Children are disappearing into the night and fog of solitary confinement in jails and schools

A seclusion room in Horn Elementary School in Iowa City

Across the United States, we continue to torture children by throwing them into segregated, solitary confinement, and this happens as often in schools as it does in jails in prisons. Children are disappearing. That children are disappearing is not new. That we continue to disappear children is also not new, but it is shameful, and it’s a shame that reaches every day deeper and deeper into our collective spirit and individual souls.

Last week, the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice gave formal support to a lawsuit filed last year against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office for its ongoing and regular practice of placing 16- and 17-year-olds in solitary confinement at the county jail. Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York charged that, between October 2015 and August 2016, the Onondaga County Justice Center dumped 80 teens, mostly youth of color, into solitary confinement. The Department of Justice endorsement of the case noted, “The Civil Rights Division has previously exercised the United States’ authority under CRIPA and Section 14141 to address issues related to the use of solitary confinement on juveniles in jails, including in the Jefferson County Jail in Alabama, the Hinds County Jail in Mississippi, the New York City Department of Correction Jails on Rikers Island, and the Baltimore City Detention Center in Maryland. The Division also has addressed the use of solitary confinement in juvenile detention facilities, including in the Scioto and Marion Juvenile Correctional Facilities in Ohio and the Leflore County Juvenile Detention Center in Mississippi.”

According to Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director, “The Department of Justice’s involvement shows that what is happening to children at the Justice Center is not simply a tragedy for Syracuse, but it is a national disgrace. Children must be protected from the tortures of solitary confinement.”

The disgrace is not limited to prisons and jails. Last month, a complaint was filed against the Iowa City school district, charging that the district’s use of seclusion rooms violates Federal law, primarily because parents don’t know that the seclusions rooms exist and are being used and because the use of seclusion rooms is broader and more `ordinary’ than the law allows. During the 2013-14 school year, most of the students dumped into solitary confinement were students with diagnosed disabilities and individualized education plans. Half of the students with education plans who were sent to seclusion rooms were Black. Other than students with education plans, ALL of the students dumped into seclusion rooms in the 2013 – 2014 were Black. Black students comprise about 19% of the school population.

The good news, such as it is, is that these dismal mathematics are being challenged, and that occasionally something like decency wins. Torturing children is wrong. Children do matter. So do the adults who surround them. At the same time, consider how much energy, labor, work, investment is required to protect children, our children, your children, their children, from torture, every single day. Every single day, across the United States, children are disappearing, forgotten children who haunt the days and ways of our world.

 

(Photo Credit: The Gazette)

All that is human drowned in the sea

This year, all that is human drowned in the sea, all that is holy has been profaned, and we are at last compelled to face with sober senses our real conditions of life, and our relations with our kind. In 2016, at least 5000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean. Last Friday, two boats capsized, and “about 100 people are missing and feared dead.” Who fears them dead? No State and no amalgam of nation-States fears them dead. Rather, in this the deadliest year ever for migrants trying to reach Europe, the year’s epitaph is simple: “2016: The year the world stopped caring about refugees”. We are the world, and we turned the sea into a graveyard. This year, the women, child, man of the year lies on the bottom of the Mediterranean, and we do not know their names, and we do not much care. If we did, they would be alive today. So here is a poem for the unknown refugees who lie in the cemetery that we have made of the Mediterranean. See you next year.

Home
by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

 

(“Home” by Warsan Shire appeared here.) (Photo Credit: Electronic Intifada /Oren Ziv/Active Stills)

Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s blood flows over all of us

Faysal Ishak Ahmed died on Saturday or was it yesterday … or was it six months ago. Faysal Ishak Ahmed, 27-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker, collapsed inside the detention center on Manus Island, the dumping grounds for those refugees and asylum seekers who seek haven in Australia. This is the same Manus Island where 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed two years ago. Eight months ago, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea declared the detention center illegal. Papua New Guinea and Australia have “agreed” to close the center, but, to no one’s surprise, no time frame has been set. Faysal Ishak Ahmed did not collapse nor did he suffer a seizure. He was killed, and his blood joins the blood of Reza Barati; their blood flows everywhere.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s story is all too familiar. For at least six months Faysal Ishak Ahmed complained of chest pains, swollen arms and fingers, high blood pressure and a pain at the back of his head, seizures, blackouts and breathing difficulties. He begged and pleaded for medical care. Fellow prisoners begged and pleaded on his behalf. He wrote letters; fellow prisoners wrote letters. He deteriorated; he received no medical care. When he finally died, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection stated a refugee “has sadly died today from injuries suffered after a fall and seizure at the Manus Regional Processing Centre”. There is no sadness like sadness. Jesus wept, the State shrugged.

The story continues. Manus Island prisoners rebel for a while. Letters are written, protests are lodged, pictures and drawings emerge. In Sudan, Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s parents say they want their body returned to them. They also say that they have not been formally informed of his death by anyone from the Australian or the Papua New Guinean governments. The State’s great and deep sadness continues to oppress the vulnerable and the hurting.

Faysal Ishak Ahmed is just another name, just another death, in the litany of neoliberal global ethics in which he must bear full responsibility for the site of his birth, the color of his skin, and the nature of his faith. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that he spent three years in prison on Manus Island. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed that he ever asked anyone for help, safety, or haven. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that he begged for six excruciating, agonizing months without any attention. It’s Faysal Ishak Ahmed that the medical staff consistently claimed he was malingering and returned to his bed. It’s his fault, it’s altogether Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s fault that his blood flows over all of us. We are innocent, we never saw him, we never knew.

 

(Photo Credit 1: SBS Australia) (Photo Credit 2: The Guardian)

The day 15-year-old Jacques Craig learned “how to sit in a police car”

Earlier this week in Fort Worth, Texas, Jacqueline Craig and her daughters, Brea and Jacques, were arrested, in yet another “incident” of police abuse against a Black woman and her children. Brea is 19 years old, and Jacques is 15. The whole thing was caught on video, posted to Facebook, and now the police officer is on restricted duty, the Fort Worth Police Department is scrambling to “keep the calm”, many are expressing “outrage”, and Black folk in Fort Worth can’t see much for the fog of quotation marks that these events raise these days, but they can see that this story would never happened if Jacqueline, Brea and Jacques Craig were White. Meanwhile, there’s Jacques Craig. What has she learned this week? “I didn’t know how to sit in a police car, I’ve never done it before. I was just crying and worried and thinking about how to get out.

Jacqueline Craig called the police to complain about a White neighbor who she said had grabbed her son by the throat, allegedly for having dropped some paper on the ground. Jacqueline Craig told the officer, “My daughter and son came home, saying that this man grabbed him and choked him.” The officer responded, “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?” Jacqueline Craig answered, “He can’t prove to me that my son littered, but it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t, it doesn’t give him the right to put his hands on him.” The officer answered, “Why not?”

Why not?

At this point, Jacqueline Craig and the officer are clearly tense, and Jacques Craig, the 15-year-old girl child, stepped forward and between the two, to help defuse the situation: “I am 15 years old. How was I supposed to know I wasn’t supposed to interfere? I was just trying to protect my mom.” Next thing, the officer pulls out his Taser, wrestles the 15-year-old Black girl to the ground, and …

By the end, Jacqueline Craig, Jacques Craig, and Brea Craig were all taken to the police station and processed. The Fort Worth Police Department quickly launched an investigation and released a statement, which read, in part, “The Fort Worth Police Department enjoys a close and cooperative relationship with our citizens; one of transparency, mutual trust and respect. The Fort Worth Police Department expects every officer to treat persons they encounter with that same trust, respect and courtesy. We acknowledge that the initial appearance of the video may raise serious questions. We ask that our investigators are given the time and opportunity to thoroughly examine this incident and to submit their findings. This process may take time, but the integrity of the investigation rests upon the ability of the investigators to document facts and to accurately evaluate the size and scope of what transpired. We ask our community for patience and calm during this investigation process.”

There’s a demonstration tonight in Fort Worth demanding justice and calling for an end to police brutality.

Across the country, from sea to shining sea, Black girls and young Black women face this form of State intimidation every single day. So do Latinx girls and young Latinx women and Native girls and young Native women. This particular officer may be one in Fort Worth, but there’s another in Galveston and another in Phoenix and another in Baltimore and another in Winslow and another in Auburn and another in Frederick County and another one somewhere right around the corner. Think of all those “rogue” police officers as the front line of secondary and tertiary public education for girls and women of color in the United States. What was this week’s lesson plan Jacques Craig? How to sit in a police car. Let’s hope she learns a better lesson.

Posted by Porsha Craver on Wednesday, December 21, 2016

 

(Photo Credit: NBC Dallas Fort Worth) (Video Credit: Facebook / Porsha Craver)

 

 

 

Elizabeth Seitz, Mersiha Tuzlic, Riva Depasse, Jill Hendricks, Kiari Day say NO! to being tortured

“The system here, is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong.” Charles Dickens

Allegheny County Jail, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, routinely throws pregnant women into solitary confinement, for days on end, for minor offenses and less. Five women – Elizabeth Seitz, Mersiha Tuzlic, Riva Depasse, Jill Hendricks, Kiari Day – have refused to accept the injustice and  indignity. Yesterday, December 19, their attorneys went to Federal Court to sue the Allegheny County Jail. This is Mersiha Tuzlic’s story, and it’s happening in jails across the country.

On May 27, 2016, Mersiha Tuzlic, was thrown into solitary. On June 18, she wrote a handwritten request to the warden, Orlando Harper, dated 6 -18 -16, which reads:

“Dear Warden,

I’ve been put under Inv. Status on 5-27-16 for allegedly smoking crack! I’m 3 months pregnant and hand no problem giving a urine specimen. It was clean. I don’t understand why I’m still locked up and the other inmate that refused the urine test is free??? I’ve been extremely compliant and haven’t complained – even though I’ve only received 1 hour of rec and 1 shower this Entire time. I feel really grimy and unsanitary. I’m pregnant, restless, neurotic and emotional. The captain who put me in inv status isn’t responding to my inquiries. I don’t know what else to do. I just want to sit in the gym for a while. I’m claustrophobic, and it’s getting to me. If there’s anything you can do at all — anything — please consider helping me! I’m high-risk pregnancy as is, and this is driving me nuts. Thank you for listening.

Ma and baby 🙂 “

The Warden responded to the plea for help: “IF THIS IS A PROBLEM, DON’T COME TO JAIL”

Welcome to the Commonwealth of Petty Dictators, where throwing pregnant women into solitary confinement for no reason at all isn’t enough of an assault on their dignity. When they ask for help, find ways to further diminsh them. Show these women how really powerful you are. The god of small things battles the devil of small men, and in Allegheny County, for too long, the devil has been winning.

In 1842, Charles Dickens visited Pennsylvania, saw the new system of solitary confinement, and called it out: “Very few … are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers; and in guessing at it myself, and in reasoning from what I have seen written upon their faces, and what to my certain knowledge they feel within, I am only the more convinced that there is a depth of terrible endurance in it which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow-creature. I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay. I hesitated once, debating with myself, whether, if I had the power of saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ I would allow it to be tried in certain cases, where the terms of imprisonment were short; but now, I solemnly declare, that with no rewards or honours could I walk a happy man beneath the open sky by day, or lie me down upon my bed at night, with the consciousness that one human creature, for any length of time, no matter what, lay suffering this unknown punishment in his silent cell, and I the cause, or I consenting to it in the least degree.”

Tell the warden of Allegheny County Jail that torturing women is no joke. Write to the Allegheny County Jail here or call them at 412-350-2000. Stop the torture of women in jails.

(Photo Credit: ACLU of Pennsylvania)

Yvonne Musarurwa smiles, saying NO! to the tyrants of Zimbabwe

Yvonne Musarurwa immediately after being sentenced

On Monday, in Harare, Yvonne Musarurwa and two comrades were sentenced to twenty years in prison. Photos show Yvonne Musarurwa immediately after the sentencing, and she’s smiling, perhaps laughing. As it was in Hades and then Algeria, so in Zimbabwe today, “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a woman’s heart. One must imagine Yvonne Musarurwa happy.”

In 2011, 29 MDC-T supporters were arrested on suspicion of having killed a police officer. In 2013, 21 were acquitted because of lack of evidence. There was no evidence, and yet they remained behind bars, in Chikurubi, some for more than two years. The High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu took great pains to discuss the case of human rights activist Cynthia Manjoro. Manjoro had been released on bail in 2012, after a State witness testified that Manjoro had been arrested “as bait” to lure her boyfriend into a trap. Cynthia Manjoro spent May 2011 to October 2012 in prison. That left eight in the hellhole of Chikurubi. In August 2013, Rebecca Mafukeni died … or was killed. Rebecca Mafukeni had meningitis, she was clearly deteriorating quickly when the judge repeatedly refused bail and all appeals for medical attention were rejected.

Yvonne Musarurwa was with Rebecca Mafukeni in Chikurubi Prison and recalled the ordeal: “The first weeks in police custody were the toughest. We were being interrogated, beaten and tortured. I’ve never felt so much pain in life before. I sustained a broken hand; lacerations all over the body and the only thing I got for all that were a few tablets of paracetamol. They said we were MDC and that there was every chance we would influence the other prisoners and clash with others from ZANU PF. This is why they kept us in solitary confinement. The conditions though were very bad. We stayed in cells that had raw sewage passing through and we cleaned that up using our bare hands. That was the most difficult part and I told myself the day Zimbabwe is free from tyranny, I will personally go to the Minister of Justice and those in charge of prisons to tell them exactly what needs to be done.”

That was 2013. This week, three years later, Yvonne Musarurwa, Tungamirai Madzokere, and Last Maengahama were sentenced to 20 years, despite eyewitnesses stating in court that the three were innocent, despite a complete lack of evidence, despite video evidence that Last Maengahama was in a church miles away when the officer was killed. According to Beatrice Mtetwa, who leads the defense team, the three were convicted based on the doctrine of common purpose, an archaic doctrine by which one may be found guilty of another’s crime. The State went to great lengths to convict Yvonne Musarurwa and her colleagues.

Yvonne Musarurwa is 29 years old. She has spent the last five years in the clutches of the State for a crime she never committed. How many more years until Yvonne Musarurwa, and the rest of Zimbabwe, are freed from prison for a crime they never committed? In Zimbabwe, the State is the crime. For now we must continue to imagine, and see, Yvonne Musarurwa smiling, knowing exactly what needs to be done.

Yvonne Musarurwa

 

(Photo Credit 1: Nehanda Radio) (Photo Credit 2: Nehanda Radio)

Why does Australia criminalize psychiatric and cognitive impairment? Ask Rosie Ann Fulton

Rosie Ann Fulton

Rosie Ann Fulton, an Aboriginal woman living with fetal alcohol syndrome, lives in Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory of Australia. In many ways, she is the embodiment of the State’s criminalization of psychiatric and cognitive impairment. This abuse is particularly addressed to women, and even more intensely so Aboriginal women. Rosie Anne Fulton has spent much of her adult life in jail for no reason other than her intellectual disability. After a mighty campaign was waged, she was released and agreements were made. Today, her custodian says the support, such as it was, has collapsed and Rosie Anne Fulton is “back on the streets, taking drugs, being exploited and is at serious risk.” This is what the State of Abandonment looks like. At the end of November, a Senate committee issued its report, “Indefinite detention of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment in Australia.” Rosie Anne Fulton is typical of hundreds.

In March 2014, media uncovered that then 23-year-old Rosie Anne Fulton had spent 18 months in Kalgoorlie Jail without a trial or conviction: “The magistrate in her case declared her unfit to plead because she is intellectually impaired – a victim of foetal alcohol syndrome – and has the mental capacity of a young child. Her legal guardian, former police officer Ian McKinlay, says Ms Fulton ended up on a prison-based supervision order because there were no alternatives in the area at the time. `At the moment this outcome is almost entirely reserved for Aboriginal, Indigenous Australians,’ he said.” The State “explained” that no other options existed. Three options were available: first, a “declared place”, designed for precisely this kind of case; second, an authorized hospital; third, prison or juvenile detention center. Although the Act authorizing “declared places” had passed 15 years earlier, none actually existed. Hospitals could only admit someone who has a “treatable” mental illness, which did not fit Rosie Anne Fulton. And so the only available option was prison … according to the State.

That was 2014. In 2016, Ian McKinlay reported to the Senate Committee on Rosie Anne Fulton’s condition: “[Rosie Anne Fulton] was born with fetal alcohol brain damage, and this was compounded by a life of abuse. She was dumped by NT health after she ended up in indefinite prison-based supervision in Kalgoorlie. She was forced back into the NT health domain by a media and public outcry. This clearly caused resentment. It was reflected in the denial of a transitional support plan earlier discussed. Instead, she was placed under a clearly designed-to-fail support plan, which has seen her under conviction for 70 per cent of the time since her return to the Northern Territory. She has now lapsed into full-blown chemical addiction, and to all intents and purposes she is back on the streets and at serious risk. Yesterday I found her drunk with facial injuries; she was again bashed overnight and she appeared in court today. This support hides behind a pretence of freedom of choice values that contradicts repeated guardianship court findings that she lacks decision-making capacity. The external pressure needed to compel NT Health to accept responsibility for Rosie Anne has also been needed to maintain even tokenistic levels of commitment, the latest re-engagement prompted by monitoring by the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet plus the current Don Dale media coverage.”

What crime did Rosie Ann Fulton commit? She has committed the crime of survival, a crime she commits every second of every day, and so she, and all her kind, must be punished. Do not build a “declared space” where she might live with dignity. Do not open a mental health institution that might accommodate her not so unusual circumstances. Build more prisons, fill them up with Rosie Ann Fulton and her sisters, then throw away the keys, and call it democracy in an indefinitely austere world.

 

(Photo Credit: ABC Australia)

Raquel Calderon de Hildago did not die. We killed her.

A woman in her room at the Eloy Detention Center

A woman in her room at the Eloy Detention Center

On Monday, November 28, U.S. Immigration and Customs, aptly named ICE, reported the death of Raquel Calderon de Hildago, a 36-year-old woman from Guatemala who had been a `guest’ of Eloy Detention Center. Located in Florence, Arizona, Eloy Detention Center is run by the inaptly named CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America. In 2013, women prisoners in Eloy Detention Center went on hunger strike to protest life threatening conditions there. What has changed since then? Raquel Calderon de Hildago was the fifteenth person to die in Eloy, which makes Eloy the most fatal immigrant detention center in the United States. According to ICE, “Calderon is the third individual to pass away in ICE custody in fiscal year 2017.” Fiscal year 2017 began October 1, and already three people have died in ICE prisons. Raquel Calderon de Hildago did not pass away. She died in agony, after multiple seizures. She did not die. She was killed.

Carlos Garcia, executive director of Puente Arizona, noted, “For us it’s disappointing because this death, like the others, could have been prevented. But unfortunately this administration and (the prison operator) are not held accountable and so we see again someone’s life being lost.” The tragedy here is that there is no tragedy. There can’t be when each death at Eloy is just “another death at Eloy,” just another number in the fiscal year accounts. Raquel Calderon de Hidalgo’s life was not lost. It was thrown into the garbage dump of history. End of story.

Days before Raquel Calderon de Hildago died, a report on ICE’s immigration detention centers opened, “The U.S. government still fails to enforce basic standards of care at its privately and publicly contracted detention facilities, according to the National Immigrant Justice Center’s (NIJC) review of immigration detention facility inspections from 2013-2016 which were recently publicly released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE inspections data for the past five years indicate that many facilities have pending inspection ratings, in some cases for as long as two years,1 raising uncertainty about ICE’s adherence to a 2009 congressional mandate to close substandard facilities.2 As a result, inhumane conditions, including egregious violations of medical care standards, prevail across an immigration detention system composed of more than 200 detention facilities that detain approximately 34,000 immigrants daily.”

The report describes Eloy Detention Center: “Since 2003, 14 people have died at Eloy, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Office of Detention Oversight death reviews show significant lapses in medical care, including failure to respond promptly to medical emergencies, refer individuals to hospitals or other outside medical care, and address known flaws in facility operations that have led to the deaths of individuals in custody. ICE has not publicly released any inspection results for this detention center since 2012, and the facility’s Enforcement and Removal Office rating has been pending for two consecutive years.”

This report followed two other major reports, in February and July, respectively, that documented not only the terrible conditions in which people have been dying in immigration detention, but, equally, the fatal neglect on the part of all who run the prisons that condemns people to slow, painful and certain death sentences. From February to today, the only thing that has changed is that CCA became CoreCivic and that 14 is now 15. Raquel Calderon de Hidalgo’s death was a death foretold, as was the manner of her death.

According health law expert Stacy A. Tovino, “Many immigration detainees are physically and emotionally vulnerable at the time of initial confinement due to a history of torture and trauma, which may include human trafficking, sexual violence, political oppression, psychosocial trauma, and acculturative stress. Detention can exacerbate preexisting vulnerabilities and contribute to severe physical and mental illness as well as death. Between October 2003 and October 2015, 153 individuals died while in ICE custody.” The general situation is bad, and Eloy’s is worse. Eloy has consistently “refused to conduct” an examination or “ignored the call” by desperate detainee after desperate detainee. For example, Jose Lopez-Gregorio’s sick calls were ignored for seven days. Jose Lopez-Gregorio died hanging at the end of a bedsheet, but it wasn’t suicide. Like Raquel Calderon de Hildago, he was killed.

According to ICE, “At the time of her death, Calderon was awaiting removal to Guatemala. Database checks indicate she had no criminal history in the U.S.” Raquel Calderon de Hildago had no criminal history. Why did we sentence her to die; why did we kill Raquel Calderon de Hildago?

 

(Photo Credit 1: Nick Oza / Arizona Republic) (Photo Credit 2: NACLA)

Where were you when all those women prisoners killed themselves?

Women prisoners protest at HMP Styal

Women prisoners protest at HMP Styal

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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