In and beyond prison, reproductive justice is a State responsibility

Christiane Taubira the former French minister of justice likes to remind the public of the government’s responsibility toward the vulnerable.  She had to defend this position while trying to make the penal system in France more comprehensive. She was only partially successful. The state of vulnerability comes very fast when unwanted pregnancy starts. Even though such situations are produced by a man and a woman, the burden remains entirely on the woman. If we add another layer to the state of vulnerability, such as poverty, things become immediately more complicated for the woman.

In the United States, the state does not assume its responsibility toward the vulnerable, who are sexualized, racialized and declassified instead of being supported. The state uses the vulnerable as a source of surplus value through its imprisonment making the institution an industrial complex with contractors running the game. They even charge women prisoners for their basic amenities, such as soap. In this combination of neoliberal development of consumerism and unfettered capital gain, punishing women as members of the vulnerable combines growing inequalities with awesome wealth building.

Trump and his team have brought this idea to its paroxysm, but everything was in place before this election.

The right to abort is a constitutional right that should be respected everywhere, but the case of access to abortion points to the lack of reproductive justice, inside prison and outside. Women in need of abortion often experience stigmatization, reinforcing the sentiment of disqualification as full citizens. In prison, the challenge to wield this right to abortion is real, with enormous discrepancies from state to state and from county to county.

Worldwide, 33% of women prisoners are in the US, and so it is important to examine the reasons for the push to punish women with the detention conditions worsening the punishment itself. The number of incarcerated women in the United States has increased 700% between 1980 and 2014. Being poor is a condition for incarceration and particularly affects women. As the Prison Policy Initiative exposed in its latest report 72% of incarcerated women had an income less than $22 500 while the rate is 48% for non-incarcerated women, and for men 23% for non-incarcerated men compared to 57% for incarcerated men.

Pregnant women are sent to prison, jail, or immigration detention centers. In federal prisons 1 in 33 women and 1 in 25 in state prisons are pregnant. The number is hard to establish in other kinds of detention facility.

If women decide or are intimidated to pursue their pregnancy behind bars, they face harsh conditions with disastrous prenatal conditions in detention facilities in general. In 2011, 38 states had no prenatal policies and 41 states did not require prenatal nutrition. Children born in prison are removed from their mothers right after birth, which demonstrates that a child’s well-being has no meaning when the child is born in prison, another double standard.

In addition, there is no adequate health care for inmates in the United States, though, based on the 8th Amendment, prisoners are the only ones who have a constitutional right to medical care. Instead, medical care in prison is often decided through court orders by penal and judicial personnel who have no medical expertise, and so treatments are delayed, ignored, or never performed.

If women inmates don’t want to become mothers, although it is their constitutional right to have access to abortion, few states offer comprehensive solutions. In most of states, the women must deal with a hodgepodge of rules and regulations, all defined from the male-standard of incarceration. Generally, the hurdles are numerous, high, and burdensome. From having access to a clinic to payment to transport, every step is an “undue burden” for women prisoners in most states. As ACLU attorneys recall, the US Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision clearly said “laws that restrict abortion access cannot create an `undue burden.’”

The legal dispute around abortion in prison should be taken seriously by everyone outside of prison who believe that respecting the dignity of women as full citizens means ensuring they control their reproduction. Women have been sentenced to jail for the failure of the state to provide abortion or prenatal services to the vulnerable. The Purvi Patel case is one of too many cases that proves that the State is not concerned with women’s well-being, especially when in a state of vulnerability.

ACLU and other groups have called for more research on the application of reproductive rights inside the United States penal systems. Although this demand is important to resist the conservative anti-abortion wave, the invisibility of living conditions of women behind bars is full of lessons about the way attacks on women’s right and reproductive justice is waged in general and its social meaning. When state leaders are ready to fulfill their responsibilities to serve the vulnerable, often women and more often women of color and/or women prisoners, they will serve all women and the society better.

 

(Photo Credit: National Women’s Law Center) (Infographic credit: Prison Policy Initiative)

In France, Urvoas’ prison decision: More prisons, less humanity

Fresnes Prison

Fresnes Prison

In France, last August, Prime Minister Manuel Valls with his Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas advertized that a feasible and concrete plan would be announced soon to remedy the carceral disgrace of French prisons and jails, plagued with overpopulation and squalid conditions. They talked about building 6000 cells. This week, the Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas declared that 10 000 to 16 500 prisons cells will be added.

The minister made the announcement from Fresnes prison, an aging prison with about 200% occupation rate. As a congressman Mr. Urvoas opposed the building of additional prisons. Now as Minister of Justice he has succumbed to the populist vision sweeping Europe of increased imprisonment for more security. Consequently, the budget of 3 billion Euros would be mainly invested in bricks rather than in alternative restorative justice programs, as inscribed in the last bill passed by former Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira.

Instead, Mr. Urvoas declared that the administration would be adding cells, not places or spaces in an attempt to nuance the decision. This rhetoric comes from a principle of law conceived in 1875 in the French legal system that said that each detainee should have his or her own cell. In Fresne for instance they are 3 prisoners in a 9 square meter cell (30 square feet).

On the day of the announcement the French Public Radio France Inter recorded its programs in Fresnes in an effort to bring to public attention the reality of this shameful situation. They interviewed former detainees, a warden’s union representative, judges and penal counselors for reintegration, and Adeline Hazan, the president of the magistrate union, an independent body that controls all places where people are deprived of liberty.

The former detainees and wardens made clear that the place looks like a 19th century prison, filthy and sordid. They called prisons like Fresnes a pressure cooker for disaster. The union representative insisted that their mission should be to work with the detainees on their reintegration. This mission is made unattainable. In addition, in Fresnes, women’s quarters are 6 times smaller. Women are the forgotten population in prison.

The director of the prison explained that the detainees are eager to participate in activities, but, because of the lack of personnel, access to them is limited although mandated by law. Many would like to work; there too there are limitations including low wages and the non-respect of labor laws applied outside. In this environment of frustration and humiliation, it is not surprising that 62% reoffend within 5 years after their release. By comparison, only 32 to 34% who have received alternative sentences reoffend.

Many criticized Mr. Urvoas’ proposition. Magistrates explained that the judicial system is becoming harsher, emphasizing that because of the lack of appropriate budget and public pressure in this period of instability the judges are often forced to send the convicted or pretrial person to prison and jail.

In 2014, Christiane Taubira passed a bill that should have made alternative sentences the common law. Her idea relied on another principle: the principle that prison should be the last resort. Despite claims of good intentions, this law has not been enforced with adequate financial means. Meanwhile, private contractors are entering the jail and prison world, following the neoliberal search for investments with fast returns.

In France, 11 000 out of the 68 000 detainees are sentenced to 6 months and 28 % of the carceral population is in pretrial detention. If most of these sentences were commuted into open-space alternative individualized sentences, as prescribed by the Taubira’s bill, the population in jails would decline rapidly.

The approach adopted by the French Government signals yet another alignment to the logic of incarceration and tough-on-crime policies in the context of pre presidential election, with the combination of fear, security and neoliberal investments looming in the background.

 

(Photo Credit: BrunodesBaumettes)

Will France choose to follow the U.S. and build and overcrowd more prisons?

Adeline Hazan explains the rise in number of detainees in France

Adeline Hazan explains the rise in number of detainees in France

Last week, with media in tow, Manuel Valls accompanied Minister of Justice Jean Jacques Urvoas, who replaced Christiane Taubira, to Nimes prison, one of many overcrowded French prisons. Located in southeast France, Nimes prison is designed to receive 192 prisoners but currently holds 406 prisoners. Nationally, the number of detainees has reached record levels. Since 2010 the number of convicted prisoners went from 45 583 to 49 340 in 2016, but more significantly the number of remand detainees has moved from 15 395 in 2010 to 20 035 in 2016.

The previous president Nicolas Sarkozy instituted a martial discourse of intimidating governance based on penal populism and social ostracizing of social and racial minorities. He envisioned building new prisons to “accommodate” 80 000 more inmates.

Urvoa’s predecessor, Christiane Taubira tried to reverse this trend with her reform, passed in August 2014, to make incarceration the last result. Focusing on restorative rather than punitive justice, Taubira’s reform created penal counselors for reintegration as well as alternative sentences. The reform passed, but implementation has been to slow to none, thanks to a justice system that has followed the global trend of imprisonment as a social and governing instrument in a time of global violence. Recruitment of the counselors has been slow and underfunded while alternative sentencing has been ignored by a hardened justice system that has responded positively to the populist call for a repressive justice. The number of liberations under the control of the counselors has been reduced by 20% in one year. A Union representative declared that, instead of emptying prisons, the reform has filled them because the magistrates don’t play fair.

At the end of their visit to the Nimes prison, the head of government and his minister of justice declared that they would come up with a “specific, concrete and financed plan” to remedy the problem. They announced the building of more prisons to add 6000 beds, still largely inferior to what the right and extreme right political elite is demanding. Despite the few good moves such as the opening of “observatoire de la récidive et de la désistance” (Observatory of repeating offense and crime exit), as well as Jean Jacques Urvoas’ stated commitment to enforce the sentencing reduction bill, the funds have not been allocated.

In a climate of fear in which the “radicalization” of Muslim youth in France is offered as a source of violence that has to be fought in the most brutal manner, the political elite has given a radical and superficial picture of the situation in order to impose prison as the immediate and natural solution to all problems.

Meanwhile, a regime of urban marginality is reinforced with increased incarceration, making prisons and jails the instruments of violent isolation and ostracism. The over representation of populations of Muslim descent in prison mirrors the over representation of minorities in US prisons, with some differences of course. Will French elite choose to follow the American model of building and overcrowding more prisons?

In response, Adeline Hazan, the “contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté” (an independent body that monitors all places where people are deprived of liberty, and checks that fundamental rights of people in these places are respected) insisted “the more prisons we build, p the more we will fill them.” She added that carceral inflation year after year is not the solution and lamented that the law of 2014 has not been applied properly, and case-by-case sentencing, which was the heart of the Taubira’s bill, has not been implemented.

In a public radio program Hazan explained that according to French law, prison should remain the last result. The quantum leap in the number of short sentences demonstrates the opposite. The prison suicide rate is also rising with 90 attempts a month. Most of the attempts occur during the first days in prison. The suicide rate in French prisons has increased from 4 to 19 between 1945 and 2010, seven times more than outside of prison. The number of pretrial detainees is also on the rise. The state of emergency and its violent policing of demonstrations has sent many to pretrial detention.

Adeline Hazan remarked that women, who are only 3.8% of the detainees, have seen the degradation of their conditions of detention as a consequence of the over populated male prisons. She added that it is like a double sentence for women. The institution that she presides has produced numerous reports to alert the authorities about these situations. She noted that it is hard to be heard in this context of hard line security propaganda. Nonetheless, she acknowledged one of their recent victories in the elimination of incarceration of pregnant women.

In 2017, France will hold presidential elections. In France’s pre election climate of fear of terrorist attacks, the tough on crime approach seems to be the main message used by the political elite while neoliberal budget restrictions of public services increase and aggravate the inequality and abuse of those left behind in French society. In his most recent book Achille Mbembe has called this the “politics of enmity”. Prisons are places of enmity and gender racial discrimination: we don’t need more of them.

 

(Photo Credit: Ouest France)

In France, Christiane Taubira steps up by stepping down


Wednesday January 27th, instead of going to Parliament to defend reforms to the Constitution, France’s Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, tendered her resignation to President Francois Hollande. She was immediately replaced by a man in line with Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ ideas. The bill under discussion contains many questionable articles, but the one that will allow deprivation of nationality for French born citizens with dual citizenship convicted of act of terrorism is emblematic of the current trend personified by Prime Minister Valls, to curtail rights in the name of security.

This is the trend that Christiane Taubira has opposed particularly since the first attacks in Paris in January 2015. Her approach was to understand why some young French were attracted by DAESH and violent actions, while for Manuel Valls to find explanation to terrorist acts “is already an attempt to excuse them.” He takes an opposite direction: no explanation or understanding needed, just security measures.

Since her nomination in 2012, Christiane Taubira has committed herself to induce a turn toward restorative justice in France, a real shift from the Sarkozy years of repression and development of the prison industrial complex. She tried to instill a change in mentalities, from crude punishment to create means for rehabilitation and reinsertion, beginning by revoking mandatory minimum sentencing. Her unfinished project is the reform of the juvenile justice system and the elimination of the correctional juvenile courts. Many legal scholars and even magistrates supported her action and expressed their concerns after her departure. For many, she represented a change with her approach and her discourse from the previous administration. The latter endlessly tried to reduce the role of the judiciary to favor harsh policing and blind punishment for civil society, encouraging profiling and at the same time discouraging the judiciary from investigating financial arrangements of the elite.

Nonetheless, Taubira’s initiatives were often at odd with and even opposed by many in her own government, notably the Minister of the Interior and Manuel Valls. She was the target of racial and gendered attacks from an unfettered right and extreme right, especially at the time she defended equal rights for LGBT with the Marriage For All bill. Not to forget that one of the last cases of loss of citizenship was a gay man who married in the Netherlands in 2007. Now he can be French again thanks to Taubira’s bill on gay marriage.

Christiane Taubira’s departure is another blow for those who have cautioned against the excess of state violence and policing that this reform of the Constitution may produce. Last weekend many demonstrations were organized to oppose the reform of the Constitution. Taubira has described these articles as “absolutely pathetic inefficiency.” She is not isolated, Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, has declared on Radio France that what infuriated her was national politics especially the issue of loss of nationality and précised that it makes her fly off the handle. She concluded, “It is time to change radically the logic of politics in France.” Similar opinions and support have been expressed by former members of the government as well as many from the center to the left.

Despite heavy rains, thousands of people went to the streets, responding to the call of 123 civil associations and 19 unions, to oppose these reforms, the prolongation of the state of emergency, to demand justice, to defend rights for all including the more vulnerable rendered even more vulnerable at the time of increased economic gaps between classes and ethnicities, and to affirm that a just world is possible!

In the wake of the attacks a certain consensus appeared among various sectors of the society. This consensus against these security measures has upheld, with the president of the Observatory of the “Laicity” signing along with many Muslim organizations, women’s rights organizations, the collective against islamophobia, a declaration released in the newspaper Liberation.

Still Manuel Valls railed against this consensus, accusing some to be irresponsible and others to be undemocratic. In resigning, Taubira has shown her support for this consensus. Her method is to listen, to understand the struggle of the second generation French youth in “les cités”, in the suburbs.

In the United States, we have seen the effect of the ‘tough on crime’ approach linked to security measures in the so-called Patriot Act. The two curtail rights and bring impoverishment and violence. Maybe this is the real purpose of these measures. For Taubira to resist is to give “the last word to ethics and rights”. Let’s have the last word!

Meanwhile, in the past few days, Christiane Taubira wrote a book, “Murmures à la Jeunesse”, explaining her position. It was published today.

 

(Photo Credit: Slate / AFP / Alain Jocard)

Christiane Taubira: “Parfois résister c’est rester, parfois résister c’est partir”

Christiane Taubira

Christiane Taubira, France’s Minister of Justice, resigned today. As she explained, “Sometimes staying is resisting, sometimes leaving is resisting”. We’ll have something on Christiane Taubira in the next couple days. For the last four years, Brigitte Marti has written regularly, at Women In and Beyond the Global, about Christiane Taubira’s struggles to reform the French penal system, to restore justice to so-called criminal justice, all the while combating racist sexist attacks on her and her policies. Christiane Taubira may be leaving the government, but she is not leaving the struggle for women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights, prisoners’ rights, gay rights, minority rights and more, all in the context of a vision of a realizable just world. A just world is possible!

Christiane Taubira explains prison

Here’s a partial list of Brigitte Marti’s pieces that, from June 2012 to last year, profiled Taubira’s varied engagements and interventions:

Resistances, les femmes, le pouvoir et l’élection (June 18, 2012)

From Paris to Baltimore, our prisons are full but empty of sense (November 21, 2012)

In France, mandatory minimum sentences kill (June 27, 2013)

Scandal in France! Prison as a last resort! (August 19, 2013)

Evolution of a scandal in France (August 29, 2013)

Must punishment mean prison? Why are you asking? (September 21, 2013)

These racist attacks assault the heart of the Republic (November 13, 2013)

It is the responsibility of the State to defend reproductive rights and health (November 21, 2013)

French prison guards strike for global incarceration and dehumanization (May 13, 2014)

The false case against Christiane Taubira (May 24, 2014)

Can Christiane Taubira move France from repressive to restorative justice? (June 2, 2014)

France’s twisted road to restorative justice (July 22, 2014)

From Paris to Washington, all women need easy access to real help in times of crisis (August 29, 2014)

In France, isolation is not the answer to anything! (July 22, 2015)

Prison reform looks to the future, to a Republican society that cares for all its people.

 

(Photo Credit: Women In and Beyond the Global)

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem fighting racism and sexism in France for real equality

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

Not long ago, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, then the French Minister of Women’s Rights, introduced and successfully defended a bill entitled “For Real Equality Between Women and Men.” This bill supported the normalization of parity. After the recent reshuffle of the government, Vallaud-Belkacem has become France’s Education Minister. This position is the fourth most important in the ranking of ministers in France. She is also the first woman to hold this major ministry.

Her nomination could have been a sign that something was working toward real parity in the highest political representation in France, but alas no. Immediately after her nomination, Vallaud-Belkacacem was targeted in right wing magazines by sexist and xenophobic attacks. These attacks used her dual Moroccan and French citizenship, her Muslim origin, her youth (she is 36), her sex, her support for same sex marriage, her support for the inclusion of gender theory in regular primary and secondary education, and, finally, her active feminist support for women’s rights.

Valeurs Actuelles, a magazine that the former president Nicolas Sarkozy uses regularly to make statements about his eventual return to politics, staged her as “the Ayatollah” on its front page, with an edited photo that accentuates the darkness of her eyes, making the portrait loaded with negative representations of Islam. The subtitle uses play on words to suggest that she is going redesign the National Education system. The title of another magazine “Minute” does the rest: “A Moroccan Muslim at the National Education, the Najat Vallaud Belkacem provocation.”

None of these displays of hatred is new. The latest was Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, whose origins and skin color sparked off racist and sexist slurs. Both women epitomize the fight against all inequality, including gender, ethnic and social inequality. Christiane Taubira reacted and wrote to her colleague in a tweet, “They must have nothing in their heads, be empty in their heart, and have hardened souls. Najat, you’re flying high with our ambitions for schools. Thanks.”

Meanwhile, the line between right and extreme right becomes increasingly blurred. In a tweet by a right wing city counselor of Neuilly sur Seine, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was accused of using her femininity, also called “skirt promotion”, to access this position. The counselor, of course, added a suggestive picture. Another right wing enclase, the city of Puteaux, in a charity effort to support families with children returning to school, distributed strong blue backpacks to boys and strong pink one to girls, making clear the separation in colors and roles of girls and boys in a binary society.

“Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is the ideal target for all those who would like to distill the idea that an immigrant woman could not legitimately be part of a government” says SOS Racism, an association that denounces all sorts of racism. These attacks go beyond that. They exploit the old demon of colonial countries to block advances in women’s rights and human rights and to achieve various goals: controlling the population at large, curtail all debates, policing the whole of the neoliberal environment.

When Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was Minister of Women’s Rights, she declared that we needed to be politically proactive to address gender inequalities. She was right about that. When she said that gender, class, ethnicity are the bases of inequality and that hatred is the way “to emptied hearts and hardened souls” where inequalities grow, she was right again.

 

 

(Photo Credit: RTL.fr)

From Paris to Washington, all women need easy access to real help in times of crisis

Recently, former President of George Washington University, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg suggested that violence against women on university campuses in the United States could be reduced if only women were trained not to drink in excess. He added that we need to educate “our daughters and our children” who drink too much.

At least, with these recommendations, women will remain sober while being subjected to violence? This type of comment is too often accepted in public spaces, such as NPR where it was expressed. As long as discriminatory comments and acts are still presented as primitive solutions, violence against women will persist.

Women need easy access to real help in times of crisis. Women also need society as a whole to stop discriminating against them, making us ever more susceptible to acts of violence.

In France, a recent bill, For a Real Equality Between Women and Men, takes on violence against women in its multifaceted approach to create conditions for more equality. The bill offers other methods to address this issue. Some are for immediate relief for women. Others offer a long-term approach to make violence against women clearly and unequivocally unacceptable.

The distribution of the free personal cell telephone “grand danger” (emergency phone) to women who are at risk of domestic violence is inscribed in the new law. This measure has been initiated by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who presented the bill to Parliament in coordination with Christiane Taubira (Minister of Justice) and Bernard Cazeneuve (Minister of the Interior in charge of police).

The cell phone is connected to a call center where trained people may activate a police intervention, which should be effective within ten minutes, according to Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. A woman who feels threatened presses three times on the bottom of the phone to be connected to the call center. Other numbers are pre-registered in the phone to give access to associations that provide psychological support to women who may just need to talk.

The phone is given for six months, renewable, to women whose former companions have been issued a no contact order by the court. With the phone comes psychological support to reduce the feeling of isolation that domestic threat produces.

This system is already widely used in Spain.

After four years of trial in various areas in France, the phone “grand danger”, according to Christiane Taubira, has been a clear success. It has saved lives and has helped women to break the cycle of violence and isolation. In fact, the phone seems to give women a sense of security. According to the Public Prosecutor of the Republic of Paris, the great majority of women call just to make sure that the phone is working; only 10% of the calls are for actual emergencies.

This method is now part of a national plan of action to reduce violence against women and will be accessible to women in the entire French territories including the DOM TOM (French overseas departments and territories). However, as Christiane Tuabira made clear, it is not a gadget. It is there to stop the cycle of sexual and domestic violence and provide preventative and timely assistance to women who are the victims of such violence. This device is part of a larger set of actions. The goal, said Christiane Taubira and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, is to reduce the level of acceptability of violence against women in society in order have fewer “grand danger” phones.

Let’s extend this goal to the United States and stand up against comments, such as those of Stephen Joel Trachenberg, that show the pervasiveness in ordinary language of discrimination against women, making us more vulnerable to violence. There’s a petition that offers one of the numerous actions to change the level of discussion. You can find it, and sign it, here.

Please sign and share the petition. Every effort counts!

 

(Image Credit: Najat Vallaud-Belkacem)

France’s twisted road to restorative justice

 

Christiane Taubira

Christiane Taubira, France’s Minister of Justice, epitomizes the tensions and dilemmas that the neoliberal world order produces. The moment Taubira was nominated, she suffered countless personal attacks. Originally from the former French colony Guiana, she early on took strong positions for social and racial justice. Her career is marked by her independence from the establishment, and she has ruffled feathers on the right and the left.

Two years ago Christiane Taubira promised a profound transformation of the penal system. She posed the question of punishment from an angle that departed from the neoliberal mass incarceration common sense. She questioned the role of prisons in connection with citizenship, affirming that prison cannot be the only response in a penal system. In fact, although the public has been bombarded with populist rhetoric and images about punishment, a recent poll showed that 77% of the French said that prison is not a deterrent. She worked with a Consensus Conference that produced recommendations to diminish repeat offenses.

Her bill encountered a multitude of trials and negotiations. She faced constant opposition from the right, as was to be expected. However the President and his Prime Minister Manuel Vals, who has developed a “tough on crime” political persona, had open conflicts with many aspects of her bill.

Her commitment was rehabilitation and reinsertion in society, or simply de-insertion from the lock-up logic. Despite the many roadblocks encountered in the parliamentary process, the bill passed last week. One deputy from the right wing UMP voted in favor of the bill. Immediately after the last vote the opposition filed a complaint to the Constitutional Council to repeal it. Many feel that case will go nowhere

The bill includes a new system of probation for those sentenced to less than five years. This frees judges from the mandatory minimum sentences introduced by Sarkozy that has sent many to hopeless overcrowded prison. Taubira’s initial proposal did not link probation to eventual jail-time. A compromise was adopted giving the penal system the leeway to change probation to jail-time.

Minimum sentencing is now completely eliminated.

The correctional court for minors, established during the previous administration bringing the treatment of underage offenders closer to the one in the United States, has not been terminated yet as promised. However, Christiane Taubira gave assurances that these exceptional courts will disappear in the next series of bills concerning minors.

The bill guarantees more actual aid to victims, including financial aid.

In the midst of this important process, Anne-Sophie Leclere, a candidate for local election for the far-right Front National, posted on Facebook a photomontage comparing Christiane Taubira to a chimpanzee and then confirmed her racist views about Taubira on French television. A complaint was filed by an association and received. Neither the offender nor her lawyer deigned to appear in court for the trial. A French court in Cayenne in Guiana sentenced her to nine months in jail, and 50 000 Euros fine with a ban from running for office for five years. Her party, that excluded her later, was also fined.

Some have criticized the sentence as overly harsh. If so, let’s ask if probation should be an option here and if a rehabilitation is possible for Anne Sophie Leclere? Racism is a very serious offence that has been continuously trivialized while other petty offences have condemned thousands to years in jail.

Of course, the Sarkozy administration was not tough on financial crimes as it cut the power of the financial courts, which resulted in a decrease of sentencing for financial crimes from 101 cases in 2007 to 37 in 2010.

The debate over the reworking of the penal system in France is a reflection of the struggle against the controlling neoliberal world-order that uses insignificant figures to operate racist mechanisms in order to humiliate and discredit serious reformers. Incarceration has been normalized as a business to deal with the superfluous bodies of this market/debt economy. The latter relies on violence for a constant destabilization of a civil society. It is crucial to bring to light every fight that has a chance to change this irrational penal violence.

 

(Photo Credit: Libération / Stéphane de Sakutin / AFP)

Can Christiane Taubira move France from repressive to restorative justice?

Christiane Taubira

Two women are making headlines in Europe and in France: Marine Le Pen and Christiane Taubira. Marine Le Pen leads the Nationalist party “Front National”(FN) that got 25% of the French votes, with a very low turnout, at the recent European Elections in France. Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, will introduce her reform of the penal system for debate at the parliament in June.

These two women have a dramatically different vision of society. Le Pen developed her message using leftist critiques of neoliberal policies and then proposing xenophobic and populist solutions that actually end up benefitting those who thrive on the policies. Her communication technique is based on political spectacle to discourage any kind of debate. Given the opportunity, she would send any opposition to jail. Marine Le Pen participates in the creation of a nationalist right that openly accuses migrants; the poor and any and all marginalized populations of being responsible for any capitalist crisis. Similarly, the Republican Party in the United States has absorbed the extreme tea party branch and normalized the same type of approach of political spectacle in the political debate.

In this context, the coming debate over the penal reform bill will stage a political spectacle with no intention to actually address the question of incarceration and justice. The right and extreme right have shown no inhibition in attacking Christiane Taubira on racist and disrespectful terms.

Meanwhile, Christiane Taubira and her collaborators have undertaken the difficult task of reinserting human values into a penal system that had evolved to serve neoliberal policies. The previous Sarkozy administration responded to calls for prison as the only solution. These policies were fueled with a rhetoric of fear and security, which produced a fertile terrain for the development of political parties such as the FN. Under the aegis of security, the goal was to normalize the punitive control of populations increasingly marginalized by the reduction of social protection and public services, and increasingly precarious working conditions.

Taubira’s ministry has worked on this project since the beginning of her appointment. Consultations were broad and produced a great number of recommendations, especially from the Conference of the Consensus. This multi layer review system brought comprehensive recommendations largely directed at lowering the rate of repeat offenders with more productive solutions for offenders, moving away from mandatory sentencing.

According to Christiane Taubira, the central aspect of the bill is to establish restorative justice. The bill would abolish minimum sentencing, deemed one of the worst legacies of the previous president. It promotes case-by-case individual sentencing. Victims would benefit from a more distributive and generous support system. The bill would reduce “dry release” from prison, which means release without supportive measures for reentry.

The key is the criminal coercion measure, which supplies the judge with an array of sentencing possibilities, including injunction to care. Prison would no longer be the only resource available. This measure was to be applied to all offences. Many voices opposed this measure including within the government, from Prime Minister Manuel Vals to Minister of Interior Bernard Cazeneuve and finally to President Hollande. The men of State united to demand that the criminal coercion measure be limited to offences shorter than five years. The problem is that the criminalization of drug use has lengthened sentences beyond five years. A parliamentary technicality allowed representatives to amend the text so that Taubira’s initial bill could be restored. After the council of ministers on Friday, the President made clear that he would not tolerate this part of the bill without a five-year ceiling.

For these three leading men from a Left government, what is the basis of their vision of criminal law? Is it that incarcerating bodies is the best means to render justice, or is it that the climate of intolerance and suspicion, brilliantly exploited by right and extreme right nationalist elites, has forced them to compromise?

Marine Le Pen and the right in general, have accused Christiane Taubira of defending migrants and delinquents. They made this myth the main argument of their campaign. There is nothing new here. Ronald Reagan used mythologies of the welfare queen to win election. This simplification of social debate to mythical images erases the complexities of the current political economy.

This is the climate that awaits Chritiane Taubira as she engages parliament in a debate about the role of incarceration in connection with the protections of civil society, which implies a reduction of inequalities. As labor and social laws are being compromised to serve a financial market that has no desire to protect society but rather seeks to fragment it in order to utilize it, Taubira begins a national debate on mass incarceration as a function of a political economy of growing inequality.

Hopefully, the President, who claimed to be a progressive change agent, will support his Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira in her attempt to transform the criminal justice system and abandon repressive justice in favor of restorative justice and a restoration of civil society protections. We’ll see.

 

(Photo Credit: Libération / Joël Saget /AFP)

The false case against Christiane Taubira

Next weekend, Europe goes to the polls. Betting on the destabilization and nationalist sentiment fostered through neoliberal economies of fear and debt, the right and extreme right parties hope to win more seats in the European parliament. Their strategy is simple: announce a time of turmoil and crisis and then reduce political discourse to the mythology of the white male moralistic views as the only source of security. In fairness, the leftist parties have not done much to propose real alternative discourses and policies.

Last week, the right used this strategy in France against Christiane Taubira, the French Minister of Justice.

At the beginning of her appointment, Taubira brilliantly passed a same-sex marriage bill. When the most conservative constituents launched sordid assaults, Taubira responded with literary quotations that won the day. It was a virtuoso performance.

No virtuoso performance and no victory in the name of justice and equality can go unpunished.

And so the French right wing has launched an all-out campaign against Christiane Taubira.

They Americanized their techniques, using the power of repetition of simple and nationalistic slogans against her. Their goal was to blur her message and vitiate her work on undoing the politics of security that criminalized the vulnerable, at-risk populations attacked by anti-migrants sentiment or austerity measures.

After innumerable racist attacks, the neoliberal conservative coalition finally created a buzz around a song. The song was the National Anthem, La Marseillaise, sung by a chorus and soloists. Along with other members of Government and the President of France, Taubira attended a ceremony to commemorate the abolition of slavery. It was a solemn occasion, althought not for the Front National (FN), the nationalist party, that marked its denial of the offense of slavery by refusing to participate. They also refused to celebrate General Dumas, the first French General born in slavery and father of Alexander Dumas.

What happened was this. Taubira didn’t sing. This was presented as refusing to sing, which triggered a methodic orchestration in the media of repetitive messaging. The only problem is that singing the national anthem has never been popular in France. None of Taubira’s colleagues sang the anthem that day, but it was Taubira who was viciously attacked. Some questioned her “Frenchness” and demanded her resignation. The message was already prepared. A series of attacks and accusations overloaded the media. What is remarkable it the technique; the terms used repetitively by the members of this political “SWAT team” went from accusing her of sectarianism and of being unworthy of her position to being lax and having a contemptuous tone.

Thanks to her strong background in racial and social justice and activism in Guiana where she was born and grew up, Taubira was undaunted. Guiana is a French overseas department located in the Caribbean side of South America. Her political engagement is linked to this land, and she embodies a liberating ideal that has made her the bane of the elite of the right and extreme right in France. Before she became Minister of Justice, Taubira had been a French parliamentary deputy for Guiana between 1992 and 2002. In 2001, she put her name on a bill that recognized the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery as a crime against humanity. At that time, she published a book, L’esclavage raconté à ma fille (Slavery explained to my daughter).

At the beginning of her career, Taubira denounced the crude mistreatment by the post-colonial French state of the overseas population. As Minister of Justice, she has denounced the politics of mass incarceration. She has also asserted the responsibility of civil society to respect human dignity as France’s overcrowded prisons have resulted in France being reprimanded by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2012.

Taubira’s problem is not singing the national anthem. Her problem is keep open the possibility of a fair debate on her penal bill in a National Assembly in which some members have gendered and racist slurs prepared for her. The manipulation of public opinion is not new, but these violent and ongoing attacks on Christiane Taubira signal that the project of hyper incarceration knows no limits.

This instrumentalization of language and communication is there to obscure the real responsibility of conservatives in the advancement and normalization of fascist and extreme right parties in Europe, not to forget the Tea Party and the dramatic turn to the right in the United States. The songs we should pay attention to are those of social destruction as multiple trade agreements are secretly negotiated, in particular TAFTA that threatens women and social cohesion in Europe, in France and elsewhere. The global prison is inscribed all over this agreement.

Christiane Taubira did not make any faux pas. If you must attack someone, attack her neoliberal detractors, who are not worthy of public position and who know neither the lyrics nor the melodies to the songs of justice and humanity.

 

(Photo Credit: Libération / Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP)