Where are the women? In England and Wales, in prison awaiting trial, under attack

 

Yesterday, England’s House of Commons Justice Committee delivered its report, “The role of adult custodial remand in the criminal justice system”. The Committee’s summary opens, “At present, the number of defendants being held in custodial remand while awaiting trial is at the highest level it has been for 50 years. They are also being held for longer periods of time, often beyond the statutory six-month limit. Recent figures show that 770 prisoners have been held on custodial remand for over two years, awaiting trial.” The highest level in 50 years. Longer periods of detention. Since 1976, the Bail Act was supposed to avoid precisely this situation, securing the “general right to bail of accused persons”. The idea was to reduce and then keep at a minimum the size of the population of people incarcerated while awaiting trial or any process: “Section 4 (1) raises the presumption that all unconvicted defendants in criminal proceedings will be granted bail.” With a fifty-year high in size and historical record lengths detained as remand incarcerated people, it’s clear the State has refused to recognize its own law, and with that, the dignity and rights of people, especially of women. Where are the women in England and Wales? According to the House of Commons Justice Committee, they’re incarcerated and awaiting trial: “The use of custodial remand for non-violent offences is a particularly acute practice for women. 85% of women on remand in prison have been charged for a non-violent crime.” 85% of women on remand in prison have been charged for an offense that, if found guilty, would not result in incarceration, and yet there they sit, incarcerated.

Two-thirds of the women remanded to prison are found not guilty or given a community outcome. There are little to no services in the remand sections of prisons, and yet “acutely mentally unwell women” are remanded to prison, often. When pressed to at least collect data on the situation, the government “rejected” the proposal, on the grounds that it was moving to implement reforms. The highest level in 50 years must be the result of those reforms. According to various support organizations, most women remanded to prison have no fixed abode, at the moment of reception.

The report goes on to describe “The female estate”: “The number of women received into prison on remand increased by 9% between April to June 2020 and July to September 2021. Women entering prison on remand account for over half of the women received into prison in a given year. The size and geography of the women’s estate means women tend to be held further from home, creating difficulties in maintaining contact with their families and within the remit of local services. 40% of women remanded into custody do not go on to receive a custodial sentence …. Almost nine in 10 women held on remand are low or medium risk of serious harm to the public …. Women can be held in prison on remand due to a lack of available appropriate accommodation in the community rather than because they are a threat to the public.”

Finally, “an acting prison governor at Bronzefield Prison, which has the highest number of remanded women in the country, noted that the large number of women on remand had restricted the capacity for prison staff to work constructively with the sentenced women in their care.”

It took decades for this deplorable and utterly predictable situation to occur. In 2012, the Chief Inspector of Prisons noted that remand incarcerated people were treated worse than convicted incarcerated people, and that women were “over-represented” in that population. Eleven years later, women are more over-represented and for longer periods of time. And then there’s Covid. Decades of defunding public services, throwing women into prison `protection’ for `their own good’ as well as the `public safety’, and ignoring, and violating. laws, because, really, what does the law mean for women, have resulted in a thoroughly outrageous and, again, altogether predictable situation. Where are the women in England and Wales today? In prison, under attack.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Gabriel Saints / UK House of Commons Justice Committee)

Manston: The spectacularly ordinary cruelty of England’s abuse of the vulnerable

The past week has demonstrated, once again, if any demonstration was needed, the complete mess that is the English government’s `reception policy’ towards asylum seekers, refugees, and, more generally, migrants. At the center is the Manston `processing center’, located in Kent. Early this week, journalists arrived and were refused entry. Security guards began herding people into the buildings, when a group of children broke through their ranks and ran towards the fence. One girl got close enough to throw a message in a bottle over the fence. The letter describes abuse of pregnant women, children living with disabilities, everyone: “We really need your help.” Manston has a capacity for 1600. At the time of the letter, it housed at least 4000 people. In response to the uproar over conditions, the Home Office took some residents, drove them to Victoria Station, and dumped them there, in the middle of the night, without accommodations, winter clothing, information, or anything. This is what `processing’ looks like.

This weekend, it was revealed that people without any experience in asylum or immigration procedures are being hired off the street and, with little to no preparation, are put in charge of adjudicating asylum applications: “It’s a total disaster. They don’t know what they’re doing”. Meanwhile, asylum seekers who make it through the first rung of `processing’ are often dumped in hotels where they are forced to stay, often for over a year. As one Kurdish Iranian asylum seeker put it, “One, two, three months is reasonable in a hotel, but not 17 months. Expecting us to stay with nothing to do is intolerable.” What is going on? Processing. Processing disaster. Processing the intolerable.

The situation at Manston is so bad that the Border Force union is joining a legal action over “horrendous, inhumane and dangerous” conditions. 4000 crowded into a space where the maximum 1600 would have difficulty. People are not supposed to stay longer than 24 hours. They’re staying for more than 30 days. Infectious disease is spreading throughout the detained population. The sanitation is inadequate, to put it delicately. On Thursday, a minister in the Home Office admitted the center was operating illegally. It is still in operation. Seventeen-year-old Mohammad, who spent 25 days at Manston, put it succinctly, “It is not a situation that humans deserve to live in.”

It is not a situation that humans deserve to live in.

There is a tendency to report this situation as one of “neglect”: “Britain’s asylum system is broken after years of political neglect.” Others argue the system has `failed’ or it’s `broken’. Nothing could be further from the truth. The system wants to produce the public spectacle of cruelty. Cruelty is the point. Asylum originally meant `refuge’, “sanctuary’, `inviolable’. Today, it means both `vulnerable’, on one hand, and `dangerous’, on the other. The Home Office has described asylum seekers as an invasion. The Home Office has been using that rhetoric for over twenty years. So, when you read that children are being tortured, know that that is the intention. The spectacle of cruelty is the intention. It is not a situation that humans deserve to live in. Shut it down.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Kent Online)

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

Quarterly 12-month rolling rate of self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners by gender of establishment, 12 months ending September 2010 to 12 months ending September 2020

On Thursday, January 28, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice issued its Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to December 2020 Assaults and Self-harm to September 2020. The report is generally grim, and especially so for women. Generally, “In the 12 months to December 2020, there were 318 deaths in prison custody, an increase of 8% from 300 deaths the previous 12 months.” The real story, however, is that of women’s self-harm over the past twelve months: “Self-harm incidents have increased in the female estate and decreased in the male estate from the previous 12-month period: There were 58,870 self-harm incidents in the 12 months to September 2020, down 5% from the previous 12 months, comprising a 7% decrease in male establishments and a 8% increase in female establishments. In the most recent quarter there were 14,167 self-harm incidents, up 9% on the previous quarter, comprising a 5% increase in male establishments and a 24% increase in female establishments.”

What’s going on here? On one hand, the expanded and increased isolation, due to the pandemic, has intensified despair. As Dr. Kate Paradine, CEO of Women in Prison, explained, “Many women haven’t seen their families in person for over a year, and are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day. It doesn’t have to be like this – the Government can honor its promise and resume its early release scheme allowing women to safely isolate in the community.”

But Covid-19 is only part of the story. Here’s the report from the same Ministry of Justice a year earlier, Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to March 2020 Assaults and Self-harm to December 2019: “Self-harm incidents reached a record high of 63,328 incidents in the 12 months to December 2019, up 14% from the previous 12 months … Self-harm trends differ considerably by gender.” Where male prisoners suffered 650 incidents of self-harm per 1000 prisoners, female prisoners suffered 3,130 self-harm `events’ per 1000 women prisoners, and that was an increase of 16% from the previous twelve months.

The Safety in Custody report for the year before, to December 2018: “Self-harm incidents reached a record high of 55,598 incidents in 2018, a 25% increase from 2017.” The rate of self-harm among women prisoners that year was 2,675 per 1000, “an increase of 24% in the number of incidents from the previous year.”

The Safety in Custody report for the year before that, to December 2017: “In the 12 months to December 2017, there were 44,651 incidents of self-harm, up 11% from the previous year. The number of self- harming individuals increased by 6% to a new record high of 11,630.” The rate of self-harm among women prisoners that year was 2,093 per 1,000, “an increase of 8% in the number of incidents from the previous year.”

Want to know what this year’s report said? “Self-harm trends differ considerably by gender. The number of incidents in male establishments decreased by 7% … to September 2019 to 46,427 in the 12 months to September 2020. The number of incidents in the female estate increased 8% … to 12,443. On a quarterly basis, the number of incidents in the three months to September 2020 increased by 5% in male establishments compared with the previous three months and increased by 24% in female establishments. The rate of incidents … was 595 incidents per 1,000 prisoners in the male estate …. The rate of incidents in female establishments was far higher, and increased by 18%, from 3,016 in the previous 12 months to 3,557 in the latest 12 months.”

What is the point of calling these “safety in custody” when every single year, the rates of self-harm for women rise and the State trots out the same phrase, “Self-harm trends differ considerably by gender.” Perhaps the point is that, for women, safety in custody, like protection, means self-harm, means there will be a performance of collecting data but really no one in charge gives a damn, or worse, cares only to inflict harm, means there is no justice as long as prisons are held sacred by the State. How is the State responding to its own report of women’s self-harm `in custody’? On Saturday, January 23, it announced a plan to build 500 prison places, for the sake of women’s safety

by Dan Moshenberg

(Infographic: UK Ministry of Justice)

Once again, prison is Canada’s “travesty”, England’s “scandal”. Who cares?

This week, within a 24-hour span, major reports revealed that Canada’s prison system “is nothing short of a national travesty” and the prisons of England and Wales are “a national scandal”. The reports are important, well researched, and grim, but they also repeat the findings of earlier reports, with one glaring exception. The situation is worsening, in fact the negative aspects are at an all-time high. If the various national populations have time and again received reports of a terrible situation worsening and if those populations and their national governments have done nothing, have done less than and worse than nothing, it is reasonable to ask, “Who cares?”

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, Canada’s Correctional Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, released a report on the current status of Canadian prisons: “Four years ago, my Office reported that persons of Indigenous ancestry had reached 25% of the total inmate population.  At that time, my Office indicated that efforts to curb over-representation were not working.  Today, sadly, I am reporting that the proportion of Indigenous people behind bars has now surpassed 30% … On this trajectory, the pace is now set for Indigenous people to comprise 33% of the total federal inmate population in the next three years.  Over the longer term, and for the better part of three decades now, despite findings of Royal Commissions and National Inquiries, intervention of the courts, promises and commitments of previous and current political leaders, no government of any stripe has managed to reverse the trend of Indigenous over-representation in Canadian jails and prisons. The Indigenization of Canada’s prison population is nothing short of a national travesty.” Indigenous women are the core of this Indigenization of Canada’s prison system, accounting for 42% of women inmates. In some prairie regions, Indigenous women comprise almost 90% of the prison population. Where once there were boarding schools, now there are prisons and jails.

On Wednesday, January 22, 2020, Inquest released its report, Deaths in prison: A national scandal. At the outset, the report notes that “levels of distress are at record high levels” and that “since 2016 the number of deaths have remained at historically high levels, with little sign of significant change.” 2016 was “deadliest year on record”. In their press release, Inquest suggests that that “‘national scandal’ of deaths in prison caused by neglect and serious failures.” But what if it’s neither neglect nor failure? What if death, largely through self-harm, is the system successfully at work?

This question arises out of the cyclical redundancy of these discoveries. 2013: Canada’s Correctional Investigator reports that federal and provincial prisons are booming, with Aboriginal people, especially women, “over-represented” in prisons, in maximum security and solitary confinement. 2014: Canada’s Correctional Investigator reports concern over the incarceration of Aboriginal women and the routine use of psychotropic drugs to control Aboriginal women behind bars, producing a mass population of “walking zombies”. 2016: another report, more expression of concern: Of 683 women prisoners, 248 are Aboriginal. Over 36% of women prisoners are Aboriginal. There’s more, but you get the picture.

In England and Wales, the picture is the same. Here’s 2014: “In 2014, 84 people killed themselves `in custody’ in England and Wales That’s the highest figure in seven years and an increase of 12% over the year before. The rise in suicide is surpassed by the rise in self-harm, up more than 25%. Overall, it was a banner year for the prison state, with 243 deaths in custody.” 2016, as noted, prison deaths, and particularly suicides, soared, as did self-harm: “When considering females, despite the falls seen between 2009 and 2012, rates of individuals self-harming among females remain disproportionately high in comparison to the overall rates of individuals self-harming … Females accounted for nearly a quarter of self-harm incidents in this reporting period, but only make up less than 5% of the prison population.” Again, there’s more, but the picture is already clear.

Both the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada and Inquest note the need to learn from past experiences while both express disappointment at lessons unlearned, unheeded, but what if there are no lessons to learn? What if these deaths are but a station on a global assembly line at which employees dutifully stand and wait for the next body to ignore? The prisons of Canada and of England and Wales are a tiny part of the global labor of necropower: “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.” Once again, prison is Canada’s “travesty”, England’s “scandal”. Who cares?

 

(Infographic Credit 1: Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada) (Infographic Credit 2: The London Economic)

Don’t build better prisons; build a better world!

According to a report released today, the culmination of two years study of women prisoners in HMP Drake Hall in England, 64 percent of the 173 women interviewed and analyzed were living with brain injury. 64% of women prisoners are living with brain injury. The overwhelming majority had sustained traumatic brain injury due to domestic violence. 96% of the women reported that they had experienced “domestic abuse victimization.” The report notes, “Women with undiagnosed brain injuries, without the provision of specialised and informed support, may struggle to engage in rehabilitation programmes necessary to reduce recidivism, resulting in a higher risk of reoffending.”

Brain injuries would cause women towards behaviors that would land them in jail, particularly “emotional dysregulation (inability to control anger, aggression).” Women end up in jail for short terms. Upon release, the women predictably return to jail within the next year. In jail, the behaviors associated with brain injury – poor memory, lack of concentration, slowness to process information, poor impulse control – keep women from succeeding in any way. It’s a perfect system of entrapment wedded to abandonment. What is left after all this? Damaged women, dead women. Women prisoners self-harm at a rate five times that of men prisoners. Year after year, studies show that for women in England and Wales, `safety in custody’ means harm, death, hopelessness. Much of this is old news.

What is new is the documented prevalence of brain injury among women prisoners. Part of the study involved the establishment of a Brain Injury Linkworker service, which provided the women with desperately needed assistance from trained professionals. While the results are positive and encouraging, there’s one glaring missing from the study. Should these women have been in prison in the first place? Many of the so-called offenses derive in large part from brain injury, and that only increases and intensifies with the repeat offenses. While installing a Brain Injury Linkworker service in every prison and jail, beginning with women’s prisons, is important, more important and immediate should be providing care and assistance to women before they ever enter the criminal justice universe. Perhaps, instead of building better prisons, we might try to build a better world. Another world is possible. 

 

(Image Credit: The Mental Elf)

Why does Wales insist on incarcerating so many women?

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

Today, the Wales Governance Centre at 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)

HM Prison Eastwood Park leading the nation in women prisoners’ self-harm barely receives attention?


In July, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales released their annual report, and it was predictably grim, especially for women prisoners. Much of the news media in England, especially the local media, focused on the numbers concerning HMP Leeds, where each day sees around two women prisoners engaging in self-harm. In 2017, there were 712 `incidents’ of self-harm in Leeds, a 30% increase over the previous year, which saw 548 self-harm events. At Leeds women’s prison, 65 out of every 100 women is engaging in self-harm. Leeds is a bad place … but not the worst. Way down in any article on “the prison where self-harm incidents happen almost twice daily” would be a version of this nugget: “HMP Leeds was not the worst for self-harming however; Eastwood Park women’s prison in South Gloucestershire has the worst self-harm problem in the prison system. There were only 394 women on average at the prison in 2017/18 but there were 1,770 cases recorded in 2017.” Eastwood Park leads the nation in women prisoners’ self-harm, and somehow that’s not particularly important? Why?

In recent years, Eastwood Park has hosted a number of women prisoner deaths that have garnered some attention. In 2013, Natasha Evans collapsed in her cell. At the inquest, two years later, expert testimony suggested that Natasha Evans died because of lack, or systematic refusal, of appropriate care. Since 2013, six more women prisoners have suffered non-self-inflicted deaths at Eastwood Park. Most recently, in June 2016, Michalla Sweeting choked to death on her own vomit. Michalla Sweeting arrived in Eastwood Park after three days in police custody. She was put on a methadone detox program. She started vomiting, staff noted that and did nothing, she died. This May, two years later, the inquest jury found that Michalla Sweeting died of gross negligence committed by prison and healthcare staff.

That’s the same prison and healthcare staff that supposedly is addressing the “complex needs” of Eastwood Park prison population. In 2016, seven women died inside Eastwood Park. Three of those were “self-inflicted deaths.” In 2017, no one died in Eastwood Park … but the self-harm continues.

There are no women’s prisons in Wales, and so Welch women are sent to primarily to Eastwood Park and to HMP Styal, another hellhole. Eastwood Park holds a little over 400 prisoners, of whom 40% are from Wales, which means their families and home communities are far away. Eastwood Park is supposed to have a mother-and-baby unit. In November 2016, it was reported as temporarily closed. Today, two years later, it’s still closed. Eastwood Park is hard on everyone, and particularly on Welch women and on mothers.

The rate of self-harm in Eastwood Park is 449 incidents per 100 prisoners. In 2017, there were 1,770 incidents. While that’s down from the record high of 2016, it’s the second highest number of incidents of self-harm since 2010. “On average, there were four incidents of self-harm a day at HMP Eastwood Park in 2017.”

On January 2017, the Chief Inspector of Prisons reported on Eastwood Park: “The population remained vulnerable; many women were a long way from home, which was a problem for the large number who had dependent children. Nearly half of the women had a disability, and over three quarters reported mental health or emotional well-being issues. Eighty-four per cent of women said they had various problems on arrival at the prison, and over half said this included issues with drugs, while over a third reported having alcohol problems. Levels of self-harm had increased and were overall relatively high.”

Against this backdrop, the Inspector concluded, “We still considered Eastwood Park to be a well-led, generally safe and decent prison, but it was showing signs of being under strain. Staffing levels had not kept pace with the rise in population, nor with its increasing complexity.”

Nineteen months later, the rate of self-harm is four per day, and 449 incidents per 100 women. That’s safety and decency in a State committed to locking women up. It’s not the prison that’s under strain; it’s women, and the strain is public policy. In July, the Inspector noted, “The number of women prisoners is growing for the first time since 2012, putting a strain on the system and emphasising the need for a strategy for women’s prisons …  The high rate of self-harm among women prisoners is indicative of the very complex needs of many women.”

The Inspector noted that the two women’s prisons inspected “were not doing enough to address the very complex needs of women prisoners.” Not doing enough. Very complex needs. This is the language of neoliberal State alibi that suggests, implicitly, that the reason women prisoners have rising, and astronomical, rates and incidences of self-harm is the set of “very complex needs.” This is nonsense. The State refuses to address women’s needs and, even more, women’s lives, and that is reason for the rates and numbers of women prisoners’ self-harm. Period. At HMP Eastwood Park, women self-harm four times a day, every day, and absolutely no one cares. If we did, we’d stop it.

 

(Photo Credit: Gloucestershire Live)

Where were you when all those women prisoners killed themselves?

Women prisoners protest at HMP Styal

Today’s news out of England and Wales is predictably grim: “2016 becomes worst year ever recorded for suicides in prisons.” According to the Howard League, “The Howard League for Penal Reform has been notified of 102 people dying by suicide behind bars since the beginning of 2016 – one every three days. With five weeks remaining until the end of the year, it is already the highest death toll in a calendar year since current recording practices began in 1978. The previous high was in 2004, when 96 deaths by suicide were recorded.” And so now another end-of-year Round of Concern occurs. Absolutely none of this is new, and absolutely nothing positive will happen until the concern is manifested by more than the usual suspects.

From incarcerated refugee women in India to women prisoners in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Den- mark, England and Wales, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, and Sweden to women in prisons in the United States and Canada, the news is and has been the same, and for quite a while. Reporting on suicide rates in Canada in 1999, scholars noted, “The fact remains, however, that the suicide rate among female prisoners is abnormally high.” In 2010, scholars reported, “In England and Wales over a quarter of a century, suicide rates in prisoners were reported to be approximately five times higher in men than age-standardised general population rates.” And here it is, the end of 2016, “with around 3,900, mainly vulnerable, women locked up in English jails and 19 deaths already recorded this year (the highest for 12 years)” … and that was three weeks ago.

Today, the Howard League and the Centre for Mental Health released Preventing Prison Suicide, “the latest in a series of reports published by the two charities as part of a joint programme aimed at saving lives in prison.” Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote, “Whilst the government has promised (yet again) to recruit additional staff, we cannot wait months for them to appear, especially as such promises have proved empty in the past. The only way to save lives, make prisons safe for inmates and staff and help people to live law abiding lives on release is to reduce the number of prisoners. Once the number of prisoners is down, the challenge is to make prisons work properly in the public interest but that is such a distant prospect at the moment. Today’s challenge is simply to keep people alive.”

Scotland said NO! to the casual wreckage of women’s lives and provided alternatives, which include tearing down many women’s prisons, sending women who need help to places where they will receive assistance and where their dignity, as women, will be respected. Women don’t have to be sacrificed on the altar of carceral efficiency in which the challenge is simply to keep people alive. How have we arrived at a place where the challenge is simply to keep people alive? By turning our backs on the imprisoned women. Suicides in prisons and jails have risen more or less steadily over the past decade, at least, and that rise has been noted and documented, occasionally deplored, and then generally forgotten. Now is the time to stop forgetting, to remember in advance what you will say when someone, years from or tomorrow or tonight, looks at you and asks, “Where were you when all those women prisoners killed themselves? What did you? What have we done?”

 

 

(Photo Credit: New Statesman / Don McPhee/ Guardian)

#SistersUncut: In England women reject austerity’s gendered death sentence

On Sunday, November 20, women shut down major bridges in London, Bristol, Newcastle and Glasgow, to protest recent drastic cuts in domestic violence services, a decade of cuts in domestic violence services, and, more generally the State’s pogrom against Black and Minority Ethnic, or BME, women, lesbians, immigrant and migrant women, poor and working women. Sisters Uncut organized the action to put the State on notice: “Theresa May claims she wants to end violence against women and girls. To do that we need an awful lot more than refuges. We need a long term, sustainable funding plan for all domestic violence services. We need universal access to benefits so survivors have the resources to escape, rather than policies like the benefit cap which are making it even harder when already 52% of survivors report that they can’t afford to leave. We need domestic violence support services for black and brown, disabled and LGBT+ survivors – a `one size fits all’ generic approach might save money but it doesn’t meet needs. We need funding for outreach workers who are able to slowly build up survivors’ confidence over time and support survivors before the danger escalates, rather than a focus solely on crisis response. We need an end to gentrification and the devastating effects it has on communities; not all survivors want or are able to access support services, and it is their neighbours that provide their lifeline. And we must see the links between violent, racist government policies and the increased risk for black, brown, Muslim and migrant women experiencing domestic violence. We demand a secure, long term plan to support ALL domestic violence survivors, regardless of immigration status, with specialist services for black and brown, disabled and LGBT+ survivors.

When it comes to services for domestic violence services, the grimness of the numbers is only exceeded by the viciousness of the program that has established them. In September, Women’s Aid reported the Government’s plan would force 67% of specialist domestic abuse refuges in England to close, and that 87% of refuges in England would be forced to reduce their current level of provision. In Wales, 69% of refuges would be forced to close, and 100% would have to seriously reduce their current level of provision. Because migrants are restricted from using public funds, migrant non-binary people women are turned away from refuges, social housing, benefits or healthcare. How do you want your pain and suffering, slow and torturous or fast and torturous? Welcome to the economies of torture.

Marcia Smith, a domestic violence survivor, remembered: “When I went to the police with bruises, they said they couldn’t see my bruises because I was black. People don’t see black women as victims, and we get racism instead of help. With black services, you don’t have racism, you have the trust and support you need.” Is it any wonder that 90% of BME survivors prefer to receive support from a specialist BME organization?

Sisters Uncut declared an end to the destruction of women’s lives: “We will not stand by as black and brown survivors are left stranded in abusive homes without the bridges to safety provided by specialist domestic violence services, whilst migrant survivors with ‘no recourse to public funds’ find all of their bridges blocked by the government’s immigration policies.”

You block our bridges, so we block yours. Just prior to Theresa May’s Autumn Statement, where she will reveal the new budget, Sisters Uncut declared it time for Women’s Spring, and in doing so, joined women in the past few months in France, Argentina, Poland, South Africa who themselves joined the women water protectors at Standing Rock in the United States and Grassy Narrows in Canada, and beyond. It’s time, it’s way past time: “To those in power, our message is this: your cuts are sexist, your cuts are dangerous, and you think that you can get away with them because you have targeted the people who you perceive as powerless. We are those people, we are women, we will not be silenced. We stand united and fight together, and together we will win.”

 

(Photo Credit 1: Broadly / Alice Zoo) (Photo Credit 2: The Fader / Holly Falconer)

 

 

 

 

The illegal, systemic physical abuse of children in prison, sanctioned by the State

Ten years ago, the Howard League for Penal Reform released a report, the Carlile Inquiry, into the use of restraint, solitary confinement and strip-searching in penal institutions for children. This inquiry was inspired by the death in prison of Gareth Myatt, “a 15-year-old boy who weighed just seven stone, while being restrained by officers in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre.” The report described a hell of vicious violence visited upon children’s bodies, psyches and souls. Today, the Howard League for Penal Reform released a ten-year follow up: “There is illegal, systemic physical abuse of children in prison, sanctioned by the state.” Ten years of civil society and governmental austerity and punitiveness have led to this: the State has built an expanding and intensifying hell for children.

In prison, in contravention of all laws, children are routinely restrained to get them to follow directions. “Techniques” that inflict deliberate pain on children make up over a third of all “approved techniques”, all of which are illegal. Between 2011 and 2015, children have been injured 4,350 times while being restrained. Solitary confinement, 23 hours a day in isolation, has become widespread: “Conditions in segregation units have not improved since 2006, when the Carlile Inquiry described them as `little more than bare, dark and dank cells that exacerbate underlying risks and vulnerabilities’. Segregation units should be immediately closed.” Again, the use of solitary confinement, especially long term, is completely illegal, and that illegality makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.

The “real story” is in the numbers. In the last five years, the number of children in custody has dropped. In the same five years, the rate of restraint has more than doubled.

What does the continued violation of the law say? What do the numbers add up to? In England, as in other countries that drank and then guzzled the Incarceration Kool-Aid, the will to punish morphed ineluctably into the will to harm. It’s an old story, now fueled by the political economies of neoliberal development and protectionism. Meanwhile, Gareth Myatt becomes Adam Rickwood becomes Joseph Scholes; and Rainsbrook becomes Medway, and the whole State-run theater of cruelty moves faster, farther, and more deeply.

Last year, children’s rights campaigner Carolyne Willow argued, “Nobody has ever designed a prison to make children feel valued, to treat them well and change their lives. It desperately needs a minister with the compassion and courage to change things. We closed workhouses, asylums and orphanages, let’s get rid of child prisons. Let us say, we are not going to do this to children any more.”

We are not going to do this to children any more.

Today’s report concludes: “Children are being harmed in prisons today and steps to ensure their safety must be taken immediately. We know what works – as the Carlile Inquiry found 10 years ago, small, local units that have a record of success in providing the best care and rehabilitation for the few children who require a period in a secure environment. Prisons and the privately-run secure training centres should be closed down forthwith. We do not need to reinvent the wheel or repeat the mistakes of the past.”

What will next year’s report conclude, and the one ten years on? We are not going to do this to children any more … anywhere. Prisons and the privately-run secure training centers must be closed down forthwith. Today. We cannot keep doing this to children.

 

(Image Credit: The Howard League for Penal Reform)