India votes and `suffers’ women prisoners and their children. And we call it democracy.

Elections matter. Australia voted, catastrophically, and immediately after suicide attempts and other forms of self-harm spiked among refugee and asylum seeker prisoners on Manus Island and Nauru. Elections matter. India voted, catastrophically, and the news for women inmates in prisons and jails across India is grim. The last five years of the Modi regime have meant ongoing and increasing violation of women prisoners’ rights, autonomy and well-being, on one hand, and a policy of increased opacity, on the other. In both instance, Australia and India, the State blames the women and children for the violence and torture the State visits upon their bodies and souls … and they call it democracy.

India went to the polls from April 11 to May 23. While it had little or no impact, the same week the elections began, the National Crimes Record Bureau, NCRB, finally released its Prison Statistics India 2016 Report. That report came in after an unexplained years’ long delay. The Prison Statistics India 2015 Report was issued in a timely manner in September 2016. The 2015 Report opens: “I am privileged to release the 21stedition of `Prison Statistics India’ for the year 2015, an annual publication of National Crime Records Bureau since the year 1995.” In 1996, the National Crime Records Bureau was tasked with publishing an annual report on the conditions in India’s prisons and jails. For 21 years, it did so, dutifully and faithfully. And then … it stopped. This silence concerning the conditions of prisons, jails and, most importantly, prisoners was matched by an equivalent “failure” by the NCRB to publish its annual Crime In India report for 2017. This was the first “failure” of this annual report since 1953. Taken together, the lack of reporting begins to look more like refusal than failure: “All this has happened on the watch of a government that is known for being less than forthright about official data.”

This refusal to provide detailed data continues throughout the Prison Statistics India 2016 Report. Most glaringly, the new report says nothing about caste or religion. Whereas earlier reports described, in detail, the situation and conditions in prisons and jails for Dalits, members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, members of religious minorities, especially Muslim, this last `report’, the methodology of which is ostensibly the same as previous reports, says nothing. According to the most recent census, 16.6% of India is Dalit, while Dalits made up 21.4% of India’s prison and jail population. Likewise, Scheduled Tribes make up 8.6% of the Indian population and 12.8% of the prison and jail population. Many noted these discrepancies and strove to address them. The Modi regime has addressed them by erasing not only categories but whole sectors of the population. This is not failure to represent, this is refusal to represent, and it’s part and parcel of the caste and religion-based politics of the Modi regime and of his political party.

Where are the women in this picture? Everywhere and nowhere. Before the latest report came out, it was already known that prisons and jails in India are particularly damaging to women. First, they’re designed for men. Second, they have less access to facilities and resources within prisons and jails. Third, they have less access to resources outside of prisons and jails. For example, “a woman, nearly 70 years old, has been in jail for the past 18 months on kidnapping and rape charges … While five others, including two male co-accused, have been released on bail, she continues to be behind bars. Having lost her husband during her incarceration, she has no one to reach out to. What purpose is being served by keeping her inside?”

Further, over the preceding fifteen years, the rate of men’s incarceration has increased by 33%, while that of women has grown by 61%. Despite this growth of women’s incarceration, neither budgets nor infrastructure has increased. Thus, the women’s prisons are severely overcrowded and filthy; the food and hygiene are deplorable; and there is virtually no physical and mental health care. For Dalit and Adivasi women, the conditions are predictably worse. According to a recent study, “76% (279 prisoners) of prisoners sentenced to death in India belong to backward classes and religious minorities, with all 12 female prisoners belonging to backward classes and religious minorities.” None of this is in the most recent NCRB report.

The NCRB report does provide some data, and the most salient fact is that 67% of India’s prisoners are “undertrial”, meaning awaiting trial … meaning officially innocent. From 2014 to 2016, the number of undertrial, or remand, prisoners rose 3.6%, from 282,879 to 293,058 in 2016. Close to 71% of undertrial prisoners are deemed illiterate or low literate. While among convicted prisoners, prisoners 30 – 50 years old predominate, among undertrials the majority are 18 to 30 years old. 72% of women prisoners are awaiting trial. Much more than with male prisoners, women prisoners are overwhelming young, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. Additionally, there are 1,809 children in prisons and jails across India, and they all are cared for by their mothers, women prisoners. Of the 1809 children living behind bars, 78% of their mothers are awaiting trial, minimally educated, poor … and formally innocent. 

Elections matter. Information matters. Transparency matters. Democracy matters. The United States “discovered” this week that a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador died in custody, last September, and that the State lied and hid that girl-child’s death. We are dismayed but not shocked or surprised. Refugee and asylum prisoners in Australia engage in increased self-harm and suicide attempts following the Australian national elections. Some are finally, in some cases after five-year delays, sent to the mainland for `care’. India cages more and more Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim young women and children, all formally innocent, and covers it in the civil equivalent of the fog of war. And we call it democracy.

(Photo Credit: The Tribune India)

Australia is not shocked by the torture of refugee children; Australia is shocked by their survival.

Sajeenthana

Tomorrow, Thursday, May 16, 2019, in Sydney, Australia, for one night only: “COMMUNE presents LIMBOLAND, an exhibition by Sydney artist Lachie Hinton and photojournalist Mridula Amin exposing the stories of refugees and asylum seekers who were detained indefinitely on Nauru.” At the heart of this exhibition, and project, is a Tamil girl from Sri Lanka, named Sajeenthana. At the age of three years old, Sajeenthana “arrived”, was dumped, on the island of Nauru, thanks to Australia. When anyone tried to engage with Sajeenthana, she had a simple, straightforward response: “I want to kill myself”. That’s what Sajeenthana said, and that’s what the other child refugees on Nauru said. Australis is not shocked by the pain, suffering, torture it has inflicted on these children. Australia is only shocked that they survived. Sajeenthana is now eight years old.

In February 2019, Australia emptied Nauru of its child refugee population. Many were sent to the United States. Sajeenthana and her father were rejected. In October 2018, Sajeenthana stopped eating. She spent 10 days in hospital on Nauru. Then she and her father were moved to a Brisbane hospital. From there they were moved to “community detention” in Brisbane. No one knows what will happen next.

What is known is this: Australia forced Sajeenthana to endure a childhood composed of suicide and self-harm. Leaving Nauru is a first step, but Nauru has not left Sajeenthana, nor all the other children who lived there, the ones who witnessed “successful” suicides as well as suicide attempts, who watched so many others cut themselves that it became a “natural” part of life. 

Australia has engaged in a decade and more of unrestrained, indefinite detention of migrant, immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker children. Why do the adjectives matter? Australia’s national policy has been to torture children. The torture of children has become ordinaryroutine, and while claim to be shocked, in fact the State has been proud of its routine torture of children and proud its people, the true Australians, who are NOT shockedNOT SHOCKED, by the routine torture of children. That’s why, even if it looks like the camp on Nauru is closed,there are no plans to close the camps.

So, here is a poem for the children, the ones who were never meant to survive:

Detention Deficit Disorder
by Jane Downing

How do you write a poem about Manus and Nauru
We’ve seen the razor wire footage/ listened to the reports succumbed to Attention Deficit Disorder – look a celebrity died Will a well chosen image connect
Move someone to action (not me)
like poetry in the old days recited in the heat of revolution Does this need a personal anecdote
to give it a punch above lecture/harangue
a poignant quote*
A crisis point to bring into focus the human face
that reveals the inhumanity of our country of the Fair Go turning a willfully blind eye
and blaming the hypocrisy of smiling politicians
Will a reference to Hitler help any (no) 

How could the Germans not have known? It’s not as if we don’t 

History will not be kind
An Apology will be too late
Having written a poem will not have been enough 

* ‘Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance’. Robert Frost 

(Photo Credit: SBS News / Lachie Hinton)

England’s seclusion rooms form a landscape of atrocity and shame

In 2017, New Zealand banned schoolhouse seclusion rooms. On Friday, a report came out indicating that across England primary and secondary schools are routinely using “seclusion rooms”. The report suggested that both the scale and frequency of use is much higher than expected: “Many schools use them as part of an escalating set of disciplinary measures. Our research found over two-thirds of the country’s largest academy trusts have schools that use some form of isolation, although with varying labels from `inclusion units’ and `consequence booths’ to `time-out spaces’ and `calm rooms’.” The isolation cells are used from the first year. Primary school students can stay in for a day at a time; secondary school students can stay in for five consecutive days. The torture of solitary confinement clothed in the language of inclusion, consequence, time-out and calm is the lesson children across England – and Canada and the United States and beyond – are learning in an age of expanding and intensifying zero tolerance. While A Critique of Pure Tolerance once inspired a generation of activists to action, today we need A Critique of Zero Tolerance. We need it, and, even more, our children and grandchildren need it … now.

In August, a report noted that exclusion, or out-of-school suspension, was rampant in secondary schools across England. 45 schools suspended at least 20% of their students, with some schools topping 40%. In September, a follow up report noted the rampant use of isolation booths, variously referred to as “consequences rooms” or “internal exclusion.” The line from “internal exclusion” to alienation to abnegation to death-in-life to lifelong trauma is direct.

August, September, October, another month, another discovery … of a phenomenon taking place all over the country. Founded in 2013, the TBAP Multi-Academy Trust “supports learners who are experiencing difficulty with or have been excluded from mainstream education.” The people at TBAP Multi-Academy Trust know that seclusion rooms don’t work and, equally important, are bad for all children and all learners. Last year, TBAP Multi-Academy Trust Chairman of the Board Paul Dix wrote, “A room with isolation booths is the bleakest sign of an institution giving up. It shouts ‘we don’t know what to do’ at children who often don’t know what they’ve done wrong. Look around inside any isolation room where children are separated for long periods of time from the rest of the school, and I would lay good money that more than 80% of the children in there have additional needs. Some will have a diagnosed special educational need or disability, others will be struggling with hidden that are all too obvious to those who work with them every day: trauma, anxiety, attachment, grief, or plain old-fashioned neglect. The sins of the adult world are soaked up by a minority of children. Then we stick them in a booth and call it education. The booths are a shame on all of us, not the children who are forced to sit in them.”

How many more times must we “discover” that throwing children into seclusion rooms, no matter what they’re called, is wrong? Why do we need to discuss whether the rooms “work” or are too “costly”? What about the cost to children’s lives? What about the cost, as well, to the very concept of education? What does a child learn when exclusion is called inclusion, terror is called calm, and a war on children is called education? We should all be ashamed. Are we?

(Photo Credit: Cambridgeshire Live)

Australia, England, the United States build a global place of torture for migrant children: Tear it down!

Recently the war on children intensified to formally include torture. Australia kidnapped a 17-year-old boy clearly at risk of suicide and dumped him and his mother in Nauru. England faces a law suit for its “catastrophic failure” when it dumped a 16-year-old Vietnamese survivor of labor trafficking into immigration detention, Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre, where he was sexually assaulted. There was no catastrophic failure. There was hostile environment hatred and torture. This week, the United States announced that it would separate immigrant asylum seeking parents and children at the border. According to reports today, the government plans on sending the children to military bases, mostly in Texas. As two psychologists noted today, “The practice of separating families at the border is morally reprehensible and — based on the science — goes against international and U.S. law, because the suffering it inflicts constitutes torture of children.” One shouldn’t need a psychologist to know that the detention of children is bad for them. One shouldn’t need a psychologist or a pediatrician. One need only be human.

Fatemah and her 17-year-old son, Hamid, have been on Nauru for more than five years. Fatemah needs critical heart surgery. She has been waiting 18 months for the surgery. She refused to leave her son behind. Finally, two months ago, both were transferred to Taiwan. While in Taiwan, Hamid was examined. He suffers severe mental illness “caused and exacerbated by his detention.” Against all doctors’ advice, on Tuesday, before sunrise, Fatemah and Hamid were returned to Nauru.

Fatemah described the situation: “I’m a single mother of a 17 year old son. For 17 years I have been both mother and father to him. I fled from violations and insecurity caused by the Iranian government, but I never imagined that me and my son’s spirt would be wounded so deeply at a place of torture made by the Australian government … Look at what the Australian government has done to us! My son says to me, `Let’s attempt suicide together’ … He believes the only way to freedom is in death. I have sympathy for all the mothers and their children who live in Nauru. We are preyed on and our lives are subjected to cruelty … I don’t know what to say about the way the Australian government has treated us. I have been officially accepted as a refugee but still live in a tent. If I was imprisoned as a criminal in a third world country, that government would provide me with basic facilities … I only have these questions for you. Are you treating Australian murderers, rapists and smugglers the way you treat us? Have you kept them in 50 degree heat in a tent where water is dripping from the roof? … How many more people will be sacrificed before the Australian government realises the way it treats us is a crime?”

In England, in 2017, 44 children were detained. Of the 44, 20 were 11 or younger. Of the 44 children, 11 were deported: “The other 33 were put through the ordeal of imprisonment without any `departure’ at the end of it.” That’s the current overall situation. Last week, the story of H, a Vietnamese youth, emerged. At the age of 16, H was trafficked to work on a cannabis farm, in England. He was abused, violated, deeply hurt. Finally he was arrested, charged, convicted, sent to a young offenders’ institution and then on to Morton Hall, where, in 2016, he was sexually assaulted by his cell mate. The staff at Morton Hall did nothing to assist or support H, nor did they investigate. Only when attorneys began calling, recently, did Morton Hall begin to begin an internal inquiry.

H explains his situation: “My time in immigration detention was awful. After this incident, I was really paranoid that other detainees would hurt me all of the time. I felt scared all the time and I found it very difficult to sleep or eat. Morton Hall staff do not protect the detainees. Although terrible things have happened to me in the past, the effect of immigration detention made this even worse.”

This week, the United States announced it would intensify and increase the separation of immigrant children and parents. The government claims that, since October 1,  700 or so children were separated from their parents. Recently, the numbers have risen, and the State promises a steep increase. Mirian, 29 years old, and her 18-month-old child fled violence in Honduras. She reached the border, hoping for asylum, and her 18-month-old baby was taken away: “I had no idea that I would be separated from my child for seeking help. I am so anxious to be reunited with him.”

This is our world: a place of torture where nation-States take children from their parents and dump both in separate hell holes, all in the name of national integrity. The policies are cruel and criminal. When will we stop the torture of the innocents? Who will pay for the damage done to their psyches and souls? How many more will be sacrificed?

 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / Hope Hall / ACLU)

Who will honor 5-year-old Lumka Mketwa, another State execution by pit latrine?

Lumka Mketwa

“Who will honor the city without a name
If so many are dead … “ Czeslaw Milosz, “City Without a Name

“Childhood? Which childhood?
The one that didn’t last?”  Li-Young Lee, “A Hymn to Childhood

On Monday, March 12, 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa went to the toilet at her school, Luna Primary School, in Bizana‚ in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. She never returned. She wasn’t found until the next day. When authorities “reported” her death, they said her name was Viwe Jali. Lumka Mketwa went to the bathroom and drowned in a pool of human shit. No one even noticed until she didn’t show up for her after school transport. Then her parents and the community searched frantically. They found her the next day. The State never came. The parents did, and when they finally found her, the State refused her the dignity of her own name. They might as well have named her Michael Komape, the five-year-old child who, in 2014, drowned to death in a pit latrine at the Mahlodumela Primary School, in Limpopo, South Africa. In the Eastern Cape, as in Limpopo, the State never came. The State refused to acknowledge and refused to act. As with Michael Komape, Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death in a pit latrine. She was pushed, by a State that decided it had more important issues to deal with. In 2014, five-year-old Michael Komape did not fall to his death. He was murdered. In 2018, five-year-old Lumka Mketwa did not fall to her death. She was murdered.

And then the speeches began. The South African Human Rights Commission pronounced, “Only three years after the tragic and preventable death of 5-year-old Michael Komape‚ the failure of the State to prevent a reoccurrence and to eradicate the prevalence of pit latrines in schools is unacceptable.” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga expressed “shock”, “The death of a child in such an undignified manner is completely unacceptable and incredibly disturbing.” The provincial education spokesperson first noted that the Executive Council had donated to the child’s funeral and then went on to say that what was truly “shocking” was that Luna Primary is “a state-of-the-art school, with good toilets” and yet, somehow, pit latrine toilets. Everyone is “shocked.”

According to the most recent National Education Infrastructure Management System report, published in January 2018, 37 Eastern Cape schools have no toilets whatsoever. None. 1,945 Eastern Cape schools have plain pit latrines, and 2,585 have so-called ventilated pit latrines. The Eastern Cape has 5393 schools.

Of the nine provinces, only the Eastern Cape has schools with no toilets whatsoever. But, of the 23,471 schools under the aegis of the national Department of Basic Education, 4358 have only pit latrines. KwaZulu-Natal’s 5840 schools boast 1337 schools with only pit latrines, while of Limpopo’s 3834 schools, 916 have only pit latrines. Of the 4056 schools in Gauteng, the Northern Cape and the Western Cape, none has only a pit latrine. None. Zero. This is the state of the art.

Lumka Mketwa’s family has serious questions. We all should have serious questions, rather than hollow condolences. Let’s start with the children who have not yet fallen to their deaths into schoolhouse pit latrines. At the very least, where is the map of these latrines? Where is the actual action plan to remove all of those death traps? Where is the Day Zero for school house pit latrines? Why is this not a national emergency? How many more children have to die and how many more families have to be haunted? Michael Komape’s family is haunted, to this day. Lumka Mketwa’s family is haunted. The State is not haunted. If it were, it would act.

Her name is Lumka Mketwa and she is five years old.” She now resides in that city without a name where so many children are dead. Which children? Which childhoods? Who will honor Michael Komape? Who will honor Lumka Mketwa?

 

(Photo Credit: Times Live)

Stop sending mothers and children to prison!


Today in Uganda, a leading headline reads, “24 children in prison with their mothers”. The article opens, “About 24 children are locked up in the seven prisons of Lira, Oyam, Kole, Alebtong, Otuke, Apac and Dokolo districts with their only crime being born to mothers suspected of breaking the law. Currently, there are 228 female inmates in the seven prisons.” The article concludes, “The prison population in Uganda is said to be growing at a 10 per cent rate annually. Currently, there are 284 children living with their mothers in 21 female prisons.” While Uganda’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded, with a recorded occupancy rate of 293% as of October 2016, more than half of whom are pre-trial or remand prisoners, the situation of mothers and children in prison is a global phenomenon. The global gulag has produced a global prison crèche and nursery. Children are the future.

While the issue of mothers behind bars has garnered increased attention, as witness this year’s Mother’s Day National Mama’s Bail Out Day campaign, the ever increasing global population of mothers with children in prison has not. In Uganda, the population of mothers incarcerated with children has grown steadily for the last ten years. According to the Turkish government, 560 children are in Turkish prisons along with their mothers. The children age just born to six years old. In 2014, 334 children were living with their mothers in Turkish prisons. Incarcerating innocent children is a major growth industry. In Kenya, hundreds of children under four live with their mothers in prison; in Bolivia over 1000 children do. In Cambodia, two years ago, the Prime Minister wanted to find a “solution” to children in prison with their mothers. Thus far, none has been found. Quite the opposite.

Around the world, where do children live? Increasingly, in prison. In 2008, the International Centre for Prison Studies reported that the following countries kept mothers and children together … in prison: England and Wales; Australia; Brazil; Canada; Denmark; Finland; Germany; Greece; Italy; Netherlands; New Zealand; Russia; Sweden; Switzerland; and the United States. Spain kept mothers and children together in “family” cells. No information was available for France, Japan, or, curiously Turkey. Of the 20 nation-states surveyed, only Norway said, NO.

In 2014, the Law Library of Congress’s Laws on Children Residing with Parents in Prison expanded the survey to 97 countries. Here’s their list of those who keep mothers and children together in prison: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Burma/Myanmar, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, England and Wales, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Libya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe. From A to Z, babies behind bars are everywhere.

None of this is surprising. Skyrocketing rates of incarceration for women, and especially younger women, means incarcerating more and more infants and children.

But it’s not inevitable: “Norway does not allow children to stay with their parents in prison. Instead, a new mother is housed outside of the penitentiary in a mødrehjem (home for mothers) until her child is old enough to be separated from her, generally around nine months of age. Mothers with young children and short sentences may serve their entire sentence at the home for mothers …. In general, the Norwegian prison policy reserves prison sentences for the most heinous crimes and attempts to avoid sentencing criminals to prison. Courts have also chosen to transform certain sentences from prison sentences to community service, generally in cases where mothers are convicted of drug offenses but have since been drug free and are caring for a small child. At the start of 2012, 255 women were incarcerated in Norway, of whom 187 were serving out the sentence in an alternative institution.”

Norway is taking this approach beyond its border, funding, for example, an `open prison’ for women and children in Lithuania. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step.

The State alibi for caging innocent children is the good of the child. What does that say about the world outside the prison, if the best place for an infant or young child is behind bars? What is justice, if sending a child to prison is fine and dandy, no matter how minor or negligible the mother’s so-called offense? Want to keep children out of prisons and jails? Imagine a world in which close to 75% of women convicted of criminal offense do not end up in prison. Imagine Norway.

(Photo Credit: Daily Monitor / Bill Oketch)

Children are disappearing into the night and fog of solitary confinement in jails and schools

A seclusion room in Horn Elementary School in Iowa City

Across the United States, we continue to torture children by throwing them into segregated, solitary confinement, and this happens as often in schools as it does in jails in prisons. Children are disappearing. That children are disappearing is not new. That we continue to disappear children is also not new, but it is shameful, and it’s a shame that reaches every day deeper and deeper into our collective spirit and individual souls.

Last week, the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice gave formal support to a lawsuit filed last year against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office for its ongoing and regular practice of placing 16- and 17-year-olds in solitary confinement at the county jail. Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York charged that, between October 2015 and August 2016, the Onondaga County Justice Center dumped 80 teens, mostly youth of color, into solitary confinement. The Department of Justice endorsement of the case noted, “The Civil Rights Division has previously exercised the United States’ authority under CRIPA and Section 14141 to address issues related to the use of solitary confinement on juveniles in jails, including in the Jefferson County Jail in Alabama, the Hinds County Jail in Mississippi, the New York City Department of Correction Jails on Rikers Island, and the Baltimore City Detention Center in Maryland. The Division also has addressed the use of solitary confinement in juvenile detention facilities, including in the Scioto and Marion Juvenile Correctional Facilities in Ohio and the Leflore County Juvenile Detention Center in Mississippi.”

According to Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director, “The Department of Justice’s involvement shows that what is happening to children at the Justice Center is not simply a tragedy for Syracuse, but it is a national disgrace. Children must be protected from the tortures of solitary confinement.”

The disgrace is not limited to prisons and jails. Last month, a complaint was filed against the Iowa City school district, charging that the district’s use of seclusion rooms violates Federal law, primarily because parents don’t know that the seclusions rooms exist and are being used and because the use of seclusion rooms is broader and more `ordinary’ than the law allows. During the 2013-14 school year, most of the students dumped into solitary confinement were students with diagnosed disabilities and individualized education plans. Half of the students with education plans who were sent to seclusion rooms were Black. Other than students with education plans, ALL of the students dumped into seclusion rooms in the 2013 – 2014 were Black. Black students comprise about 19% of the school population.

The good news, such as it is, is that these dismal mathematics are being challenged, and that occasionally something like decency wins. Torturing children is wrong. Children do matter. So do the adults who surround them. At the same time, consider how much energy, labor, work, investment is required to protect children, our children, your children, their children, from torture, every single day. Every single day, across the United States, children are disappearing, forgotten children who haunt the days and ways of our world.

 

(Photo Credit: The Gazette)

Michell Joyce Raduvha said NO to the trauma of child detention … and won!

June 1st 1987. International Children's Day

June 1st 1987. International Children’s Day

On April 6, 2008, two police officers arrested 15-year-old Michell Joyce Radhuva and her mother and held them in custody overnight. Michell’s father came to the police station to secure their release, to no avail. Both were released the next day, without imposition of bail, and ultimately no charges were filed. But Michell and her mother knew the arrest was wrong, and so they immediately sued for wrongful arrest. They lost, repeatedly and at various levels, until last week, when the highest court in South Africa unanimously ruled that Michell’s rights, as a child, had been violated in the arrest and detention. The Court decided South Africa’s Constitution “seeks to insulate them [children] from the trauma of an arrest by demanding in peremptory terms that, even when a child has to be arrested, his or her best interests must be accorded paramount importance.” Amen to that.

The case is fairly straightforward. Two police officers came to the Raduva house to arrest Michell Joyce Raduva’s mother. Michell tried to intervene. The two were then arrested. The daughter was arrested for obstruction of justice. They were taken to the police station, booked, and held overnight. Whether the police knew Michell’s age at the time of arrest, by the time they arrived at the police station, they knew she was a minor. Not that that matters, since the police said, in court, that they would have arrested and detained her anyway, minor or not. To this, the Court responded, “What is more disconcerting is … a lack of knowledge and appreciation by the police officers of their constitutional obligation when arresting a child to consider her best interests as demanded by section 28(2). They demonstrate that the police officers did not care whether the applicant was a minor or not. Sergeant du Plessis said it expressly, that even if he knew that the applicant was a minor, he would still have arrested her. This is because he considers it to be his job to arrest. The fact that the arrestee is a minor would make no difference.”

According to Judge Lebotsang Bosielo, who handed down the Court’s decision, while the situation may be messy, the Constitution is clear: the best interest of the child is paramount. Period. In the balance of rights, the best interest of the child is paramount. In the actual existential moment, the best interest of the child is paramount. In this, the South African Constitution agrees with human decency and common sense, but, too often, not with State practice, not in South Africa nor the United States nor Australia nor England, where the State “considers it to be his job to arrest” and detain.

Judge Bosielo notes, “Under any circumstances an arrest is a traumatising event. Its impact and consequences on children might be long-lasting if not permanent … Detention has traumatic, brutalising, dehumanising and degrading effects on people … The applicant was seriously traumatised by this experience. Her detention has left her with serious psycho-emotional problems. Wounds that are still festering. These are the deleterious effects of incarceration against which the Constitution seeks to protect children.”

Being arrested is traumatic; being detained is traumatic … for anyone. For children, each can be catastrophic, and combined they can be life altering in the extreme. Michell Joyce Radhuva and her mother sued so that we might all know that, so that we might all remember that children are children are children. Children are children are children. Each child is a child and must be treated, and respected, as a child. That’s the law.

 

(Image Credit: South African History Online)

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The illegal, systemic physical abuse of children in prison, sanctioned by the State

Ten years ago, the Howard League for Penal Reform released a report, the Carlile Inquiry, into the use of restraint, solitary confinement and strip-searching in penal institutions for children. This inquiry was inspired by the death in prison of Gareth Myatt, “a 15-year-old boy who weighed just seven stone, while being restrained by officers in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre.” The report described a hell of vicious violence visited upon children’s bodies, psyches and souls. Today, the Howard League for Penal Reform released a ten-year follow up: “There is illegal, systemic physical abuse of children in prison, sanctioned by the state.” Ten years of civil society and governmental austerity and punitiveness have led to this: the State has built an expanding and intensifying hell for children.

In prison, in contravention of all laws, children are routinely restrained to get them to follow directions. “Techniques” that inflict deliberate pain on children make up over a third of all “approved techniques”, all of which are illegal. Between 2011 and 2015, children have been injured 4,350 times while being restrained. Solitary confinement, 23 hours a day in isolation, has become widespread: “Conditions in segregation units have not improved since 2006, when the Carlile Inquiry described them as `little more than bare, dark and dank cells that exacerbate underlying risks and vulnerabilities’. Segregation units should be immediately closed.” Again, the use of solitary confinement, especially long term, is completely illegal, and that illegality makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.

The “real story” is in the numbers. In the last five years, the number of children in custody has dropped. In the same five years, the rate of restraint has more than doubled.

What does the continued violation of the law say? What do the numbers add up to? In England, as in other countries that drank and then guzzled the Incarceration Kool-Aid, the will to punish morphed ineluctably into the will to harm. It’s an old story, now fueled by the political economies of neoliberal development and protectionism. Meanwhile, Gareth Myatt becomes Adam Rickwood becomes Joseph Scholes; and Rainsbrook becomes Medway, and the whole State-run theater of cruelty moves faster, farther, and more deeply.

Last year, children’s rights campaigner Carolyne Willow argued, “Nobody has ever designed a prison to make children feel valued, to treat them well and change their lives. It desperately needs a minister with the compassion and courage to change things. We closed workhouses, asylums and orphanages, let’s get rid of child prisons. Let us say, we are not going to do this to children any more.”

We are not going to do this to children any more.

Today’s report concludes: “Children are being harmed in prisons today and steps to ensure their safety must be taken immediately. We know what works – as the Carlile Inquiry found 10 years ago, small, local units that have a record of success in providing the best care and rehabilitation for the few children who require a period in a secure environment. Prisons and the privately-run secure training centres should be closed down forthwith. We do not need to reinvent the wheel or repeat the mistakes of the past.”

What will next year’s report conclude, and the one ten years on? We are not going to do this to children any more … anywhere. Prisons and the privately-run secure training centers must be closed down forthwith. Today. We cannot keep doing this to children.

 

(Image Credit: The Howard League for Penal Reform)