Detention centers: No country for young girls

Two girls, both under five years old, were released after two days and nights in detention. Last night, Basirat and Rashidat, and their mother, Afusat Saliu, were released from Cedars pre-departure `accommodation’. They spent Wednesday at Cayley House, “a non-residential short-term holding facility at Heathrow Airport.” It’s not a facility. It’s a prison. Here’s how their mother, Afusat Saliu, describes their first night: “It was terrible. We had to sleep on the floor. There was no privacy – if you went to the toilet, you went in front of everyone. I felt terrible. Some of the crew at Cayley House were nice, but it was not a good environment for a child.”

No place for a child. In a report released today, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons agrees. Too much force is used too often. Officers show up in full battle gear, don’t announce themselves, don’t knock on the door, batter the door down and rush in. They have two speeds: terrifying and terrorizing: “Whatever one’s views on immigration, the distress described in this report of the families passing through the centre and its potential impact on the children involved is disturbing. It was difficult to see how the children’s welfare was being promoted in line with statutory requirements.”

42 families `passed through’ Cedars last year. Suicide and self-harm measures were initiated 25 times. This is the new math of neoliberal fortress nations. The mothers who seek help are bad mothers, the children who need help are bad girls. They’re defective products that must be removed.

Thanks to a mighty hue and cry, including leaning on Richard Branson not to allow his airline to be used for deportation, Afusat Saliu and her daughters, Basirat and Rashidat, were given a reprieve, while their case is `reviewed.’ In the name of the girls, Afusat Saliu applied for asylum, because she fears her daughters will be forced to undergo female genital mutilation in Nigeria.

Think of all the work and time that has gone into keeping two young girls out of prison.

Those two young girls, those babies, should never have been in prison in the first place. They should never have been forced to leave their home in Leeds and shuttle from one hole to another. They should never have been forced to feel their mother’s distress. You don’t need a government commission – not from the United Kingdom, nor Australia, nor the United States, nor anywhere – to know that. You know in your bones and in your soul.

Detention centers, prisons, are no country for young girls. They are terrible. I feel terrible.

 

(Photo credit: Anj Handa / PA)

Australia tortures migrant children

The Australian government continues to torture refugee and asylum seeking children. The State currently holds some 2000 children in detention. That’s mandatory detention for all non-citizens who arrive without prior authorization. That rule includes children. And so there is a `furor’ of  `concern’ for the well-being, and in particular for the mental health, of the children behind bars.

None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. A mandatory incarceration policy that makes no exceptions for children, and in particular for children fleeing violence and persecution, will have exactly the effects you imagine. Seemingly healthy children will engage in `self-harm’. This includes slashing one’s body and suicide by any and every means possible. Children report not being able to sleep. Children report a desperate desire to go to school, to play, to have normal children’s lives. Children report fear that they will go crazy and kill themselves. And then they kill themselves.

For girls, the situation is equally predictable. Girls are `particular’: “Girls and young women are at particular risk of gender based violence and sexual abuse… Girls and young women are particularly at risk of harm due to their sex… Moreover, girls are particularly susceptible to marginalization, poverty and suffering during armed conflict, and many may have experienced gender-based violence in the context of armed conflict.” The particularity of girls’ vulnerability emerges from both detailed and extensive research scholarship and from simple common sense. You know migrant girls, girl refugees, and asylum-seeking girls are `particular.’ So does the Australian government. What does the State do in recognition of this particularity? Absolutely nothing. Less than nothing. It intensifies and increases the pain, the torment, and the torture.

Children in low-security prisons in Pontville, in Tasmania, and in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, are falling apart. Their precariousness is not about this condition or that condition. It emerges directly from the totality of being-caged. The intensity and levels of self-harm in both locations is off the chart. Meanwhile, Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs has been informed that she cannot visit the refugee and asylum seeker detention camps on Nauru and Manus Islands because that would violate the sovereignty of the island nations. Australia’s massive funding of those prison camps apparently did not violate any sovereignty. Australia’s insistence on shipping off hundreds of women, girls, boys, and men to the island nations also did not violate any sovereignty proprieties. This is the way of sovereignty, the wink-wink nudge-nudge of fraternal violence.

This is why the Australian government can so easily ignore reports of sexual violence against Tamil refugees, and especially the `particular’ targeting of Tamil girls. To accept such reports would violate Sri Lankan sovereignty, and after all, the refugees and asylum seekers had already violated Australian sovereignty. That’s why they’re in prison, isn’t it? It’s a perfect circle … of hell.

Rather than `discovering’ yet again the nightmare of child detention, why not discover the simple, open alternative? Recognize and respect the particularity of girls. Take the children, all the children, far from the cages. Teach them to respect themselves and others. Help them to find peace and love. End child detention. Do it now.

 

(Image Credit: The Green Journal AU)

 

Child prisoners lose more than their clothes in strip-searches

 

Joseph Scholes, 16, hanged himself in custody, in March 2002

Over the weekend, Carolyne Willow revealed that when it comes to the treatment of child prisoners in the United Kingdom, Charles Dickens is alive and well.

Willow looked at admittedly incomplete records for 21 months leading up to December 2012. These records cover 25 institutions, 15 child prisons and 10 `secure’ children’s homes. The children are anything but secure … in the homes and in the prisons.

In the past 21 months, child prisoners suffered 43,960 strip-searches. The real number is higher, but the State can only do so much to document its abuses. For example, “The data does not reveal what proportion of the children were subjected to intimate cavity searches.”

The numbers are actually worse than they seem, because they tend to be concentrated in some institutions and not others. So, Ashfield, a private prison run by Serco, holds a maximum of 400 boys, and performs an average of 399 strip-searches … every month.  At the other end, three of the “secure children’s homes” never conducted a single strip-search in the entire 21 month period.

Some of the children are as young as 12-years-old. Think about that. Think about a 12-year-old being forced to strip naked in front of a crew of adult strangers. Think about a 12-year-old having her clothes ripped and often cut from her body. Think about a 12-year-old being forcibly restrained while being stripped naked. You don’t have to think about. You don’t have to imagine. Here’s what the children say.

One girl said: “It makes me feel upset, embarrassed and really violating because I have been raped and it’s awful being strip-searched.” Another girl explained, “When I had my first full search I was 14, it was horrible as I have been sexually abused and I didn’t feel comfortable showing my body as this brought back memories.”

Who are these children? Forty-eight per cent of the children who were subjected to strip-searches were children from Black and minority ethnic communities. To no one’s surprise.

Ironically, or tragically, two years ago this month, the State announced the end of routine strip-searches for juveniles. Those were replaced by … necessary strip-searches? And what’s the necessity? Of 44,000 violations by the State of children’s bodies and persons, something illicit was found a whopping 275 times. The overwhelming contraband of choice was tobacco. Drugs were found 15 times. No guns, no knives, no explosives, no big deal. No need.

All of this is happening while the incarceration rates of children have actually declined. But the restraints continue, the indignities post-release continue, and the violations of dignity and person continue. Some children, like 14-year-old Adam Rickwood and 16-year-old Joseph Scholes, commit suicide, largely in response to the abuse and what it triggers.

It’s not irony. It’s tragedy. And it’s also not rocket science. It’s injustice. First, the strip-searches must stop. Without adjective. Routine. Necessary. Strip the language of its obscurantist deceit rather than strip children of their dignity and their personhood. Second, reconsider the use of prison and `secure homes’ for children. If people knew the children were going to be violated, would they send those children into the system? Would you? Remember, a strip-search takes more than the clothes off a child. It robs their dignity, their hope, their last bit of trust in adults, their last bit of trust in others more generally. It turns children’s dreams into so much trash by telling the dreamers, the children, that they are less than nothing.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / PA / Empics)

We don’t burn children anymore. We send them to prison.

 

Monday, November 21, 2011, must have been Juvenile (In)Justice Day. Juvenile (In)Justice appeared everywhere, in the news.

In Kashmir, there’s juvenile (in)justice. Children charged with throwing stones are treated, formally, as terrorists. They can be jailed, caged, for up to two years without a trial. Children are placed in adult prisons, while awaiting trial and when convicted. And they will be convicted. Yes, there are laws that protect juveniles. But those laws don’t matter in a state of emergency. Children don’t matter in a state of emergency. They aren’t `juveniles’, and they aren’t `youth’. They’re children.

The state of emergency, the so-called public safety crisis, is always an alibi. States abuse children. In Kashmir, there’s juvenile (in)Justice, and the excuse is crisis. In Malawi, where there is no state of emergency, juvenile (in)justice is simply business as usual, the price of maintaining order. The law says children under 18 deserve special treatment and protection. In fact, children are tried in adult courts and then sent to overcrowded adult prisons. That is the rule of law… everywhere. Take children and maximize their vulnerability.

And then lie about it.

That’s what the United Kingdom has been doing, systematically lying about the abuse of children of asylum seekers and, worse, of asylum seeker children. Sexual abuse. Other forms of physical abuse. Psychological abuse. Spiritual abuse. Of course, there are no laws that address the crimes of breaking the spirit of a child. What’s going on in the United Kingdom is not `merely’ officials lying. It’s Official Lying. The State defines democracy by lying and then chants, “This is what democracy looks like.”

The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies, the priests lie. . . .
These lies mean that the country wants to die.”

And then finally, in the name of security, stability, sovereignty, and, of course, peace, the State, in this instance the United States, proposes a budget that would gorge on prisons and gouge youth of resources, of hope, of life itself. Again, the youth, the juveniles, they’re children.

Meanwhile, cities, like New York, work on plans to increase the use of solitary confinement. It’s called “punitive segregation”, and it preys in particular on `juveniles’, those prisoners living with mental disabilities, and those awaiting trial. Maximize vulnerability. It’s a kind of efficiency that brings education, mental health care, and justice itself to a screaming, screeching halt.

None of this is new or news, of course. The abuse of children in prison is systemic. In the United States, for example, photographer Richard Ross has been exposing juvenile (in)justice for years, and it’s everywhere. It’s the fabric of national democracy. It’s today’s version of burning children, as Robert Bly wrote, some four decades ago:

“But if one of those children came near that we have set on fire,
came toward you like a gray barn, walking,
you would howl like a wind tunnel in a hurricane,
you would tear at your shirt with blue hands,
you would drive over your own child’s wagon trying to back up,
the pupils of your eyes would go wild—

If a child came by burning, you would dance on a lawn,
trying to leap into the air, digging into your cheeks,
you would ram your head against the wall of your bedroom
like a bull penned too long in his moody pen—
If one of those children came toward me with both hands
in the air, fire rising along both elbows,
I would suddenly go back to my animal brain,
I would drop on all fours, screaming,
my vocal chords would turn blue, so would yours,
it would be two days before I could play with my own children again.”

The news Monday was this. We don’t burn children anymore. We send them to prison.

 

(Image Credit: Open Democracy)

 

When the State cares enough to kill and maim the very best

Members of Mr. Ward’s family

In Ireland, today, the court heard about a 15-year-old boy who was “institutionalized” in the Ballydowd Special Care Unit. Special Care. A Special Care Unit is a place in which the State can imprison children who are “troubled.” For their own welfare and safety. Ireland has three such units: Ballydowd, Coovagh House, and Gleann Alainn.

The court today heard that the boy has been diagnosed as living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He has trouble with `regular’ classrooms. He spent much of his time at Ballydowd “detained for long periods of time by himself.” How the State care for `troubled’ children? Isolation. And now, according to the boy’s parents, attorneys and psychologists, he is “unfit for mainstream education”.

Two years ago, on August 31, 2009, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, issued a report stating unequivocally that Ballydowd must be closed. That report was a follow-up to a November 2008 report in which Ballydowd was deemed “no longer fit for purposes.” From practices to material conditions, the place was a disaster, and a danger to children.

The government pledged to close Ballydowd, and move the children to a nearby facility. In 2010, Ballydowd had twelve beds. In the most recent HIQA inspection, on October 27, 2010, Ballydowd housed seven children, four boys, three girls, all between 13 and 16 years old. And now, the Republic of Ireland claims it cannot find decent and adequate places for seven children who may or may not require “special care”.

In Australia, the State’s special care often proves fatal, especially for Black residents.

Consider the story of Mr. Ward, an Aboriginal elder. In January 2008, Mr. Ward, 46 years old, was taken on a 220 mile ride across the blistering Central Desert to face a drunk driving charge. Mr. Ward was a respected Aboriginal. He  had represented the Ngaanyatjarra lands across Australia as well as at international fora. The two people who drove Mr. Ward worked for a subsidiary of G4S. They did not see an Aboriginal elder nor a statesman. They saw “a man in his 40’s, 50’s, Aboriginal with a dark skin. He was dirty.”

They threw Mr. Ward 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”. The fact 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 degrees, presumably from where he touched the metal floor of the van. Mr. Ward cooked to death, slowly and in excruciating pain.

There was no possibility for Mr. Ward to survive that trip. There was no working panic button. There was no means of communication between the security section and the drivers in the cabin. He had one small bottle of water. He was destined to the death he suffered. It is Australia’s form of special care. It must be, because Australia pays a hefty price, literally, for the G4S services.

Again, every aspect of this story had been publicly described in earlier studies. 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 have been other major reports, two in 2005, in 2006. To no avail. In 2008, Mr. Ward was dumped into the oven of the back of that Mazda. In 2009, G4S was awarded the contract for prisoner transport.

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.”

Duty of care.

Duty of care is a legal concept that ensures that people should not cause one another unreasonable harm or loss. But what is “unreasonable”?  Ballydowd is still open and consuming  children. G4S continues to ferry prisoners across the desert. Why? Because they have been deemed not “unreasonable”. Where is justice in that measure of reasonable and unreasonable suffering?

 

(Photo Credit: PerthNow.com.au)

Australia vows to turn Black children into specters

 


Australia’s Immigration Minister has vowed to ship off asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, to Malaysia. This was meant to be Australia’s “solution” to a “crisis” of asylum seekers. Simple detention simply wasn’t enough. The State announced its intention late this week, and now seems somewhat surprised at the outcry. The government never thought that the fate of children of color, call them Black children, could matter quite so much.

This aspirational project of turning children of color, Black children, into distant and dimly remembered specters comes at a poignantly timely moment.

Today, June 5, 2011, is the last day of “Glenn Ligon: America”, a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Ligon is famous for works that turn words into paintings, stencils that conjure histories of slavery, of racism, of homophobia, of violence. Some of these pieces have been described as “stenciled sentences pulled from different sources.” The sentences aren’t pulled nor are they transcribed.

They are, instead, translations, as they are invocations.

Consider, for example, “Untitled (I’m Turning Into a Specter before Your Very Eyes and I’m Going to Haunt You)”. This has been described as having been pulled from a play by Jean Genet, The Blacks: A Clown Show.

But the line in Genet’s play is actually, “You’re becoming a specter before their very eyes and you’re going to haunt them.”

And it has a particular New York history.

On May 4th, 1961, almost fifty years ago to the day, Jean Genet’s The Blacks: A Clown Show opened in New York, at the St. Marks Playhouse, and it was immediately hailed as a transformative event. When it opened, the play, a meditation on Blackness, Black rage and Black liberation, was described as “brilliantly sardonic”, “a lyrical tone poem”, a play of “furies

The original cast included Roscoe Lee Browne, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Jr., Ethel Ayler, Cicely Tyson, Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou, and Charles Gordone. The Blacks was the longest running Off-Broadway non-musical of the entire 1960s.

In an epigraph to the play, Genet claimed “One evening an actor asked me to write a play for an all-black cast. But what exactly is a black? First of all, what’s his color?”

Fifty years later, we watch the Australian government plan to ship unaccompanied Black children to Malaysia, and we ask, “But what exactly is a Black child? First of all, how old is she?”

The children Australia plans to send to Malaysia are children seeking asylum. Not failed asylum seekers, but rather children in the process of seeking asylum. Australia’s Minister of Immigration believes that turning children into specters will deter “people smugglers”.

Today it was announced that the “deal” is being altered. Girl refugees might not be sent to Malaysia. The girls “spared” from deportation will still be unaccompanied and still be behind bars. They will not thank the State for this “gift”, no more than the boys will. These children designated as specters-to-come will haunt the State for decades. Fifty years ago, the specters will haunt them. Today, the specters will haunt you. Fifty years from now … the specters will haunt … us.

 

(Art Credit: Glenn Ligon / Philadelphia Museum of Art / Washington Post)

As of 11 March 2011, there were 1030 children in immigration detention in Australia

Today, May 26, 2011, is national Sorry Day in Australia. On May 26, 1997, the Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families was presented to the Australian Parliament. This report is better known as the Bringing Them Home Report. The report focused on the Stolen Generation, on the abuse of Aboriginal children, families, communities. Ever since 1997, many Australians have marked the event with a National Sorry Day. Of course, Sorry Day alone is not enough.

The Australian Human Rights Commission today issued a report, entitled 2011 Immigration Detention at Villawood: Summary of observations from visit to immigration detention facilities at Villawood.

Villawood is a private prison, run by Serco Australia. Comprised of two sections – Villawood Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) and Sydney Immigration Residential Housing (IRH) – Villawood is the jewel in the Australian immigrant detention crown.

The Australian Human Rights Commission “has raised concerns” about Villawood for over a decade.

According to the Commission Report, “As of 11 March 2011 there were 6819 people, including 1030 children, in immigration detention in Australia – 4304 on the mainland and 2515 on Christmas Island. More than half of those people had been detained for longer than six months, and more than 750 people had been detained for longer than a year.” Fifteen percent of those prisoners are children.

The section entitled “Children in Detention” begins: “As of 11 March 2011, there were 1030 children in immigration detention in Australia. The Commission has repeatedly raised concerns about the mandatory detention of children, the high number of children in immigration detention facilities, and the long periods of time many children are spending in detention.  These concerns were reinforced by the Commission’s visit to Sydney IRH.”

In March, the Sydney IRH housed 27 people. Eight were children, three girls and five boys. Thirty percent of the Villawood `residents’ were children. The youngest child was four months old, and the oldest was 16. One was unaccompanied; one had been born in prison.

As it has done, repeatedly, for over a decade, the Commission raised concerns about the detention of children. These include:

•            Child asylum seekers continue to be subjected to mandatory detention.

•            Many children are held in immigration detention facilities, such as Sydney IRH. These are closed detention facilities. Call them what you like, they’re prisons.

•            Many children spend long periods of time in immigration prisons. In Sydney IRH, all eight children had spent more than three months in detention. Seven had been in for more than six months. Three had spent more than a year behind bars.

•            There is no judicial oversight for the immigration detention of children.

•            There is no written policy at Sydney IRH identifying the delegated legal guardian for detained unaccompanied minors.

•            There is no written policy regarding the care and supervision of unaccompanied minors detained at Sydney IRH.

•            There are no independent observers for interviews with unaccompanied minors detained at Sydney IRH.

•            There is no Memorandum of Understanding between DIAC and the New South Wales Department of Community Services regarding the welfare and protection of children in immigration detention at Sydney IRH or elsewhere in NSW.

Australia has a policy of immigrant `detention’ as a last resort, and for as limited a time as possible. This has been the official national, Federal policy since 2008. And yet, families with children and unaccompanied minors are sent to prison rather than community-based alternatives. There is no plan for community alternatives. The Commission is concerned.

Today, in Australia, is national Sorry Day. Tomorrow begins national Reconciliation Week. Meanwhile, new Stolen Generations pile up behind bars in immigrant prisons. Sorry.

 

(Photo Credit: Australian Human Rights Commission)

 

Who remembers the seven girls who died in Armadale?

 

The children of Jamaica are in crisis, especially the girls: “The Jamaican child is, more often than not, poor, barely educated, vulnerable to paedophiles, exposed to acts of crime and violence, at risk of being raped, trafficked, and of becoming pregnant. This, according to social workers and child rights activists who insist the State has failed its children.” Girls and boys share some of the crisis. The entire crisis and each part and element of the crisis targets girls.

Today is May 22, 2011, a mere two years since seven young girls were killed in a fire, on May 22, 2009, at Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre, in Alexandria, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. Seven girls were burned to death. Five died the night of the fire: Ann-Marie Samuels, Nerrissa King, and Rachael King, all 16 years old; and Kaychell Nelson and Shauna-Lee Kerr, both 15. Later, two more died from the fire: Georgina Saunders, 16, Stephanie Smith, 17. There were 23 girls in a small space. Sixteen managed to crawl through the fire, to the narrow windows, and out.

Armadale was shut down. An inquiry was launched. The Armadale Enquiry Commission met for over nine months. Its report roundly condemns the government. The fire was set by a spark from a tear gas canister, tossed in the room by a guard. The straw bedding ignited.

On March 2, 2010, Prime Minister Bruce Golding reported to Parliament. The Jamaican press reported then that the government “accepts `ultimate responsibility’ for Armadale.”

What qualifies as `acceptance’? What is `ultimate responsibility’?

In February of this year, the government accepted “financial liability.” This meant the State paid survivors. How much is a life worth? What is the value of pain and suffering? Who decides? Individual payment “is largely dependent on the extent of the injuries sustained by each girl.” The State says it is difficult `negotiating’ the settlement because many of the girls are in rural areas and because all of the girls are trying to put their lives together, are trying to live with dignity.

The payment is for the fire damage. Not for the inhumane conditions at Armadale at the time of the fire. The payment is for the event, the specific event, not for the situation. Nor for the `erosion of moral and ethical standards.” That remains intact.

The pain that continues is not only the pain of memory, of loss, of recognition. It also the pain that is administered by the State to children in prison every single day.

Children today are still in lock up, and often lockdowns, often in adult prisons. As of last month, more than 100 children were being held in adult cells.

Today is May 22, 2011, two years since the Armadale fire. There were no proclamations from the State, there were no memorials in the leading Jamaican papers. If there were ceremonies, they were private. The State has `accepted ultimate responsibility.’ It has washed its hands and declares them, and itself, clean. Who remembers the seven girls who burned to death in Armadale, and for how long will we remember?

 

(Photo Credit: The Jamaica Observer)

Ashley Smith died while seven guards followed orders and watched

Ashley Smith was 19 years when she was allowed, or encouraged, to die. At the time, she was a prisoner of the Grand Valley Institution for Women, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

According to the Canadian government, Grand Valley is in many ways a model women’s prison. Organized around cottages, allowing for maximal self-sufficiency, it fosters a sense of personhood and humanity through what might be called normative social contacts. Women prisoners are allowed a certain level of discretionary time, quiet time, social time, alone time.  According to a 2005 commission report, by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, Grand Valley, or GVI, is a relatively open and `healthy’ prison, fostering “safety, respect, purposeful activity and reintegration”. It’s not perfect, it’s not ideal, but as prisons go, it’s pretty good.

When thinking of Ashley Smith’s story, remember that the place in which she was allowed, or encouraged, to die is one of the model women’s prisons in Canada and in the world at large. This is as good as it gets.

Ashley Smith was a `troubled’ youth, in and out of trouble for minor offenses. She needed help, and in New Brunswick, where her family lived, the public mental health system could not address her needs. And so, instead, she was allowed to go `into the system.’

In March 2002, at the age of 14, Smith was sentenced to one year of probation for harassing phone calls, assaulting strangers on the streets, insulting bus passengers and drivers. A year later she was ordered into a youth center for probation violations. There she underwent psychiatric evaluation that suggested borderline personality disorder, among other possibilities. She was released. Seven months later, while at home, Ashley Smith threw apples at a postal worker. For that she was returned to the youth center, where she spent most of her time in solitary. From then on, she stayed pretty continuously in prison.

In October 2006, Ashley Smith was moved to federal prison, for violations committed while in prison.  A year later, she hanged herself.

In less than a year, her last year on earth, Ashley Smith was transferred seventeen times, from Nova Scotia to Saskatchewan. Different prisons, same treatment.  Full body constraints. Shackles. Solitary confinement.

On August 30, 2007, Ashley Smith was returned to the Grand Valley Institution for Women.

During her time at GVI, Ashley Smith somehow made ligatures, strips of cloth clearly intended for self-harm. In a two-month span, fifty ligatures were confiscated. On September 24, 2007, Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, visited Ashley.  At her request, Pate filed a grievance, pleading for release from segregation and transfer to a hospital.

Smith knew she needed help. She knew that segregation was a death sentence. She had spent almost the entire preceding eleven months in solitary confinement. That’s a cell 6 feet by 9 feet: no books, no mattress, no writing implements; often, no clothes. The prison calls it `therapeutic quiet.’ While in federal custody, Ashley Smith received much `therapeutic quiet’, but never a comprehensive psychological assessment.

Pate’s grievance was placed in a grievance box that is only checked once the box is full. The box never filled. In the meantime, Ashley Smith hanged herself.

Seven guards watched and did nothing. They did nothing because they had received orders, in September, to not intervene. Ashley Smith had attempted suicide on numerous occasions. If guards entered to stop her, their actions were considered `use of force’, and involved videotaping, paperwork, and hearings. Rather than waste resources, the prison instructed the guards to not enter as long as Smith was breathing. Once dead, it’s no longer use of force.

This week, almost four years later, the coroner’s court began its inquest. Psychologists argue that Ashley Smith did not commit suicide. She thought people would come to her. She was trying to get help.

Seven guards watched and did nothing, which is to say, they did a great deal. They followed orders.

And Ashley Smith struggled to get help.

There are `ghastly’ videotapes of Ashley Smith’s death. Some say, “Ms. Smith’s death should haunt Canada.” Indeed, it should. At the same time, it would be more apt to say that Ashley Smith haunts Canada and the world. Ashley Smith was sick, she needed help, tried to get help. How did the State respond? It condemned her to live in a box for her last year on earth in a box, preceded by an endless series of cages.

Seven guards watched and did nothing. They were not alone in doing nothing. Ashley Smith haunts everyone.

 

(Photo credit: UWaterloo.ca)

Where do the children live? Prison

I’ve been here for two weeks, and this is my third time in. I’m in the sixth grade. I was in placement but I ran away. They accused me of assault against my mom, but she scratched herself and said I did it. My dad lives in Atlanta and works in a barbershop. -E.Y., age 11 Juvenile Detention Center, Houston, Texas.

For the past forty years, the planet has been engaged in a global prison lockdown and a worldwide prison – building binge, which have resulted in the confinement of more women than ever before. This build up of lockdowns began in the United States in 1973, and has since blossomed, or mushroomed, into a global frenzy of incarceration of working class women of color and indigenous women.

The hyper-incarceration of women affects children, especially in those communities in which single women predominate as heads of households. The assault on children is more direct, however. At the same time that women, especially working class women of color and indigenous women, are being caged, their children are also being locked up as never before.

What is a child? A child is one’s offspring, a child is a minor. A child is a child, and tell me, where do the children live?

Given the prison boom, there are more offspring behind bars than ever before. Typically, the task and labor of maintaining social and sustaining contact is left to mothers, secondarily to female partners.  This is the lesson of Mothers Reclaiming Our Children, in California. When children are sent to prison, mothers are launched into a global reclamation and reconstruction project that, for many, never ends.

For example, Diana Montes-Walker’s son is an adult man in his 20s, living with bipolar disorder, complicated, predictably, by alcohol and drug dependencies. Equally predictably, her son `encountered’ the state criminal justice system, in this instance the California system. Ever since her son has been in prison, he has suffered one form or another of solitary confinement. Either he was in solitary in prison, or he was in solitary in so-called medical facilities that are actually prisons for inmates with `special needs’. In the latter, he is in solitary, but, according to his mother, with a little more freedom. He made it into the `better’ solitary confinement because his mother pushed, shoved, organized, shouted, wrote, met incessantly with everyone. And now, Diana Montes-Walker drives back and forth to scheduled meetings with doctors and social workers who don’t appear. And her son stays in solitary, and she has no idea how he’s doing.

Why is this happening to Diana Montes-Walker’s son, and so many others like him, young men and women living with mental disabilities and illnesses of one form or another? Why is he in prison? He is in prison because public mental health budgets have been shredded and then vaporized. Prisons are the new public mental health institutions. Meanwhile, Diana Montes-Walker, inhabits a State-sponsored hell, built because it’s more efficient to have her run around and take care of her son, more efficient and less costly.

Where do our children live? In prison.

In Turkey, close to 500 children live in prison with their mothers, who have been convicted. Why are they in prison? “Financial difficulties”.  For the children, three to six, there might be a kindergarten. For those under three years old, they spend the entire time in the cell with their mothers. These children are not in prison because of their mothers’ “financial difficulties”. They are in prison because of the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the State and because of the social structures that support that State.

Because of `financial difficulties’, Mississippi’s one juvenile detention center is run by a private corporation, the GEO Group. According to parents of the children being held there, the place is a horror, another State-sponsored hell. Fights break out, and the staff ignores calls for help and protection. Worse, the staff is accused of brutalizing children. Parents gaze upon their wounded and maimed children and feel a pain they describe as torturous. The lawyers describe the prison as barbaric and unconstitutional. The children describe the place as a war zone.

War zone is too nice a phrase for a place in which civilians are butchered for profit.  Child prisoners, children’s bodies and lives, bloat the coffers of private industry. They are an extractive resource whose market value continues to grow. Where do the children live? They live, and often die, in prison.

 

(Photo Credit: Richard Ross, Juvenile In Justice http://richardross.net/juvenile-in-justice)