Why does Wales insist on incarcerating so many women?

Wales, England and Scotland lead Western Europe in rates of incarceration

Today, the Wales Governance Centreat Cardiff University released a report, Sentencing and Immediate Custody in Wales: A Factfile. It’s the first report to disaggregate Wales incarceration figures from those of England. Wales has the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe, with England a close second. Wales comes in at 148 per 100,000; England at 141 per 100,000; Scotland at 135 per 100,000 and bursting at the seams. Northern Ireland lags with a mere 78 per 100,000. (The United States clocks in at 698 per 100,000). The numbers in Wales reflect a State criminal justice system that is deeply racist and misogynist. The report concludes, “While the discovery that Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe is a cause of major concern, equally disturbing is that such an alarming trend has emerged in Wales without detection.” The alarming trend is “that non-White Welsh prisoners are overrepresented in prison and that the likelihood of receiving a short-term sentence is greater for those sentenced in Wales than in England.” Who receives the short-term sentences? Women.

Women: “Women are more likely to be given shorter custodial sentences than men. More than three quarters (78.6%) of all females sentenced to immediate custody in Wales between 2010 and 2017 were handed sentences of less than 12 months. This compared to 67% of male offenders sentenced in Wales during this period. The frequent use of short-term sentences often brings considerable `chaos and disruption’ to the lives of women and their families. Recent research has also shown that women sentenced to short-term custodial sentences are more likely to re-offend than those sentenced to a court order … One in four women (24.8%) sentenced to immediate custody in Wales were sentenced to a period of one month or less in prison between 2010 and 2017. This compared to a rate of 15.2% for men in Wales.”

At one level, none of this is new. England and Wales, taken together, have had the highest prison population rate in Western Europe since 1999Year after year after year, the incidence of women’s suicide and women’s self-harm while in custody has broken previous records. What is new is that Wales is worse, and that the cornerstone of being Incarcerator Number One is race and gender. The report does not provide intersectional data, for example the treatment of Black women in Wales, but one can only imagine that if it’s bad of Black people and it’s bad for women…

Why does Wales insist on incarcerating so many women? Protection. The State is [a] protecting women from themselves and [b] protecting women as vulnerable beings. Women are being arrested more often for minor offenses, and then are being imprisoned for short periods of time, all this despite volumes of research that document that short-term “custodial sentences” do not work. Put differently, they succeed in further and more deeply enmeshing women into prison networks. What is the mechanism that combines pipeline and revolving door? Ask the women of Wales. For women, living in Wales, “one of the poorest parts of the UK”, has become both a survival to prison pipeline and a never-ending and ever faster spinning revolving door. Tell the Welch government, tell the “justice agencies in Wales as well as civil society organisations and academic researchers” that living as a woman is not a crime.

(Infographic: BBC)

In Mexico, journalist Lydia Cacho persisted, and yesterday she won

Lydia Cacho

Yesterday, January 10, 2019, the Mexican government formally and publicly apologized to Lydia Cacho for having kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured her seventeen years ago. For far more than seventeen years, Lydia Cacho has insisted on uncovering and reporting the truth concerning violence against women and children. She persisted. This week, in response to the apology, Lydia Cacho said, “If women such as myself have struggled for human rights to the point of risking our lives, the least the government can do is to protect its journalists … They told us that journalism was men’s work and that human rights are mere sentimentality. I have already forgiven my torturers because I never allowed them to colonize either my body or my soul.” She persisted.

In 2003, Lydia Cacho started writing a series on a pedophilia sex ring in Cancun. The police did nothing in response, and so in 2004, Lydia Cacho wrote Los demonios del Edén (The Demons of Eden: The Power That Protects Child Pornography), which detailed the conditions and horrors of the ring. In December 2005, police officers from Puebla kidnapped Lydia Cacho, drove her almost a thousand miles to Puebla, where she was held and subjected to death threats, rape threats and other forms of psychological terror. After a half day in jail, she was released, but the threats continued. Tape recordings revealed a plot to kidnap, rape and murder her. Lydia Cacho sued the governor of Puebla for having violated her human and civil rights, as a woman and as a journalist. In 2007, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled against Lydia Cacho. She persisted.

For the next twelve years, Lydia Cacho continued to research and write exposes of violence against women and children in Mexico and beyond. She continued to press for the dignity of journalists as well as women and children. She continued to press for the dignity of Mexico as well. Last year, Last August the United Nations Commission on Human Rights declared that Lydia Cacho’s rights had been violated. Yesterday, finally, the government of Mexico agreed. The Assistant Secretary for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas declared: “On behalf of the Mexican State, I offer you a public apology for the violation of your human rights in the exercise of your right to freedom of expression.” He then enumerated the five categories of rights violations for which he, and Mexico, were atoning: violation of the right to freedom of expression; arbitrary detention; torture as an instrument of investigation; violence and discrimination based on gender; impunity and corruption encouraged by institutions. Olga Sánchez, the Head of the Ministry of the Interior, added: “We are here today to offer apologies on behalf of the Mexican government to Lydia Cacho and to confirm that the government of the Republic of Andrés Manuel López Obrador will not be subservient to private interests”. 

Lydia Cacho persisted. Thanks to Lydia Cacho,impunity no longer holds carte blanche in Mexico. Journalism matters. Women matter. Elections matter. The truth matters. In this period of menace, of expanding assassination and torture of human rights and women’s rights defenders and of journalists, exposing the demons of Eden matters. Today’s good, if fragile, news: Lydia Cacho persisted, and yesterday, we all won.

(Photo Credit: Animal Politico)

In Western Australia, Aboriginal women go to prison for unpaid fines

What’s it called when a force seizes women of color and holds them hostage until they, or someone else, pays for their release? Kidnapping? Trafficking? Slavery? In Western Australia, as elsewhere, it’s called criminal justice, and it targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Debbie Kilroy, Executive Director of Sisters Inside, decided that enough was already way too much, and so this past Saturday she organized a GoFundMe campaign to bail out one hundred single Aboriginal mothers. While the effort is terrific, why are women, and particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women still being held hostage by the State?

Here’s Debbie Kilroy’s plea: “Western Australia’s response to poverty and homelessness is imprisonment. Western Australia refuses to change the laws where people who have no criminal convictions are imprisoned if they do not have the capacity to pay a fine.  People are languishing in prison for not being able to pay their fines.  Single Aboriginal mothers make up the majority of those in prison who do not have the capacity to pay fines. They are living in absolute poverty and cannot afford food and shelter for their children let alone pay a fine. They will never have the financial capacity to pay a fine.  So we want to raise $99,000.00 to have at least 100 single Aboriginal mothers freed from prison and have warrants vacated.  If you can financially assist this movement it would be greatly appreciated.  The funds will only be used to release people from prison.”

In August 2014, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman, called Ms. Dhu, died in custody in Western Australia. She was being held for unpaid parking fines. Ms. Dhu complained, some say screamed and begged, of intense pains. She was sent to hospital twice and returned, untreated, to the jail. On her third trip to the hospital, she died, in the emergency room, within 20 minutes. It is reported that she never saw a doctor. Her grandmother says she “had broken ribs, bleeding on the lungs and was in excruciating pain.”Ms. Dhu was murdered by State systems of accounting. She was in jail for $3,622 in unpaid fines. The jail staff and the hospital staff decided she wasn’t worth believing or treating. She wasn’t worth the bother, and so Ms. Dhu died and remains dead. No amount of accounting will bring her justice. Her family and community are left to struggle with the State systems of accounting that value their lives as beneath assessment. What does justice for Ms. Dhu mean today?

Ms. Dhu’s case has become the standard by which we mark the incarceration of Indigenous women in Australia, but that doesn’t mean things have improved. A year ago, Human Rights Watch reported“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population, and 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous peers.” While the report was perfectly accurate, it was also perfectly redundant, given that it reiterated issues came up in major reports published in  2010201120122013201420152016, and 2017. Last month, reporters Hayley Gleeson and Julia Baird wondered, “Why are our prisons full of domestic violence victims?” 

Women, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, end up in prison for unpaid fines. Women suffering domestic violence call the police, and, if they have unpaid fines, the police come … and take the women to prison, as happened to a 35-year-old Noongar woman in September 2017. In what world does that make sense? In our world.

In Australia, rates of incarceration are increasing regularly, and women’s rates of incarceration far outnumber the rates for men. Why? Explanations include criminalization of women’s homelessness, women’s mental illness, women’s addictions, women’s poverty, women’s health. The bottom line is women. Cash bail systems and prison for unpaid fine systems are just another weapon in the State war on women. While Western Australia is the only state in Australia that imprisons people for unpaid fines, the issue is mass and hyper incarceration. As Debbie Kilroy noted, “The wheels are just turning so slowly. This is a priority for many Australians across the country, it’s not just a West Australian issue. It’s nice to say we will get draft legislation in six months but come on.”

We don’t need another report. We need action, and not only in Australia. If you can, consider donating to Debbie Kilroy’s FreeThePeople campaign, here. Whether you do or not, remember the women, around the world, who call the people because they are being abused and end up in prison. It’s way past time to shut that system down. Come on.

(Infographic Credit: ABC)

Between Amal Fathy and Dafne McPherson Veloz, we see our terrestrial globe multiplied endlessly

Dafne McPherson Veloz

“I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly.” (Jorge Luis Borges, “The Aleph”)

This year, the Mediterranean, the graveyard of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, the graveyard built by so-called democratic nation-States, spread across the entire globe, from the borderlands of the United States to the killing fields of the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the factories of India to the primary schools of South Africa to the garbage dumps of Mozambique to the houses where domestic workers live and work, in Saudi ArabiaMalaysia and beyond. It’s not only that the world proliferated in toxic and lethal sites for more and more women, children, and men, but also that the capacity for concern and active caring declined. States of abandonment yearn to produce a globe of abandonment. The glue that holds that dreamt globe together is confinement: prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, juvenile detention centers, accompanied by an increased use and greater proliferation of solitary confinement. Additionally, there are seclusion rooms, in schools and hospitals. This is our terrestrial globe, and, at the end of this year, it spins between two mirrors: Amal Fathy, in Egypt, and Dafne McPherson Veloz, in Mexico.

Amal Fathy is a widely known women’s rights defender in Egypt. On May 9, Amal Fathy posted a video on Facebook in which she described an incident of sexual harassment and criticized the government for refusing to address sexual harassment of women. Amal Fathy, her husband and their three-year-old child were taken into police custody. Her husband and child were released. Amal Fathy was held. The next day she was transferred to Qanater Women’s Prison. Since then Amal Fathy has been in so-called preventive detention. Her health has deteriorated. Four months after her initial arrest, Amal Fathy was convicted of “spreading fake news that harms national security.” She was also charged with membership in a terrorist organization. Fathy appealed the decision, was told that if she posted bail she could leave prison, posted bail, and then was told she could not leave prison because she was being charged as well as a terrorist. Amal Fathy was sentenced to two years in prison. Last Thursday, Amal Fathy was released on probation. Yesterday, Sunday, the appeals court approved the two-year prison sentence, and so Amal Fathy faces returning to prison.

Dafne McPherson Veloz was not a well-known person. In 2015, she worked in department store. She was the mother of a three-year-old child. One day, Dafne McPherson Veloz felt abdominal pains. They grew severe. She went to the restroom. The pains persisted. Finally, to her great surprise, Dafne McPherson Veloz gave birth to a child, who subsequently died of asphyxiation. Dafne McPherson Veloz went into shock and fainted in the bathroom. Immediately afterwards, she was charged with homicide. Dafne McPherson Veloz was convicted of that crime and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Dafne McPherson Veloz has spent three years behind bars. From the outset, she maintained her innocence. Doctors say she suffered from hypothyroidism, the symptoms of which masked the pregnancy. Although Dafne McPherson Veloz went to the doctors, none mentioned that she was or might be pregnant. Dafne McPherson Veloz and her attorneys have argued consistently that her trial was improper, both because of inadequate evidence and because the judge relied on “stereotypes” of how a woman, a “good mother”, should live. In other words, Dafne McPherson Veloz “should have known” she was pregnant and so she is guilty of murder. After three years, Dafne McPherson Veloz’s request for an appeal has been heard; her case will be heard January 21, 2019.

Two young women, Dafne McPherson Veloz and Amal Fathy, stare at each other and see themselves, multiplied endlessly.  They see women refusing to accept the globe of abandonment as inevitable. Patriarchy, and prisons, will attempt to expand, but women are resisting, in small and enormous ways. Tomorrow starts a new year of struggle and hope, however difficult, abounding. One must imagine Dafne McPherson Veloz and Amal Fathy happy.

Amal Fathy

(Photo Credit 1: El Sol de San Juan / Miriam Martinez) (Photo Credit 2: Amnesty)

Born, not in a manger, but in a prison cell or to a woman whose legs were shackled

The year ends with a childbirth in New York in which the mother, Jane Doe, was shackled, even though New York law prohibits that, and the report of a childbirth in Western Australia where the mother was thrown into a cell and left, alone, to give birth, alone. In one instance, those who came arrived with chains; in the other, no one came at all. For the past few years, we’ve followed and shared the stories of those born, not in a manger, but rather in solitary confinement or in a prison cell and those born to women whose legs were shackled. Today’s a good day to remember those, and so, without further ado …

Let’s talk of those women who were thrown into cells, alone, to give birth.

Texas’ Minimum Security Death Row for Women:  In 2013, in Texas, Autumn Miller was force to give birth to Gracie Miller in a holding cell toilet. Guards then rushed in, shackled and handcuffed the mother, and took mother and daughter to the hospital. Gracie died four days later, in her shackled mother’s handcuffed arms.

How many women are forced to give birth in solitary confinement?: In 2014, Nicole Guerrerofiled a lawsuit against the Wichita County Jail, in Texas, and others for having forced her to give birth in solitary. The baby died. It’s a terrible story, and it’s an increasingly common one.

In England, women in prison give birth without midwife. Who cares?: In November 2018, a report detailed the conditions of childbirth in England’s prisons. The study centered on Layla who was forced to give birth without any care, 

In Western Australia, Bandyup Women’s Prison is still (akin to) torture: In December 2018, the Inspector of Custodial Services for Western Australia released a report that focused on the experiences of Amy, an Indigenous woman who was forced to give birth, alone, in a prison cell.

In each instance, the women – Autumn Miller; Nicole Guerrero; Layla; Amy – said they were in labor, and in each instance, the staff disbelieved and did nothing … or worse.

Let’s talk about shackling women in childbirth:

Women prisoners haunt the modern era: Our journey begins in 2009, when New York State passed the anti-shackling Bill S01290A, which “prohibits the use of any restraints during labor”. Remember that, and remember that it was 2009.

Did Mother’s Day end early this year?: In 2010, Pennsylvania passed its own anti-shackling law. In 2014, pregnant women prisoners were still being shackled, routinely, including during childbirth.

In New York, Jane Doe was shackled in childbirth, despite New York’s anti-shackling laws: And finally, just this month, “Jane Doe” sued the NYPD because, earlier in the year, they had insisted on shackling her, in childbirth, despite the prohibition on such shackling since 2009.

So, where is that shining star, the one that will lead us to healthy childbirths for all, irrespective of status and location? States are passing anti-shackling laws:

Shackling the birthing, dead and dying: All in a day’s work: In 2014, Nevada outlawed shackling women in childbirth, thanks largely to Valorie Nabors, who had been incarcerated in the at the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center and refused to accept the shackling she had undergone as inevitable or acceptable.

In January 2014, Maryland passed the Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act. In February 2014, Massachusetts stopped shackling women in childbirth. In March 2018, North Carolina stoped shackling women in childbirth.

The news has been difficult … and partial. Jails are largely opaque and seldom report the conditions of childbirth. Immigration detention centers are worse. When laws are passed, as in New York and Pennsylvania, constant monitoring and intervention is needed. But for now, let us thank the wise women and their supporters who campaign tirelessly for the dignity of women … everywhere. The struggle continues.

In Western Australia, Bandyup Women’s Prison is still (akin to) torture. Shut it down!

Inside Bandyup Women’s Prison

On December 12, Neil Morgan, the Inspector of Custodial Services for Western Australia, released a scathing report summary, benignly entitled The birth at Bandyup Women’s Prison in March 2018. Just in time for Christmas, the report tells the story of Amy (not her real name) who gave birth, alone in a cell, at Bandyup Women’s Prison, the only women’s prison in Western Australia. The Inspector’s media release on the report opens: “The Inspector of Custodial Services, Neil Morgan, has voiced serious concerns about a birth at Bandyup Women’s Prison on 11 March 2018. Despite pleading for help multiple times for over an hour, a woman (‘Amy’) gave birth alone in a locked cell at 7.40pm. Staff observed events through a hatch in the cell door, but the door was not unlocked for several minutes after the birth.

On releasing a summary of his report into the birth, Mr Morgan said: `I wanted to know how such an event could occur in a 21st Century Australian prison and to prevent it happening again.’” What do we imagine a 21stCentury prison, Australian or otherwise, is, and especially for women? Bandyup Women’s Prison has been known as a hellhole for years, and yet … there it is.

Here is Amy’s story, reduced to a timeline. At 5:30, Amy made a cell call, saying she was in labor. She was taken Bandyup Health Centre. The nurses were not told of the cell call. So, they gave her paracetamol, or acetaminophen, and sent her back to her cell. At 6 pm, the prison went into night lock down. At 6:30, Amy made a number of cell calls. She sounded distressed and said she was in labor. Custodial staff came to the door, and talked to Amy, through the door. Amy became increasingly distressed. Nursing staff arrived around 7:35, a full hour later. According to the Inspector’s report, “By this time, Amy’s distress was palpable, and she clearly needed help. However, the nursing staff could only assess her through the locked cell door, because the only person with cell keys was a senior staff member in the gatehouse.” At 7:40, alone, in a cramped cell, Amy gave birth: “Excessive delays continued even after Amy had delivered her child. Due to poor record keeping, we cannot put a precise time on it, but it took somewhere between seven and 12 minutes before the officer from the gatehouse arrived with the keys, and the cell door was opened. This finally allowed assistance to be provided. Amy and her baby were transferred to hospital that evening.”

Why was Amy in prison? The Inspector’s report begins: “On 30 January 2018, a woman we will call ‘Amy’ appeared in court. She was in the late stages of pregnancy and was granted bail subject to a number of conditions. However, she was unable to meet the conditions and was taken to the Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facility (Melaleuca). On 17 February 2018, Amy was moved to Bandyup Women’s Prison (Bandyup).” Amy was in prison because she couldn’t pull together enough money to post bail. 

Why was Amy in prison? Amy is an Indigenous woman, living in Australia. In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population. Amy is an Indigenous woman living in Western Australia. Western Australia has the highest imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Australia and boasts the highest rates of Indigenous prisoners awaiting trial

Bandyup Women’s Prison has been acknowledged, for years, as a hellhole. In 2015, it was the most overcrowded prison in Western Australia, famous for an Indigenous woman’s death in custodygross mismanagement of vulnerable individuals and populations, sponsoring a culture of despair, and worse. In 2015, Neil Morgan, the same Neil Morgan, issued a damning report. Three years later, the State is shocked to discover the conditions of the 21stCentury Australian prison. The time for inspections,reports, shock and discovery is over. How many more women must give birth, alone, in a filthy cramped cell, simply because they can’t pay the exit fee? How many more Indigenous women must suffer torture and death behind bars for having committed the crime of being-Indigenous-woman? How many more Amy’s? Close Bandyup Women’s Prison today. Shut it down!

(Photo credit: The West Australian)

In Maryland’s women’s prison last year, Emily Butler didn’t die. She was executed.

Maryland has one women’s prison, the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, MCIW. On November 12, 2017, 28-year-old Emily Butler was “found dead in her cell from an apparent suicide.” Emily Butler wasn’t “in her cell”; she was in solitary confinement, which Maryland claims does not exist in its prisons. On Friday, Disability Rights Maryland and a community fellow from the Open Society Institute of Baltimore released their findings concerning Emily Butler’s death. The report’s findings are both grim and all too familiar. Emily Butler was not “found dead”. She was executed, by the State of Maryland.

Starting in 2008, Emily Butler had been receiving community-based mental health services for depressive, bipolar, and post-traumatic stress disorders. MCIW knew of her conditions. Remember that the staff knew all about Emily Butler’s psychiatric history. On Friday, November 10, 2017, Emily Butler and a friend argued. Butler threw coffee at her friend. Her friend was not injured, but Emily Butler was thrown into solitary confinement. There she stayed until her death. She was only allowed outside of her cell to bathe. According to the Disability Rights Maryland report, “Ms. Butler was not a danger to herself or others in MCIW because she acted impulsively and threw coffee on her friend during a dispute. Her friend was not injured and did not want to see Ms. Butler placed in segregation. Her segregation sentence was about punishment, not safety. Ms. Butler only became a danger to herself after she was placed in segregation.”

Emily Butler took the isolation hard. First, solitary confinement is torture. Second, Emily Butler had reason to expect that she was going to be paroled in April 2018, and a stay in segregation would delay that. She was distraught and said so. She knew she needed help and asked for it. None came.

The report finds that a mere six weeks prior to Emily Butler’s death, another woman, “Elaine”, had attempted suicide under similar circumstances. While Elaine was in the inpatient mental health treatment unit, IMHTU, she threw urine at a staff member. Elaine lives with “with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder -traumatic stress disorder.” The staff knew that. The staff also knew that Elaine has a long record of self-injury and aggression and can’t stand stress. Despite all that, Elaine was thrown into solitary: “After Elaine was transferred …  to disciplinary segregation, she was observed in her cell standing on the sink and tying a sheet to the vent in the ceiling and around her neck. An officer intervened and stopped Elaine’s actions … She wanted to harm herself because she was scared about pending criminal assault charges for throwing the urine and that she had other stresses related to her family … She was upset that staff on the segregation unit did not take her seriously when she said that she was suicidal and wanted to speak with mental health staff … She said she attempted to hang herself after getting no response to her request for help. Elaine spent a few days on the IMHTU after this incident, and was then returned to the disciplinary segregation unit despite her evidenced need for mental health services …. Less than six weeks after Elaine was discovered with a sheet tied to the vent and around her neck, Emily Butler was discovered, also in the segregation unit, hanging from a sheet tied to a vent in her cell.

Three days after Emily Butler “was found dead,” The Baltimore Sun editorial board wrote, “It’s tempting to dismiss Emily Butler’s death as an unfortunate accident in an otherwise well-run corrections system where such mistakes are rare. But the reality is this is the fourth reported case of an inmate committing suicide this year, and it appears to be part of a pattern linking such deaths to the kinds of physical confinement inmates experience behind prison walls. There’s a difference between firm disciplinary measures that help ensure the safety of inmates and staff and cruel or unusual punishments that in effect amount to human rights abuses. Maryland needs to constantly rethink where that line should be drawn — and then make sure it stays on the right side of it. Emily Butler and others like her shouldn’t have to die by their own hands in order to teach the state that lesson.”

The State of Maryland executed Emily Butler for the crime of needing and asking for help. How many more such women must suffer such torture? Do more than say Emily Butler’s name. In her name, shut down all forms of solitary confinement, in prison and beyond. 

(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)

In New York, Jane Doe was shackled in childbirth, despite New York’s anti-shackling laws

In March 2018, North Carolina officially ended the shackling of women (prisoners) in childbirth. At that time, Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, a medical anthropologist and OB-GYN said, “Passing laws and changing policy is only one step – there needs to be training and accountability and oversight to make sure that it doesn’t actually happen.” 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. For nine years, “physical restraints” on pregnant women during labor and delivery has been banned. Tell that to Jane Doe, who was forced in February of this year 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. According to Dr. Sufrin, 26 states ban the shackling of women in labor. The Federal Government does not ban the shackling of women in labor and delivery, although the so-called First Step Act, currently awaiting discussion in the U.S. Congress, would address the issue. It seems unlikely, though, that the Congress will act on this.

The problem with the so-called banning laws is that they are rife with so-called “extraordinary circumstances” loopholes, which leave a great deal to the discretion of prison staff and police: “While [a number of] states and the District of Columbia have laws governing shackling of pregnant individuals, none have an outright ban on the practice.” 

The history of shackling pregnant women (prisoners) in the United States is the ongoing history of slavery. While we remove statues and rename schools and other institutions, we should pay closer attention to and abolish the shackling of prisoners, all prisoners, beginning at the very least with pregnant women (prisoners). In 2014, the Correctional Association of New York interviewed 27 women who had given birth in New York prisons after the 2009 law was passed. 23 of them had been shackled during childbirth. 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 pregnant women (prisoners) and all people. Do it now!

#SOSNicaragua: Where is the global outrage at Nicaragua’s abuse of Irlanda Jerez?

Irlanda Jerez

On July 17, the government of Nicaragua celebrated el Día de la Alegría, the national Day of Joy which honors the day in 1979 when the dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle fled the country. This year, on July 17, the State sent soldiers and paramilitaries into Masaya, the protest or rebel city, and “regained control.”That control cost more than 300 dead and untold injured, wounded, scarred, violated, tortured, and traumatized. On July 18, woman human rights defender Irlanda Jerez was abducted by hooded, armed State agents and dumped in jail. Irlanda Jerez’s “crime” was having lead merchants in the Mercado Oriental, Nicaragua’s largest marketplace, in a campaign in which merchants refused to pay taxes in protest of Nicaragua’s violation of human, women’s, and civil rights. Irlanda Jerez was abducted, dumped in jail, processed through a fake court hearing the next day, July 19, and condemned to five years in prison. Irlanda Jerez was sent to La Esperanza prison, near Managua, where she sits with other women political prisoners and where she and others have been beaten. Irlanda Jerez continues to speak out, continues to not accept the current repression as inevitable. The United Nations, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and others have condemned the violence committed against Irlanda Jerez and her sister comrade prisoners. Where is the global media on Nicaragua’s abuse of Irlanda Jerez? Where is the global outrage at the abuse of Irlanda Jerez?

On July 19, Irlanda Jerez entered La Esperanza prison. On October 26, around 4 pm, four masked, armed men dressed in black came into Irlanda Jerez’s cell and demanded that she come with them for interrogation. She refused. Irlanda Jerez and her cellmates resisted any attempt to seize Irlanda Jerez. At around 6 pm, a larger group of unidentified, disguised armed men swarmed the cell and beat Irlanda Jerez and her cellmates. Finally, after three hours, Irlanda Jerez agreed to leave the cell. Behind her, one cellmate lay unconscious and the others were battered and bruised. No medical attention was ever provided.

The men told Irlanda Jerez they intended to transfer her to solitary confinement at La Modelo men’s prisons. When Irlanda Jerez did not return quickly to her cell, prisoners across La Esperanza raised a hue and cry, and Irlanda Jerez was finally returned to her cell.

On October 30, Daniel Esquivel, Irlanda Jerez’s husband, was allowed to visit. On the same day, prison authorities refused admission to members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Permanent Human Rights Commission.

According to Ana Maria Tello, coordinator of the Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Nicaragua, MESINI, there are currently more than 400 political prisoners in Nicaragua. MESINI is particularly concerned about the health and safety of Irlanda Jerez and her cellmates, including Amaya Eva Coppens Zamora, Olesia Auxiliadora Muñoz Pavón, Tania Verónica Muñoz Pavón, Solange Centeno Peña, María Dilia Peralta Serrato, and Nelly Marilí Roque Ordoñez. Meanwhile, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, in the first ten days of November, 32 people were illegally detained. The war and the struggle continue.

On July 19, Irlanda Jerez’s sister, Dolma Jerez went to the gates of the prison to demand the release of her sister and much more: “We are demanding justice and freedom for my sister and not only for my sister but for the thousands of detainees who have been accused and have been deprived of their freedom only for speaking out.”

Why is the global media not speaking up as well? Where are the reports concerning Irlanda Jerez and her sister comrades; the conditions of women in Nicaragua’s prisons and jails; the constant threat to free speech and expression and to the right to association; Nicaragua’s State violence against women; and the levels of State repression in Nicaragua more generally? When the world acquiesces to the reign of terror and silence currently exercised in Nicaragua, what happens to Irlanda Jerez happens to all of us. Why is the world news media silent on Nicaragua’s abuse of Irlanda Jerez and her sister comrades? Where is the global outrage at Nicaragua’s abuse of Irlanda Jerez?

 

(Photo Credit: Havana Times)

In Scotland, what happened to Katie Allan? Death by omission of care

Katie Allan

In Scotland, in early March, Katie Allan, 20 years old, was arrested for drunk driving and convicted to 16 months in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution. Less than three months later, in early June, Katie Allan was “found dead” in her cell. On, October 4, William Lindsay, also called William Brown, was brought before a magistrate for possession of a knife, assault, and breach of peace. Although he was “flagged” as a suicide risk, William Lindsay was sent to the same Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution. Within 48 hours of arrival, on Sunday, William Lindsay was “found dead”. Now Katie Allen and William Lindsay lay in the same narrative ground, buried in expressions of “sympathy” and “tragedy”. William Lindsay was the fourth youth to commit suicide in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution in two years. After Katie Allan’s death, absolutely nothing was done to ameliorate the situation. There was no tragedy. There is no tragedy in multiply redundant public policy. Katie Allan’s and William Lindsay’s families demand justice. We all should. We all should ask, “How many deaths will it take til we know that too many people have died?” How many deaths will it take til we know that too many children have been sacrificed … and for what?

Katie Allan studied geography at Glasgow University. One night, she drank way too much, got in her car, and went to drive home. On her way, she hit a 15-year-old-boy who was out for a run. She knocked him unconscious and left him in the middle of the road. When she appeared in court, she expressed great concern for the boy, great remorse for what she had done, and said she was ready for her punishment. She kept putting her hands before her, as if to accept handcuffs. Katie Allan was ready for justice. Katie Allan was also a young woman who self-harmed, often. Her parents told the authorities that Katie needed help. She got no help. Her parents say she was bullied and regularly subjected to strip searches. She never received any medical or psychiatric treatment. By the time Katie Allan was “found dead”, she had pulled out much of her hair.

This is not a tale of tragedy but one of horror. Why did no one in the system help this young woman, who obviously needed assistance? Why must the parents be the ones to advocate, during life and, even more, after death, for justice for their loved ones … and for the loved ones of others? How many suicides in custody does it take for an agency to recognize the peril?

On Friday of this past week, Scotland’s Justice Secretary announced that a “review would examine arrangements for young people with mental health issues entering custody, including the information available about their backgrounds, reception arrangements and on-going support and supervision while in custody.” Almost a full six months after Katie Allen was put into a suicidal situation. What would have happened if William Lindsay had not suffered the same death by omission sentence? How many deaths does it take?

On November 25, 2018, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, think of Katie Allan and all the women who have been sentenced to death by omission of care, all the women who have been knowingly sent to their deaths by throwing them into cells like so much trash and then waiting for the moment to “find them dead.” How many deaths does it take til we know?

William Lindsay

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Falkirk Herald) (Photo Credit 2: John Devlin / The Scotsman)