Canada built a special hell for women: the Nova Institution for Women

Camille Strickland-Murphy, left, and Veronica Park, right

On April 24, 2015, Veronica Park died in the Nova Institution for Women. On July 28, 2015, Camille Strickland-Murphy killed herself in the Nova Institution for Women, committed suicide. On October 31, 2006, Ashley Smith, a “troubled teenager,” was shifted from youth custodial services to a federal women’s prison, the Nova Institution for Women, in Truro, Nova Scotia. From there, over the next year, Smith was transferred 17 times, and subjected throughout to full body constraint, shackles, and extended solitary confinement. On October 19, 2007, Ashley Smith hanged herself while seven guards watched and did nothing. The State was “shocked”. Some said, “Ms. Smith’s death should haunt Canada.” It didn’t and, as the corpses of Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy demonstrate, it hasn’t. The death of women prisoners haunts absolutely nothing. Last week, the families of Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy sued Canada’s federal correctional service for “negligence.” Rather call it torture. This play unfolds in three acts: the deaths, the after-death, and the darkness gathering.

Act One: Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy die.

Veronica Park entered Nova Institution for Women on August 14, 2014. Her family says she suffered from mental health issues, which they attribute to having been sexually and physically abused as an adult. She took to self-medicating and became addicted. In prison, she continued to self-medicate. Prison staff responded to her “situation” by throwing her, three times, into “segregation”, where she spent a total of 22 days. In the weeks before her death, Veronica Park went to the clinic seven times. She was clearly sick. On April 23, 2015, Veronica Park went twice to the clinic, where the nurse recorded a sore throat, cough, body aches and shortness of breath, and sent her on her way. The next day, Veronica Park was found incapacitated, gasping for air. She was taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a serious case of pneumonia. By 4:30 pm, Veronica Park was dead.

Camille Strickland-Murphy entered Nova Institution for Women on November 10, 2014. Strickland-Murphy had been in Nova before, at the age of 19. At that time, she had been beaten twice, by other inmates. Her family says that Strickland-Murphy’s mental illness began then, with untreated concussions. She began having seizures, fainting spells, and periods of loss of consciousness. The State responded with “segregation”, seven times totaling 23 days. When Camille Strickland-Murphy returned to Nova, her condition was worse. She was engaging in self-harm, which, again, resulted in segregation In February, she cut her face, and was found in a pool of blood. In March, she set her leg and room on fire. On July 20, she attempted suicide, and was sent to hospital. She was then returned to the Nova Institution for Women. On July 28, Camille Strickland-Murphy killed herself.

Who really killed Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy?

Act Two: The State abuses the families of Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy.

When Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy asked, directly and indirectly, for help, they were sent into segregation. Segregation means no family contact and that one’s security changes from medium to maximum. The families say they were never told about their loved ones’ deteriorating conditions. No one in either family knew how bad the situation was. How could they, when Veronica Park and Camille Strickland-Murphy were in and out of “segregation”? After the deaths, the State met the families’ various requests for information, both on what happened and what follow-ups were going on, with stone dead silence. According to Kim Pate, of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, when the Park family asked for more information, “they were told it was protected. It is outrageous.” There’s no outrage here, and Ashley Smith does not haunt the Canadian justice or prison system. The State kills women in prison, and then “protects” information. According to the family, the investigation into Veronica Park’s death didn’t even begin for a full four months.

Act Three: The darkness gathers.

Howard Sapers, the federal prisons ombudsman, released a report last week on how Canadian prisons deal with families after prisoners have died “in custody.” Investigative reports are consistently blacked out. Sometimes whole pages are missing. This repeats the treatment prior to the death, when the prisons don’t inform families. Prisons treat the families callously and worse. One man told the prison he would be coming to view his family member’s body on a certain day. When he arrived, he was told, for the first time, that his family member had been cremated. Later, without any notice, the ashes were couriered to him: “They cremated him and they sent him by Purolator…sending someone in the mail…it’s just not right.” It’s just not right. Sapers’ report is titled In the Dark.

Ashley Smith died, or was killed, nine years ago. In the interim, the darkness has gathered and thickened. In the name of Veronica Park, Camille Strickland-Murphy, and Ashley Smith, no more red flags, reports, inquiries or commissions. It’s time, it’s way past time, for action. Close the Nova Institution for Women. Close all places where segregation and isolation are the protocols for healing. Build spaces that are actually for women. Anything else is just not right.

A report to a family on their loved one’s death

 

(Photo Credit 1: CBC News) (Photo Credit 2: News 1130 / Office of the Correctional Investigator)

Canada must stop sending Aboriginal women to prison!

Canada is addicted to the incarceration of Aboriginal peoples, and in particular Aboriginal women. According to a recent report by Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, for the first time ever, more than 25% of inmates in Canadian federal prisons are Aboriginal: “In federal corrections, 25.4 per cent of the incarcerated population are now of aboriginal ancestry.” Sapers describes the number as “quite shocking.” No one is shocked. None of this is new.

Nationally, 3723 of the 14624 prisoners are Aboriginal, but that doesn’t tell the real picture. In the Prairie provinces, 48.62% of prisoners are Aboriginal, and in the Pacific provinces, 31.09% of prisoners are Aboriginal.

For women, the situation is predictably worse. Of 683 women prisoners, 248 are Aboriginal. Over 36% of women prisoners are Aboriginal.

None of this is new. The State need to cage Aboriginal women is longstanding and publically acknowledged. Study after study, book after book has said as much. The State has tinkered with criminal codes, settled with individual prisoners, given lip service to the ongoing ravages of colonialism. All the while, the State continues to disappear Aboriginal women and girls into prisons where they are routinely tortured.

The line of incarceration of Aboriginal people, from 1996 to 2016, is one of almost unbroken ascendance. Thirty years ago, Aboriginal people comprised 10% of Canada’s Federal prisoners. Then the numbers began rising and never stopped: 1996-1997,14.6%; 1997-1998,15.7%; 1998-1999, 16.9%; 1999-2000, 17%; 2000-2001, 17%; 2001-2002, 17.6%; 2002-2003, 18.3%; 2003-2004, 18.5%; 2004-2005, 18.2%; 2005-2006, 18.7%; 2006-2007, 19.6%; 2007-2008, 19.6%; 2008-2009, 19.7%; 2009-2010, 20.6%; 2010-2011,21.5%; 2011-2012, 22%: 2012-2013, 23%; 2013-2014, 22.8%; 2014-2015, 24.4%; 2015-16, 25.4%.

Year by year by year, the State has stolen Aboriginal women’s lives. Aboriginal women are “over-represented” in Federal prisons as they are in maximum security and in solitary confinement. Aboriginal women are the citizens of over-representative democracy. It’s time, it’s way past time, to end the carnage. Canada must stop sending Aboriginal women to prison!

 

(Image Credit: Flat Out)

Stop sending Aboriginal women to prison!

Canada’s federal prisons hold more prisoners than ever before. The provincial prisons are also full to the brim. What’s going on? Crime is on the decline. The White prison population is also in decline.

Last Tuesday, Canada’s Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers issued his annual report. The picture is both grim and not surprising. There’s a `boom’ in prisoners, and it’s made up of people of color. Aboriginal people make up around 4 per cent of the population, and close to 25% of the Federal prison population.

Black prisoners are “over-represented”, especially in maximum-security prisons. Black prisoners are also “over-represented” in solitary confinement. Black prisoners disproportionately face the “use of force” from guards. Black prisoners also face discrimination in prison jobs employment and in parole release.

Meanwhile, the prison staff remains overwhelmingly White. The Fear of a Black Planet continues to this day. To no one’s surprise.

For women in the system, the rates of incarceration far exceed those of men. Since 2003, the female prison population increased by over 60%. One in three women the federal prison system is Aboriginal. Since 2003, the Aboriginal women’s federal prison population has increased by 83.7%

Why are Aboriginal women being imprisoned at such high, and higher, rates? What happens to Aboriginal women when they enter into the prison system?

In September 2012, an independent review commissioned by the Department of Public Safety entitled Marginalized: The Aboriginal Women’s Experience in Federal Corrections was released. The external report examined the reasons behind the over-representation of Aboriginal women in federal penitentiaries, revealing a depressing picture of dislocation, isolation, violence, poverty, victimization and discrimination. It examines several themes that are consistent with the Office’s own findings and recommendations in this area of corrections: over-classification of Aboriginal women inmates; high prison self-injury rates among Aboriginal women; lack of culturally appropriate programming; and limited use of CCRA [Corrections and Conditional Release Act] provisions to share care and custody of Aboriginal offenders with Aboriginal communities.”

Aboriginal women are “over-represented” in solitary and maximum security. Force is used on Aboriginal women prisoners at an extraordinarily high rate. But the highest rate is that of self harm. From 2011 to 2012 Aboriginal women accounted for almost 75% of self-injuries among women prisoners. More often than not, self-injury results in charges being filed, solitary confinement, and security reclassification. If an Aboriginal woman hurts herself, it’s a crime. Instead of help, counseling, anything supportive, she’s sent into the hole.

Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers concluded, “You cannot reasonably claim to have a just society with incarceration rates like these.” Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney replied, “The only minority I would say we are interested in are the criminals.”

 

(Photo Credit: flickr / Vice)