The global prison population is at an all-time high. Women are the fastest growing prison population, still and again.

Penal Reform International and the Thailand Institute of Justice released Global Prison Trends 2022. While not particularly surprising, it is still a sobering read. First, the global prison population is at an all-time high; 11.5 million people are currently reported as incarcerated. It must be recalled that many countries don’t gather data on prison populations, and other refuse to make public the data they have. 121 countries report prisons above official capacity … in the middle, still, of a highly contagious pandemic. 33% of incarcerated people are awaiting trial, innocent until something or other. Overall, the prison population has risen 24% since 2000. Women are the center of that catastrophic rise: “The number of women in prison has increased 33% over the past 20 years, compared to a 25% rise among men.” Where are the women?

What accounts for the rate of women’s incarceration? The short, and long, answer is patriarchy, misogyny. Women are particularly targeted by the ongoing so-called War on Drugs, especially across Latin America, as well as India, Indonesia, Kenya, Russia, South Africa and Uganda. While women make up a small fraction of people currently on death row, the vast majority are on death row for drug offenses. In Malaysia, for example, 90% of the women on death row were convicted of a drug offense, compared to 70% of the men. Women are also particularly targeted by laws that criminalize poverty and status. For example, 42 African countries criminalize people with no fixed address or means of subsistence. Petty survival theft is treated as a major felony. Women have been arrested for taking discarded food from restaurant trash receptacles.

Globally, the use of formal life imprisonment sentences has increased. In the United States, for example, since 2008, the number of women serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole has increased 43%. In the United States, one of every fifteen incarcerated women is serving a life sentence, up 19% over thirteen years. Where are the women? In prison, for life.

Globally, the situation for indigenous women has worsened. In Canada, 48% of incarcerated women are Native women. In New Zealand, 60% of incarcerated women are Māori and Pacific women. In New Zealand prisons, Māori women make up as much as almost 80% of those sent into solitary. Further, still in New Zealand, Māori and Pacific women make up 93% of women segregated for 15 days or longer. Where are the indigenous women? In solitary.

Over 740,000 women are in prison. Increasingly, those women are in for longer and longer sentences. Over the past three decades, the number of women serving an indeterminate sentence in England and Wales has increased by 241%. In country after country, women serving life sentences, or sentences that might as well be life sentences, are living with trauma, abuse, violence. Those histories are seldom considered, and the prisons have little to no appropriate health or healing services. `Status offense’ laws – abortion, adultery, sexwork – target increasing numbers of women.

Reproductive health is practically nonexistent for incarcerated women, although eleven countries have passed laws to prohibit the incarceration of pregnant women. Incarcerated women disproportionately live with mental health issues. For example, in England Wales, 70% of incarcerated women, and 48% of incarcerated men, live with mental health `problems’. Self harm and suicide are rampant among incarcerated women. More incarcerated women live with HIV than incarcerated men. According to UNAIDS, in 2020, the average HIV prevalence among women in prison was 5.2%, for men 2.9%.

Globally, prisons are increasingly and more intensely overcrowded. Although women are the fastest growing prison population, they are still the minority. This means they have least access to water and to sanitation. Little drinking water, no toilets, broken toilets are commonplace for incarcerated women.

The global prison population has reached an all-time high. Women are the fastest growing prison population, still and again: Low-income women, Indigenous and Aboriginal women, women of color, minority women, LGBTIQ+ women, elder women, younger women, homeless women, shackdweller women, women living with trauma, women survivors of violence, and so many other women. Nation-states have invested heavily in this program and continue to do so. Last year, at least 21 countries announced their plans to build more prisons. Alabama announced it will use Covid relief funds to build a new women’s prison. The struggle continues.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Penal Reform International)

Friday’s factory fire in New Delhi was yet another planned massacre of women workers

Woman worker’s shoe outside the burned building

On Friday, May 13, a fire broke out in a “commercial building” in the Mundka suburb of New Delhi. As of two days later, at least 27 people were killed, or better murdered. That number is expected to rise. “Women made up the majority of … workers.” Again. The building had a factory. The factory owners have been arrested. The building had two owners. The owners have been arrested. Their arrest will not bring back the 27 people, the majority if not all of whom are women.

The building is stories tall. The building has never passed any fire department inspection. The building had no fire safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers. The building had no fire exit. Most of the people who died, the twenty-seven “charred bodies” that were recovered, died of asphyxiation. The only exit to the building was blocked “by rubbish”. The staircases were packed with cartons. Those inside never had a chance. Women made up the majority of workers.

According Atul Garg, the Delhi Fire Chief, “It seems the entire building was illegal.” Illegal and in plain sight. The area in which the building stands is village land, zoned only for residential and small shops. Commercial enterprises on village lands are prohibited. “However, commercial activity in these areas is rampant.” Four stories high, completely and visibly illegal.

The women manufactured and assembled CCTVs and WiFi routers. They are the latest addition to the roster of women workers sacrificed to the global, national, and local economies. December 11, 2019: “Sunday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers: We know”. July 16, 2019: “Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers”. January 22, 2018: “The factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers”. Women made up the majority of workers.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: BBC)

 

When they begin to torture the trees: State violence against people living with disabilities

Two stories, one in England the other in the United States, speak to the torture to which people living with disabilities are subjected, all in the name of justice. In England, a Black, 17-year-old, non-verbal British boy, a child who had never left England, was identified by the police as Nigerian and sent to immigrant detention, to prepare for deportation. In the United States, Kelly Masten, 38-years-old, has the mental capacity of a six-year-old. Kelly Masten is also non-verbal. Her grandmother called the police to ask for help. The police came, took Masten away, not to the hospital but to jail, where she stayed for ten days. When she finally was sent to hospital, she was in a coma and covered in bruises.

The English story is that a Black, 17-year-old, non-verbal British boy was in hospital in Kent. He ran away, apparently made it to Manchester, where the family used to live, then turned around to return to London. Without money, papers, shoes, phone. He was picked up on the train, for fare violation. The police took him and, according to their report, `interviewed’ the non-verbal Black child who `informed’ them he was Nigerian. And so of course they flipped him over to immigration. Of course. The non-verbal child, who had never spoken in his life, spoke to the police and told them he is Nigerian, the non-verbal child who had never left England.

The United States story is that Kelly Masten, 38-years-old, with the mental capacity of a six-year-old, and non-verbal, bit her grandmother, who is her legal guardian. Her grandmother called 911. The police arrived, assured the grandmother that, after a medical examination, her granddaughter would be taken to John Peter Smith Hospital, in Fort Worth, Texas. She wasn’t. Instead, Kelly Masten was dumped in the `notorious’ Tarrant County Jail. The grandmother told the police that Kelly Masten suffers from a condition that causes violent seizures and that she had to take her medications regularly. The police said they would make sure. They didn’t. When Kelly Masten refused her medication, the staff said, “Fine.” Ten days later, when she finally went to the hospital, covered in bruises, she was in a coma. Kelly Masten is, today, in a coma.

The boy’s mother and sister are furious. The woman’s grandmother and sister are furious. The State claims,  on one hand, nothing wrong really occurred, and, on the other hand, it was an unfortunate but solitary failure. There was no failure. There is a practice of torture. Black, nonverbal child shows up, clearly in distress … send him to Nigeria. Nonverbal adult woman shows up in distress … send her into a coma.

Alice Walker saw this, in her poem aptly entitled, “Torture”

Torture

When they torture your mother
plant a tree
When they torture your father
plant a tree
When they torture your brother
and your sister
plant a tree
When they assassinate
your leaders
and lovers
plant a tree
When they torture you
too bad
to talk
plant a tree.
When they begin to torture
the trees
and cut down the forest
they have made
start another.”

Who will finally start another forest?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Jenny Hozer / MoMA)

Manitoba could be moving towards ending solitary confinement … finally

On May 21, 2021, two people incarcerated in Manitoba sued the province over their practice of solitary confinement. On plaintiff, Virgil Charles Gamblin, had been in solitary confinement from December 2020, or six straight months. The other, a juvenile, 17 years old, had been in solitary nine times since July 2020. The two argued that solitary confinement is torture, and, as such, is cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, “a dungeon inside a prison”. As their attorney, James Sayce, noted, “They’ve shown real courage in coming forward and putting their name down on this claim, and they’ve shown real courage.” This past week, their case was certified as a class action, meaning it now covers thousands of people who were tortured by the state.

Manitoba’s solitary confinement cells are often smaller than parking spaces, with no windows, sleeping mats on the floors. They are often covered in filth, blood and excrement. Junior Moar spent time in Manitoba’s dungeons: “It’s just not a place for a human being to be in there like that, not like a caged animal. An animal shouldn’t even be treated like that.”

Covid made, or better was used as an alibi, to make a terrible situation worse. For example, from 2019 to 2020, prolonged solitary confinement of incarcerated youth increased tenfold. Prolonged solitary confinement is 15 days or longer. Children were thrown into dungeons ostensibly for their own protection. As one child explained, “The way they do it, they’re not helping us.” These numbers came from a report that was an update of an earlier report two years prior. None of this is new, and yet it continues.

In province after province, case after case, the State’s use of solitary confinement has been successfully challenged. Ontario was successfully sued, as were the federal prisons. Class action suits in British Columbia, Alberta, and Nova Scotia are moving forward. Again and again, when presented with the evidence, the courts decide that solitary confinement is [a] unconstitutional and a violation of human and civil rights because [b] it’s torture. Solitary confinement is torture. Why is that so difficult to comprehend? What is our investment in this particular form of torture? Why do we need victim after victim, in the thousands and tens of thousands, having the courage to testify to the trauma imposed on them in the name of justice before we break the cycle of torture?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: “Solitary Confinement”, mural by David Alfaro Siquieros, completed 1961)

In Tennessee, as everywhere, austerity is a policy of laissez-faire femicide

“Austerity is a profoundly feminist issue.”
Sarah Marie Hall

The headline reads, “‘Trapped:’ Lack of affordable housing for domestic violence survivors”. The story takes place in Nashville, but really it could be almost anywhere in the world. A woman leaves her abusive partner, secures a Section 8 housing voucher, finds a place to live. Then, apparently without warning, she’s given an eviction notice. She’s given ten days to vacate the apartment. With a hot real estate market and landlords loathe to accept housing voucher recipients, she returned to her abusive partner’s residence: “”I feel defeated, I feel hopeless, I feel trapped, I feel like I don’t have a way out … It just kind of sucks the life out of you; it makes you want to give up after you have tried so hard.” It just kind of sucks the life out of you.

Here’s how the story keeps being told: Rents are skyrocketing, eviction filings are rising rapidly, domestic violence survivors are caught in a double, or multiple, bind. It’s a shame, but, you know, market forces are market forces. That story provides an alibi for all predators, in private practice, in this case real estate, as well as at the state level. This is a tale of a public policy of abandonment through austerity. Austerity always targets women. It just kind of sucks the life out of you. Austerity is a policy of laissez faire femicide.

Last year, two reports documented that England’s four year experiment with austerity, 2010 to 2014, resulted in an additional 57,550 deaths. Life expectancy among low-income women, especially women of color, had actually declined. More recent studies show that inequality and poverty in England have had catastrophic effect: “Life expectancy for women in the poorest parts of England is less than the overall life expectancy for women in every OECD country in the world besides Mexico.” Women have been hardest hit by rising poverty, growing inequality, increasing labor market segmentation, all fueled and intensified by austerity. It just kind of sucks the life out of you.

In Brazil, “the burden of retrenchment in social spending in Brazil has been overwhelmingly borne by women”: cuts in social reproduction, such as day-care center; in policies to combat gender-based violence and guarantee economic autonomy; in areas where women represent the bulk of the workforce, such as health and education. Cuts in cash transfer programs, in programs designed to support single-parent families, and programs designed to combat and prevent domestic violence all have targeted and devastated women. It was bad before the pandemic; the last three years have been worse. From Nashville to Rio, the line is direct.

In the Netherlands, from 2011 on, the State cut more than 55 billion euros from its social services budget as it increased taxes in ways which hit the poorest the hardest, especially women of color. The Dutch government claimed it was replacing the welfare state with a “participation society”, in which “everyone who is able, is asked to take responsibility for their own life and environment”. That didn’t work economically for Reagan or Thatcher or Clinton, but it did work politically, stigmatizing anyone and every community needing any sort of assistance. At the epicenter of the assault, women of color.

If you are having a sense of déjà vu all over again, that’s because we have been here before, and then again and again and again. So, let’s agree that it’s time, way past time, to stop using the market-forces alibi to justify failed policies that result in the death, slow or fast, of women, and especially of women of color and low-income women. Austerity aims to just kind of suck the life out of you. As such, austerity is a policy of laissez-faire femicide. Really, another, better world is possible.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo credit: Pluto Press)

Alabama and Tennessee banned shackling incarcerated pregnant people. Will the staff ignore the law?

On April 8, 2022, the Alabama legislature passed a bill that bans the use of waist and leg shackles on incarcerated people during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period, and specifies the conditions under wrist restraints may be used during the postpartum period. Alabama Governor Ivey signed the bill. On April 21, the Tennessee legislature passed its version of a bill banning the use of shackles on incarcerated pregnant people during pregnancy, labor and delivery. It also prohibits shackling incarcerated pregnant people behind the back or to another inmate. Both bills took years to pass, years of advocacy, organizing and just plain pushing on the part of legislators, formerly incarcerated people, such as Pamela Winn, and others. That leaves 13 states with no restrictions on the shackling in pregnant people. Further, even among the 37 states that have passed legislation banning the use of shackles on pregnant people, the laws are often riddled with exceptions and vagaries that leave judgement to the discretion of prison staff. This begs two questions, at the very least. First, why is it so difficult to ban shackling people who are pregnant, in labor, in delivery, or postpartum. Second, what is our collective investment in this form of torture that makes it so impermeable to common sense, medical knowledge, decency, humanity?

In 2009, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant people during labor and delivery. In 2015, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant people during in-custody transportation and the eight-week postpartum recovery period. In February 2018, Jane Doe was forced to undergo labor and delivery while her ankles were shackled, and her wrists were handcuffed to the bed. Who did this? The New York Police Department. Why? Because they could. Because she was already a Jane Doe, as far as they were concerned. The attending doctors asked the police to remove the restraints. The police said no. The doctors said New York state law bans the use of restraints. The police replied that the NYPD’s Patrol Guide required restraints and, importantly, the Patrol Guide supersedes state law. In April 2021, New York and Jane Doe settled the case. Jane Doe received $750,000. None of the attending officers was disciplined. They’re still on the job.

On January 7, 2020, police in Dayton, Minnesota, in Hennepin County, broke into a home thinking a resident was involved in the purchase of a stolen snowblower. He wasn’t. The police broke in. The house was occupied by a couple, both 26 years old, who were expecting the birth of their first child, in two weeks. The man was taken to jail and booked on charges that, after a year and a half, were dropped. The woman was taken, in handcuffs, and dumped in the Hennepin County Jail, where staff ignored her pleas for help. When she described her excruciating back pains, she was told it was stress. When her waters broke, she had to prove she wasn’t lying, and then she was finally taken to the hospital, a few blocks away. Throughout the transport and most of the delivery, the woman was shackled. She is suing the local police and jail and others for violation of her Constitutional rights as well as denial of medical care. The jail says they take this all very seriously. The thing is that, in 2015, Minnesota unanimously passed and then enacted An act relating to public safety; addressing the needs of incarcerated women related to pregnancy and childbirth. The act bans the use of shackles, sort of: “A representative of a correctional facility may not restrain a woman known to be pregnant unless the representative makes an individualized determination that restraints are reasonably necessary for the legitimate safety and security needs of the woman, correctional staff, or public.” Is the representative of the correctional facility trained to make that determination? No. But no matter. It’s up to them. At no time did anyone say that the woman in question was a threat or danger or a risk of flight. In fact, she was described by jail records as “cooperative with staff throughout the entire process.” After a long and arduous labor, the woman gave birth to a healthy child … in a toxic environment. The father remained in jail for days; the traumatized mother went into depression.

These are just two examples of the situation, even when laws have finally been passed banning the use of shackles on incarcerated people in pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum. What do these laws mean when staff ignore them and with impunity? What do they mean to those giving birth, their families and communities? As well, what do they tell us about the rule of law? Why do we have a greater investment in shackles and handcuffs than we do in law, justice, decency, humanity? What will it take to break the chains, once and for all? It should not be this difficult to stop shackling people in childbirth. It should not be this difficult to stop shackling pregnant people. What exactly is our investment in the torture, trauma, humiliation of pregnant people?

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Radical Doula) (Image Credit 2: New York Times / Andrea Dezsö)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: National Indigenous Times)

Quebec did not fail to address systemic racism against Indigenous women, it refused to.

I support Joyce’s Principle

On September 28, 2020, Joyce Echaquan — mother of seven, partner to Carol Dube, member of the Atikamekw nation of Manwan, 37 years old – died … or, better, was tortured to death, while lying in a hospital bed in Joliette, in Quebec, Canada. On September 26, suffering severe stomach pains, Joyce Echaquan checked herself into a hospital. On September 28, as her pain worsened, nurses administered morphine, even though Joyce Echaquan told them she was allergic to morphine and that she had a pacemaker. As Joyce Echaquan screamed in intensifying pain, the nurses told her, “You’re as stupid as hell”; “Are you done acting stupid? Are you done?”; “You made some bad choices, my dear. What are your children going to think, seeing you like this?”; “She’s good at having sex, more than anything else”. We know this because Joyce Echaquan, in excruciating pain, dying, pulled out her phone, started filming and posting on Facebook. The video is a bit over seven minutes long. Soon after Joyce Echaquan died, or, better, succumbed to torture. There was a brief `outcry’ in Canada at the treatment Joyce Echaquan received, which was perfectly ordinary treatment for Indigenous women.

Joyce Echaquan pulled out her phone because she knew. She knew because it had happened before to her. She knew because she was an Atikamekw woman. She knew because. Period. She knew that her family would organize and protest, decrying systemic racism. She knew they would hold her in their hearts and souls. She knew as well that the government of Quebec and Canada would deplore the horrible act, would demand an investigation, and ultimately would do absolutely nothing.

There was an inquest, which found that systemic racism played a key role in Joyce Echaquan’s death. The Quebec government promised it would do something. It did. It refused to adopt “Joyce’s Principle”, policies aimed at providing fair access to health services for Indigenous people, and it stopped discussion of Joyce’s Principle at the national level. Why? Because Joyce’s Principle includes discussion of systemic racism. The Atikamekw Nation is protesting and pushing for adoption of Joyce’s Principle, as a first step.

Meanwhile, the press continues to cover Quebec’s position as “failure”: “Quebec has failed to deliver on its promise that it would enshrine in the law the principle of cultural safety for Indigenous communities.” Quebec did not fail, it refused. It said, explicitly, there is no systemic racism in its health care system, and any mention thereof will be cut off, with the same brutal and racist efficiency that was applied to Joyce Echaquan. Where there is no attempt, there is no failure. Where an action is part of ongoing public policy, there is no failure. There is refusal. Period. Calling it by another name provides the torture, and the torturers, with alibi. Joyce Echaquan deserved, and deserves, better.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image credit 1: Eruoma Awashish / Joyce’s Principle) (Image credit 2: Ernest “Aness” Dominique / canadianart)

#NoBabiesBehindBars: Prison will never, ever be a safe place to be pregnant

This week has been filled with movements towards improving the conditions of pregnant incarcerated people. The Missouri legislature considered the Missouri Prison Nursery bill, which would keep incarcerated mothers and their children together, in prison, for 18 months, establishing the Correctional Nursery Program. In Tennessee, the legislature is debating a bill that would end the shackling of incarcerated pregnant people. Similar laws have been passed in every state that borders Tennessee. The Alabama legislature is debating bills that would bring Alabama state prisons and jails in compliance with Federal legislation concerning incarcerated pregnant people. At present, the Alabama Department of Corrections does not include information on births and pregnancies in its monthly report. It’s just not important enough.

All these advances, and they are advances, come from the pain that pregnant people and people giving birth and people going through post-partum have suffered. All these advances, and they are advances, emerge from the extraordinary work of currently and formerly incarcerated people, especially women. Remember, for example, that Alabama’s women’s prison, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, has long been established to be a terrible place, a hellhole for women.

But we must remember that the United States is deeply committed to mass incarceration, so much so that people have to debate whether or not a woman in childbirth should be shackled to a bed. In 2006, Rebecca Figueroa was two months pregnant when she was arrested and sent to Riverhead Correctional Facility, a jail on Long Island, New York. She wasn’t worried because she knew she was innocent. Seven months later, because she refused to accept a plea bargain, because she was innocent, she was still In jail, and living with a high risk pregnancy. When she went into labor, she was finally taken to the hospital, where, during childbirth, her hand and her leg were shackled to the bed. Four months later, all charges were dropped: “The judge looked at me and said, `We apologize.’”

We apologize.

On Monday, 50 babies, and their parents, showed up at Parliament, in London, and demanded an end to incarceration of pregnant women. Level Up, an organization fighting gender injustice, and the campaign No Birth Behind Bars brought the group together. No births behind bars, no babies behind bars, no pregnant people behind bars. No more stillbirths such as those a Styal and Bronzefield in recent years. Between 2013 and 2018, the number of women going through childbirth while serving sentences rose 56%. 10% of those women never made it to a hospital. Most of those women are in for short sentences, involving non-violent offenses, not that that matters.

As Emma Hughes, of No Births Behind Bars, explained, “Nothing has been learned from the horrific deaths of two babies born in jail. Pregnant women and new mothers continue to be imprisoned by UK courts as part of a barbaric and outdated justice system. It is never OK for a baby to be in jail; it is never safe for a woman to go into labour in a cell, and pregnant women and babies in prison are exposed to lethal risks.”

`Anna Harley’ recounted, “When I was six months pregnant with my first child, I stood in court for the first time in my life and heard the words `remanded into custody’. This meant that I would be held in prison for six months as I waited for my trial date … No woman should suffer as I did.” The line connecting Rebecca Figueroa to Anna Hartley is actually a network, and it spreads across the globe.

Janey Starling, co-director of Level Up, concluded: “Prison will never, ever be a safe place to be pregnant. The trauma and toxic stress of the prison environment causes lasting harm to both mother and child. It’s time for the government to end the shameful imprisonment of pregnant women and new mothers, and make sure they are supported in the community instead.”

Why is that so difficult to understand? Ending the shackling of pregnant women, providing nurseries for them and their children, providing actual reproductive health care are all important, but in some sense, they only move us out of the negative. There is no reason to keep pregnant people incarcerated. Period. Prison will never, ever be a safe place to pregnant. Stop incarcerating pregnant women.

We must do more and we must do better than apologize.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Huck Magazine)

In South Africa, the Court decides wealth cannot override the fundamental rights of First Nations Peoples

 

For the past few years, Amazon has said it’s building its new African headquarters in a neighborhood of Cape Town called Observatory. The site, known as the River Club site, is at the confluence of the Liesbeek and the Black Rivers. It’s a flood plain that had been zoned for Open Space and conservation. None of that mattered to Amazon and its partners, who proceeded to purchase property, permits and politicians, and three years ago began development of an urban park filled with ten-story buildings, the Two Rivers Urban Park, or TRUP. That flood plain is also sacred space for the indigenous Goringhaicona Khoi and San First Nation peoples. On Friday, March 18, Western Cape Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath temporarily but fully stopped all development and construction on the site. Why? The developers failed to consult with the Goringhaicona Khoi and San First Nation peoples: “There had not been meaningful consultation with First Nation groups.” Some version of that statement figures repeatedly throughout the discussion and conclusion.

Judge Goliath’s conclusion begins, “The matter ultimately concerns the rights of indigenous peoples. The fact that the development has substantial economic, infrastructural and public benefits can never override the fundamental rights of First Nations Peoples. First Nations Peoples have a deep, sacred linkage to the development site through lineage, oral history, past history and narratives, indigenous knowledge systems, living heritage and collective memory. The TRUP site is therefore central to the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the First Nations Peoples. I am of the view that the fundamental right to culture and heritage of Indigenous Groups, more particularly the Khoi and San First Nations People, are under threat in the absence of proper consultation, and that the construction of the River Club development should stop immediately, pending compliance with the fundamental requirement. I am satisfied that the Applicants had established a prima facie right, and a reasonable apprehension of irreparable damage and imminent harm if an interim interdict is not granted. I am further satisfied that the balance of convenience favour the granting of an interim interdict, and is the only appropriate remedy in the circumstances. In my view, Applicants have shown, on the evidence and the law, compliance with all the requirements for interim relief … I am accordingly satisfied that it is constitutionally appropriate to grant an interim interdict.”

The developers tried everything, from creating tension among First Nations Peoples to claiming they had conducted an impartial consultative and review process. None of that worked in Judge Goliath’s court. What mattered was the evidence and, equally, that the dignity of the First Nations People be respected.

In 1510, on the site of the Two Rivers Urban Park, wherein River Club is located, a Portuguese party tried to steal cattle from the Goringhaicona Khoi. The Khoi repelled them. A larger Portuguese force returned, to `teach the Khoi’ a lesson. The Khoi warriors soundly defeated the Portuguese, killing 64 Europeans, including their leader and eleven captains: “This devastating defeat put pause to Portugal’s run of victories in Africa and Asia.” In 1659, on the same site, the First Khoi-Dutch War ended with a resounding defeat of the Khoi. This established the rule of the Dutch East India Company, and began centuries of dispossession, immiseration and enslavement for the Khoi Peoples.

From the first announcement of Amazon’s intention, representatives of the Khoi and San Peoples argued that these specific sites are “holders of memory”. On Friday, Judge Goliath agreed. Khoi, San and their allies are celebrating and preparing for the next stages. As Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council Commissioner Tauriq Jenkins said, “We are celebrating at the epicentre of liberation and resistance in defence of our country. We welcome everyone who would like to join us as we acknowledge the halting of the current destruction on the site.” There is no reconstruction without consultation. Spread the word far and wide: Wealth and power cannot override fundamental rights.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: GroundUp / Marecia Damons) (Photo Credit 2: Leon Lestrade / African News Agency / Weekend Argus)