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)

In South Africa, Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and 37 comrades said NO! to mining hegemony … and won!

Women of the Lesetlheng village community celebrate the Constitutional Court decision

A specter haunts the Republic of South Africa, the specter of rural people’s power joined with the spirit of Frantz Fanon. Thursday, the South African Constitutional Court issued a ruling in the case of Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and 37 others vs. Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources (Pty) Limited (IBMR) and Pilanesberg Platinum Mines (Pty) Limited (PPM). The decision, written by Justice AJ Petse, opens: “The statement by Frantz Fanon in his book titled `The Wretched of the Earth’ is, in the context of this case, apt. It neatly sums up what lies at the core of this application. He said that `[f]or a colonised people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity’. Thus, strip someone of their source of livelihood, and you strip them of their dignity too.” The Justice had me at “Hello”.

The story officially begins in 1916, when 13 families of the Lesetlheng Community, in what is today North-West, decided to purchase some land. They saved money, and, in 1919, the Community bought that land. In 1919, Black Africans couldn’t officially own land, and so the land was registered to the Native Commissioner, who ostensibly held the property in trust for the Chief of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela, the traditional authority under whom the Lesetlheng Community fell. According to Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and the 37 other descendants of the original purchasing families, it was understood that only the 13 families could farm on the land. The land was divided into 13 sections, which the families controlled individually. Over the years, the families built various structures, for themselves, workers, livestock and equipment. And that’s how things stayed until 2004.

In 2004, Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources, IBMR, gained the right to prospect the Lesetlheng Community’s land. In 2008, IBMR won a mining right over that land. According to Justice Petse, “On 19 May 2008, IBMR was awarded a mining right over the farm by the Department. On 20 June 2008, an environmental management programme required in terms of section 39 of the MPRDA was approved. On 28 June 2008, IBMR concluded a surface lease agreement with the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Tribal Authority and the Minister in respect of the farm. In 2014, preparations for full-scale mining operations on the farm commenced … In 2015, and in order to relieve themselves of the intolerable situation that had arisen as a consequence of the respondents’ mining operations, the applicants obtained a spoliation order against the respondents.”

The Lesetlheng Community won that case. IBMR immediately applied for, and won, an eviction order. That order was approved by various courts, and so, until Thursday’s Constitutional Court decision, it looked like Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and the 37 others had won a battle and lost the war … and everything they owned and cherished. That the lower courts based their decisions on the Lesetlheng Community not being actual owners of the land was devastating, as was the collusion of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Traditional Authority with the mining companies.

With a unanimous decision, the Constitutional Court turned that around. They based much of their decision on Section 25(6) of the Constitution: “A person or community whose tenure of land is legally insecure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament, either to tenure which is legally secure or to comparable redress.” In this case, that meant that Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and her 37 comrades were indeed owners of the land, that the mining corporations had not sufficiently consulted with them, and that, if mining were to occur, the process would have to start all over.

More broadly, the decision stated that “informal land holders” have rights equal to those of formal landholders. The court decided that history matters. Courts and judges matter as well. Language matters, too. By invoking Fanon’s analysis, Justice Petse identified the history of land ownership in South Africa as colonial and stated that the nation has not yet entered into the dawn of the post-colonial, rainbows notwithstanding. Justice Petse made it clear that that dawn is coming.

In 1919, thirteen families bought a farm named Wilgespruit, locally known as Modimo Mmalo. Next year, 2019, will mark the centennial of that purchase. Grace Masele Mpane Maledu and 37 other descendants of the thirteen families will celebrate in their own fashion. We should all celebrate, and honor, Grace Masele Mpane Maledu for their perseverance in the pursuit of “bread and, above all, dignity”.

 

(Photo Credit: New Frame)

 

 

England’s seclusion rooms form a landscape of atrocity and shame

In 2017, New Zealand banned schoolhouse seclusion rooms. On Friday, a report came out indicating that across England primary and secondary schools are routinely using “seclusion rooms”. The report suggested that both the scale and frequency of use is much higher than expected: “Many schools use them as part of an escalating set of disciplinary measures. Our research found over two-thirds of the country’s largest academy trusts have schools that use some form of isolation, although with varying labels from `inclusion units’ and `consequence booths’ to `time-out spaces’ and `calm rooms’.” The isolation cells are used from the first year. Primary school students can stay in for a day at a time; secondary school students can stay in for five consecutive days. The torture of solitary confinement clothed in the language of inclusion, consequence, time-out and calm is the lesson children across England – and Canada and the United States and beyond – are learning in an age of expanding and intensifying zero tolerance. While A Critique of Pure Tolerance once inspired a generation of activists to action, today we need A Critique of Zero Tolerance. We need it, and, even more, our children and grandchildren need it … now.

In August, a report noted that exclusion, or out-of-school suspension, was rampant in secondary schools across England. 45 schools suspended at least 20% of their students, with some schools topping 40%. In September, a follow up report noted the rampant use of isolation booths, variously referred to as “consequences rooms” or “internal exclusion.” The line from “internal exclusion” to alienation to abnegation to death-in-life to lifelong trauma is direct.

August, September, October, another month, another discovery … of a phenomenon taking place all over the country. Founded in 2013, the TBAP Multi-Academy Trust “supports learners who are experiencing difficulty with or have been excluded from mainstream education.” The people at TBAP Multi-Academy Trust know that seclusion rooms don’t work and, equally important, are bad for all children and all learners. Last year, TBAP Multi-Academy Trust Chairman of the Board Paul Dix wrote, “A room with isolation booths is the bleakest sign of an institution giving up. It shouts ‘we don’t know what to do’ at children who often don’t know what they’ve done wrong. Look around inside any isolation room where children are separated for long periods of time from the rest of the school, and I would lay good money that more than 80% of the children in there have additional needs. Some will have a diagnosed special educational need or disability, others will be struggling with hidden that are all too obvious to those who work with them every day: trauma, anxiety, attachment, grief, or plain old-fashioned neglect. The sins of the adult world are soaked up by a minority of children. Then we stick them in a booth and call it education. The booths are a shame on all of us, not the children who are forced to sit in them.”

How many more times must we “discover” that throwing children into seclusion rooms, no matter what they’re called, is wrong? Why do we need to discuss whether the rooms “work” or are too “costly”? What about the cost to children’s lives? What about the cost, as well, to the very concept of education? What does a child learn when exclusion is called inclusion, terror is called calm, and a war on children is called education? We should all be ashamed. Are we?

(Photo Credit: Cambridgeshire Live)

No hate no fear, immigrants and citizens, guests and strangers, are welcome here!

Mathabo Mofokeng

Mathabo Mofokeng is 86 years old. She is a citizen of the Republic of South Africa. She was born in Matatiele, at the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains, in the Eastern Cape. She is a citizen of South Africa; Mathabo Mofokeng is South African. Mathabo Mofokeng currently lives in Nhlazatshe, a village in KwaZulu-Natal. Mathabo Mofokeng has lived in KwaZulu-Natal since she was 18 years old. Three months ago, Mathabo Mofokeng lost her ID card and her South African Social Security Agency, SASSA, card. Without those, she couldn’t access her pension. Penniless, she relied on food donations from women in her church. Her electricity was cut off. So, Mathabo Mofokeng did what she was supposed to do. She travelled to the nearest Home Affairs office, in Pietermaritzburg, to have her ID and SASSA cards replaced. An official told her “to go back to Lesotho”. Mathabo Mofokeng says, “I’m scared to go back to Home Affairs offices. An official told me she can’t issue me a new ID; I should go back to Lesotho. There was a time I went three days without food.” Mathabo Mofokeng is an 86-year-old, destitute South African woman who is now terrified and terrorized as well. And she is not alone.

On the one hand, xenophobia is not new to South Africa. Since 1994, the national government has periodically worked to “secure the borders”. With national elections coming up, political parties across the spectrum are ramping up the rhetorics of xenophobia. One hears repeatedly that Home Affairs is in disarray, but the situation goes much further than accidental shambles. For twenty years, Home Affairs so-called Refugee Reception Offices have been a publically acknowledged atrocity. Three years ago, the Supreme Court of Appeals told the Home Office to clean up its act. For three years, the Home Office has refused.

Of course, South Africa is not alone in its xenophobia. In India, Assam has effectively told 4 million citizens that they’re not citizens. The majority of the 4 million are, predictably, women. They’re not Indian enough. In Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is trying to find ways to strip Roma citizens of Italy of their citizenship. They’re just not Italian enough. In Australia, Huyen Tran, a Vietnamese asylum seeker, faces imminent deportation. She has been in Australia since 2011. She has a six-month-old daughter, Isabella, born in Australia. Isabella can stay, but her mother is just not Australian enough. In the United States, hundreds of migrant children, forcibly separated from their parents, have been moved “under cover of darkness” to a tent city in the Texas desert, where they have been left to rot. This comes just weeks after the United States government threatened to remove citizenship from more than a thousand Latinx U.S. citizens, all delivered by midwives in the borderlands.

This is the world in which a State official told Mathabo Mofokeng, a South African native born citizen, to go back to Lesotho. Despite its Latinate appearance, xenophobia is a fairly recently coined word, a word that emerges in the late 19thcentury with the emergence of strong nation-States engaged in global imperial adventures. And what is xenophobia? A deep antipathy, call it hatred, to guests, strangers, and foreigners. Xenophobia doesn’t `merely’ target those born in other lands. Xenophobia targets the citizenship, humanity, personhood, and dignity of anyone deemed foreign, anyone thought to be a stranger, and, most significantly, anyone who is a guest. After reporters began investigating, Home Affairs issued Mathabo Mofokeng a temporary ID. In this brave new world, all it takes to secure your citizenship is a team of investigative reporters. Everyone, say it together: No hate no fear, immigrants and citizens, guests and strangers, are welcome here!

 

(Photo Credit: GroundUp / Nompendulo Ngubane)

Seclusion rooms: Alberta, Canada’s war on children living with disabilities

A seclusion room in an Alberta school

“This was inhumane. This was treating him like an animal,” said Marcy Oakes. “This” was, and is, an exclusion room, in this instance one in the Clover Bar Junior High School, part of the Elk Island Public Schools, in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. According to Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel, in 2015, their then-13-year-old son, Aidan, was dumped in a seclusion room. At some point later, someone looked in, and saw Aidan naked and covered in feces. The school took a photo, sent it to the parents, and told them to come fetch their son. Henschel remembers: “I could hear my son quietly whimpering. When I looked inside the room, it’s hard to describe my feelings.” Aidan is non-verbal and lives with autism and developmental disabilities. Mary Oakes explains, “My son does not take his clothes off willingly in a room unless he has been taught that. In the back of my mind, I will never know – because he can’t speak – how much they put him in that room.” Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel are suing the Alberta government, the Elk Island Public School Board, the school’s principal, and the teacher. The School Board says it will “strongly defend the actions of our staff”. Who on the School Board strongly defends the lives of its students?

As a result of Aidan’s story, and others similar and worse, Inclusion Alberta launched an online survey to find out what exactly is going on in Alberta’s school systems. There’s no hard data on children being placed in seclusion rooms. The schools don’t keep records; the schools aren’t mandated to keep records. Additionally, there’s no set policy, other than vague “as a last resort” language, concerning the use of seclusion rooms. Just last week, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen announced that he expects the province to issue guidelines concerning the use of seclusion rooms within “a matter of weeks.” As of now, there’s only verbal night and fog. It’s not even clear if the Alberta government knows how many seclusion rooms there are, and what makes a seclusion room a seclusion room.

According to Bruce Uditsky, CEO Emeritus of Inclusion Alberta, speaking of the treatment Aidan suffered, “It’s not just about the use of seclusion in this instance; it’s about the abandonment and neglect and abuse that any of us would typically understand in any other circumstances, and how come it’s acceptable and tolerated in a school where we expect children to be safe and we’re to trust educators.”

Story after story, expert after expert, year in and year out, argue that seclusion rooms only serve to traumatize children and that there are better, evidence-proven ways of addressing `difficult behaviors.’  This year began with New Zealand outlawing the use of seclusion rooms in schools. In May 2018, Inclusion BC reported extensive and systemic use of seclusion rooms across British Columbia. This year’s report was a follow-up to a report in 2013, that led to voluntary guidelines finally being passed in 2015. According to Inclusion BC, only in three British Columbian school boards has adopted any policy concerning constraint and seclusion. And now it’s September, and Alberta “discovers” its lack of guidelines, which is it say, its policy of refusal.

Recently, a team of Canadian researchers studied “children’s moral experiences of crisis management in a child mental health setting.” The researchers asked children 12 and under living with severe disruptive disorders what they thought of the use of restraints and seclusion: “Children considered restraints and seclusion could help them feel safe in certain instances, for example if another child was being aggressive towards them or in exceptional cases to prevent self-injury. However, their own experiences of being restrained were predominantly negative, especially if not knowing the reason for their use, which they then found unfair. Some of the children emphasized the punitive nature of the use of restraints and seclusion, and most children disagreed with these practices when used as a punishment. Children’s perspectives also highlighted the limits of the use of a uniform de-escalation approach by the staff to manage crises. Children considered discussing with the staff and developing a relationship with them as more helpful in case of a crisis then the use of a de-escalation approach or coercive strategies.”

Seclusion rooms become part of the regular “arsenal” of education in response to budgets and resources. Staff are insufficiently trained to work with diverse populations, as the populations become increasingly diverse. Solitary confinement cells are built and children are thrown in. What do children learn in that process? Who cares? Who asks the children what they think? “This was inhumane. This was treating him like an animal.”

 

(Photo Credit: Sherwood Park News / Inclusion Alberta)

In Assam, India, Safiya Khatun spent two years in detention for the crime of being … a citizen?

In July, the Indian state of Assam dropped four million people from its registers, identifying them as “foreigners.” Women comprise the overwhelming majority of the four million. Call it witch hunt? Call it femicide? Yes to both. Call it as well part of an ongoing nationalist campaign against the “foreigners in our midst”, a campaign that targets poor women. One such woman, Safiya Khatun, spent the last two years in the “Kokrajhar detention camp”, a jail designed to hold women “foreigners” in the Kokrajhar district of Assam. Assam boasts six detention camps. The detention camps were established in 2010, “to shelter women declared foreigners.” If this is shelter, give us the storm, please.

What is Safiya Khatun’s crime? A “mismatch” appeared with her father’s name on different voters’ lists. That misspelling brought Safiya Khatun before a “Foreigner’s Tribunal”, or FT, where she was found to be foreign. Assam has 100 FTs, and, by all appearances, they are models of poor process. Safiya Khatun’s FT hearing occurred in October 2016. She’s been “sheltered” by the State since.

Safiya Khatun is a poor, 50-year-old woman from an area declared, by the Indian government, one of the “most backward districts” in the country. Safiya Khatun’s father is a citizen; Safiya Khatun’s mother is a citizen; Safiya Khatun’s five brothers are citizens; Safiya Khatun’s husband is a citizen. Nevertheless, the FT found Safiya Khatun to be an immigrant foreigner. So did the Guwahati High Court. The Court argued that there were omissions in Safiya Khatun’s application, and so she is a foreigner. Finally, on September 12, the Supreme Court of India demanded that Safiya Khatun be released on bail. The Supreme Court decided that the State had not conducted a full inquiry and so had imprisoned wrongfully. Safiya Khatun’s attorney said, “You claim to trace and oust every ‘infiltrator’, but we will ensure that every Indian citizen gets the right guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The real crime is revealed in the language, where prison becomes camp becomes shelter; where foreigner becomes infiltrator; where omission and misspelling become crimes. Safiya Khatun spent two years in the Kokrajhar detention camp, the same prison where, in August, more than 150 women prisoners went on indefinite hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions. Kokrajhar detention camp houses elder women, many of whom have stories identical with that of Safiya Khatun, and young pregnant women. In most cases, the women’s extended families are all Indian citizens, but the women somehow are dangerously foreign non-citizens, and so packed off to prison … for shelter.

What is going on in Assam is a campaign, a war, against women, and Assam is a testing ground, and not only for India. Around the world, in so-called liberal democracies, citizenship is under assault, and the first line of that assault is women. Women are identified as dangerously foreign non-citizens, despite layers of evidence testifying to their citizenship. Citizenship is the criterion for the new global witch hunt, from the United States to the United Kingdom to Australia and beyond. Meanwhile, two months ago, 19-year-old Somiron Nessa, of Goroimari, in Assam, was informed, out of the blue, that she is a “foreigner”. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: DailyO)

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)

In Mississippi, 15 prison deaths a month is “normal”

Nicole Rathmann

On August 23, 2018, 23-year-old Nicole Rathmann died. Nichole Rathmann had served six years in Mississippi prison on a drug conviction. She was supposed to be released last week, and in a sense, a horrible sense, she was. Prison officials say Nichole Rathmann died of an aneurysm, but a doctor at the hospital where Nicole Rathmann died says the aneurysm resulted from regular ingestion of meth while a “guest” of the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl. Nicole Rathmann’s father says, “I know my daughter was no angel, but she was the responsibility of the state. She was an addict. They didn’t help her.” Unfortunately, Nicole Rathmann received precisely the kind of “help” prisons routinely offer prisoners needing help, and in particular women prisoners. What happened to Nicole Rathmann? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the prison itself concurs with this conclusion.

In August 2018, 15 prisoners died in Mississippi prisons. They ranged in age from 24 to 75. According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, “most of the reported deaths during the month of August are from illnesses or natural causes, such as cancer and heart disease, based on available information.” Nevertheless, the Department is asking the FBI to investigate the causes … of these “natural causes.”

When asked if there was any cause for concern at this seeming spike in deaths, Mississippi responded that 15 is not a spike. Earlier in the week, when the number was reported at 12, Mississippi’s prison commissioner responded that 12 “is not out of line with the number of deaths in previous months.” While orange may be the new black, in Mississippi’s prisons, mourning black is the new normal.

When asked for supportive data, none was provided. What we do know is that Mississippi has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country, and this despite periodic attempts to reduce the prison population. We know that, for the past twenty years, in any given year, the rate of mortality in Mississippi prisons is among the highest. We know that, although the number of women incarcerated has been reduced, the conditions in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, Mississippi’s only women’s prison, remain toxic. We know Nicole Rathmann is dead, and that’s how the State took responsibility for her.

Families grieve their loved ones; families, friends, supporters, prison reform and abolition advocates, and strangers make demands. Prison continues to be a factory where death does have dominion, even over data. The State measures its responsibility to prisoners in the number of caskets it rolls out. What happened to Nicole Rathmann? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

 

(Photo Credit: NBC News / Rathmann family)