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)

Indiana banned shackling incarcerated people in childbirth … `with certain exceptions’

On Thursday, May 10, Indiana’s Governor Eric Holcomb received a bill, passed unanimously by both the Indiana House and Senate, concerning the “restraint of pregnant prisoners”. The Governor had until May 17 to sign the bill into law. He signed it immediately. The bill’s digest reads: “Restraint of pregnant inmates; pregnancy from certain sex offenses. Provides that a correctional facility, including a jail, shall: (1) use the least restrictive restraints necessary on a pregnant inmate when the pregnant inmate is in the second or third trimester of pregnancy; or (2) use no restraints on a pregnant inmate who is in labor, delivering a baby, during the immediate postdelivery period, or dealing with a medical emergency related to the pregnancy, with certain exceptions. Repeals the current statute concerning prenatal and postnatal care and treatment and incorporates it into the new chapter concerning pregnant inmates.” On Thursday, Indiana joins the District of Columbia, 31 states and the U.S. Federal government in limiting or banning the shackling of pregnant incarcerated people.

While this is welcome progress, the question of implementation and enforcement, not to mention why it’s taken this long and what’s going on with the remaining states, looms large, in at least two ways. “With certain exceptions” and enforcement, more generally.

Why do almost all the laws include exceptions? On one hand, it’s conceding to prison staffs and in particular prison staff unions. Who will decide that an exception is warranted? Again and again, we have seen doctors, nurses and other health providers object to the use of restraints on pregnant incarcerated people, and each time, the doctor was rebuffed by a member of the prison or jail staff. There simply is no reason to shackle or otherwise restrain a pregnant person, a person delivering a baby, in labor or immediately postdelivery. At a time when the use of shackles on juvenile incarcerated people and on incarcerated people in court is being debated and, in some places, banned, again `with certain exceptions’, it’s time to find more opportunities to codify “with no exceptions”.

This leads to the second issue, enforcement. Remember the case of Jane Doe, in New York, in 2018? In 2009, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant women during labor and delivery. In 2015, New York outlawed the use of physical restraints on pregnant women during in-custody transportation and the eight-week postpartum recovery period. Despite nine years of having banned, “physical restraints” on pregnant women during labor and delivery, 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. That was February 2018. In December of that year, a second woman suffered the identical abuse. New York City settled with the second Jane Doe last year, four years later, for $750,000. The officers faced no discipline whatsoever.

In 2020, a woman was shackled in childbirth in Minnesota. Minnesota had passed its own anti-shackling and pregnancy needs laws in 2015. How many more times must we hear or read this story?

The history of shackling pregnant incarcerated people in the United States is the ongoing history of slavery. While we remove statues and rename schools and other institutions, we should end the shackling of all incarcerated people, beginning at the very least with pregnant incarcerated people. In 2011, Christina Kovatswas incarcerated.  A week after her arrest, she discovered she was pregnant. She was shackled during and after delivery. As she explained to the Indiana legislators, “It’s the most painful and traumatic thing that I can recall. I had nightmares. I still do have nightmares.” Eleven years later, she still has nightmares.

How many more times must we hear or read similar accounts before we take real action? It’s time to bring slavery to an end. End the shackling of incarcerated pregnant people, end the shackling of all people. Do it without exceptions.

(by Dan Moshenberg

 

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

 

Covid Operations: Rebecca “Maria” Adams, Juanita Haynes, and Bree Eberbaugh asked for compassionate release. It never came.

Alderson Federal Prison Camp is the oldest federal women’s prison in the United States. Founded in 1927, Alderson was meant to serve as a model of “reform”. Ten years ago, it became famous, or infamous, for housing Martha Stewart for a while. At that time, it was reputed to be one of the best prisons for women in the country. And what did that model of the best look like? “Overcrowded, understaffed, and short on funds … It now follows a punitive rather than a rehabilitative model …  There’s intimidation, humiliation, and sexual harassment … a symbol of all that’s wrong with how the criminal justice system deals with women.” Ten years or so later, what’s Alderson? “Covid-19 rips through West Virginia women’s prison as federal agency takes heat”. This is the story of compassion in the covid carceral. The is the story of Rebecca “Maria” Adams, Juanita Haynes, and Bree Eberbaugh, three women who very reasonably asked for compassionate release. It never came, and, within one week in January, they died. There is no “heat” that can bring them back or bring justice for them or their loved ones.

Rebecca “Maria” Adams, Juanita Haynes, and Bree Eberbaugh’s collective list of preexisting medical conditions included Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, obesity, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Any one of those should have qualified. Adams was denied. Eberbaugh was denied. Juanita Haynes was “granted release”, when she was already intubated. She died four days later. Because she died in hospital, a `free woman’, her death is not counted as a prison fatality by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Alderson Federal Prison Camp is indeed a model, as is FCI Waseca, another low-security federal prison for women that functions as a death trap.

In March 2020, Bree Eberbaugh applied for compassionate release. In August, she was denied. The judge said the cases were too few to warrant compassionate release. As of February 8, Alderson, with fewer than 700 `residents’, reported 50 cases. Many assume the numbers of both cases, and, given what happened to Juanita Haynes, deaths is considerably higher. Eberbaugh appealed that decision. In April 2021, the appeal was denied. Nine months later, Bree Eberbaugh died.

This is the text of the handwritten letter Bree Eberbaugh wrote to the judge after the first denial:

“Dear Your Honor:

I am writing to request your assistance to obtain an attorney through the federal public defender’s office to assist me with pursuing compassionate release or home confinement based on my three underlying medical conditions that place me at a much higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus and suffering irreparable medical damage or loss of life.

COVID-19 has been confirmed in 114 of the 122 facilities in the BOP, yet the BOP is opening the facilities up to accept transfers from other institutions. Your Honor, it is only a matter of time before it reaches here and I am in fear of my life.

Please grant my legal counsel to properly represent my concerns and convey all that is happening that requires your assistance.

Thank you for your consideration and I anxiously await your reply.

Respectfully submitted,
Bree Eberbaugh”

Incarcerated people in federal and state prisons are twice as likely to die of Covid as the general population. The situation in jails is presumed to be worse, but there’s no data as of yet. When the pandemic is over, will we recall Rebecca “Maria” Adams, Juanita Haynes, and Bree Eberbaugh, three women who asked for compassionate release that never came? Will we remember compassion itself?

 

(Photo Credit: Kaiser Health News / LJ Dawson)

From Yvonne Farrell to Nzinga King: The State’s war on Black women bodies continues

Nzinga King

In July 2021, 19-year-old Nzinga King was taken into custody in rural Jamaica, pepper sprayed, and then, while in custody, was forcibly subjected to having her hair cut. After some public outcry, an internal investigation was launched … sort of. The results came out this past week. According to the Director of Public Prosecution, it was all fine. In August 2018, 50-plus-year-old Yvonne Farrell was in her partner’s car in Stevenage, about a half hour north of London, when the car broke down. When the police arrived, with the tow truck, Yvonne Farrell refused to give her name. She saw no reason to. The police took her in. Since she didn’t give her name, they stripped her naked and left her on the cell floor for three hours. Yvonne Farrell sued, and last. Week, the police apologized and paid £45,000 in damages: “I accept that you should not have been arrested. I am extremely sorry for any injuries that you suffered as a result of the actions of Hertfordshire Police. On this occasion we got it wrong. I apologise unreservedly.” Nzinga King and Yvonne Farrell are Rastafarian women … unreservedly.

Nzinga King was travelling with friends in a taxi. Some were not wearing masks. Nzinga King was wearing a mask. The police stopped the car to question those not wearing masks. The police pepper sprayed some in the car. Nzinga King got out and started arguing with the police. She was arrested for disorderly conduct. On July 22, she received a $40 fine or 10 days in jail. She couldn’t pay the fine, and so went to jail, where a police officer cut her hair. As Jamaican journalist Emma Lewis noted this week, Nzinga King “had several counts against her from the start”: She is young. She is Black. She is poor. She is Rastafari. She is a woman. She is a rural dweller. With all that, Nzinga King should consider herself lucky to have been `merely’ humiliated. Right?

Yvonne Farrell is not young, poor or a rural dweller. She is Black. She is Rastafari. She is a woman. And she knows that and she knew that, and she knew that to be criminalized for the nexus of Black, Rastafari, woman is unjust. As Yvonne Farrell explains, “I could have been a Jewish woman. I could have been a Muslim woman … That just shows they wanted to humiliate me – they did humiliate me.” Yvonne Farrell has since `relocated’ to somewhere in the Caribbean.

Two years ago, in 2020, in London, Ruby Williams won an out-of-court settlement of £8,500 for the abuse she suffered, for wearing her hair in an Afro, for Being Black, from the age of 11 years old on. Two years ago, in 2020, Jamaica’s high court ruled that a school was within its rights to tell a 5-year-old girl student, identified as Z, that she must cut her dreadlocks or leave school.  By all accounts, she was an excellent student. By all accounts, she had not in any way prevented others around her from pursuing their education. To the contrary, she was described as an ideal student and learner who helped her fellow students. But Z’s desire to learn was deemed Constitutionally inferior to the politics of Black girls’ hair. Two years later, Yvonne Farrell and Nzinga King lock arms with Z and Ruby Williams. Compensation is not enough, apologies won’t do. Meanwhile, the State-sponsored war on Black women bodies continues.

Yvonne Farrell

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

 

(Photo Credit 1: Petchary’s Blog) (Photo Credit 2: BBC)

In Covid-hit India, where are the women? In Byculla Women’s Jail, awaiting trial, awaiting death

When Covid hit India, the reports, and for some expectation, were that the State would consider pandemic measures, such as the need for social distancing, and would reduce the incarcerated populations. To no one’s great surprise, that did not happen generally, and in particular it did not happen in women’s jails and prisons. For example, the state of Maharashtra has 60 central and district jails. Of them, one, Byculla Women’s Jail, is the only one dedicated for women and children, but that doesn’t mean the conditions are in any way better. Byculla Women’s Jail has always been an overcrowded hellhole for women and children.

But first, let’s consider the national situation. The most recent National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s annual Prison Statistics of India looks at 2020. It finds, first, that, between 2015 and 2020, the prison population increased by 16.4%. In 2020, the number of undertrial prisoners increased by 11.7%. In 2020, there were 1427 women prisoners with 1628 children. 1184 were undertrial, with 1345 children. 214 convicted, w 246 children. Where are the women? In prison, awaiting trial. Occupancy rate for women in all jails at national level was 72.2%, but in many states the rate was much higher. 20,046 women were held in jail, of whom 15.4% were in women’s jails. The number of women in women’s jails increased 3.7% from 2015 – 2020; in Other Jails, 14.2%. Between 2015 and 2020, the number of convicted incarcerated people decreased by 16.1% while the number of undertrial inmates increased by 31.8%. Again, where are the women? In prison, awaiting trial.

In 2020, 4,83,585 were incarcerated: 4,64,260 men, 19,255 women, 70 transgenders were confined in various Indian jails at the end of the year 2020. Of that 4,83,585 population 3,68,381 were remand, awaiting trial. 96% are undertrial. Incarcerated women are disproportionately, overwhelmingly undertrial.

Finally, in 2020, 1,291,504 people awaiting trial were released. In 2019, that number was 1,606,731. So much for pandemic concerns.

Byculla Women’s Jail was at 101.5% of capacity, in the midst of the ferocious first wave that hit India, and Mumbai in particular, where Byculla is located.  On March 31, 2020, held 352 women. Its capacity is 200. That’s 176% occupancy rate.  Last September, when Covid raged through Byculla, the jail held close to 300 women. According to activist Sudha Bharadwaj, recently released, sort of, on bail from Byculla, her unit housed 75 women. It had a maximum capacity of 35. Women slept side by side by side on the floor, each on a mat the “size of a coffin. Overcrowding becomes a source of fights and tensions. There’s a queue for everything – food, toilets.” 24% of the women in Sudha Bharadwaj’s unit were infect with Covid: “The judiciary should consider decongesting our jails more seriously. Even during the pandemic most people did not get interim bail to return to their families.” In April 2021, Byculla accounted for 33% of the Covid cases in Mumbai’s five jails.

Amidst a pandemic and despite promises to reduce the incarcerated populations, why is Byculla Women’s Jail a death trap? Why is the entire prison system, the entire criminal justice system, filling prisons and jails with people who are presumed to be innocent and are awaiting trial? Why sentence people to death or serious infirmity in this manner? We have seen this before, in pretty much every carceral system in the world. Out of sight, out of mind, out of luck, and, soon, out of breath. This is the State of Abandonment: “Zones of abandonment … accelerate the death of the unwanted. In this bureaucratically and relationally sanctioned register of social death, the human, the mental and the chemical are complicit: their entanglement expresses a common sense that authorized the lives of some while disallowing the lives of others.” That original formulation pertained to Brazil, but we have seen it in the United States, England and Wales, South Africa and beyond. What happened in the prisons and jails of India in 2020,  during the pandemic, what happened in Byculla Women’s Jail? Absolutely nothing. Nothing happened … absolutely.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Art Work: Arun Ferreria / Free Them All)

 

For women in England and Wales, `safety in custody’ still means self-harm

Once upon a time, the word custody meant protection, safekeeping, responsibility for protecting or taking care of. No longer. If one is to take the sorry and sordid output and history of the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice, custody today means the power to cage and code for cruelty. It’s that time of the year again when the Ministry releases its in no way long awaited “safety in custody” reports, and, yet again, one can only look at the numbers and wonder. If this is safety in custody, what would danger look like?

And so, without further ado, here’s the Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to December 2021, Assaults and Self-harm to September 2021: “In the 12 months to December 2021, there were 371 deaths in prison custody, an increase of 17% from 318 deaths the previous 12 months … In the most recent quarter there were 84 deaths, a 29% increase from 65 deaths in the previous quarter … [In the 12 months to September 2021] the rate of self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners, which takes account of the reduction in the prison population between this and the previous year, decreased 9% in male establishments but increased 5% in female establishments … The rate of assault in male establishments decreased by 15% from the previous 12 months, while the rate in female establishments increased by 3%. Assault rates for the 12 months to September 2021 were higher in female establishments (327 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) than in male establishments (253 incidents per 1,000 prisoners). The rate of assault on staff decreased by 6% in male establishments but increased by 12% in female establishments compared with the previous 12 months. Assault rates have remained higher in female establishments than in male establishments. In the latest quarter, the number of assaults in male establishments increased by 8%, and the number of assaults in female establishments increased by 21%. In the 12 months to September 2021, the proportion of assaults that were on staff was higher in female establishments (56%) than in male establishments (38%).” This is the latest portrait of “safety in custody”.

Since 2011, the rate of self-harm in women’s prisons in England and Wales has risen 61%. That is the trajectory of “safety in custody”.

In the 12 months leading up to December 2021, deaths in custody rose by 14%. Suicides in custody rose by 28%. More than half the suicides occurred within the first 30 days in custody and the first 30 days in the current prison. Prisoners awaiting trial had the highest rate of suicide. Most of the suicides were by hanging.

Last year was the worst for deaths in custody in England and Wales in recorded, documented history. While some of that is attributed to Covid, much of it is systemic. Why is the rate of violence against self and others rising among women in custody?  Women In Prison,  Hibiscus Initiatives, Muslim Women In Prison, Zahid Mubarek Trust, Criminal Justice Alliance and Agenda: the Alliance for women and girls at risk have spent the last year poring over reports; meeting with everyone, especially  “with women with lived experience on the challenges they face at different stages of the criminal justice system, from policing in the community, to courts and sentencing, to prison, to probation and re-entering the community”, and today they released a 10-point action plan for change to end inequality for Black, Asian, minoritized and migrant women in the criminal justice system. Among the many practical, and often common sensical, actions, the fifth calls for the “use of diversion and out of court disposals and end the use of disproportionate custodial sentencing and remands for Black, Asian, minoritized, and migrant women.” Custodial sentencing. There it is again, custody. They call for “the Government to amend the Bail Act (1976) to make it unlawful to remand people to prison `for their own protection’”. By its own report, the so-called criminal justice system of England and Wales indiscriminately targets women of color, minoritized and migrant women. This is the system designated to protect women who have “exhibited anti-social behavior” … by throwing them behind bars? And then we are surprised that every year, rates of self-harm rise, rates of assault rise?

Earlier in the week, the Action Foundation released a report based on the experiences of women sent to the recently built women-only Immigration Centre in Derwentside, which has replaced Yarl’s Wood … for the moment. The study found that women in community do demonstrably better than women in detention. Significantly, community residence costs less than half the price of detention. Detention costs too much, in every sense. Custody should mean protection, safekeeping, responsibility for protecting or taking care of. Community is custody. Nothing else will do.

 

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic Credit: UK Ministry of Justice) (Photo Credit: Action Foundation)