff never provided Autumn Harris with any treatment for pneumonia. Autumn Harris’ condition deteriorated. Staff did nothing. December 1, she reported shortness of breath. Staff did nothing. Other women incarcerated with Autumn Harris reported she neither sit nor stand. Staff advised her to take long walks or practice yoga; staff did not provide Autumn Harris with an inhaler or any other care. Autumn Harris asked many times to be transferred to the hospital. Staff did nothing. December 5, Autumn Harris died. That’s it.

Autumn Harris’ father, Michael Harris, is suing Preemptive Forensic Health Solutions (PFHS), which company, at the time of Autumn Harris’ death, provided, or didn’t provide, health care to those in the Walker County Jail. Michael Harris’ attorney, Justin Jones, said the autopsy showed that Autumn Harris’ lungs were filled with fluid and infection, and weight about four times the normal amount: “The autopsy was a brutal picture of just how far the disease had progressed over time …. I don’t see how any normal person could look at this and not be devastated by just how easily it could have been treated and handled and she’d still be here. Over something as frivolous as $40, she went through a very difficult death experience.” It took three weeks to kill Autumn Harris.

The details concerning Dannielle Lowe’s death are even sparer. Dannielle Lowe was in Wandoo Rehabilitation Prison, allegedly. She began suffering what she described as “massive migraines.” When she reported her pain and suffering to the staff, they gave her Panadol, and that’s it. She told her partner she was in agony. She stayed in agony for weeks. Then she died. The Department of Justice reported the staff gave first aid and that there were no suspicious circumstances. The Western Australian Commissioner for Corrective Services offered condolences, adding, “”I trust they took some comfort in being able to say their goodbyes.” The family is not comforted. As Debbie Kilroy noted, “It’s clearly distressing for the family. Eight children have lost their mother … women who were in prison with Dannielle are grieving.” The family is trying to raise money for Dannielle Lowe’s funeral. They are not comforted.

Three days later, a 45-year-old Aboriginal man died in police custody in Queensland.  Meanwhile, the families of Kathryn Milano and Shannon Hatchett are “searching for answers” and demanding transparency as to how and why their loved ones died, separately, last month in the Cleveland County Detention Center, in Oklahoma. Families are protesting outside the Yerawada Central Jail, in Pune, India, trying to find out how and why their loved ones, three people awaiting trial, died of `natural causes’ on December 31.

“Dannielle was a beautiful person,” remembered Debbie Kilroy. Dannielle Lowe was a beautiful person, Autumn Harris was a beautiful person. They were both trying their best to get back to family, community. They cried out repeatedly in pain, they cried out for help. Women who were in prison with them are grieving. This is criminal justice, especially for women.


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Daniel Pressley, “The Soprano at the Mourning Easter Wake of 1969 / Smithsonian American Art Museum)


Louise Powell, Hollie Grote, Leah Porter, Delilah Blair cried out in pain. Nobody in charge cared.

In 2020, in HMP Styal, in Cheshire, England, Louise Powell was in excruciating pain. She told the staff. The staff gave her two aspirins and told her to chill out. On June 18, 2020, Louise Powell delivered her baby, stillborn, in a cellblock toilet. Across the ocean, Hollie Grote, in the Pike County Jail, in Missouri, began feeling excruciating pains. The staff gave her two aspirins and told her to chill out. For months, she cried out, in pain, begging for help. Finally, Hollie Grote died of a brain tumor. Chill out, they said.

What happened to Louise Powell? A young woman, call her Louise Powell, was held in HMP Styal. She did not know that she was pregnant. She did know that she was in excruciating pain. She did tell the staff, who told her to take two aspirins and chill out. The pains increased. Finally, someone realized that the woman was pregnant. By then, it was too late. The young woman delivered her baby, stillborn, in a cellblock toilet. The Prison Service expressed its deep concern, promised an investigation. None came. No changes came. Today, two years later, members of the “No Births Behind Bars” campaign organized a demonstration outside the walls of HMP Styal.

Organizers said the demonstration was too traumatic for Louise Powell to attend, and so instead she sent a message: “Brooke is always in my heart and my mind. Two years ago on 18 June 2020 I was left to give birth in a toilet, despite begging for help. It has been two years since she died and still we do not have accountability for what happened. I fully support the campaign for ‘No Births Behind Bars’ and thank you for your condolences and support for Brooke.”

What happened to Hollie Grote? A 41-year-old mother, call her Hollie Grote, was detained in the Pike County jail a year ago, in June, 2021. In July, she started complaining of pains. The first recorded complaint was July 28,2021. When Hollie Grote told her family she couldn’t get medical assistance, the family went to talk with the sheriff, to plead to have her sent to the hospital, the sheriff responded that people claim excruciating pain to attract attention. Take two aspirin, don’t call me in the morning. By October 23, Hollie Grote said the pain was so intense that she was considering suicide. A staff member noted “scratch marks on the forearm/wrist area.” She still wasn’t sent to hospital or given any medical attention. Staff noted that she was lying on the floor, groaning, grunting. They put her in suicide watch. Then they watched and did nothing. Finally, she rolled off her bed and died on the floor. Hollie Grote’s sister and daughter claim that when they asked the sheriff what it would take to send someone to hospital, he replied “someone would have to be bleeding out or vomiting in a way that it would be obvious something is wrong.” An investigation is `in process’.

It’s easy, and correct, to condemn the staffs of HMP Styal and of Pike County Jail. But what about the State, the society, and the world, that has decided that women behind bars deserve this sort of treatment, medical staffs who refuse to offer medical care, systems in which sheriffs and guards decide major health issues? Last month, Leah Porter, mother of two, was “found dead” in her cell at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, in Sydney, Australia. Leah Porter lived with mental health issues. She told the staff she needed her medication and she needed it at specific times. The staff decided they knew better, and gave the medication midday, rather than early in the morning, as she had requested. The night before she committed suicide, Leah Porter told other detainees, “I want my story to be heard. I want the people to know what happened to me. I want to tell the people what these detention centres do to the people.” When the Villawood staff expressed shock and dismay, Leah Porter’s relative, Narelle Aitken, replied, “She should never have been in detention. I loved her to pieces. She was very funny.”

In 2017, Delilah Blair, 30-year-old mother of four, Cree, was detained at South West Detention Centre, in Windsor, Ontario. What happened to Delilah Blair? On May 21, 2017, Delilah Blair was in the mental health block when a staff member “found her body” lying on the floor, with a blanket tied around her neck. The State is currently holding an inquest, delayed by over two years by Covid. Selina McIntyre, Delilah Blair’s mother, who testified today, described the last time she saw her daughter, “When I held my daughter for the last time, I made a promise to her that I would not stop until I had the answers of what happened.” What happened? Delilah Blair was a woman with a mental health issue, which meant she was placed in an inferior system of health care. In the men’s unit, everything from supervision protocol to room and furniture design was designed to improve health and prevent suicide or self-harm. None of that was, or is, the case in the women’s unit. This was “revealed” in testimony yesterday, revealed even though everybody involved knew.

They should never have been in detention. Tell the people what these detention centers do to the people. I loved her to bits. What happened to Louise Powell, Hollie Grote, Leah Porter, Delilah Blair? Take two aspirin, chill out.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: James Speakman/Manchester Evening News)

In Australia, don’t `fix’ Banksia Hill Detention Center. Shut it down!

Today’s headlines read: “The juvenile prison where child was ‘treated like an animal’ gets funding boost”; “Banksia Hill juvenile detention centre gets $25 million to address ‘dehumanising’ conditions, cut incarceration rates”. Banksia Hill Detention Center is in Western Australia. It’s the only juvenile detention center in Australia that houses both males and females. The situation is so bad that, in January, Perth Children’s Court president Hylton Quail sentenced a 17-year-old child to Hakea Prison, an adult prison, rather than send to Banksia Hill. Hakea Prison is where 22-year-old Noongar man Ricky Lee Cound was kept in solitary and denied clearly needed medical care. On Friday, March 25, Ricky Lee Cound died. After weeks of self-harm and institutional refusal, Ricky Lee Cound died in a place that is preferable to Banksia Hill Detention Center, and today, Banksia Hill Detention Center received $25 million to improve its conditions. Don’t improve it. Shut it down.

In February, the same Judge Quail was presented with the case of a 15-year-old child. The boy had been held in Banksia Hill for 98 days. For 79 of the 98 days, the boy was held in what the judge called a “fishbowl” cell, where he had no privacy whatsoever. The judge described the exercise yard as a “10 x 20 metre cage”. For 33 of the 79 days, the boy wasn’t allowed outside the cell at all. The judge rightly called this “solitary confinement”. The boy received no education while in custody. The boy threatened self-harm and attacked staff. In fact, he was standing before the judge because he had attacked staff and damaged state property. Judge Quail responded to the situation, “When you treat a damaged child like an animal, they will behave like an animal. When you want to make a monster, this is how you do it.”

Today, Banksia Hill Detention Center received $25 million to address these conditions. Don’t address, don’t improve. Shut it down and build real alternatives.

The problems at Banksia Hill Detention Center go way back, continue to the present, and are hard baked into its design and purpose. According to the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services’ 2020 Inspection of Banksia Hill Detention Center, “Aboriginal young people continue to be overrepresented at Banksia Hill, making up 74 percent of the population.” Even by Australian standards, where Indigenous young people typically make up 49% of those “under youth justice supervision”, 74% is high … and catastrophic.

And for girls, it’s especially bad. 80% of the girls are Aboriginal, a mix of sentenced and remand. While services for the girls had improved since the last inspection, the report notes that the improvement came from individual staff members, and not from any strategic or management plan. That means when the staff moves on, and they do move quite a bit, there’s no guarantee the improved services will remain. Further, a number of staff make it known, to the girls, that they don’t want to work in the female section. While girls form a minority of Banksia Hill residents, their numbers have been increasing, during a period where the general population has been decreasing. From 2017 to 2020, the numbers of girls generally doubled. Likewise, where they were 6% of the Banksia Hill population in 2017, by 2020, they comprised 13%. And yet, with all that increase, everything involving girls at Banksia Hill Detention Center was ad hoc.

Banksia Hill Detention Center has been open since 1997. It has gone through repeated cycles of “major redevelopment”, to no avail. That’s because the improvements, despite individual staff members’ best intentions or lack thereof of, were never meant to improve the lives of Aboriginal children. Don’t `improve’ the institution, yet again, with a fat purse. The children housed in Banksia Hill Detention have problems, but they themselves are not the problem. Shut it down. Build real justice by investing in real care.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: National Indigenous Times)

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)

Australia is not shocked by its torture of women refugees and asylum seekers


“I have been left like a worthless object in a corner of a prison …. Every day, I sink deeper into the swamp of fear and despair. But no one hears me.” Ellie is a 34-year-old Iranian refugee who fled Iran in 2013 to escape family violence. She attempted to reach Australia and apply for asylum. Australia shipped her off to Nauru, where she spent six years in detention. Then, Australia shipped Ellie to Melbourne, where she has spent the past 20 months in detention. Ellie is part of the `deal’ between the United States and Australia to `address’ the `situation’ on Nauru and Manus Island. Ellie is the last woman refugee in Australian detention. Because of Covid, she couldn’t have her interview with the U.S. Department of Immigration, and so was dumped in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, or MITA, a place of neither transit nor accommodation. Eight years ago, refugee and asylum seekers at MITA went on hunger strike. Their request was simple: “Please release us into the community or please kill as on the mercy basis.” That’s where Ellie has been for the past 20 months. Because the U.S. hasn’t yet processed her application and so hasn’t yet decided on her case, she can’t apply to Canada. Because the Australian Department of Home Affairs has refused to issue a visa, Ellie can’t stay in Australia, and so she is currently scheduled for deportation to Nauru. Where irony died, cruelty reigns.

Over a hundred Australian-based academic researchers and experts in migration and refugee studies, including in Australian refugee law, history and policy sent an open letter to the Minister of Home Affairs: “We are extremely concerned about the effects of closed immigration detention on women refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. We are writing to express particular and urgent concern in relation to the prolonged immigration detention of one woman refugee in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation closed immigration detention facility who suffers from a range of health issues as a result of her previous detention on Nauru …. For women, in particular, immigration detention can be a place of heightened physical and sexual violence. Women in detention not only suffer the effects of prolonged, indefinite incarceration but they may also live in constant fear for their bodily safety and integrity …. In addition, routine practices such as room inspections and bodily searches within immigration detention can cause particular gendered harms …. For survivors of gender-based violence, such practices of routine or unannounced room checks and body searches can make the already-punitive experience of immigration detention extremely distressing. For such women, being involuntarily subjected to invasive body searches or room inspections also can be directly re-traumatising. It means that they are likely to experience immigration detention as an unsafe place where they lack bodily autonomy and their consent or privacy is disregarded. We respectfully ask that you act immediately to release any women refugees or asylum seekers who are being held in closed immigration detention. In particular, we draw your attention to the situation of Ellie, referred to above, and respectfully request that you grant her a permanent visa so that she can live in the Australian community.

Since 2013, Australia has effectively kidnapped scores of asylum seekers and refugees and shipped them off to detention center in Nauru and Manus Island. From the very beginning, reports of the torture of women, children, men circulated, and Australia shrugged its shoulders at that torture of the innocents. Australia was not shocked by the torture of refugees and asylum seekers. It was occasionally shocked by their survival. Australia was not, is not shocked, `shocked’, or SHOCKED at the torture of Ellie. “I have been left like a worthless object in a corner of a prison …. Every day, I sink deeper into the swamp of fear and despair. But no one hears me.” Ellie is a 34-year-old Iranian refugee who fled Iran in 2013 to escape family violence. For three years, Ellie has been described as “in limbo”. Ellie is not in limbo. She’s in hell … and absolutely no one is shocked.


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Saba Vasefi)

What happened to Holly Barlow-Austin? What happened to Aunty Sherry? Prison. Prisons kill.

                                                                           Holly Barlow-Austin

Holly Barlow-Austin’s husband and mother filed a lawsuit this week, claiming that Holly Barlow-Austin’s death, last year, was the fault of a Texas prison, the Bi-State Justice Center in Bowie County, where she was a `guest’ for two months. Protesters in Queensland, Australia, protested this week at the death in custody of a woman called Aunty Sherry, a Birri Guba woman who died in a cell at the Brisbane police station, September 10. Holly Barlow-Austin was 46 years old when she died; Aunty Sherry was 49 years old when she died. Before the contagion spread through the prisons, the prisons themselves were the contagion, as they continue to be. Prison, jail, police station, immigrant detention center together form a single global gallows. Do not claim to be surprised at current reports of forced hysterectomies in immigrant detention centers. Do not claim to be surprised that South Dakota’s women’s prison reported covid clusters this week, nor that Oklahoma’s did last week. We cannot be surprised. Before Covid killed, prisons killed, as they continue to do. 

Holly Barlow-Austin was arrested for an ostensible violation of probation. She was held, awaiting trial. When Holly Barlow-Austin entered the Bi-State Justice Center, she was HIV-positive, for which she was on medication. Otherwise she was in fairly decent health, regular vital signs, full mobility. When Holly Barlow-Austin left, after two months, she was emaciated, could barely move, and was blind. For two months, Holly Barlow-Austin was regularly denied her medication, regularly denied food and water, regularly denied any dignity. Holly Barlow-Austin called for help. Staff did nothing. Finally, Holly Barlow-Austin was taken to hospital, emaciated, almost immobilized, blind. Then she died. Do not be surprised.

Aunt Sherry’s story is even shorter. She was arrested on Sunday, for `property and drug matters’; arraigned Monday; sent to the Brisbane Watchhouse, the one Human Rights Watch called `terrifying’ last year, to await transfer to a prison; and was found dead early Wednesday morning. Police are `investigating’, while Indigenous peoples and their supporters, as well as all the women currently held in the Brisbane Watch House, grieve.

Grief. Anger. Rage. No surprise. 

Holly Barlow-Austin. Say her name. Aunty Sherry. Say her name. Say their names, shout their names, until your breath runs out. It’s time, it’s way past time, to tear down the entire edifice, to topple the global gallows, to end the witch trials passing for due process, and to start anew. #SayHerName 


(Photo Credit 1: Washington Post / AP) (Photo Credit 2: LSJ On Line)