How many women must die due to incarceration before we do something about the massacre?

In one week in early November two civil society organizations, one in England one in North Carolina, forced their respective state agencies to `discover’ yet again that the entire so-called criminal justice system is built on deaths “by suicide”. In North Carolina, Disability Rights North Carolina issued its report, Suicide in North Carolina Jails: High Suicide and Overdose Rates Require Urgent Jail Reform Action. In England, Inquest released its report, Deaths of people following release from prison. While the numbers are grim and the personal accounts are heartbreaking, who is surprised by the data and whose hearts are broken? If we were surprised, if we still had hearts to break, we would have done something serious long before this month’s reports.

Remember March 2015 when it was “discovered” that the year before prison suicides in England and Wales reached a seven-year high, according to the Howard League for Penal Reformthe Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, and the House of Commons Justice Committee?

Remember April 2015 when it was reported that, in the United Kingdom, the number of suicide attempts in “immigration removal” centers was at an all-time high?

Remember August 2015 when the U.S. Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics released Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons, 2000–2013 – Statistical Tables and reported suicide was the leading cause of death in U.S. jailsthe Spokane County Jail, in Washington State, requested that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate a recent rash of prisoner suicides; and, reluctantly and under pressure from the Federal government, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department agreed to reforms in the L.A. County Jail that would finally begin to address “chronically poor treatment for mentally ill inmates and … years of abusive behavior by jailers?

Remember April 2016 when United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice released Safety in Custody Statistics England and Wales / Deaths in prison custody to March 2016, and the numbers were bad, the worst in 25 years?

Remember August 2016 when, according to a Howard League report on England and Wales, “2016 becomes worst year ever recorded for suicides in prisons”?

Who remembers the names and lives of those women who ostensibly died “at their own hands” … over and over and over again; the reports of their demise and then later the “discoveries” that implicated State malfeasance; the reports by civil society organizations, because the State doesn’t even try to keep adequate statistics, much less anything like adequate care? Who remembers?

In North Carolina, the situation is typical. The rate of suicide in jail is rising precipitously. Those who die by suicide are generally 40 years old or younger. Suicide happens quickly: 20% occur within 24 hours of entering; 65% within seven days; 80% within 12 days. Surviving two weeks in jail is a small miracle. 85% of those deemed suicides died by hanging. 95% died before ever facing a trial. They were formally innocent, but they were executed, nevertheless. And what of all the others, the ones who were in the cells next to those who died by hanging?

According to Inquest’s report, “In the most recent recorded year, ten people died each week following release from prison. Every two days, someone took their own life. In the same year one woman died every week, and half of these deaths were self-inflicted.” According to Inquest’s report, the suicide rate for women in the general population is a little less than 5 per 100,000. For women on “post-release supervision”, the rate last year was 459 per 100,000. This discrepancy is even more noteworthy when we consider that “in the general population men are more likely to die by suicide than women. However, when we look to people in the criminal justice system – whether in prison or under probation supervision – women are at a higher risk of a self-inflicted death than men.” For that reason Inquest “reframes deaths in custody as a form of violence against women.”

Where is the supervision; what comprises supervision in North Carolina, the United Kingdom, and beyond, when levels of suicide either go unreported, meaning there’s no attention paid, or, worse, go untreated, because those deaths just don’t matter? If anything, the systemic and accelerating years long rise in suicide among people, particularly women, in prison and under post-confinement supervision, suggests suicide has become a State solution to the so-called recidivism crisis, a crisis manufactured by the State.

We are once more still in the everyday political economy of necropower, where “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 … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.” It’s time, it’s way past time, to remember and, in remembering, to move through and beyond the blur of reiterated discovery to action. Stop sending people to jail, close the jails and the prisons, and, in so doing, begin to end the massacre. Don’t forget.

(Image Credit 1: Disability Rights North Carolina) (Image Credit 2: Inquest)

What goes on in New Jersey’s county jails? Overcrowding. Suicide. Death.

Hudson County jail

In 2018, New Jersey was embroiled in a federal investigation into rampant sexual abusein the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for women. That investigation culminated in several criminal investigations, indictments of correctional officers and a committee hearing that hopefully will bring some positive changes to the state prison – if positive changesand prisoncan be put together in the same sentence. But what is going on in New Jersey’s county jails may be even more insidious and too often falls under the radar. Twenty of the state’s 21 counties have jails, and they operate with little oversight from the state DOC.

According to the latest figures available from the DOJ, the Garden State jails have the highest per-capita death rate among the 30 states with the largest jail populations. The biggest driver of rising death rates was suicides committed by people suffering from untreated drug addictions and mental illnesses.

The rate of suicides in New Jersey county jails has risen an average of 55% each year between 2012 and 2016. With the exception of Hudson County, these deaths have garnered very little government attention, and action. Hudson County increased spending on mental health and stepped up screenings as part of the intake process for prisoners. Even so, in Hudson County, of 17 recorded deaths at the jail since 2013, officials could only find six incident reports. Between June 2017 and March 2018 alone, six inmates died in the Hudson County jail.  

Cynthia Acosta committed suicide at the Hudson County jail. Acosta had been receiving help for drug abuse and admitted herself to an inpatient mental health program at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Medication was helping to stabilize her, according to her brother, David Acosta. 

Ready to find her own place and about to file for housing assistance, Cynthia Acosta needed a copy of her identification record. She drove to a government office in Hoboken despite having a suspended driver’s license and was arrested by North Bergen police officers for past traffic violations. Her medicine was left in the car after her arrest. Three days later she was dead. 

Cynthia’s death was preventable. Having been booked in the Hudson facility, she was housed in the combined medical and mental health unit, “a small, windowless, triangle-shaped room bordered by three cells, a shower and a nurses’ station.” The Director of the jail has acknowledged that the nurses didn’t have enough training and resources to deal with mental health issues. Neverthelss, he claimed defended that inmates were properly monitored … despite the suicide rate.

The issues do not stop at North Jersey. In Cumberland County, a man from Vineland became the seventh inmate to die from suicide at the county jail since 2015. The Atlantic County Jail has had six suicides in the past three years. Housing inmates and then completely disregarding their need for mental heath has become normalized across New Jersey. Multiple lawsuits against county jails have become the new norm, with family members demanding answers. 

Meanwhile, county contracts with ICE have led to massive overcrowding in county jails. Bergen County jails nearly tripled its capacity for federal detainees. Hudson county is at 134% of its capacity. The three biggest county governments – Bergen, Hudson, and Essex – are now earning a total of $6 milliona month to hold immigrants in their county jails. Bergen County’s contract with ICE contributes to 7.4% of Bergen’s “miscellaneous” non-tax revenues. Holding undocumented immigrants is big business.

Hidden in plain sight, New Jersey’s county jails contribute to such notorious abuses and neglect that they should be front and center of media headlines. But being quiet and closing our eyes is very good for business.

Cynthia Acosta and brother David Acosta

(Photo Credit 1: Reena Rose Sibayan / Jersey Jour/ NJ.com) (Photo Credit 2: David Acosta / NJ.com)

What happened to Marilyn Lucille Palmer? Just another jail suicide in Michigan

What happened to 36-year-old Marilyn Lucille Palmer? On February 28, 2018, Marilyn Lucille Palmer, mother of a 13-year-old son, was “found” hanging in her jail cell shower, in the Grand Traverse County jail, in Traverse City, Michigan. According to the Sheriff’s Office, “She was unresponsive and not breathing.” Since then, the Sheriff has maintained that the jail could use some help and funds, but basically everything is ok. Everything is decidedly not ok, not in the Traverse County Jail nor in jails across the United States.

On January 12, Marilyn Lucille Palmer pled guilty to one count of identity theft. She was sentenced to three months. She was to be released in May. The day before she died, she was denied a request for an early release. There is no early release possible for three-month sentences. Marilyn Lucille Palmer told her cell mates that she was distraught about missing Easter with her family and missing her son’s thirteenth birthday. Additionally, Marilyn Lucille Palmer used Trazadone, an anti-anxiety medication. A little over a week before her death, Marilyn Lucille Palmer filled out a health service request: “I think I’m having detox symptoms because I have really restless legs and my anxiety is through the roof.” On February 28, Marilyn Lucille Palmer filled out yet another health request: “Need to refill prescription for Trazadone … Been out for several days.” Hours later, in response to cell mates’ “panicked screams”, Marilyn Lucille Palmer was found “unresponsive and not breathing.”

What happened to Marilyn Lucille Palmer? She was dumped in a local, and nationwide, hole of systemic unresponsiveness … to women, to people of color, to those living with mental health needs, to those living with any health needs, to people.

In 2003, Amy Lynn Ford was sent to the Traverse County jail. Amy Lynn Ford was a recovering alcoholic who lived with epilepsy. She took Dilantin to control the seizures, but on the day she was booked, Amy Lynn Ford had not taken her Dilantin, because she had been drinking alcohol. She reported all of this to the intake official who noted the fact and then ignored it. Amy Lynn Ford was never given Dilantin. She was placed in an upper bunk, where she suffered a seizure, fell to the floor, and was seriously injured. She sued the jail, successfully, and, in 2007, was awarded $214,000. Judges and jury found that the County “exhibited deliberate indifference to and was the proximate cause of Ford’s injuries.”

Amy Lynn Ford was injured due to deliberate indifference. On July 22, 2017, Alan Halloway was “found” unresponsive and not breathing in the same Traverse County jail. Apparently, Halloway, who also hanged himself, was found for some three hours. The Halloway family is suing the County and jail. Their attorney, who has offered to represent the Palmer family as well, said, “Everybody wants to know what led up to this and how this was possible again. The whole place is dysfunctional from the top down. … We’ve been dealing with these problems for years and this all just needs to come to an end. How many more mentally ill people are going to kill themselves in that jail?”

In 2014, the National Institute of Corrections issued a report on the Traverse County jail. They found the jail ill equipped for “special populations”. They found the cells worsened the health of those living with mental illness. They estimated that around 80% of inmates were living with mental illness; they found that suicide attempts had become a common occurrence. What’s the word for an institution that exhibits deliberate indifference and in which suicide attempts have become the new normal? Jail.

In 2015, more people committed suicide in U.S. jails than over the preceding decade. In its most recent report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics notes, “In 2014, there were 1,053 deaths in local jails, an 8% increase from 2013 … Suicides, the leading cause of death, increased 13% between 2013 and 2014, from 328 to 372 … The suicide rate increased 8% between 2013 and 2014 to 50 suicides per 100,000 local jail inmates. Males accounted for the majority (900 deaths) of jail inmate deaths in 2014, but the number of female deaths (152) increased 22% between 2013 and 2014.”

What happened to Marilyn Lucille Palmer, in 2018? She went to jail. She needed and asked for help; none came. She killed herself. She was found unresponsive. She went to jail.

 

(Photo Credit: Traverse City Record Eagle)

What happened to Jessica DiCesare? Just another jail suicide in Massachusetts

Jessica DiCesare and her two sons, now 15 and 7 years old

What happened to 35-year-old Jessica DiCesare last year? On July 8, 2017, Jessica DiCesare, mother of two, was “found” dead in her cell in the Barnstable County Correctional Facility, in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. The investigation officer found a note, which read, in part, “This place is so fucked … this is not justice, nor innocent until proven guilty, nor `good for the common wealth’. We are treated like sub-animals here …. I’m losing my mind / I want to die.” On July 7, following a panic attack, Jessica DiCesare wrote a note to the jail staff, which read, in part, “Being in segregation is deteriorating my mental status, as well as my physical health. I have no prior convictions, no prior jail time, and was placed here almost one month ago. I have PTSD … Being locked in here is bringing my mental health status back 10 years … also having been taken off my meds I have been on. I went from running a successful business to mental deterioration because of being locked up 23 hours a day … I also suffer major depression, bipolar disorder, prior hospitalizations for suicidal feelings and am losing my mind in here.” Am losing my mind in here. Despite the pleas from a social worker who had read the note, the supervisor of mental health clinicians decided that DiCesare did not require any special attention.  What happened to Jessica DiCesare? The routine torture of women in jails in Massachusetts and across the United States. On July 11, 2017, Jessica DiCesare was pronounced dead.

Jessica DiCesare was initially picked up for drug and theft charges. Her bail was set at $500. Her mother, Sue DiCesare, and brother, Richard DiCesare decided not to pay. Since high school, Jessica DiCesare had struggled with substance abuse and mental illness. Mother and brother both thought Jessica DiCesare would be safer and maybe get some help while in jail awaiting trial. Now, Sue DiCesare says, “The guilt we feel for not bailing her out is huge.”

From schools to streets to courts to jails and prison, everyone who comes into contact with the aptly named criminal justice system is meant to struggle with this guilt. It’s an additional fee levied on “those who chose”, chose to be poor or of color or immigrant or woman or LGBTIQ or living with mental illness or living with drug addiction. Those who “made poor choices” carry an impossible debt they never incurred. You know who doesn’t feel huge guilt. The medical supervisor at Barnstable County Correctional Facility, who insisted that Jessica DiCesare did not warrant special attention.

And so now, jail officials intone their version of “prayers and thoughts”, namely that jail is not designed to be a mental health institution nor an addiction treatment facility . “Every suicide is a tragedy.” How long before the individual tragedies are seen, collectively, as an epidemic? At what point do we recognize that jail is the public health crisis? When do Sue and Richard DiCesare stop being made to feel guilty?

In 2017, fourteen people died of suicide in Massachusetts’ prisons and jails, the highest number since the last peak, in 2014. Of the 14, 4 were in Massachusetts prisons and 10 were in Massachusetts jails, where prisoners include people awaiting trial and people sentenced to up to 2 ½ years. Massachusetts houses about 20,000 people in jails and prisons, with about 10,000 in each. Three weeks prior to Jessica DiCesare’s death, 21-year-old William Jarosiewicz “was found dead” in his cell at the same Barnstable County Correctional Facility. Jessica DiCesare joins the circle of  Tanna Jo Fillmore, Madison Jensen, Madaline Christine PitkinSarah Lee Circle BearChristina TahhahwahAmy Lynn CowlingAshley EllisKellsie GreenJoyce CurnellSandra BlandKindra Chapman, Kellsie Green and so many other women who have “been found” in America’s jails. Jessica DiCesare begged for help; her family pleaded for help. When did asking for help become a death sentence?

 

(Photo Credit: Cape Cod Times) (Infographic Credit: New England Center for Investigative Reporting)

In prisons, jails and detention centers, the bodies pile up: Who cares?

Harmondsworth, 2006

According to a report released today, 2015 recorded “the highest number of executions … in more than 25 years (since 1989).” Along with the `highest number of executions”, many jails, prisons and immigrant detention centers are experiencing the highest number and the highest rates of suicide. Once more into the global work 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 … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.” Welcome to the necropolis.

In the United Kingdom, the number of suicide attempts in “immigration removal” centers is at an all-time high. In 2015, there were 393 attempted suicides recorded. Harmondsworth topped the list at 105. Yarl’s Wood came in second at 64. In 2014, there were 353 attempted suicides. Harmondsworth led again with 68, and, again, Yarl’s Wood came in second with 61. In 2015, 2,957 detainees were on suicide watch during 2015. Of that number, 11 are children.

Meanwhile, in 2014, prison suicides in England and Wales reached a seven-year high. The Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales found a 64% increase in self-inflicted deaths in custody over the previous year. There is no surprise in either the seven-year high in prisons in England and Wales, nor in the all-time high in immigrant detention centers.

In the United States, during the Obama administration, there have been 56 deaths in ICE custody. These include six suicides and at least one death after an attempted suicide. Eloy Detention Center, in Eloy, Arizona, holds pride of place in this race to the bottom. As of July 2015, 9 percent of detention deaths nationwide since 2003 occurred at Eloy, where 14 of the 152 total deaths occurred. In 2013, women prisoners in Eloy went on hunger strike to protest the conditions. As Thesla Zenaida, an Eloy hunger striker, explained: “Look, a girl hanged herself. A girl was hanged here. [After] she was hanged, they didn’t want to take her body down. And for the same reason—because they treat us poorly. A guard treated her poorly, and that guard is still working here.” And now, three years later, people still ask, “Why so many suicides?

Meanwhile, in 2015, the Arizona prison system recorded close to 500 attempts at self-harm and suicide, another record broken.

In Illinois, in the Kane County jail, the suicide rate is three times the national average, and no one on staff seems to care. In August 2013, Terry Ann Hart hung herself in the Kane County jail. Now, almost three years later, her daughter is taking the county and the sheriff to court. In a little over a year, Kane County had three suicides and one attempt, while nearby larger jails had no suicides from 2011 to 2015. Terry Ann Hart’s daughter wants to know how it’s possible for so many people to kill themselves and for no one to be held accountable and for nothing whatsoever to change inside the jail.

The family of Wakiesha Wilson, who died in the Los Angeles County Jail last month, has similar questions. How did their loved one die, and why did the State take so long to inform them? From Harmondsworth and Yarl’s Wood to Eloy Detention and Kane County and Los Angeles, and beyond, women are dropping like flies, and their families ask, “Why?” and “Who cares?

In France, due to two recent high profile prison suicides, people are asking why the rate of suicide in French prisons is so high. Coincidentally, a report released this week notes, “Suicide rates in French prisons are higher than in the general population – seven times as high … According to the French government, there were 113 suicides in French prisons in 2015 … Female prisoners with psychosocial disabilities face particularly harsh conditions in French prisons. Women in general, who are a minority in prison, are more restricted in their movements than men and have less access to treatment for mental health conditions than their male counterparts. Women detained in a prison with separate quarters for female and male prisoners described … how, unlike the men in the same facility, they had to be escorted in all their movements. Besides making them feel isolated, this gives women the sense that they are treated more harshly only because they are women. Female prisoners also face discrimination in their access to mental healthcare: while 26 Regional Medico Psychological Services (SMPR) in French prisons provide mental healthcare during the day and beds for the night, only one of them has beds for women.”

From executions to prison suicides, these numbers are the census of the death-world, where now what is blurred is the line between the living dead and the dead dead. Record-breaking numbers of suicides occur, and nobody knows? How much higher must the piles of women’s corpses rise before the `discoveries’ end and the work of justice begins? Look, a girl hanged herself. A girl was hanged here. ¡Ni una mas! Not one more!

 

(Photo Credit: Institute of Race Relations)

The gender of death: How (many) women die in jails

Yesterday, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, or BJS, released a report, Mortality in Local Jails and State Prisons, 2000–2013 – Statistical Tables. Suicide is the leading cause of death in U.S. jails. Also yesterday, the Spokane County Jail, in Washington State, requested that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate its recent rash of prisoner suicides. Today, reluctantly and under pressure from the Federal government, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department agreed to reforms in the L.A. County Jail that would finally begin to address “chronically poor treatment for mentally ill inmates and … years of abusive behavior by jailers.” Across much of the country, jurisdictions are finally beginning to focus on mental illness in jails.

From how one dies to how many ones die, jail deaths are gendered: “In 2013, a total of 967 jail inmates died while in the custody of local jails. The number of deaths increased from 958 deaths in 2012 to 967 in 2013, while the jail population decreased 4%. As a result, the overall mortality rate in local jails increased from 128 per 100,000 jail inmates in 2012 to 135 per 100,000 in 2013.”

Last year, a BJS report noted, “The number of deaths in local jails increased, from 889 in 2011 to 958 in 2012, which marked the first increase since 2009. The increase in deaths in local jails was primarily due to an increase in illness-related deaths (up 24%) … Suicide continued to be the leading cause of death in local jails”.

In 2000 and 2001, 91 women died in jail. In 2012, 122 women died in local jails; in 2013, 124. Starting in 2003, the number of women dying in local jails has never dipped below 110. More women are dying in jail, and women in jail are making up, year by year, a greater percentage of jail deaths, from 10.1% in 2000 to 12.8% in 2013.

From 2000 to 2013, 1630 women died in local jails. Of that number, 347 committed suicide.

On any average day in 2013, 100,000 women were in local jails. That’s up from 68,000 in 2000, and from 2000 to 2005, the numbers stayed well below 100,000. Today, 100,000 is the norm. Last year, the “good news” was that the suicide rate among women in jail had gone down from 30 out of 100,000 to 26 out of 100,000. In 2013, that rate rose to 30.

In a separate report, the BJS notes, “The female inmate population increased 18.1% between midyear 2010 and 2014, while the male population declined 3.2% … Males have made up at least 85% of the jail population since 2000. The female inmate population increased 18.1% (up 16,700 inmates) between midyear 2010 and 2014, while the male population declined 3.2% (down 20,900 inmates). The female jail population grew by an average of about 1.6% every year between 2005 and 2014. In comparison, the male jail population declined by 0.3% every year since 2005.” In 2000, 70, 987 women and girls were in jail; in 2014, 109,100. In 2000, women and girls made up 11.4% of the jail population; in 2014, 14.7%.

None of this is new. Girls end up in jail for status offenses; boys don’t. Women end up in jail, and dead, because they live with mental illnesses, and, when they need help, the police arrive. That’s the cruel and usual punishment of women in jails. How many more federal reports, scholarly studies, grieving families and dead women’s bodies are needed for the nation to act?

 

(Graph credit: Bureau of Justice Statistics / http://www.prisonpolicy.org)