The spectacularly ordinary and vicious cruelty of the Supreme Court’s Gang of Six

A gang of six, with a stroke of a pen, condemned women in the United States to a world of second class, if that, `citizenship’; increased maternal mortality; peril and precarity. When patriarchy rules supreme, cruelty is the point, in this case masquerading as Constitutional concern, even when the Constitution is grossly misread. It’s a femicidal program, and pogrom, as old as patriarchy and capitalism, as Silvia Federici  noted twenty years ago, when she argued that the great witch hunts of Europe and then of the colonies, including the United States, focused on women’s reproductive knowledges and capacities in a campaign of degradation of women: “In the `transition from feudalism to capitalism’ women suffered a unique process of social degradation that was fundamental to the accumulation of capital and has remained so ever since.”

The United States has the highest maternal mortality of any so-called developed country. In 2018, the maternal mortality rate was 17.4 per 100,00 live births; in 2019, 20.1, in 2020, it was 23.8. At the time, 17.4 was considered astronomical, compared to national comperes. It was. 23.8 is criminal. For non-Hispanic Black people, the maternal mortality rates for those three years are 37.3, 44.0, 55.3, respectively. The recent decision will only intensify this situation, raising maternal mortality rates, already critical and criminal, precipitously. According to one study, a nationwide ban would raise maternal mortality rates by 21%. It would raise maternal mortality rates among non-Hispanic Black people by 33%. This decision merges Witch Hunt with Jane Crow, with altogether predictable consequences of increased mortality, intensified control, devastation, immiseration. Women, and especially women of color, will become refugees in their own lands and their own bodies. As Federici noted, again, the degradation of women is always forced through programs of privatization, in which women are separated from land, home, community, body, self.

The Economic Consequences of Being Denied an Abortion”, published in 2020, brings the impact of denied access to abortion home … literally. Debts increase by 78%, bankruptcy and eviction increase by 81%: “Women who were denied an abortion experience a large increase in financial distress that is sustained for several years … We find evidence that being denied an abortion has large and persistent negative effects on a woman’s financial well-being. Women denied an abortion experience a significant increase in financial distress during the year that they give birth. Unpaid debts that are 30 or more days past due more than double in size, and the number of public records, which include negative events such as evictions and bankruptcies, increases substantially. This financial impact extends…up to four years after the birth year …. The impact of being denied an abortion on collections is as large as the effect of being evicted and the impact on unpaid bills is several times larger than the effect of losing health insurance …. Denying a woman an abortion reduces her credit score by more than the impact of a health shock resulting in a hospitalization or being exposed to high levels of flooding following Hurricane Harvey.”

The impact on women, children, communities, generally, and even more on Black and Brown women, children, communities is known. There’s no mystery here, and no misprision of either the Constitution or of a sense of humanity can be allowed to cloud the issue. Along with the immediate violence visited upon women’s bodies, lives, dreams, the long-term impact built into a ban on abortions is eviction and homelessness; severe reduction of access to education, health care, social services; increasing inequality; more deaths, more debts.

Yet again we encounter the ordinary, everyday cruelty of necropower: “In our contemporary world, weapons are deployed in the interest of maximum destruction of persons and the creation of death-worlds, 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.” Cruelty is the point.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Caliban and the Witch)

Louise Powell, Hollie Grote, Leah Porter, Delilah Blair cried out in pain. Nobody in charge cared.

In 2020, in HMP Styal, in Cheshire, England, Louise Powell was in excruciating pain. She told the staff. The staff gave her two aspirins and told her to chill out. On June 18, 2020, Louise Powell delivered her baby, stillborn, in a cellblock toilet. Across the ocean, Hollie Grote, in the Pike County Jail, in Missouri, began feeling excruciating pains. The staff gave her two aspirins and told her to chill out. For months, she cried out, in pain, begging for help. Finally, Hollie Grote died of a brain tumor. Chill out, they said.

What happened to Louise Powell? A young woman, call her Louise Powell, was held in HMP Styal. She did not know that she was pregnant. She did know that she was in excruciating pain. She did tell the staff, who told her to take two aspirins and chill out. The pains increased. Finally, someone realized that the woman was pregnant. By then, it was too late. The young woman delivered her baby, stillborn, in a cellblock toilet. The Prison Service expressed its deep concern, promised an investigation. None came. No changes came. Today, two years later, members of the “No Births Behind Bars” campaign organized a demonstration outside the walls of HMP Styal.

Organizers said the demonstration was too traumatic for Louise Powell to attend, and so instead she sent a message: “Brooke is always in my heart and my mind. Two years ago on 18 June 2020 I was left to give birth in a toilet, despite begging for help. It has been two years since she died and still we do not have accountability for what happened. I fully support the campaign for ‘No Births Behind Bars’ and thank you for your condolences and support for Brooke.”

What happened to Hollie Grote? A 41-year-old mother, call her Hollie Grote, was detained in the Pike County jail a year ago, in June, 2021. In July, she started complaining of pains. The first recorded complaint was July 28,2021. When Hollie Grote told her family she couldn’t get medical assistance, the family went to talk with the sheriff, to plead to have her sent to the hospital, the sheriff responded that people claim excruciating pain to attract attention. Take two aspirin, don’t call me in the morning. By October 23, Hollie Grote said the pain was so intense that she was considering suicide. A staff member noted “scratch marks on the forearm/wrist area.” She still wasn’t sent to hospital or given any medical attention. Staff noted that she was lying on the floor, groaning, grunting. They put her in suicide watch. Then they watched and did nothing. Finally, she rolled off her bed and died on the floor. Hollie Grote’s sister and daughter claim that when they asked the sheriff what it would take to send someone to hospital, he replied “someone would have to be bleeding out or vomiting in a way that it would be obvious something is wrong.” An investigation is `in process’.

It’s easy, and correct, to condemn the staffs of HMP Styal and of Pike County Jail. But what about the State, the society, and the world, that has decided that women behind bars deserve this sort of treatment, medical staffs who refuse to offer medical care, systems in which sheriffs and guards decide major health issues? Last month, Leah Porter, mother of two, was “found dead” in her cell at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, in Sydney, Australia. Leah Porter lived with mental health issues. She told the staff she needed her medication and she needed it at specific times. The staff decided they knew better, and gave the medication midday, rather than early in the morning, as she had requested. The night before she committed suicide, Leah Porter told other detainees, “I want my story to be heard. I want the people to know what happened to me. I want to tell the people what these detention centres do to the people.” When the Villawood staff expressed shock and dismay, Leah Porter’s relative, Narelle Aitken, replied, “She should never have been in detention. I loved her to pieces. She was very funny.”

In 2017, Delilah Blair, 30-year-old mother of four, Cree, was detained at South West Detention Centre, in Windsor, Ontario. What happened to Delilah Blair? On May 21, 2017, Delilah Blair was in the mental health block when a staff member “found her body” lying on the floor, with a blanket tied around her neck. The State is currently holding an inquest, delayed by over two years by Covid. Selina McIntyre, Delilah Blair’s mother, who testified today, described the last time she saw her daughter, “When I held my daughter for the last time, I made a promise to her that I would not stop until I had the answers of what happened.” What happened? Delilah Blair was a woman with a mental health issue, which meant she was placed in an inferior system of health care. In the men’s unit, everything from supervision protocol to room and furniture design was designed to improve health and prevent suicide or self-harm. None of that was, or is, the case in the women’s unit. This was “revealed” in testimony yesterday, revealed even though everybody involved knew.

They should never have been in detention. Tell the people what these detention centers do to the people. I loved her to bits. What happened to Louise Powell, Hollie Grote, Leah Porter, Delilah Blair? Take two aspirin, chill out.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: James Speakman/Manchester Evening News)

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

While State cruelty is nothing new, since the advent of neoliberal state practice, the cruelty has become `dignified’ by rendering the objects of the violence both invisible and fully public, through a prism darkly of obfuscating discourse, networked technologies that are both massive and seemingly impenetrable and simultaneously intimately invasive, and a State addiction with policing and incarceration, all in the name of security and something aptly named criminal justice. In the United Kingdom in the past month, this has somewhat garnered attention with the Home Office’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. Yes, Rwanda. This plan has been referred to as callous and torture. Prince Charles, who is headed for a Commonwealth meeting in Kigali later this month, has called the plan, and the entire direction it betokens, “appalling”, and Prince Charles is certainly someone who knows a thing or two about appalling behavior. While all these critiques are apt, they miss the point. The plan is spectacularly ordinarily cruel, and the cruelty is the point.

From the international perspective, the idea of Rwanda is an extension of the global “safe third country” programme. Trump tried it with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The United States still has a “safe third country” agreement with Mexico. Australia tried it with Cambodia, Nauru, Manus Island. Sometimes it’s called “safe third country”, other times It’s called “country of first asylum”, as Europe has `negotiated’ with Greece and Turkey. Whatever it’s called, it means “Don’t come here if you really need help.” Also, whatever it’s called, every iteration has been, on the surface, a screaming disaster … unless, of course, cruelty is the point.

The latest British iteration is marked by deception and investment. The Home Office spent £14,273.32, or $ 17,593.79, to develop “branding and messaging.” The spent an additional £38,000 to £50,500, or up to $109,000, on Facebook and Instagram ads. This is only a partial accounting. All of this in a time of rampaging inflation and government calls for austerity, for “the public good.” The Home Office informed asylum seekers that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was intimately involved and working with the Rwanda plan. That was not and is not true, as the UNHCR has stated publicly.

In its implementation and design, the Home Office refused to consider the particular dangers to LGBTQ+ refugees. It refused to consider the particular dangers to refugees living with disabilities. For those asylum seekers who reported that, due to past trauma as well as the prospect of being shipped off to Rwanda, they were at serious risk of suicide, the Home Office provided a “trauma handout pack”. Here’s their considered advice: “Do a crossword or Sudoku”. “Ask the officers for a job”. “Punch a punching bag”. “Do some colouring or paint”. “Try aromatherapy”. In other words, just die already. Cruelty is the point.

In the past month, reports have shown that, between 2016 and 2021, more than half of the 5,403 incarcerated people in England assessed by prison-based psychiatrists to require hospitalization were never transferred. That’s an 81% increase over the preceding five years. The situation is particularly dire for and prevalent among incarcerated women. Women who should be in treatment are left, often in solitary, at places like HMP Styal, where 18-year-old Annelise Sanderson was sent in the summer of 2020. From the outset, Annelise Sanderson said she was unwell and wanted to die. The staff did less than nothing, and in December 2020, Annelise Sanderson killed herself, or better was executed. According to Shell Ball, a formerly incarcerated woman, speaking of her time at HMP Styal, where, despite being diagnosed with anxiety, depression, PTSD and borderline personality disorder, she never saw a psychiatrist, was never transferred to any medical facility, said, “About 90% of the women in there had mental health issues – most probably that’s why they were in there in the first place.”

In 2020, a woman at HMP Styal endured a stillbirth, in her cell. When she had cried out, saying she was in excruciating pain, she was given two aspirins and told to chill out. Do a crossword or Sudoku. Months earlier, a woman at HMP Bronzefield, England’s and Europe’s largest women’s prison, alone in her cell, gave birth to a child. The child died. In both institutions,  self-harm is rampant. No matter. Pregnant women are sent there anyway. Looking at this situation, some ask, “How cruelly they must have been treated. And for what?

From the “Rwanda plan” to HMP Styal and HMP Bronzefield, the message to the vulnerable, to those living with trauma, mental health, grief and sorrow, is as it has been, “Do a crossword or Sudoku, and then just die”. Cruelty is the point. The point is cruelty.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Raluca Bararu, “Anatomy of Cruelty” / Artsper)

In Chile, a victory for HIV-positive women, for all women, everywhere!

In 2002, a 20-year-old, married rural woman now known as Francisca discovered she was pregnant. She and her partner were elated. When, early in the pregnancy, Francisca went in for tests, she discovered that she was HIV positive. She immediately began a protocol of antiretrovirals. She had a caesarean delivery, successfully, and the child was HIV negative. That child, now 22 years old himself, is still HIV negative. When Francisca emerged from the surgery, a nurse informed her that the surgeon had sterilized her.  Francisca never asked for or wanted to be sterilized and had never consented. In 2007, Francisca sued the doctor. In 2008, the case was dismissed; the court decided the doctor’s actions were not criminal. In 2009, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Vivo Positivo took the case, on Francisca’s behalf, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In August 2021, the Chilean government signed a settlement accepting responsibility and offering something like reparations: a housing subsidy and healthcare for both Francisca and her son as well as a commitment to raise awareness of HIV and reproductive rights. After eleven years of intensive struggle and labor, Francisca responded, “I receive the apology offered to me by the Chilean state… [but] it must be clear that I was not the only one. I am happy to know that my case can serve to end stereotypes about people living with HIV, and to improve healthcare for other women.” Francisca knew and knows: her struggle is a collective struggle is a universal struggle.

From 1935 to 1976, Sweden sterilized women it deemed socially or racially inferior. `No one’ knew about this program until it was revealed in 1997. In 1999, Sweden agreed to pay victim-survivors a one-off payment of $22,6000. Then, in 2012, it was `revealed’ that Sweden required transgender people to undergo sterilization. The law requiring sterilization was passed in 1972, but “no one” knew. In February 2012, thirty years after its passage, the law was repealed.

In 2009, three women, all HIV positive, sued the Namibian government for engaging in forced and coerced sterilizationIn 2014, five women, all HIV positive, sued the Kenyan government, two maternity hospitals, and two international ngo’s for engaging in forced and coerced sterilization. In 2014, in Chhattisgarh, India, 15 women died in a `sterilization camp’. Fifty others went in hospital, with at least 20 in critical condition. The world was forced to `discover’ the widespread policy of forced sterilization … yet again. In 2014, California formally banned forced and coerced sterilization of women prisoners. In 2015, the Virginia legislature agreed to pay $25,000 in compensation to those who had suffered forced sterilization during the Commonwealth’s decades long adventure in eugenics. In 2015, in South Africa, 48 women living with HIV and AIDS who had suffered forced sterilization lodged a formal complaint against the South African government. In 2018, former President of Peru Alberto Fujimoro was formally informed he would be charged with having engaged in forced sterilizations on thousands of indigenous women, during his reign of terror. That case is still pending. In 2018, Native and Indigenous women in Canada filed a class action lawsuit for decades of forced sterilizations in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Manitoba. In 2019, the Japanese legislature offered a one-off compensation of around $28,770 to victim-survivors of forced sterilization. That was the result of a 23-year campaign.

Francisca and her supporters know this long and arduous history. They knew all along that no state has ever willingly, easily acknowledged the torture, violation, cruelty of decades of forced sterilization. They knew that doctors always claimed, as did Francisca’s, that they knew what was right and wrong, and that the forced sterilization was the ethical route. The ostensible reasons differed from one area to another, from one period to another, but the underlying current was always the same. The women were subhuman and needed, demanded, to be violated.

On May 26, 2022, newly elected President Gabriel Boric announced, “I would like to start by apologising to Francisca ….  for the serious violation of your rights and also for the denial of justice and for all the time you had to wait for this. How many people like you do we not know? It hurts to think that the state, which today I have the honour to represent, is responsible for these cases. I pledge to you, and to those who today represent you here in person, that while we govern, we will give the best of each one of us as authorities so that something like this will never happen again and certainly so that in cases where these atrocities have already been committed, they will be properly redressed.”. Boric went on to promise to provide specialist training to medical workers on HIV/AIDS to curb discrimination and to ensure that judges and lawyers are aware that affected women have a right to reparations.

Chilean activist Elayne Leyton responded, “For years, no one has talked about women living with HIV. We’ve had to hide in our houses like rats, suffer discrimination, and practically eliminate ourselves from society. At last, someone is taking responsibility.” Elayne Leyton has lived with HIV since the late 1990s. Sara Araya, Coordinator of Vivo Positivo, added, “Finally, justice was done; through this case we call on all governments to continue to invest in the elimination of HIV discrimination in all services, including health care”. Finally, Francisca, who, in order to protect her anonymity, was not at the announcement, sent this message, “I would love to have been me, with my voice, my face and my body, the one who after so many years of struggle stood present to lead this act in my own name. However, making my identity known would have closed endless doors for me. To this day, people who carry HIV are still looked down upon with contempt as if it was our decision to become infected. However, I want to believe with conviction that this will change.”

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Jennifer Leason / Canadian Family Physician)

Landmark cases: In South Africa, Karen Greyling said NO! to women being economically trapped in toxic marriages … and won!

In South Africa, Karen Greyling argued that any system, any Constitution, that leaves women economically trapped in toxic marriages is unconstitutional. On May 11, the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa agreed. Near the end of her 40-page decision, Judge Elmarie van der Schyff noted, “Aspects like the now abolished marital power and the man’s headship of the family are factors that contributed, and continues to play a significant role in the way some men, and even women themselves, regard the roles, and stature of women in society. Only those who go blindfolded through life can deny that gender equality has not yet been achieved in South Africa. In fact, the South African society still has a long way to go.” Karen Greyling said enough is enough. Beverly Clark, specialist family lawyer Beverley Clark of Clarks Attorneys, who agreed to take on the case, agreed. Judge Elmarie van der Schyff agreed as well. Now the case goes on to the Constitutional Court. Here is the story of a woman who said, no matter what the Constitution said, inequality is a violation of her rights and she demanded justice.

In March 1988, Karen and Barend Petrus Greyling were married “out of community of property, excluding the accrual system”. When it comes to assets and liabilities, and especially as pertains to divorce, South Africa has three marriage regimes: in community of property, where both parties share in liabilities and assets; out of community of property with accrual, where parties stipulate assets to be excluded, declare asset values, so that, in the case of divorce, only the accrued estate will be shared; and out of community of property, excluding the accrual system, in which each party has their own estate, and that’s that, no shared assets or liabilities. This third category was added in November 1984, with the enactment of the Matrimonial Property Act 88 of 1984.

In 1988, Karen Greyling was 22 years old. A little before the two married, Barend Greyling’s father announced the marriage would be no community property, no accrual. The lawyer presented the 22-year-old with a one-page contract, she signed, and the deal was done.

The couple lived in a rural area. They had three children. Karen Greyling took care of the children and of the house. Barend Greyling became a very successful, award-winning farmer. They were rich. Actually, he was rich. The relationship became toxic and abusive. In 2016, the couple separated. It was then that Karen Greyling, thirty years later, learned the meaning of “out of community of property, excluding the accrual system”. Other than a small inheritance from her mother, she had nothing.

Karen Greyling knew that was wrong. She searched for an attorney. Many turned her down, explaining the law was not on her side. Finally, Beverly Clark took on her case: “My client went to a number of attorneys who told her she didn’t have a case. Eventually she came to me in 2019, and I was keen to take this on because I have always thought the law was unfair. I have had so many clients where the woman got such an unfair deal. Many women who have been homemakers are trapped in unhappy or abusive marriages because they know they will walk away with nothing.”

Karen Greyling’s attorney argued, “The blanket deprivation of excluding spouses from the potential benefits of a just and equitable redistribution order constitutes unfair discrimination based on sex, gender, marital status, culture, race, and religion. As a result, it operates to trap predominantly women in harmful, and toxic relationships when they lack the financial means to survive outside of the marriage.” They argued that the law was unconstitutional. As Beverly Clark later explained, “This is not about bread and milk money. It’s about proper compensation and it’s about the courts being allowed to step in and exercise discretion to avoid unfairness.”

They took the case, finally, to the High Court, where Judge Elmarie van der Schyff agreed. Twenty five years of false promises and blindfolds threw women either into effectively forced marriages or deep poverty while denying their agency and contributions. As Judge van der Schyff noted, “The equality issue brought to the fore in this application is not solely attributable to race or gender or religion, but also to economic inequity.”

South Africa’s Bill of Rights, Chapter 2 of its Constitution, begins its enumeration of rights with Equality: “Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.” Equality is followed immediately by Human Dignity: “Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.” These are the first articulations of “everyone” in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. In March 2021, the Constitutional Court rendered a landmark decision in favor of five women who had been excluded from inheritance on the basis of gender. In December 2021, the Constitutional Court rendered a landmark decision in favor of survivors, the majority of whom are women, excluded from inheritance on the basis of formal rituals. In May 2022, the High court rendered a landmark decision in favor of women seeking equality in marriage and divorce. Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

“Return to normal”: Rising evictions, nowhere to go

Welcome to the so-called `liberal’ DMV, DC – Maryland – Virginia. Yesterday, Maryland’s Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have extended protection from eviction if the tenant has a pending rent relief application. That protection would have been a mere 35 days. The Governor also vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have required landlords prove their compliance with local rental laws before trying to evict a tenant. Who needs proof of compliance, when we’re talking landlords? These modest proposals were vetoed by the Governor because “Maryland already has some of the strongest tenant protection laws in the nation”. That’s a low bar, not to mention a lousy reason. On the same day, Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin vetoed bipartisan bills that would have assisted indigent public housing residents. The bills would have exempted very low-income tenants from having to pay exorbitant appeal bonds, which can run into the thousands, in order to appeal an eviction notice. The Governor explained that he preferred his vision, which was essentially to gut the entire bill and then claim victory. At least he didn’t claim Virginia already has some of the strongest protection laws in the nation. Both governors have national aspirations.

From Australia to the United Kingdom and beyond, the story is largely the same. Pandemic protections, such as they were, are coming to an end. The housing market, for purchase or rent, is hot and getting hotter. Landlords find, or create, loopholes in the already tattered safety net for renters. For example, across England and Wales, even weak restrictions on “no fault” evictions are blithely ignored. Of course, Parliament promised to and failed, or refused, to ban no fault evictions. This week, the New York legislature failed, or refused, to pass Just Cause eviction protections. Wages have not kept up with housing. Inflation is forcing low to moderate income families to decide among paying the rent or mortgage, putting food on the table, or paying for utilities. The affordable housing stock, already reduced after a decades’ long hiatus in construction, is being reduced. In many parts of the world, the mantra for those facing eviction is “Nowhere to go”.

In New Orleans, eviction filings and evictions are rising rapidly. The explanation is rising rents and decreasing availability of affordable housing. Those are symptoms, not cause. Public policy is the cause. Look at any eviction court in the country. More than 90% of landlords have legal representation, fewer than 10%, often fewer than 5%, of tenants have lawyers. There are no scales of justice in that space. Only imbalance, inequality, injustice.

In Detroit, half the residents say their financial situation is more or less the same as a year ago, 23% say improved, 23% say worse. 35% of low-income residents say they are worse off now than a year ago. 33% of Detroit renters report spending 31-50% of their income on housing. 24% of renters report spending more than half of their monthly income on housing. According to the United State government, anything 30% or higher qualifies as “housing insecure”.

This is a brief overview of news of the last 24 hours. We entered the pandemic `discovering’ the lack of data. Individual organizations and people across the country created and expanded local eviction dashboards. There still is no national data bank. Courts remain spaces of collusion between judges and landlords. And the options offered by so-called leaders, with some exceptions, are either the protections in place are sufficient, when they clearly are not, or the protections in place or offered are excessive, when they are paltry. For too many, “return to normal” means nowhere to go.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The global prison population is at an all-time high. Women are the fastest growing prison population, still and again.

Penal Reform International and the Thailand Institute of Justice released Global Prison Trends 2022. While not particularly surprising, it is still a sobering read. First, the global prison population is at an all-time high; 11.5 million people are currently reported as incarcerated. It must be recalled that many countries don’t gather data on prison populations, and other refuse to make public the data they have. 121 countries report prisons above official capacity … in the middle, still, of a highly contagious pandemic. 33% of incarcerated people are awaiting trial, innocent until something or other. Overall, the prison population has risen 24% since 2000. Women are the center of that catastrophic rise: “The number of women in prison has increased 33% over the past 20 years, compared to a 25% rise among men.” Where are the women?

What accounts for the rate of women’s incarceration? The short, and long, answer is patriarchy, misogyny. Women are particularly targeted by the ongoing so-called War on Drugs, especially across Latin America, as well as India, Indonesia, Kenya, Russia, South Africa and Uganda. While women make up a small fraction of people currently on death row, the vast majority are on death row for drug offenses. In Malaysia, for example, 90% of the women on death row were convicted of a drug offense, compared to 70% of the men. Women are also particularly targeted by laws that criminalize poverty and status. For example, 42 African countries criminalize people with no fixed address or means of subsistence. Petty survival theft is treated as a major felony. Women have been arrested for taking discarded food from restaurant trash receptacles.

Globally, the use of formal life imprisonment sentences has increased. In the United States, for example, since 2008, the number of women serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole has increased 43%. In the United States, one of every fifteen incarcerated women is serving a life sentence, up 19% over thirteen years. Where are the women? In prison, for life.

Globally, the situation for indigenous women has worsened. In Canada, 48% of incarcerated women are Native women. In New Zealand, 60% of incarcerated women are Māori and Pacific women. In New Zealand prisons, Māori women make up as much as almost 80% of those sent into solitary. Further, still in New Zealand, Māori and Pacific women make up 93% of women segregated for 15 days or longer. Where are the indigenous women? In solitary.

Over 740,000 women are in prison. Increasingly, those women are in for longer and longer sentences. Over the past three decades, the number of women serving an indeterminate sentence in England and Wales has increased by 241%. In country after country, women serving life sentences, or sentences that might as well be life sentences, are living with trauma, abuse, violence. Those histories are seldom considered, and the prisons have little to no appropriate health or healing services. `Status offense’ laws – abortion, adultery, sexwork – target increasing numbers of women.

Reproductive health is practically nonexistent for incarcerated women, although eleven countries have passed laws to prohibit the incarceration of pregnant women. Incarcerated women disproportionately live with mental health issues. For example, in England Wales, 70% of incarcerated women, and 48% of incarcerated men, live with mental health `problems’. Self harm and suicide are rampant among incarcerated women. More incarcerated women live with HIV than incarcerated men. According to UNAIDS, in 2020, the average HIV prevalence among women in prison was 5.2%, for men 2.9%.

Globally, prisons are increasingly and more intensely overcrowded. Although women are the fastest growing prison population, they are still the minority. This means they have least access to water and to sanitation. Little drinking water, no toilets, broken toilets are commonplace for incarcerated women.

The global prison population has reached an all-time high. Women are the fastest growing prison population, still and again: Low-income women, Indigenous and Aboriginal women, women of color, minority women, LGBTIQ+ women, elder women, younger women, homeless women, shackdweller women, women living with trauma, women survivors of violence, and so many other women. Nation-states have invested heavily in this program and continue to do so. Last year, at least 21 countries announced their plans to build more prisons. Alabama announced it will use Covid relief funds to build a new women’s prison. The struggle continues.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Penal Reform International)

Friday’s factory fire in New Delhi was yet another planned massacre of women workers

Woman worker’s shoe outside the burned building

On Friday, May 13, a fire broke out in a “commercial building” in the Mundka suburb of New Delhi. As of two days later, at least 27 people were killed, or better murdered. That number is expected to rise. “Women made up the majority of … workers.” Again. The building had a factory. The factory owners have been arrested. The building had two owners. The owners have been arrested. Their arrest will not bring back the 27 people, the majority if not all of whom are women.

The building is stories tall. The building has never passed any fire department inspection. The building had no fire safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers. The building had no fire exit. Most of the people who died, the twenty-seven “charred bodies” that were recovered, died of asphyxiation. The only exit to the building was blocked “by rubbish”. The staircases were packed with cartons. Those inside never had a chance. Women made up the majority of workers.

According Atul Garg, the Delhi Fire Chief, “It seems the entire building was illegal.” Illegal and in plain sight. The area in which the building stands is village land, zoned only for residential and small shops. Commercial enterprises on village lands are prohibited. “However, commercial activity in these areas is rampant.” Four stories high, completely and visibly illegal.

The women manufactured and assembled CCTVs and WiFi routers. They are the latest addition to the roster of women workers sacrificed to the global, national, and local economies. December 11, 2019: “Sunday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers: We know”. July 16, 2019: “Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers”. January 22, 2018: “The factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers”. Women made up the majority of workers.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: BBC)

 

When they begin to torture the trees: State violence against people living with disabilities

Two stories, one in England the other in the United States, speak to the torture to which people living with disabilities are subjected, all in the name of justice. In England, a Black, 17-year-old, non-verbal British boy, a child who had never left England, was identified by the police as Nigerian and sent to immigrant detention, to prepare for deportation. In the United States, Kelly Masten, 38-years-old, has the mental capacity of a six-year-old. Kelly Masten is also non-verbal. Her grandmother called the police to ask for help. The police came, took Masten away, not to the hospital but to jail, where she stayed for ten days. When she finally was sent to hospital, she was in a coma and covered in bruises.

The English story is that a Black, 17-year-old, non-verbal British boy was in hospital in Kent. He ran away, apparently made it to Manchester, where the family used to live, then turned around to return to London. Without money, papers, shoes, phone. He was picked up on the train, for fare violation. The police took him and, according to their report, `interviewed’ the non-verbal Black child who `informed’ them he was Nigerian. And so of course they flipped him over to immigration. Of course. The non-verbal child, who had never spoken in his life, spoke to the police and told them he is Nigerian, the non-verbal child who had never left England.

The United States story is that Kelly Masten, 38-years-old, with the mental capacity of a six-year-old, and non-verbal, bit her grandmother, who is her legal guardian. Her grandmother called 911. The police arrived, assured the grandmother that, after a medical examination, her granddaughter would be taken to John Peter Smith Hospital, in Fort Worth, Texas. She wasn’t. Instead, Kelly Masten was dumped in the `notorious’ Tarrant County Jail. The grandmother told the police that Kelly Masten suffers from a condition that causes violent seizures and that she had to take her medications regularly. The police said they would make sure. They didn’t. When Kelly Masten refused her medication, the staff said, “Fine.” Ten days later, when she finally went to the hospital, covered in bruises, she was in a coma. Kelly Masten is, today, in a coma.

The boy’s mother and sister are furious. The woman’s grandmother and sister are furious. The State claims,  on one hand, nothing wrong really occurred, and, on the other hand, it was an unfortunate but solitary failure. There was no failure. There is a practice of torture. Black, nonverbal child shows up, clearly in distress … send him to Nigeria. Nonverbal adult woman shows up in distress … send her into a coma.

Alice Walker saw this, in her poem aptly entitled, “Torture”

Torture

When they torture your mother
plant a tree
When they torture your father
plant a tree
When they torture your brother
and your sister
plant a tree
When they assassinate
your leaders
and lovers
plant a tree
When they torture you
too bad
to talk
plant a tree.
When they begin to torture
the trees
and cut down the forest
they have made
start another.”

Who will finally start another forest?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Jenny Hozer / MoMA)

Manitoba could be moving towards ending solitary confinement … finally

On May 21, 2021, two people incarcerated in Manitoba sued the province over their practice of solitary confinement. On plaintiff, Virgil Charles Gamblin, had been in solitary confinement from December 2020, or six straight months. The other, a juvenile, 17 years old, had been in solitary nine times since July 2020. The two argued that solitary confinement is torture, and, as such, is cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, “a dungeon inside a prison”. As their attorney, James Sayce, noted, “They’ve shown real courage in coming forward and putting their name down on this claim, and they’ve shown real courage.” This past week, their case was certified as a class action, meaning it now covers thousands of people who were tortured by the state.

Manitoba’s solitary confinement cells are often smaller than parking spaces, with no windows, sleeping mats on the floors. They are often covered in filth, blood and excrement. Junior Moar spent time in Manitoba’s dungeons: “It’s just not a place for a human being to be in there like that, not like a caged animal. An animal shouldn’t even be treated like that.”

Covid made, or better was used as an alibi, to make a terrible situation worse. For example, from 2019 to 2020, prolonged solitary confinement of incarcerated youth increased tenfold. Prolonged solitary confinement is 15 days or longer. Children were thrown into dungeons ostensibly for their own protection. As one child explained, “The way they do it, they’re not helping us.” These numbers came from a report that was an update of an earlier report two years prior. None of this is new, and yet it continues.

In province after province, case after case, the State’s use of solitary confinement has been successfully challenged. Ontario was successfully sued, as were the federal prisons. Class action suits in British Columbia, Alberta, and Nova Scotia are moving forward. Again and again, when presented with the evidence, the courts decide that solitary confinement is [a] unconstitutional and a violation of human and civil rights because [b] it’s torture. Solitary confinement is torture. Why is that so difficult to comprehend? What is our investment in this particular form of torture? Why do we need victim after victim, in the thousands and tens of thousands, having the courage to testify to the trauma imposed on them in the name of justice before we break the cycle of torture?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: “Solitary Confinement”, mural by David Alfaro Siquieros, completed 1961)