Florida’s special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution, ran out of water

Florida built a special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution. In 2015, Lowell housed, or better caged, 2696 women, surpassing the Central California Women’s Facility and thus becoming the largest women’s prison in the United States. From the start, in 1956, to today, the place has been a nightmare: overcrowded, rampant with staff abuse of prisoners and institutional abuse of staff, severely under resourced, violent, toxic and lethal. In 2014, Michelle Tierney, Latandra Ellington, Regina A. Cooper, and Affricka G. Jean died “under suspicious circumstances.” They did not die; they were killed by the institution. From the outset, death-in-life has been the everyday norm for Lowell. Last week, Lowell hit a new low, no water for days. The Lowell Correctional Institution, hellhole of inhumane practices, became the Lowell Correctional Institution, hellhole of `subhuman’ conditions.

Here’s the official version: Lightning struck a water pump on Saturday, July 8. It shut down water and a geothermal line, which meant no water and no `air conditioning’. On Monday, July 10, the Florida Department of Correction released a statement: “Storm damage over the weekend caused maintenance issues that effected the well pumps and geothermal line at Lowell Correctional Institution. Institution maintenance staff responded immediately and have been on scene trying to resolve the issues with assistance from the local fire department and contractors. The geothermal line has been repaired and a replacement pump for the well is expected to arrive today. All inmates have access to drinking water. Toilets and sinks are operational using non-potable water being brought in to the institution.”

On Thursday, July 13, The Miami Herald reported that drinking water was still unavailable, and would be unavailable for at least another three days.

Lowell Correctional Institution doesn’t have air conditioning. Instead it relies on geo-thermal cooling. The State admits that the system is faulty, at best. Prison staff say the system doesn’t work at all in a number of the dormitories. Now, it officially doesn’t work anywhere. Meanwhile, Lowell has been cited repeatedly for unhygienic conditions, including worms and mold in the showers and sinks. Last week, for at least three days, the showers and sinks were officially shut off. Toilets were also `inoperational’, which prisoners explained means toilets overflowing with feces.

One staff member said, “It’s a disgusting mess; the women are living in subhuman conditions.” Another added, “I don’t understand why the health department doesn’t get involved. There’s been a constant problem here with sanitation. Toilets that don’t work — sometimes only one works for 160 inmates.”

Florida maintains that the situation in Lowell Correctional Institution is under control and just fine. Florida can make that claim because the situation in Lowell Correctional Institution has been subhuman for years, and who complained? Prisoners, their families and friends, staff members, and the occasional activist. Where’s the hue and cry over the abysmal conditions in the nation’s largest women’s prison? Florida built a special hell for women, Lowell Correctional Institution, and really, who cares?

 

(Photo Credit: Miami Herald / Emily Michot)

Who’s your boss? Two South African courts decide in favor of workers

A specter is haunting the global economy: the specter of workers organizing. All the powers of the old and new global economy have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this specter, but it just keeps coming back. Actually, it never left. In South Africa this week, organized and organizing workers received encouraging decisions from two separate tribunals. In one case, workers hired through labor brokers, also known as temporary employment services, were told that if they are employed by someone for three months, that makes them employees of the contracting company. In the second case, Uber drivers were adjudicated as employees of Uber, rather than as `self-employed contractors.’ Both decisions will be appealed, but the decisions clarify the status of laborers as they affirm that workers know who they are and they know who their bosses are. Additionally, the decisions have clarified the lines of antagonism. Aspects of class struggle may change, but the essence, exploitation of workers’ labor time, has not.

The case concerning “temporary” workers involved the National Union of Metalworkers, Assign Services and Krost Shelving and Racking. Assign Services provided Krost with workers. Many of them worked for more than three months. The decision by the Labour Appeal Court in Johannesburg means that workers can’t be summarily fired, they have the right to appeal mistreatment, they have collective bargaining rights, and that they qualify for benefits, including retirement and health benefits. In other words, they are permanent workers, no matter what the terms of client to labor broker contract claimed.

This is a victory for workers considered by many to be among the most vulnerable. It also regulates temporary employment services to actual temporary employment status. Once the three months have been hit, the temporary employment services are no longer needed. This also means that workers who have fallen into this double bind, and they are many, can now begin organizing, and litigating, in response to previous damages.

That decision was handed down on Monday, July 10. On Wednesday, July 12, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, CCMA, ruled that Uber drivers are employees of Uber, and so are protected by South African labor laws. In this instance, former Uber drivers, who had organized into something called The Movement filed a complaint concerning unfair employment practices. In particular, they protested having been summarily dismissed by Uber, without cause, reason or possible appeal. They explained that being fired by Uber happens when Uber simply turns off their app. No warning, no process, no nothing. Just silence. Their appeal gained further weight when Uber claimed the CCMA couldn’t hear the case because the drivers are “partners”, not employees. The CCMA didn’t buy that, and so now, Uber drivers have the right to all protections afforded employees: collective bargaining, due process, strike.

Neither case is definitive, and further appeals are already in process, but the cases, individually and taken together, matter. Workers know who the boss is, and they also know the terms of workplace and workforce engagement. Both cases happened at all because of workers’ organizing and organizations raising a ruckus, finding good attorneys, and then raising more of a ruckus. Workers know the difference between temporary and permanent, and they know that permanence, such as it is, is only secured through collective action. The workers also know the entity that fires workers is the employer. Who’s the boss? Ask the workers.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Business Day / The Times) (Photo Credit 2: Quartz / Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)

Tomorrow Scotland finally demolishes Cornton Vale, its only women’s prison


This morning, Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, wrote, “Tomorrow sees a major milestone in the transformation of our justice system. We will begin the demolition of Cornton Vale women’s prison, a move that marks the next stage in our plans to ensure Scotland’s penal policy doesn’t just punish people who’ve committed crimes – important though that is – but helps deliver safer communities in the long term.” Cornton Vale is Scotland’s only women’s prison, and it has been a toxic hot mess for decades. Its destruction is welcome and long overdue.

Cornton Vale has been called the “vale of death”, due to its regularly high rate of suicide. Between 1995 and 1998, eight prisoners hanged themselves. Yvonne Gilmour hanged herself in 1996. So did Angela Bollan. Outcry and inquiry ensued. In 2001, in the span of a single week, Frances Carvell and Michelle McElvar hanged themselves. Outcry and inquiry ensued. In 2012, Sarah Mitchell was “found dead” in her cell. Outcry and inquiry ensued.

Outcry and inquiry, outcry and inquiry, the same drumbeat for more than twenty years. During that time, commissions found that the prison was overcrowded. Report after report decried the rising rate of women’s incarceration. Everyone seemed to agree that too many women were being thrown into prison. Meanwhile, Scotland’s women prison population rose by 120% since 2000. As of last year, Scotland “boasted” the second highest rate of female imprisonment in northern Europe. Spain’s number one.

Last year, a commission found that women at Cornton Vale were forced to use their cell sinks as toilets at night, because they had no access to proper toilets. It was just the latest scandal to mark the dismal history of Cornton Vale. Various commissions have described Cornton Vale as “not fit for purpose”; “wholly unacceptable in the 21st century”; “in a state of crisis”; “Victorian”; “a significant breach of human dignity”; “an unacceptably poor establishment”; “disgracefully poor”; and, as always, notorious.

After all the reports and deaths and harm, Scotland finally decided to shut Cornton Vale down. The first plan was to replace Cornton Vale with a larger prison, but cooler, evidence based heads prevailed, and that plan was dropped for another, an 80-bed prison, five regional 20-bed facilities, community sentencing and service, and much greater funding for mental health, drug abuse, counseling and more.

Cornton Vale is more than a “vale of death”, although that would have been enough. It was the vale of women’s slow and painful death and deaths. For the past two decades, Scotland  criminalized women’s lives and bodies and then, by unequal funding within the prison system, ensured that no one would leave unharmed. Tomorrow is a milestone. Cornton Vale will be demolished. Which women’s prison is next?

What happened to Manjula Shette? The routine torture of women in India’s prisons

Manjula Shette

Manjula Shette spent about ten years in prison, in India. By all accounts, she was a model prisoner. Most of her time, Manjula Shette spent at the notorious Yerwada Prison, located in Pune, in the state of Maharashtra. There, she worked as a jail warden, which meant advocating for fellow prisoners and keeping the peace. This year, she volunteered to be moved to the notorious Byculla Jail, in Mumbai, where, among other issues, she found she was forced to work round the clock. According to family members and inmates at Byculla, Manjula Shette was very popular with the other inmates. On the morning of June 23, Manjula Shette complained that two eggs and five pieces of bread were missing from the morning rations. She was taken to an office, beaten up, deposited back in her cell, there further beaten and tortured in the presence of other prisoners, taken to hospital, and died. Later reports suggest she was already dead before she was taken to hospital. Byculla Jail prisoners erupted and occupied the jail, taking control of the rooftop and calling for justice. All 291 women have been charged with rioting and assaulting officers. Six officers are under investigation. While some are shocked, many say that what happened to Manjula Shette is an average day in India’s women’s prisons and jails. In other words, nothing really happened. No one, in this instance named Manjula Shette, was murdered by the State.

In March 2017, the Mumbai High Court formally declared that Yerwada, Byculla, and Arthur Road Jails were hellholes, and that they had to be cleaned up … by May. This decision came as part of a three-year inquiry into the conditions in these three notorious Maharashtra jails. No positive changes emerged from the High Court pronouncement. Further, those prisoners who were prominent advocates were targeted for retribution.

And Manjula Shette is dead.

According to Raja Bagga, of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, or CHRI, “Every three days, there is a death in a Maharashtra jail.” Death stalks Maharashtra’s women’s jails and prisons, as does custodial rape, extreme overcrowding, lack of adequate food, and a generally toxic environment and living, and dying, conditions. Byculla is supposed to have maximum 165 women. Currently 291 women are housed there, and that offsets the overcrowding at the Arthur Road Jail. Discrimination against women is common, and for women of various minority groups, the treatment is worse. The vast majority of women in jails are awaiting trial, and many have been for a long time.

Sanjoy Hazarika, the director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, added that Shetye’s death reflected the “internal rot and impunity” that characterizes India’s prisons and jails. The CHRI is calling for immediate measures to open the prisons to monitoring, as a first step. While that first step would be welcome, it does not address the calculus of rot and impunity. In India, prisoners are treated viciously because they are viewed as rot. That’s why a popular prisoner, a prisoner advocate, must be eliminated, and the elimination must be visible and spectacular. What happened to Manjula Shette? Absolutely nothing. What will happen to the prison system, as distinct from the individual prison guards? Absolutely nothing. Why is India’s women prison and jail population growing at astronomical rates? To grow the national economy. The increased and intensified torture of women in India’s prisons and jails is a key element of national development. Who will remember Manjula Shette a year from now? Her family and the women prisoners who, for a brief moment, took control of the Byculla Jail. That’s it. What is the market value of a woman prisoner’s life? Two eggs, five pieces of bread.

And Manjula Shette is dead.

Byculla Jail women prisoners occupy the roof, demand justice

 

(Photo Credits: The Hindu)

In Tanzania, as everywhere, pregnant girls deserve an education!

Jackie Leonard Lomboma and her daughter Rose

At a rally last week, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli declared that pregnant school girls would never be allowed to return to school. The President’s statement sparked a heated debate, in Tanzania and elsewhere. For the past two days, Kenyans have weighed in, using the hashtag #StopMagufuli. Yesterday, Tanzania’s Minister for Home Affairs, Mwigulu Nchemba, threatened NGOs who “support” pregnant school girls returning to school and those “supporting” homosexuality with decertification. Commentators noted the dire consequences of excluding pregnant school girls from education while others discussed the gross, and patriarchal, unfairness of the policy, and others invoked tradition and nation.

President Magufuli’s declaration emerged after a months’ long debate in Tanzania’s Parliament over the budget. That debate included a move to fund policies and structures that would help pregnant school girls stay in school and return to school after giving birth. While Members of Parliament were divided, a sizeable group favored this idea.

For decades, activists, researchers and others have organized to end child marriage and the exclusion of pregnant school girls from education. A recent study reported, “In Tanzania, …  school officials conduct pregnancy tests and expel pregnant students. Nineteen-year-old Rita, from northern Tanzania, said she was expelled when she became pregnant at age 17. `Teachers found out I was pregnant,’ she said. `I found out that no student is allowed to stay in school if they are pregnant … I didn’t have the information [sexual education] about pregnancies and what would happen.’”

Researchers have long shown that Tanzanian school girls experience pregnancy and early school-leaving at exceptionally high rates. Access to reproductive health and to sex and sexuality education are limited, especially in the rural areas. Further, the policy of exclusion violates the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania as much as it does the aspirations and autonomy of young Tanzanian girls: “The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania recognizes the right to education to every child, … denying pregnant schoolgirls’ re-entry to school after giving birth infringes the right to equal access to education and … the infringement of the right to education by denying pregnant school girls’ re-entry to school after delivery has great harm.” What harms the girl harms the Constitution harms the Nation harms the future.

Two years ago, when this current President and current Parliament were elected, some wondered if 2015 might be the year of the girl child in Tanzania, the year in which child marriages would be abolished and in which the girl child would be respected. It wasn’t.

Jackie Leonard Lomboma directs a center for teenage mothers in Morogoro, Tanzania. She became pregnant while in school. Orphaned at three months, raised by her grandfather, she managed to finish primary school, but there was no money for secondary school. A young man offered her money for school if she would “be with him.” They met once, and she became pregnant. She never saw him again. Her grandfather kicked her out, and the village ostracized her.

She began work as a house maid, and moved to Uganda to work for a Tanzanian family there. When the family moved to another place, the mother asked the young woman what she would want as a “goodbye gift”, and Jackie Leonard Lomboma answered, “I told her I wanted to go to school …  I knew it was only through education that I could make a positive step in my life and give a better life to my child … Eventually she agreed to take me to school.”

Jackie Leonard Lomboma completed secondary school in Uganda, and then returned to Tanzania. Today, she is disappointed: “It is a big disappointment to hear the president say that girls who get pregnant should not be allowed back to school. I am very disappointed because Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and in order for us to overcome this we need to empower underprivileged groups like teenage mothers with education … I was empowered through education, that is why today I am supporting other girls to stand up again.”

When Jackie Leonard Lomboma talks of secondary school, she talks of the dream, as do school girls in Malawi, India, the United States, South Africa and everywhere else. They all have a dream that someday we will all have gone to school, together, and will all have flourished there, and that that day must be now.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC / Jackie Leonard Lomboma)

Maria Puga, widow of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas, haunts the borderlands everywhere

 

Maria Puga

Tomorrow, June 23, is International Widows Day, established in 2010, the year of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’ death. This is the story of Maria Puga, his widow, who said, “No, justice must be served.”

On May 2, 1968, Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. At the age of 15, he moved north, to San Diego, to find work and send money home. At 21, he met Maria Puga. Over the next 20 years, the couple had five children, all born in San Diego. The eldest was born in 1990. The youngest, twins, were born in 2006. Anastasio Hernández-Rojas worked in construction and demolition, until the housing market crashed. On May 10, 2010, Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was arrested for shoplifting groceries. On May 24, he was deported. On May 28, he and his brother tried to re-enter the United States. They were detained at the border. Then Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was brutally murdered by Custom and Border “Protection” officers. The San Diego coroner determined that Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’ death was a homicide. The State tried to have Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’s story end there, just another `unfortunate incident’ in the borderlands, but Maria Puga began a mighty campaign demanding justice for her husband, her children, herself, and all who migrate across the borderlands. Seven years later, Maria Puga’s campaign continues.

Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was murdered in the open, in front of witnesses, and cameras. Otherwise, we would never know his story. We would not know that Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was tortured for an extended period, during which he howled and begged for help. We would not know the depth and extent of viciousness and cruelty that passes for “protection” on the United States southern border.

But we do know. We know because Maria Puga said NO to silence. She pressed for information and pushed for answers. At each step, she was stonewalled.

In 2012, the Public Broadcasting Service aired “Crossing the line at the border”: “Eight people have been killed along the border in the past two years. One man died a short time after being beaten and tased, an event recorded by two eyewitnesses whose video is the centerpiece of the report. Both eyewitnesses say the man offered little or no resistance … The report raises questions about accountability. Because border agents are part of the Department of Homeland Security, they are not subjected to the same public scrutiny as police officers who use their weapons. It also questions whether, in the rush to secure the border, agents are being adequately trained. And it raises the question: why aren’t these cases being prosecuted?”

The officers who tortured Anastasio Hernández-Rojas to death were never charged with any criminal offense. In 2015, the Justice Department decided there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prosecute. Upset but undeterred, Maria Puga called on President Obama to “conduct an administrative investigation to punish the agents who were involved in Anastasio Hernández’s case.”

Maria Puga also continued to pursue a civil lawsuit. In February 2017, the Federal government agreed to pay $1 million to Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’s five children. While that was welcome news, Maria Puga still demanded an admission of guilt. Maria Puga responded to the news of the settlement: “The settlement isn’t justice, but it is a badge of shame. No amount of money can bring back Anastasio. No family should ever have to go through this. We don’t want to have more cases like that of Anastasio.”

In 2016, on the eve of another agency internal review, Maria Puga directly addressed the Customs and Border “Protection” agency: “My name is Maria Puga, wife of Anastasio Hernandez, who, five years ago, was brutally killed by Customs and Border Protection agents. We, along with other families, have been struggling for more than five years, in search of justice. We’ve been together, I’ve spoken with families, and I know the great pain they feel, which is the same as mine, from having lost a loved one and being unable to find justice. Now the CBP Internal Affairs will review the case of my husband Anastasio. We hope that this time the review will be transparent and just, that they recognize the truth, what really happened to my husband.”

Nothing came of the review.

In 2016, Maria Puga filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission recently agreed to hear the case. As Maria Puga explains, when the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone for the death of her husband, “In that moment, I said, ‘No, justice must be served,’ and that’s why we’re here. There are other cases and similar circumstances that must be solved. We want justice for all the families who have been victimized by Border Patrol.”

Maria Puga is Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’s widow. She is part of the Borderland of Widows, produced by State policy of militarized and securitized borders. Militarized borders mass produce widows. That’s their goal. From Australia to England to the European Union to the United States, militarized, securitized borders create borderlands in which largely poor women of color are deemed to be so much detritus. The living dead of the new world order, widows are meant to wrap themselves in mourning, slink off into the shadows, whimper for a bit, and die. Maria Puga said, “No, justice must be served.” The struggle continues. The widows demand justice.

 

(Photo Credits: Fusion / Sharis Delgadillo)

Grenfell Tower: Do not come to us now dressed in the sackcloth and ashes of repentance

A Grenfell Tower apartment today

The Grenfell Tower went up in flames, quickly, and many lives were lost, or better sacrificed. At first, the reports were of the spectacular fire itself. Then they were of those who had lived in the building, a public housing tower, and the many, like Khadija Saye, who died in the inferno. Others reported on the firefighters who risked their lives to save others. Then the reports were of the cladding, the material that covered the building, material which we learn tonight was already banned in England, but really who cares? The residents were working poor, largely immigrants, largely people of color, and majority women and children. The Queen visited the site and talked to residents, while Theresa May dithered, yet again. Now people are writing of the spatial apartheid of London, but where were they, and where we, when this slow-moving quickly erupting massacre was in process? Nowhere to be seen, and nowhere to be seeing. You know who saw all this and described it in detail? Friedrich Engels, in Manchester, almost 150 years ago.

Walking the streets of Manchester, Engels explained why and how Manchester was a great city: “The town itself is … built, so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working-people’s quarter or even with workers, that is, so long as he confines himself to his business or to pleasure walks. This arises chiefly from the fact, that … the working-people’s quarters are sharply separated from the sections of the city reserved for the middle- class; or, if this does not succeed, they are concealed with the cloak of charity.  Manchester contains, at its heart, a rather extended commercial district … Nearly the whole district is abandoned by dwellers, and is lonely and deserted at night … This district is cut through by certain main thoroughfares upon which the vast traffic concentrates, and in which the ground level is lined with brilliant shops. In these streets the upper floors are occupied, here and there, and there is a good deal of life upon them until late at night. With the exception of this commercial district, all Manchester proper … are all unmixed working-people’s quarters, stretching like a girdle … around the commercial district. Outside, beyond this girdle, lives the upper and middle bourgeoisie … The members of this money aristocracy can take the shortest road through the middle of all the labouring districts to their places of business without ever seeing that they are in the midst of the grimy misery that lurks to the right and the left … Anyone who knows Manchester can infer the adjoining districts from the appearance of the thoroughfare, but one is seldom in a position to catch from the street a glimpse of the real labouring districts …  I have never seen so systematic a shutting out of the working-class from the thoroughfares, so tender a concealment of everything which might affront the eye and the nerves of the bourgeoisie, as in Manchester.”

In the end, writing of the attitudes of the bourgeoisie towards the proletariat, Engels commented, “The English bourgeoisie is charitable out of self-interest; it gives nothing outright, but regards its gifts as a business matter, makes a bargain with the poor, saying: `If I spend this much upon benevolent institutions, I thereby purchase the right not to be troubled any further, and you are bound thereby to stay in your dusky holes and not to irritate my tender nerves by exposing your misery. You shall despair as before, but you shall despair unseen, this I require, this I purchase with my subscription of twenty pounds for the infirmary!’”

In the late 1880s, Friedrich Engels studied the greatness of Manchester and discovered contemporary London, and every other real estate and service economy driven global city, and he saw the inevitability of the Grenfell Tower massacre. Grenfell Tower was wrapped in illegal materials and toxic policy as “so tender a concealment of everything that might affront the eye and the nerves of the bourgeoisie.” So, do not come to us now, dressed in the sackcloth and ashes of repentance. You did start the fire and then kept it burning, and so did we all. Grenfell Tower resident-survivors demand justice. What is justice in a world where humanity is reduced to ashes, where a massacre of innocents has been part of the urban planning of great cities for over 150 years? What is repentance in that world?

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)

It’s official: Hlengiwe Mhlambo and her 183 neighbors have a right not to be homeless!

This family lives in what used to be a kitchen

“and Makwerekwere drifting into and out of Hillbrow and Berea having split into Berea from Hillbrow according to many xenophobic South Africans and their glamorising media and into Braamfontein to sort out their refugee affairs and the streets of Hillbrow and Berea and Braamfontein overflowing with Makwerekwere come to pursue green pastures after hearing that the new president Rolihlahla Mandela welcomes guests and visitors unlike his predecessors who erected deadly electric wire fences around the boundaries of South Africa trying to keep out the barbarians from Mozambique Zaïre Nigeria Congo Ivory Coast Zimbabwe Angola Zambia from all over Africa fleeing their war-torn countries populated with starvation like Ethiopia”                                                                      Phaswane Mpe: Welcome to Our Hillbrow

Last Thursday, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that judges cannot authorize an eviction order that will leave people homeless. Over the past 25 years, South Africa’s highest courts have ruled consistently that the rights of residents, including occupiers, matter. Even with those protections in place, this decision is viewed as groundbreaking and welcome. The case involves 184 people – 47 women, 114 men, 23 children – who have occupied an apartment building in the Berea neighborhood of Johannesburg’s inner city. Hlengiwe Mhlambo is one of the 184. She is forty years old, a mother of two, and an informal trader. For the past 14 years, Hlengiwe Mhlambo has lived in her apartment, eking out a meager living, raising her children, hoping to find, or better create, the once promised green pasture.

Current residents have occupied the building anywhere from four to 26 years. Vusumuzi Dlamini moved in in 1991, and has been living there ever since. Samkelo Myeza moved in in April 2013, and has lived there ever since. For Dlamini, Myeza, Mhlambo and all the residents, things started changining in 2013. A new owner served the residents with an eviction notice. The residents went to a local ward committee member, who said he’d investigate the matter. In September, the case went to court. The ward committee member attended. Four residents, known as appearers, attended. Hlengiwe Mhlambo was one of the four. The owner’s lawyers appeared. The appearers attended to appeal for a postponement. The ward committee member told the court that an agreement had been reached between the owner and the residents, and that residents had agreed to their own eviction. As the Constitutional Court notes, “The applicants were not legally represented.”

Hlengiwe Mhlambo is clear that she did not have the authority to represent the 184 residents and that she, personally, never agreed to be evicted. The main point is that that applicants were not legally represented. They had no lawyers. No one explained their rights. They never fully understood the proceedings. For example, they did not know that the law states that before a judge can issue an eviction order, she or he must consider “all the relevant circumstances, including the rights and needs of the elderly, children, disabled persons and households headed by women.”

South Africa’s Constitutional Court decided that people have a right not to be homeless: “It is a well-established principle that an eviction from one’s home always raises a constitutional issue … The starting point is section 26(3) of the Constitution which provides that `[n]o one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances’. Accordingly, courts seized with eviction matters are enjoined by the Constitution to consider all relevant circumstances …  An order that will give rise to homelessness could not be said to be just and equitable, unless provision had been made to provide for alternative or temporary accommodation … Where there is a risk of homelessness, the local authority must be joined … Courts must be alive to the risk of homelessness and the issue of joining the local authority to discharge any duties it may have … All of this may appear unduly burdensome but it is necessary if one has regard to the fundamental importance that a person’s home has to the realisation of almost all human rights. More importantly, the procedure is constitutionally enshrined and legislatively enacted”

The residents were represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, SERI. After the decision, their attorney Nomzando Zono, explained, “This is a momentous decision for millions of poor people across South Africa who live with insecure tenure and inadequate housing. As of today, our courts are forbidden from making eviction orders – even if they have been agreed to – until those under threat of eviction are aware of and able to exercise their rights, and until a Judge can be sure no-one will be left out on the streets.”

In the worldwide political economy of global cities, in which urban real estate is a driving economic force, we are so far from a politics that acknowledges “the fundamental important tht a person’s home has to the realisation of almost all human rights.” Last week, the South African Constitutional Court called on us, all of us, to remember the place of the home. No one can consent to an unfair eviction. No one can consent to homelessness. Homelessness is a violation of our most fundamental human and civil and Constitutional rights, wherever we live. Let’s join with Hlengiwe Mhlambo and make it so.

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / Candice Nolan)

Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, and their young children?

Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, their respective husbands, and Samira’s two children were threatened by the Taliban in their home country, Afghanistan. The Hakimi family established and ran a high school and a private university, based on Western curricula, media of instruction English and Dari. The schools more than welcomed, they encouraged women to attend. For example, they offered more than half of their scholarships to women. For three years, the family weathered intensifying Taliban threats. Finally, last year, they fled Afghanistan. At the time of their departure, Nazifa was pregnant. In December, they crossed from Mexico into the United States and applied for asylum. They were all detained. Samira Hakimi, her 4- and 8-year-old children ended up in Karnes County Residential Center, as did her sister Nazifa and her newborn child. The husbands were detained elsewhere in Texas. In late May, Samira Hakimi and her two children were afforded asylum. Not her sister, nor her sister’s ten-month-old son, nor the husbands. Samira Hakimi knows why she was kept for six months, and why her family is still inside: “They told us you will only be a couple of days in there. I never thought that I would be detained here for such a long time. That I’m detained here because I’m from Afghanistan and that’s all. But I’m human.” Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, and their young children?

The State is not supposed to hold families in detention for long periods of time. A federal judge arrived at that decision last year, and, as of now, that decision still holds … except that it means less than nothing in the immigration gulag. How is one supposed to respond when one is six months into a maximum three months’ stay in prison? What is one supposed to do when one’s children suffer day in day out, asking when they’re going to leave? How is one supposed to breathe surrounded by ever thickening despair? Samira Hakimi tried asking questions: “Here, no one talks to us. They don’t give us the reason why I’m detained in here. I never thought that I would be detained here for such a long time.” After months of no response, Samira Hakimi decided to take her own life, thinking that if she died, her children would be released from detention. She was found; taken to hospital, under guard; and then returned to Karnes.

Last week, Samira Hakimi and her two young children were released from Karnes, and are now `free’ in San Francisco. Samira Hakimi is 31 years old.

Two years ago, almost to the day, 19-year-old Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales, a Honduran asylum seeker also held in Karnes, tried to commit suicide. She and her four-year-old child had been in Karnes since October 2014. Lilian Oliva Bardales left a note, part of which, translated, read: “I write this letter so you know how it feels to be in this damn place for 8 months. You don’t understand that people’s lives have no price and you cannot buy it with money. You don’t have a heart for anybody. You just lie and humiliate all of us who have come to this country.” That was two years ago.

Since then, the situation has only grown more toxic. Laws against the detention of minors are routinely, and increasingly, ignored. Immigration detention death rates are skyrocketing. From October 1, 2015 to September 31, 2016, 10 people died in immigrant detention centers. From October 1, 2016 to the end of May, a week ago, eight people have already died in ICE custody.

Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi and her family? Because they’re Afghan. Why does the United States hate Lilian Oliva Bardales and her son? Because they’re Honduran. Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, Lilian Oliva Bardales, and their children? Because they’re vulnerable women and children who asked for help, because they’re human.

 

(Photo Credit 1: One America) (Photo Credit 2: Grassroots Leadership)

Stop sending mothers and children to prison!

A mothers’ workshop at Oyam 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)