A day in the life of `return to normal’: Women bear the brunt

Bearing the brunt” is back. Ok, it never really left, but today’s iterations of bearing the brunt demonstrate that the `return to normal’ is here or at least just around the proverbial corner, and for many women that’s particularly bad news.

In South Korea, in the past two years, large Korean corporations sliced their workforce, ostensibly in response to the coronavirus pandemic, although how firing people improves their chances of surviving a pandemic remains an open question. Nevertheless, who bore the brunt of those cuts: “Women took the brunt of the job reductions as they accounted for 67 percent of those laid off.” It’s not all doom and gloom. Although many full-time employees lost … everything, others were hired as “non-regular workers”. That’s not `market forces’ at work. That’s old fashioned corporate greed.

In South Africa, and across southern Africa, food insecurity aka hunger has stalked the landscape, largely due to climate change induced droughts, land oligopolies, Covid, and more. Who suffers most directly? “Women and girls bear the brunt of undernutrition, international conference told”. How does this happen? In food crises, women and girls reduce their food intake. Additionally, in many households, men and boys get preference, including access to food. Women often find it more difficult to access food, sometimes due to insecurity in public places, other times due to restrictions on women’s movements in public. In these situations, women’s food consumption is stigmatized. This is what bearing the brunt looks like on an average day. This was return to normal means.

Globally, to no one’s surprise and as reported from the outset of the pandemic and its political economy, women have been positioned to be most vulnerable to the conditions of both public health and economic, political, social devastation: “Women bore brunt of social and economic impacts of Covid: Women were particularly affected by loss of income and education, rises in domestic violence, child marriage and trafficking, and responsibility for caring for children and sick relatives.” In other words, the world pretty much stayed the same … only worse: “Many countries lack social protection for many groups, from women and children to migrants and refugees. Those groups have been worst affected by the Covid pandemic, and unless things change, they will continue to bear the brunt of crises, and be the least likely to recover from them.” Who bears the brunt? Women. Girls. Women and girl migrants. Women and girl refugees. Girls. Women. Welcome to normal.

Finally, in the United States, according to a report, released today, examined the situation of low-income renters in the United States during Covid. In particular, the study focused on households receiving federal assistance in the form of Temporary Aid for Needy Families, TANF, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP: “Surprisingly, our research shows that low-income households already getting federal support may be more vulnerable to eviction than their counterparts who receive no social benefits … More households getting SNAP and TANF fell behind on rent, and those getting SNAP had a higher chance of being evicted.” Those getting SNAP had a higher chance of being evicted. Who are “those”? Women: women of color, women with disabilities, women elders, immigrant women. In 2018, 63% of nonelderly adult SNAP recipients were women. 61% of SNAP households with children were headed by a single adult. 91% of those adults were women. 33% of adult SNAP recipients was a woman of color. You know when women really bear the brunt? When their presence is ignored, avoided, forgotten, erased. Welcome back to normal. Same as it ever was.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Shonagh Rae / The New York Times)

What will it take to stop shackling women in childbirth?

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, but no matter. 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. There, 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. Of course, they do. You can read the details of the story here. The thing is that, in 2015, Minnesota passed anti-shackling and pregnancy needs laws.

In 2015, Minnesota passed “An act relating to public safety; addressing the needs of incarcerated women related to pregnancy and childbirth”, which opens: “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. If restraints are determined to be necessary, the restraints must be the least restrictive available and the most reasonable under the circumstances. A representative of a correctional facility may not restrain a woman known to be pregnant while the woman is being transported if the restraint is through the use of waist chains or other devices that cross or otherwise touch the woman’s abdomen or handcuffs or other devices that cross or otherwise touch the woman’s wrists when affixed behind the woman’s back.” This act was passed unanimously.

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. A month later, U.S. Customs and Immigration rejected her green card application, claiming she had been charged with assault. She had never been charged with assault … or anything else. She was cooperative with staff throughout the entire process.

The woman appealed the rejection and won the appeal.

The thing is that, in 2015 Minnesota passed anti-shackling and pregnancy needs law. In July 2021, the Minnesota legislature debated ending the shackling of juveniles in court. In August, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling that barred the use of handcuffs, shackles, and other restraints on juveniles in court. In 32 states and the District of Columbia, legislatures or courts decided to “prohibit the use of unnecessary restraints” on juveniles in court. The District of Columbia and 31 states prohibit or limit shackling pregnant women. What do these laws and court rulings mean when staff ignore them? 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 and justice? What will it take to break the chains, once and for all? It should not be this difficult to stop shackling women in childbirth. I should not be this difficult to stop shackling pregnant women. She was cooperative with the staff throughout the entire process.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Radical Doula) (Photo Credit: Kare 11)

England invented a new hell for women prisoners: gate sectioning


On Tuesday, October 19, 2021, the Justice Committee of the United Kingdom’s Parliament took “evidence on safety and wellbeing of women in prison” … or the absolute, radical and contrived absence thereof. Among the witnesses were Sandra Fieldhouse, Inspector, Leader of the Women’s Inspection Team, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons; and  Juliet Lyon, Chair of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody. Juliet Lyon introduced the “Justice” Committee to the practice of gate sectioning: “The other thing that has arisen that I want to put down a marker about, which I think is mostly anecdotal, although I am sure it is happening, is what is called people being held at the gate, and then put under the Mental Health Act—and then the gate sectioning, which is the way it is referred to. There have been a number of incidents, particularly in relation to women, where they thought they were leaving—they were literally at the gate—and they have to be through that gate before it can happen: they are sectioned, taken away and put in secure care. That simply cannot be right. It is a very cruel thing to do, and it indicates that prison has been allowed to hold on to someone whose behaviour and health have been very poor, and they have been very damaged by it. Gate sectioning is occurring more readily …. It has got to be stopped. It is just not the right way to proceed at all.”

It has got to be stopped. It also has to be asked why it happens at all. Prison officials claim that the main reason is that there aren’t enough spaces in mental health facilities … and so they wait until the last moment, actually the moment after the last moment? To be clear, and one must visualize this, women who have been in poor health, often before prison and more often than not intensified by their stay in prison, even brief stays, are told, “Today, your term is up. You are free to leave.” They pack their belongings, say goodbye to their sisters inside, and head for the exit. Once they have taken a step beyond the exit, they are taken off. This is not about lack of resources. Somehow, magically, when women are released from prison, the beds appear. This is about cruelty, pure and simple.

It isn’t as if leaving prison, going through the gates, is easy for women. As Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East, noted earlier this year, “Over half of all women leaving prison have nowhere safe to go. They walk through the gate with three things: the paltry £46 prison discharge grant, a plastic bag full of belongings, and the threat of recall if they miss their probation appointment. For some, the simple fact that they have been in prison a long way from home means that they have no local connections when they are released. For others, who are victims of abuse, returning to their homes, and consequently the perpetrators, comes at a huge personal risk.”

In 2015, the English government established the Through the Gate program, which was supposed to address the issue of people moving back into the community. At that point, the services were poor to nonexistent. In 2017, an evaluation was published that found that people leaving after longer sentences were not prepared for release. In 2016, an evaluation found that people leaving after shorter sentences were not prepared for release. Both evaluations acknowledged the greater incidence of mental health issues among incarcerated women, especially PTSD. That was five years ago, and today … women are snatched at the gates and `sectioned’ off. Meanwhile, a report to Parliament on mental health in prison, submitted September 21, 2021, found “71% of women and 47% of men surveyed by inspectors in prison self-reported having mental health problems.”

Two years ago, the Governor of Low Newton prison is reported to have said, “We wouldn’t ask someone with a broken leg to hobble around waiting until release for treatment”. We wouldn’t,  but we do. In which circle of hell does gate sectioning appear?

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Grace Wilson / Vice)

In England, austerity killed close to 60,000 additional people in four years as it targeted women

The current government of England and Wales has announced its intention to implement yet another austerity program. Last week, a research report came out that documented that England’s four year experiment with austerity, 2010 to 2014, resulted in an additional 57,550 deaths. The report opens: “The rate of improvement in life expectancy in England and Wales has slowed markedly since 2010. This decline has been most marked for women aged over 85 years and these people tend to be the most physically frail and/or disadvantaged.” Women. Later in the week, a second research study was published that documented that in the poorest urban areas of England, life expectancy since 2010 had dropped, while it had improved in the wealthier areas. After a granular reading of the data from almost 7000 middle-layer super output areas, MSOAs, or postal code areas, the researchers conclude, “The decline … began around 2010 in women in some MSOAs, has spread and accelerated since 2014 …. The decline in life expectancy was more widespread in women than in men.”

In 2008, the Secretary of State for Health asked Michael Marmot to chair an independent review to address health inequities in the United Kingdom. The Marmot Review was published February 2010. Last year, Michael Marmot released a ten-year review, which opens: “Among women, particularly, life expectancy declined in the more deprived areas of the country.”

For ten years, and more, it has been evidence-based public knowledge that austerity kills the poor, workers, people of color, immigrants, those living with disabilities, women. Study after study has demonstrated the impact of cutting social and public services on entire communities. Writ small, austerity is genocide, because its purpose is to wipe out entire local communities. Writ large, austerity is femicide, because, as a policy, austerity always reduces women’s life span and life expectancy as it increases the number of women’s deaths. To hell with austerity!

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Artscamp / The Relitics)

The unconvicted women condemned to death by suicide in jails across the United States

The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics released its report on suicide in local jails and state and Federal prisons from 2000–2019. None of it is good or surprising. Since its last report, the number of deaths by suicide among women in local jails in the United States increased by almost 65%: “The number of deaths by suicide among female local jail inmates increased from 124 to 204 deaths between the periods of 2000-04 and 2015-19, rising almost 65%.” What else is there to say? If the numbers and rates of suicide rise year by year, that means the system thinks this rising is a mark of success. And who are those women. 77% of those who committed suicide in local jails were awaiting trial. The report refers to these people as “unconvicted inmates”. Unconvicted. Unconvicted, a word that is not a word and expresses everything. Here are a few of those unconvicted women: in Texas, Sandra Bland, 28 years old, Tracy Whited, 42 years old; in Alabama, Kindra Chapman, 18 years old; in Massachusetts, Jessica DiCesare, 35 years old; in California, Wakiesha Wilson, 36 years old; in Washington State, Tirhas Tesfatsion, 47 years old; in Indiana, Ariona Paige Darling, 18 years old. They are survived by children, partners, parents. Like so many others, they were all unconvicted. Innocent until proven …

Unconvicted.

Yet again, another report discovers what we already knew, yet again we encounter the ordinary, everyday reality of necropower: “Contemporary forms of subjugation of life to the power of death (necropolitics) profoundly reconfigure the relations among resistance, sacrifice, and terror …. In our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.”

When the State can report, as just another data point, “unconvicted inmates accounted for almost 77% of those who died by suicide in local jails during 2000-19”, we have moved beyond necropower. We are in the country of the unconvicted women condemned to die by suicide where justice is a line between who must be executed and who must commit suicide.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy Initiative) (Image Credit: Tate Modern)

 

 

 

HMP Bronzefield: An architecture built of women’s pain, grief, corpses. Shut it down!

HMP Bronzefield, in Surrey, England, is England’s and Europe’s largest women’s prison. It is run by Sodexo “Justice Services” (because irony is dead). On September 27, an 18-year-old woman, now known as Ms A, alone in her cell, gave birth to a child. The child, now known as Baby A, died. The Director said, “We are supporting the mother through this distressing time and our thoughts are with her, her family and our staff involved.” Sodexo claimed it was “undertaking a review”. At first, the Prisons & Probation Ombudsman, supposedly the agency that investigates deaths in prisons and detention centers, did not conduct an investigation. Surrey Police investigated the death, because it was “unexplained.” End of story. HMP Bronzefield, In Surrey, England, was then and is today England’s and Europe’s largest women’s prison. Last week, two years later, the Prisons & Probation Ombudsman finally issued a report, which demonstrated that absolutely nothing has been learned.

The report begins with the Ombudsman’s “vision”, “To carry out independent investigations to make custody and community supervision safer and fairer.” Anyone who knows anything at all about HMP Bronzefield’s abysmal record can only read that statement and weep. Though filled with alarming details, the most alarming aspect of the “investigation” is that the situation at HMP Bronzefield has been known since its opening in 2004. For example, remember Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca?  In 2017, Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca was pregnant and a prisoner in HMP Bronzefield. Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca gave birth alone, unattended, in her cell. Her child survived. What happened to care provision in the four years since Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca gave birth? Absolutely nothing. In 2010, the Chief Inspector of Prisons found that HMP Bronzefield was a nightmare, especially for women with “complex needs”, meaning women living with drug or alcohol addiction, PTSD, and a long list of other mental and physical health issues. There was no treatment, there was no attempt at treatment, there was only solitary confinement, for years on end. When the Chief Inspector returned to HMP Bronzefield in 2013, he noted, “We were dismayed that the woman who had already been in the segregation unit for three years in 2010 was still there in 2013.” We were dismayed. The nation claimed to be dismayed … for a nanosecond, and then went back to the business of inflicting pain on women and piling up the bodies of women and children, all victims of State-sponsored torture.

The latest report notes that “Ms A did not receive the routine bereavement and practical support that would normally be provided to a bereaved mother by the child death review nurse for Surrey.” Ms A did not receive counseling, but the staff did. The staff explained that the only thing amiss with Ms A was that she had a “bad attitude”. Not that she was 18 years old, incarcerated for the first time while awaiting trial, not vulnerable, not frightened. Just a “bad attitude”. The staff, however, needed and received counseling.

The State response to this ongoing crisis of incarcerated pregnant women has been to suggest it must build more and bigger women’s prisons. HMP Bronzefield is the largest women’s prison in the United Kingdom and in Europe. It is a building made of pain and grief. There was no `failure’ of care at HMP Bronzefield, and there never has been. There was refusal of care, refusal to care. We are dismayed. Do not build more, do not investigate more, do not imprison more. Shut it down.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: SurreyLive)

Covid Operations: In prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, the United States refuses to address Covid

In June, the Florida Department of Corrections ended all Covid-related pandemic emergency protocols. This includes reporting, and so now, although cases increase and people behind bars are dying, the state issues no reports. It’s none of your or our business. Go away. Florida is not an outlier. The whole country has refused do care for people behind bars. According to the most recent Prison Policy Initiative analysis, the United States gets an F, the Federal Bureau of Prisons gets an F. 42 state prison systems get F or F+. The highest grade went to New Jersey, C. Another study, looking at jail populations, finds that one of the best forms of Covid mitigation – along with vaccination, mask mandates, social distancing – is jail decarceration: “The globally unparalleled system of mass incarceration in the US, which is known to incubate infectious diseases and to spread them to broader communities, puts the entire country at distinctive epidemiologic risk …. Public investment in a national program of large-scale decarceration and reentry support is an essential policy priority for reducing racial inequality and improving US public health and safety, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity.” As to immigrant detention centers, “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proven itself ill-equipped to manage the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in its detention facilities.” This applies as well to the “nongovernmental detainee facilities across the country”, such as the Otay Mesa Detention Center, site of the largest Covid outbreak among detained migrants … thus far. Say what you like about Florida, when it comes to concern for the vulnerable, for care of those people living and suffering in prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, it’s just one of the guys.

As the Prison Policy Initiative analysis suggests, this shouldn’t have been so complicated or difficult. Reduce the prison population. Reduce infection and death rates behind bars. Vaccinate everyone living behind bars. Address basic health and mental health needs through easy policy changes: waive video and phone call charges; provide masks and hygiene products; suspend medical co-pays; require staff wear masks; require staff be tested regularly. That’s it. It’s not complicated. It’s not hard. Everyone failed. I know … New Jersey got a C, California a C-Everyone else got a D or F.New Jersey vaccinated and released many living behind bars, but New Jersey’s infection rate in prisons was almost four times higher than the state COVID infection rate, and the prison Covid mortality rate was almost double that of the state.

Four states – California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey – made significant efforts to reduce prison population, partly through early release, early medical parole, suspension of incarceration for technical violations of probation and parole. Even with that, no state actually passed: “the nation’s response to the pandemic behind bars has been a shameful failure.” The response is shameful because there has been no response, and here I don’t only mean on the part of prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers. Where is the outrage? Where is the attention? Other than the usual suspects, who really cares? The failure is shameful because it is part and parcel of the national project. This is us, brutal and bankrupt in our lack of concern.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic Credit: Prison Policy Initiative) (Photo Credit: The Guardian / Tannen Maury / EPA)

We criminalized and demonized relief for forty plus years: Of Eviction

The U.S. federal government released $45 billion for rent relief. What happened? On one hand, a great deal … for those lucky few who received the money. But they are the lucky and they are the few. Otherwise, the money has mostly sat in the proverbial vaults. Why? Many policy analysts, activists, advocates and just plain folk have looked at the situation and concluded that many, actually most, states and localities created impossibly cumbersome processes that tenants often found inscrutable, if they found the process at all, and landlords found, or claimed to find, too `burdensome’? While the analyses are informative and hopefully will help streamline programs, significant questions remain. Why did states and localities design such difficult processes for relief? If you were standing on the deck of a ship and saw someone drowning in the water, how many preconditions would you lay before throwing the person a lifeline?

First, as eviction researchers, anti-eviction activists and advocates, and anyone who’s ever been in an eviction proceeding concur, eviction processes in the United States have long been weighted heavily in favor of landlords. Typically, 90% of landlords show up with attorneys, while 10% or fewer of tenants have any legal representation. Then there are arcane processes no one really understands, except that they make it almost impossible for tenants to get anything like justice. For example, Nevada has something called summary eviction process in which a tenant receives a seven-day eviction notice for non-payment of rent. If the tenant doesn’t file an affidavit in court within seven days, the landlord receives automatic approval to evict the tenant. No summons, no complaint, no hearing. The tenant must sue in order to be sued to be evicted. If your head is spinning, call it property vertigo.

Many localities and even some states have passed or are considering right to counsel that would begin to readjust the imbalance and injustice. That would be an important step.

At the same time, questions remain. Are all situations of non-payment really the same? Is there any concern for those who suddenly lose their jobs, fall sick, live with someone who falls sick, and the list goes on? The answer, bluntly, is No. And that No is our national policy of relief.

Since 1980, every national government has demonized and criminalized those who need, and deserve, relief and assistance. From Welfare Queen to Ending Welfare as We Know It, the focus of the assault has been on Black and Brown women. What’s been good for the national goose has been even better for the state and local ganders. Funds for public services were cut, deeper and deeper, in successive decades, those who in any way relied on those funds were criminalized and demonized further and further.

And so here we are, in the second year of a pandemic with its consequent economic crisis, and we’re somehow shocked that states put security before relief. Why is self-attestation such a difficult point for states and localities? Because they fear fraud. Why do they fear fraud? Because those who seek help, who need help, are, by definition, demonic and criminal. Ignore the history of banks in creating the last recession. Too big to fail, too big to jail. Ignore the history of corporate landlords abusing eviction processes to harass tens of thousands of tenants. Ignore the recent history of corporate landlords `finding loopholes’ in the CDC moratorium to continue their practices of mass eviction. Focus instead on the possibility of fraud and create processes that are so difficult, so burdened with evidence, that really no one is meant to apply. And that qualifies as success, by the metrics of the last 40 some years.

This is not even about putting people first, although we should. A government and a country that cares about people at all would set up structures to help them immediately and then worry over the details later. $45 billion would go a long way, but instead it sits in the proverbial vault. If you are standing on the deck of a ship and see someone drowning in the water, do not delay, do not lay preconditions, throw the person a lifeline. Anything else is a crime.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Fresno Bee / SW Parra)

Missouri regulates the use of seclusion rooms and restraints … finally!

A “blue room” seclusion room in Missouri

American education remains haunted by inhumane treatment of children, especially those living with disabilities. Yesterday, Saturday, August 28, a new law went into effect in Missouri regulating and, in some instances, curtailing the use of seclusion rooms and physical restraints in all public, private and charter schools in the state. This is a welcome move, won by long hard struggle of children, parents, allies, advocates. Why is it so difficult to abandon practices that are clearly harmful and inhumane?

In May 2009, the Missouri state legislature passed a law giving school districts two years in which to devise written policies governing the use of seclusion rooms. Before that, there were no policies, only the practice of solitary confinement of school children without a single written guideline or rule. Nothing came of that. Nothing happened as a result of this non-compliance.

Eleven years later, in January 2020, 11-year-old Ryphath Knopp stood before a committee of the Missouri state legislature and described being put into solitary confinement in the Columbia, Missouri, school system. Knopp told the legislators he lives with autism, anxiety, and depression. He described beings placed in a small padded room “almost all day, every day” until his parents took him out of school and homeschooled him. Knopp called seclusion rooms “an adapted version of solitary confinement, which was a form of torture, may I remind you.”

Mothers of other children in the Columbia school district recounted similar experiences. Shawan Daniels described the room her fourth-grade child was locked into: “These rooms didn’t have vents in them, water, or anything.” Another mother said the isolation had caused her son emotional trauma, asthma attacks, and head injuries. Both used the same phrase to describe Columbia schools’ treatment of their children: being “thrown into a box.” At that point, Missouri had no rules and no oversight over the use of restraint or seclusion in its schools.

In March 2020, Missouri legislators passed House Bill (HB 1568) that would establish a ban on seclusion and restraint rooms “except in cases where there is imminent danger to the student or others”. Who decides the exception? No guidelines were provided, and besides, it didn’t really matter. Apart from completely discretionary guidelines, Missouri still had neither rules nor oversight concerning the use of restraint or seclusion in schools.

All that changed, for the better, yesterday. In its latest session, the Missouri legislature passed House Bill 432, which regulates and codifies the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Missouri now has actual guidelines for the use, and not, of restraint and seclusion rooms. The guidelines include rules on documentation of any use of seclusion or restraint, annual uniform training of faculty and staff concerning the use of seclusion or restraint, and new protection for whistleblowers.

Ryphath Knopp attended school in Columbus, Missouri. Frankie Bono attended school in St. Charles, Missouri. According to his mother, “My son was locked in a closet. He didn’t have the skills and ability to appropriately communicate what was really happening at school. We were driving in the car recently and a song came on the radio, and he just started sobbing. That was a song that had been playing in the room, one of the times they had tackled him, held his face against the cold floor, grabbed him by the hair and dragged him into the seclusion room.” Frankie called it “the blue room”.

According to the most recent federal data, in school year 2017 – 2018, 50.9 million students were enrolled in public schools. 101,990 were subjected to physical or mechanical constraint or seclusion. 27,538 were subjected to seclusion. In that school year, 13% of the students enrolled were classified as living with disabilities. Of those subjected to physical restraint, 80% were living with disabilities. Of those subjected to mechanical constraint, 41% were living with disabilities. Of those subjected to seclusion, 77% were students living with disabilities.

This is a war against children, and exactly what crime have these children committed? Why do we routinely send children into solitary confinement? What are we teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”? How many more children must suffer the “blue rooms” of torture? Perhaps Missouri will shed a light on that cold floor.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune / ProPublica)

In the name of dignity, North Carolina is about to limit shackling pregnant incarcerated women!

Three years ago, March 26, 2018, the North Carolina Director of Prisons responded to SisterSong and other members of the Coalitions to End Shackling in North Carolina and officially ended the shackling of incarcerated women in childbirth. It was a momentous occasion and, in its way, a joyous and hopeful day. For the past three years, North Carolina legislators have tried to expand on that decision and now, finally, it seems they are ready to move forward. Yesterday, August 25, 2021, the Senate voted unanimously to approve a partial ban on pregnant women serving time in North Carolina prisons. The House had unanimously passed a similar bill in May, and now looks set to pass this bill, probably unanimously, and then pass it on to the Governor for signature. As Senator Natalie Murdock, Democrat from Durham, noted, “This is just transformational work. Folks have been in talks about this for years.”

While state prisons were already limited as to when a pregnant woman could be shackled and were banned altogether from shackling a woman in childbirth, the rules were both too vague and too often ignored or “left to the discretion” of staff. This bill codifies, in law, the rules. It limits shackling during the second and third trimesters, labor and delivery, for a six-week postpartum recovery period. If a staff member decides restraints are required, those restraints can only be wrist cuffs and that decision initiates a report to the warden, who then sends all the reports, on a determined regular basis, to the Department of Public Safety Leadership.

While the matter of staff compliance remains, as it always does, the transformational unanimity of the legislature suggests that, at least for the foreseeable future, there will be eyes on the prisons, at least in this matter. Additionally, by insisting on making explicit in law the appropriate treatment and care for women, the North Carolina legislature is demonstrating the conclusion recently reached by researchers of carceral pregnancy and childbirth: “Incarcerated pregnant people and their babies deserve better care that is codified in policy”.

Along with constraint limitations, the bill says newborn babies must remain with their mothers after delivery; mothers must be incarcerated within 250 miles of their babies until the children reach one year old; mothers must have two visits weekly with their children. Pregnant women must be allotted bottom bunks or beds no more than 3 feet off the floor. Guards can’t conduct body cavity searches on pregnant women.

At another time, the question of why it takes three years to arrive at a common sense, clear policy will be debated. For now, though, a celebration is in order. Yesterday’s Senate vote was a unanimous affirmation of the original House bill, House Bill 608, “An Act To Promote The Dignity Of Women Who Are Incarcerated.” Let us all celebrate the promotion of women’s dignity, everywhere, always. That would be just and transformational work.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Radical Doula)