Why do we continue to leave pregnant women in deathtrap jails, prisons, detention centers?

Tammy Jackson

At the beginning of March, we asked if Florida would finally stop shackling women prisoners in childbirth. At the end of June, Florida’s Governor signed the Tammy Jackson Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act. Last year, Tammy Jackson gave birth, alone, in a cell in the North Broward Jail, in Pompano Beach. The new law bans shackling pregnant women prisoners; invasive body cavity searches; and the use of solitary confinement; and requires medical examinations at least once every 24 hours. While this is welcome news, it begs the question why it took Florida so long to address the ongoing violence against women in its prisons and jails. Why? Why are pregnant women shackled while pregnant, in childbirth, and after delivery? Why? Across the United States, women, alone in their cells, give birth to children. They are alone because … because they are incarcerated. That justifies all acts of violence and violation, especially against women. Remember, Andrea Circle Bear, the first woman to die of Covid 19 in federal prison, was pregnant when she was sent to prison. Remember, Andrea Circle Bear should never have been incarcerated in the first place, and should never have remained incarcerated. Why is it so hard to release pregnant women from clear and imminent danger?

Every month, the reports come out, and every month, for the past few months, prisons and jails have been the epicenters of Covid infection and mortality. Has that mattered to prison authorities or the public at large? No. Have pregnant women, the most vulnerable sector of the the incarcerated population, been released? No.  In North Carolina, pregnant prisoners were told they would be released. It hasn’t happenedThe women worry and organize, their families worry and organize, and meanwhile … What? 

This week, faced with a monster outbreak of coronavirus in its prison system, and in particular in San Quentin, California is beginning to consider releasing prisoners. Included in that process is the following: “The department also said it is `reviewing potential release protocols’ for those who are pregnant or in hospice.” Why only now are those processes being reviewed? Why is it so very difficult to understand that pregnant women, and those in hospice care, are at particular risk? What is it about a prison uniform that fatally hides one’s humanity? Meanwhile, part of California’s `process’ of reducing prison overcrowding is to keep people in jails. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? Equally nightmarish stories of the abuse of pregnant women in immigrant detention centers continue to pile up as well.

This is the age of mistreatment and abuse of pregnant women. Pregnant women prisoners are the tip not so much of an iceberg as of a continent-wide subterranean volcano. Why are pregnant women being warehoused in jail cells where the staff ignores and `forgets’ them? Why are pregnant women being stuffed into prisons and immigrant detention centers, where they are only meant to suffer and die? If not, we would release them. Period. Meanwhile, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill that would provide medical care for women before and after childbirth, in both prisons and jails. At the same time, “the legislature struck down proposed bans on shackling and solitary confinement for pregnant women this year.” The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: New York Times)

Will Florida and South Carolina stop shackling women (prisoners) in childbirth?

State legislatures in both Florida and South Carolina are considering bills that would outlaw shackling of women prisoners in childbirth. On one hand, it’s about time. On the other hand, which is the same hand, prison is so deeply imbedded into the fabric of the United States that questioning, much less transforming, any aspect of carceral practice requires a radical change in vision. As Angela Davis noted, in 2003, “The prison is considered so natural and so normal that it is extremely hard to imagine life without them.” So natural and so normal have prisons become in the national social landscape and consciousness that it is necessary to debate, at length, whether or not women in childbirth should be shackled. And so we wait attentively for the good news from both Florida and South Carolina.

Although federal law prohibits shackling pregnant prisoners, that law does not cover state and local prisons and jails, not to mention immigrant detention centers. Currently, 23 states allow for shackling women in childbirth. In a recent study of perinatal nurses who had cared for pregnant and postpartum women prisoners, nurses explained that the reason given for shackling women in childbirth was “adherence to rule or protocol.” When the nurses advocated for the shackles to be removed, the number one reason, by far, for denial was “rule or protocol.” In other words, the prison system has rules and protocols that say it’s ok to shackle women in childbirth, and so women prisoners in childbirth must be shackled. Period. 

A different recent study of pregnancy outcomes in U.S. prisons from 2016 to 2017 concludes, “Being in prison or jail during pregnancy can be a difficult time for many women, fraught with uncertainty about the kind of health care they might receive, about whether they will be shackled in labor, and about what will happen to their infants when they are born. Some pregnant women in custody may experience isolation and degradation from staff and insufficient pre-natal care … Data from our study can be used to develop national standards of care for incarcerated pregnant women, advocate for policies and legislation that ensure adequate and safe pregnancy care and childbirth, develop alternatives to incarceration for pregnant women, pro-mote reproductive justice, and encourage broader attention to the reproductive health needs of marginalized women and their families.” As of now, there are no national standards of care for incarcerated women, and there is no requirement to collect data from prisons and jails, much less immigrant detention centers. In a world of intensive and extensive surveillance, prisons and jails constitute a black hole archipelago of opacity. For women, that means a world of pain and suffering.

Florida’s legislature is considering the Tammy Jackson Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act. Last year, Tammy Jackson gave birth, alone, in a cell in the North Broward Jail, in Pompano Beach. The law would ban shackling pregnant women prisoners; invasive body cavity searches; and the use of solitary confinement. It would also require medical examinations at least once every 24 hours. 

South Carolina’s legislature is considering a bill that would ban the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women who are in labor. Additionally, the new law would restrict restraint of pregnant women prisoners to handcuffs only: “A person officially charged with safekeeping of inmates, whether the inmates are awaiting trial or have been sentenced and confined in a state correctional facility, local detention facility, or prison camp or work camp shall not restrain by leg, waist, or ankle restraints an inmate with a clinical diagnosis of pregnancy. Wrist restraints may be used during any internal escort or external transport. The wrist restraints shall only be applied in the front and in a way that the pregnant inmate may be able to protect herself and the fetus in the event of a fall. This provision also applies to inmates not in labor or suspected labor who are escorted out for Ultrasound Addiction Therapy for Pregnant Women or other routine services.” When State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, heard that women in South Carolina are shackled in childbirth, he said, “I think this is a shock that we continue to still shackle pregnant women”.

This is us. We cannot be shocked or surprised at the shackling of women in childbirth. In both Florida and South Carolina, dignity is invoked, specifically dignity for incarcerated women. Think of how far we have fallen that not shackling women in childbirth is considered dignity. I hope that both Florida and South Carolina do pass their respective bills into law, and I hope that we will work for a better understanding of dignity. 

(Image Credit 1: Radical Doula) (Image Credit 2: New York Times / Andrea Dezsö)

What happened to Cheryl Weimar? The routine torture of women in Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution. Shut it down!

Cheryl Weimar is 51 years old. She lives with mental illness as well as a physical disability, a hip condition that limits her mobility. Cheryl Weimar is also a `guest’ of Florida’s largest women’s prison, Lowell Correctional Institution. On August 21, a prison staff member directed Cheryl Weimar to clean the toilets. She explained that she could not, due to her hip condition, and asked for another assignment. Four `officers’ then threw Cheryl Weimar to the concrete floor and proceeded to beat her. Realizing they were in sight of a video camera, the four dragged Cheryl Weimar out of camera sight, and beat her to `within an inch of her life’. She is now in hospital, paralyzed from the neck down. Her neck is broken. She breathes through a tracheotomy and takes food in through a tube. This is Cheryl Weimar’s condition until the day she dies. While in hospital, Cheryl Weimar is `guarded’ by precisely the staff that put her in this condition. Cheryl Weimar is the embodiment of the phrase, “paying the price for one’s misdeeds”. Cheryl Weimar is the what justice looks like in Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution. Cheryl Weimar was set to leave Lowell Correctional, February 2021. Now, she’ll never leave. Justice is served.

Cheryl Weimar is suing Florida. Former residents of Lowell Correctional have rallied in her name and called on Florida to fix this hellhole. Jordyn Gilley-Nixon, also living with disabilities and a former Lowell Correctional inmate, released a video describing in detail the sexual violence she suffered at the hands of Lowell Correctional staff. Former Lowell Correctional prisoners and supporters demonstrated last week. They showed up with their mouths taped. Latangela McCall showed up with her six-year old daughter and a sign that read, “Change is now, tired of talking, no one listens”. Other signs showed photographs of hundreds of former prisoners with their mouths taped. Debra Bennett, former prisoner and organizer of the protest, explained, “Weimar’s beating is alarming but not surprising …  Silence got everybody’s attention – nobody ever listens to us convicts. We’re here to prove a point … We’ve been talking long enough. I’m tired of talking. We want action … It keeps getting worse. There’s going to be somebody else beaten.”

Cheryl Weimar’s story, Jordyn Gilley-Nixon’s story, and all the currently circulating stories were preceded by those of Michelle Tierney, 48; Latandra Ellington, 48; Regina A. Cooper, 50; Affricka G. Jean, 30, all four of whom `died’ under `mysterious circumstances’ in 2014. As we noted at the time, “they did not `die. They were killed.” Now, five years later, the world again `discovers’ the hellhole that is Lowell Correctional Institution. Yet again, the State, both Florida and federal, will `investigate’, and yet again worse than absolutely nothing will happen. This is our gulag, writ both large and small; our internal necro-colony, where not being able to clean a toilet is a death sentence. It’s too late to `fix’ Lowell Correctional Institution. Shut it down. Shut it down today. Shut it down now. There’s going to be somebody else beaten. It keeps getting worse.

(Photo Credit: Dana Cassidy / WUFT)

What happened to Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley? Just two more deaths in America’s jails

Michelle Bewley

Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley never met each other, and yet they are mirror-image sisters in the wasteland that is the criminal justice system in the United States. Both died, or were killed, in a Clay County Jail. Abby Rudolph died November 3, 2016, in the Clay County Jail, in northwest Minnesota. Michelle Bewley died March 5, 2019 in the Clay County Jail, in northeast Florida. Abby Rudolph was 19 when she died; Michelle Bewley was 35. Both were arrested for shoplifting. Both were addicted; went into withdrawal while in jail; asked, begged, for help. None came, or, better, help was refused. In both cases, the local agency decided the staff was professional and did what they could. In both instances, family, friends and sister inmates disagree. Both Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley died in excruciating agony, begging and pleading for help. Both, in their deaths, became `newsworthy’ in the past couple weeks. This is who we are.

The details for Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley are the same as those for  Chuneice Patterson, Onondaga County Justice Center, New York, 2010; Amy Lynn Cowling, Gregg County Jail, Texas, 2010; Christina Tahhahwah, Lawton, Oklahoma, 2014; Madaline Christine Pitkin, Washington County Jail, Oregon, 2014;  Natasha McKenna, Fairfax County Jail, Virginia, 2015; Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Brown County Jail, South Dakota, 2015; Joyce Curnell, Charleston County Jail, South Carolina, 2015; Kellsie Green, Anchorage Correctional Complex, Alaska, 2016; Madison Jensen, Duchesne County Jail, Utah, 2016; Brianna Beland, Charleston County Jail, South Caroline, 2017, Kelly Coltrain, Nevada, 2017. Every one of these women died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

On March 4, 2019, Michelle Bewley was picked up for having violated her bond on a shoplifting charge and was dumped in the Clay County Jail. There she went into withdrawal. According to Brittany Wink, who was in a nearby cell, “She was just screaming in pain. You could tell they were pain screams.” This is not a case of “no one came”; it never is. This is a case of they all refused to come. You could tell they were pains screams. Within 24 hours of entering the Clay County Jail, Michelle Bewley was dead … for the crime of having violated her bond. Her cousin, Amanda Snyder, reflected, “She was a very loving, kind person. And she didn’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this … I love her regardless of the mistakes she has made because that doesn’t define her as a person. Because she was a caring person. She loved her family. And I hope this never happens to anybody else’s family member.” Michelle Bewley leaves behind a husband and a young daughter

In her junior year in high school, Abby Rudolph  suffered a broken hip, which led to using pain medication which led to pain medication addiction. On October 30, 2016, Abby Rudolph, then 19 years old, was arrested for shoplifting and was dumped in the Clay County Jail. Soon after, she begin showing symptoms of withdrawal. Her fellow inmates wrote a note, delivered October 31, 2016, saying that Abby Rudolph was not eating or drinking, was in a bad way, and needed assistance. The inmates said they were worried; the staff refused to respond. On November 1, at 5 am, Abby Rudolph told the staff she could not eat breakfast. The staff did nothing. At that point she began vomiting. She continued to vomit for two days, until November 3. At 2 pm, November 3, the staff “noticed” something. Abby Rudolph was cold to the touch, and the staff took her to the showers. She couldn’t stand on her own, slumped to the floor, became spasmodic, and died within the hour. 

The family has filed a civil lawsuit. Their attorneys argue that the abuse showered on Abby Rudolph exceeds “mere negligence” and shocks “the conscience.” Does it? I ask you, directly, are you shocked? Jill Rudolph, Abby Rudolph’s mother, filled the lawsuit in the early part of 2018. In December 2018, Jill Rudolph, 52 years old, died. Her brother explained, “She died of grief. She could not go on.”

Is your conscience shocked yet? Have we suffered enough grief yet, enough to tell us that, if we want to go on, we have to stop caging and executing women? What happened to Abby Rudolph and Michelle Bewley, in their own private Clay County Jail hellholes? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

Abby Rudolph

(Photo Credit 1: Action News Jax) (Photo Credit 2: City Pages)

Across the United States, children living with disabilities face the torture of school seclusion

In Loudon County, Virginia, 13-year-old Gigi Daniel-Zagorites lives with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, “a disorder that hampers her ability to speak.” In her middle school, one day in September, a fellow classmate took a picture of Gigi being “secluded”. Someone, teachers presumably, took a bookcase and a cabinet and built an enclosure in the corner of the classroom. Gigi was dumped in there, and two adults stood, or sat, guard. In the picture, Gigi is trying to get out or at least see over the barricades. Months later, her mother, Alexa Zagorites, is still asking questions and still getting no answers. Gigi Daniel-Zagorites and her mother are objects of the national pogrom against children living with disabilities. Like so many others, both Gigi and her mother refuse to be or become the victims that national policy intends for them.

Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center released a report  concerning the abusive seclusion and restraint of a 14-year-old child, called Zach, at the Sununu Youth Services Center. First, Zach was dumped into seclusion which led to two staff members throwing Zach to the ground and “restraining” him face down there. The staff fractured the child’s shoulder blade. Despite New Hampshire law, the restraint and, even more, the injury was not reported for two months. Months later, the Sununu Center continues to withhold information. New Hampshire has “restraint and seclusion” laws, but they all rely on the staff to self-report. The levels of violence form a network of threads of immediate, intimate violence and those of structural violence, all held together by the violence and suffering of family, friends, and community.

Similar stories have been recently reported in IndianaIowa, Florida, and Arizona, to name a few from only the last month or so. Across the country, children in school learn that living with a disability is a crime. It must be a crime, otherwise why would the adult staff members be punishing them so?

Last month, U.S. Department of Education released a report on school climate and safety for 2015 – 2016. It found that Iowa rates had just about doubled. For example, in 2013, 23 school districts in eastern Iowa had 2514 reported instances of seclusion or restraint. In 2015, that number rose to 4,904. A recent Iowa State report describes Davenport as in “systemic non-compliance” of Federal laws concerning the education of students living with disabilities. According to the report, the situation for students of color in Davenport is particularly dire, systemically so. Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators are calling for a Federal investigation into the use of seclusion rooms. Davenport’s U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack has called for a ban on seclusion rooms.

The report on school climate and safety merely confirmed what we already know. In a nutshell, students living with disabilities constituted 12% of all students enrolled. 12 percent. That very small sector of students living with disabilities constituted 71% of all students restrained and 66% of all students “secluded.”

What crime have these children committed? What is their terrible sin? Why do we continue to send these children into solitary confinement? Why do we continue to torture those who are most vulnerable? When will we stop this practice? What do you think we’re teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”?

(Infographic Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

To the next generations, from a millennial

This is a letter for all the next generations, terrified of the world and dismissed by the older generations. I remember being in Middle School and participating in lockdown drills, hiding in the back of the school while pretending that the school was under attack. I remember moving to different schools after there was a bomb threat that had been called into the school. I didn’t think anything of it, and most likely neither did my parents; it was just protocol, it’s not like anything like that would happen anyway. I remember everyone scoffing at participation trophies, and mocking the hurt Millennials who were too much of an emotional mess. And as I watch the next generations growing into adulthood, I am terrified to see some of my generation taking up their mantle.

We laugh at tide pods, forgetting we grew up with Jackass and the Cinnamon Challenge, the Gallon Milk Challenge, and every stupid thing we did for notoriety and our minutes of fame. We call the next generation Snowflakes, forgetting we were the original Snowflakes. I am watching, horrified, that seventeen year old kids are begging for some action by Congress after the bomb threats and lockdowns from my generation have turned into an all-out massacre of the newest generation. And more than likely, we’ll all forget what happened in the next two days, to be shelved until forty or fifty kids are killed in the next shooting.

To whoever comes after us, you are already better. You have not given up where 26-year-olds like myself have scoffed at the world, because it isn’t our problem; but it is. It will forever be our problem. We condemned the generations before us, the Baby Boomers and the like, for destroying the economy, bankrupting social welfare programs, demanding more in their ever-increasing narcissism, but we have been falling back on their ways. That cannot happen.

To the students who are calling for action from Congress because you are losing friends and teachers from the alarming increase in mass shootings, don’t give up. To the kids who are resisting the destruction of our environment and the rise of intolerance and hate, don’t give up; we all want a better world to give to our children and future generations. To students who fight for debt-free education and knowledge, don’t throw in the towel; knowledge and education is a human right. To younger generations demanding a living wage, we are all there with you; all jobs where we sell our labor should at least equal the cost of living. To the girls and young women protesting unfair dress codes and lack of access to birth control, your body is yours, not something to be controlled and censored by boys and men. You are already better than us for so many reasons, for your optimism and activism in the face of ever growing hatred.

Please continue this, and fight for a better world: a world without hate, violence and death; a world without people working and barely making ends meet; a world where a child can get an education free of the burden of debt and the fear of not making it home that day.

And Millennials, remember that once, not too long ago, we were those “stupid kids” who demanded everything and gave nothing. Our goal in a society is to improve upon it for the generations that come after us. That should forever be our mantra, and right now, that is not our mantra. Instead, we are posting on Facebook about guns and mental illness and making fun of the high school kids without taking a step back into ways we can fight for ourselves and the generations to come. It’s not too late, it’s never too late.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Affinity) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times / Zachary Fagenson / Reuters)

I’ve felt every massacre profoundly, but this one literally hits close to home

I’ve felt every massacre profoundly, but this one literally hits close to home. The shooter once lived a 10 minute drive from my home. My elder child is about to enter kindergarten. This shooter could easily have chosen her soon to be school or any of the stores and restaurants we visit in our neighborhood. This is not right and it’s not normal.

If you say you empathize with the victims but will blindly vote the party line without regard for the candidate’s position on sensible gun control, or you don’t believe access to guns is the problem, then no one wants your prayers, thoughts, and sympathies. They are useless. They may offer small comfort to the survivors and their families, and assuage your consciousness and feeling of complicity, but they do nothing to prevent the loss of lives.

Governments are supposed to protect its people and for too long our government has been too ready to look the other way and ignore the very real gun crisis epidemic that is ravaging our country. The government has failed its people. Gun reform should be a bipartisan issue.

And finally, you mess with our cubs and us mama tigers and lionesses will come after you, starting at the poll booths, then the House, Senate, and White House.

 

(Photo Credit: Johanne Rahaman / Huffington Post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Photo Credit: Miami Herald / Emily Michot)

The austerity of childbirth … in shackles

Austerity preys on women and children. So does State extravagance.

In Greece, women in labor were turned away from public hospitals in Athens, Thessalonika, Rhodes and Rethymnon. Why? They didn’t have jobs, they didn’t have insurance, and they didn’t have cash on hand. Because they couldn’t pay for their hospital visits, up front, they were turned away. It’s the new “health system”, the “unified medical care system”, also known as the “integrated unified hospital treatment”, under the new austerity. In this brave new world, women must pay in advance and then receive the childbirth allowance. The childbirth allowance is 600 Euros. The cost of childbirth is listed at 950 Euros, for `normal’, and 1500 Euros, for caesarean section. If a woman doesn’t have the full freight, she must just go. Even if she does have the money, in the end she bears the difference, anywhere from 350 to 900 Euros. Women bear the difference … literally.

Women’s groups, in particular the Women’s Initiative Against Debt and Austerity Measures and the Independent Women’s Movement, broke the news and mobilized public opinion. Greeks were outraged. The Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity was shocked and announced that, from here on, no woman would be turned away. However, she still must pay the difference.

This is the new face of Greece, the face of austerity. In the United States, this would be business as usual. As one Greek noted, “They turned us into America, where you are finished if you don’t have any good insurance!”. Another agreed, “I am touched, we are becoming America. Giving birth for free in public hospitals? Impossible. Wipe out childbirth allowance NOW as well.”

Welcome to the United States of America.

In the United States, if a woman prisoner is in labor, many states will spare no expense. They will buy the best shackles available. In 36 states, women prisoners in childbirth are handcuffed to beds and delivery tables, are shackled, are refused family in the birthing room, and are denied access to their newborns.

Florida is one of those states. A bill is currently in the legislature that would “create uniform and humane rules for the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women”. Gruesome as that phrase is, in Florida, and in the United States, it’s progress. Illinois passed a similar bill earlier this month.

For undocumented immigrant women prisoners, predictably, the situation is worse.

The line from shackling women prisoners in childbirth across the United States to refusing to treat women in childbirth in Greece is a direct line. In both instances, rational human beings decided that this course of action made sense. It makes sense to shackle women in childbirth? It makes sense to turn away a woman in childbirth? No, it does not.

Austerity and prison are parts of the new global unified medical care system, which is part of the global unified political economy. And in that `unification’, women bear the difference … literally.

(Photo Credit: Alkis Konstantinidis / The Daily Beast)

Florida has a drug problem

The State of Florida, the so-called Sunshine State, has a drug problem, a drug crisis actually. The State seems hooked on psychotropic drugs for children. And not just any children. The most vulnerable children. Foster children. Children in prison. Children in various forms and modes of `custody’.

Two years ago, on April 16, 2009, Gabriel Myers, a seven-year-old child, hanged himself. Gabriel was in foster care. At the time of his death, Gabriel was prescribed psychotropic medications. The State of Florida Department of Children and Families appointed a work group, the Gabriel Myers Work Group, to look into both the circumstances of Gabriel’s death, and life, and that of all children in State foster care.

Gabriel was placed in foster care in order to take him out of a traumatically abusive household. He was “brought into care June 29, 2008.” Ten months later, he was dead. It happens that quickly, and it happened that torturously slowly as well. Gabriel saw psychiatrists and therapists. He was described as “overwhelmed with change and possibly re-experiencing trauma.” He engaged in self-destructive behavior.

The Work Group found that, while there were many caring adults around Gabriel, in the end he was “no one’s child.” No one adult took full responsibility, and so there was no one to notice or address failures, gaps, and lapses in treatment. For example, there was no one to ask hard, even belligerent, questions about the effects and impact of psychotropic drugs on a child. According to the Work Group, there was no sense of urgency: “Because the perception of time for a child is compressed, a demonstrated sense of urgency by adults is vital.”

The Work Group found that, while nationally 5% of all children receive psychotropic medication, among Florida’s foster kids, the rate was 15.2%. Florida has all sorts of protocols and regulations, but if there’s no one, no adult, with a vital and demonstrated sense of urgency, the drugs flow. Gabriel’s tragedy was one of repeatedly missed opportunities for real treatment, for real help, for real care. That was the Report of the Gabriel Myers Work Group, November 19, 2009.

That was two years ago. And today?

Today, Florida distributes psychotropic drugs, with what amounts to abandon, to children in prison. Doctors are prescribing psychotropic drugs more often than ibuprofen. In 2007, according to a report last week, the Department of Juvenile Justice bought more than twice as much Seroquel as ibuprofen for its state-operated jails and homes for children.

Again, there’s little or no oversight. By its own admission, the State doesn’t know where most of the drugs are. This is called a “functionality” concern. There’s little or no oversight, as well, concerning conflict of interest between prescribing doctors and the pharmaceutical corporations.

What’s going on in Florida? According to Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office represents children in juvenile court, it’s battery: “If kids are being given these drugs without proper diagnosis, and it is being used as a ‘chemical restraint,’ I would characterize it as a crime. A battery – a battery of the brain each and every time it is given.”

According to Dr. Glenn Currier, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester in New York, the doses are extraordinarily high. When asked about a case involving one young female prisoner, Dr. Currier remarked: “I have heard of doses that high in large adult males. But not in girls.”

Florida used to put juveniles in prison for life, without any chance of parole, for non-homicide offenses. Last year, in Graham v Florida, the US Supreme Court ruled that it could no longer do so. In the 1990s, Florida sent 7000 children to adult courts. That’s more than the rest of the country, combined.

What’s going on in Florida is a crisis, a crisis of care, a crisis of urgency. The State is distributing deadly drugs to its most vulnerable children. And that’s a crime.

 

(Image credit: CCHR International)