North Carolina Stops Shackling Women (Prisoners) in Childbirth!

Yesterday, March 26, 2018, the North Carolina Director of Prisons officially ended the shackling of women (prisoners) in childbirth. This came after SisterSong and other members of the Coalitions to End Shackling in North Carolina sent a letter to the North Carolina Director of Prisons, which read, in part: “The North Carolina Department of Public Safety prohibits the use of shackling during delivery and yet in recent weeks at least two people from North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women were restrained throughout their laboring process at a local medical center. This was in spite of the concerns of medical staff and the fact that it was in violation of NC Department of Public Safety written policies and legal precedent.” After two months `deliberation’, the North Carolina Director of Prisons agreed. In so doing, North Carolina joins 22 states that currently prohibit or limit the shackling of pregnant women. While there is cause for celebration, why do more than half the states in the United States allow women (prisoners) to be shackled during childbirth?

The letter from SisterSong and the coalition noted that shackling people during and after childbirth is “inhumane and unsafe”; that no state that has banned shackling has suffered any negative consequences; that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has long opposed shackling; that “shackling interferes with the ability to properly treat and care for people and to respond to crisis situations”. Along with doctors, the courts have found that shackling violates the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Further, “with people of color overrepresented in the prison system, this issue falls hardest on people who already struggle with health disparities and higher rates of pregnancy complications and maternal mortality.”

The letter concluded, “We are demanding that the policy be updated to be brought in line with the best practices and recommendations of health professionals and that training be provided to ensure that it is implemented consistently. This practice serves no public benefit. It does, however, risk harmful impacts on individuals and their children. It is not only bad health policy, it is a violation of individual’s human rights.”

Last year in North Carolina, 81 women (prisoners) gave birth … shackled. As of a month ago, North Carolina prisons “boasted” 50 pregnant women.

According to Omisade Burney-Scott, director of strategic partnerships and advocacy for SisterSong, explained, SisterSong wants to ban shackling “throughout the entire pregnancy, so during prenatal care, labor and delivery, postnatal, out to eight weeks and also during breast feeding.” In Kentucky, State Senator Julie Raque Adams filed Senate Bill 133, known as the “Dignity Bill,” which would prohibit shackling of women prisoners in childbirth. Currently, the bill is “one floor vote away” from passage. Georgia and Connecticut are considering bills that would ban the shackling of women in childbirth.

Women prisoners are women. It is wrong and harmful to shackle pregnant women. It is right to support women’s right to health, well-being, and being women. So, thank you to SisterSong and their allies. Thank you to State Senator Julie Raque Adams and her allies. Thank you to North Carolina and Kentucky. Last year, Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, “requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons to consider the location of children when placing mothers behind bars, expanding visitation policies for primary caretakers, banning shackling and solitary confinement for pregnant women, and prohibiting prisons from charging for essential health care items, such as tampons and pads.” The clock is ticking. End the shackling of pregnant from sea to shining sea.

 

(Image Credit: Radical Doula) (Infographic Credit: Nursing for Women’s Health Journal)

The “crisis” of jails in Louisville, Kentucky, is the criminal justice system

Over the past few months, jails in Kentucky have been making headlines. Earlier in the year, the headlines were about how “a pattern of employee misconduct” in one juvenile jail killed a teenage girl named Gynnya McMillen.

The new headlines, though, are about the jails in Louisville, KY, the largest city in the State. You see, Louisville’s jails are overcrowded. How overcrowded are they? To quote former inmate Jennifer Kennedy, “It was terrible…I slept on the floor, on a mat. I had to borrow a cover from someone who had one in there.”

But wait, there’s more. Louisville’s jails are so overcrowded that the State has deemed it a crisis. The director of Louisville Metro Corrections even ordered the re-opening of an old, now illegal jail. This supposedly temporary jail is illegal because the building is not up to fire evacuation standards. One judge remarked that “If they have a fire there, people are going to die.”

Even when faced with the prospect of a holocaust of prisoners, the State continued putting people in jail, and so the old, illegal jail also filled up. Now prisoners are forced to sleep in gymnasiums and use portable bathroom facilities. With every new “temporary” solution, prisoners get moved around—and moving prisoners is a violent, destabilizing process.

It’s easy to think that this overcrowding crisis is sudden and surprising, but it’s neither. The State of Kentucky created this crisis. Faced with a surplus of revenue and falling wages throughout the commonwealth, state and local governments looked to prisons and jails in which to invest excess capital. More prisons and jails mean more prisoners, an induced demand that does not depend on crime rate. This resulted in the Kentucky having the fourteenth highest overall incarceration rate in the world and the third highest women’s incarceration rate in the world.

First, the State of Kentucky knowingly hyper-incarcerates people, especially women, who worldwide are the fastest-growing prison population. The State keeps demanding more, its thirst for caged bodies never satiated, and puts these prisoners in cramped, fire-prone conditions. State officials throw up their arms, wondering how anyone could have predicted this.

How will Louisville and the State of Kentucky “solve” the crisis? The State government offered to take 200 inmates into its custody from local jails, but the state jails are just as overcrowded; state facilities were already leasing out prisoners to local jails to begin with. Instead, the State is looking to reopen two private prisons run by the CCA as another “temporary” solution. Never mind that the Kentucky CCA facilities were major harbors of sexual abuse against women prisoners.

As Louisville and Kentucky scramble for solutions, two things are clear:

  • Women prisoners, and all prisoners, matter. As the State creates and covers up its own crises, women prisoners become targets of violence to solve said crises. The pain their bodies and minds must endure directly correlates to the amount of money the State invests in prison infrastructure. Women prisoners’ space and time are inversely related to these investments. The conditions that women prisoners endure—such as the risk of being burned to death in overcrowded facilities—are also the conditions on which entire modern cities, like Louisville, are currently being developed.
  • The solution for prison overcrowding is not to build more prisons or to find more “temporary” solutions. The existence of prisons at all, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore reminds us, is a crisis in itself, a major contradiction in a supposedly “free” society that allows “un-freedom” to exist. The only real, lasting solution is to abolish prisons and create alternative forms of justice that do not inflict more violence on other human beings.

 

(Photo Credit: WDRB)

Why did Gynnya McMillen die under Kentucky’s supervision?


Last week, a sixteen-year-old girl named Gynnya McMillen died in her cell at a juvenile detention center in Elizabethtown, KY. Her family wants answers, and the State of Kentucky remains silent.

An initial autopsy shows no “outward signs” or bruising, and no conclusive cause of death. The State says more information will be available in a few weeks. Gynnya was there for only one day.

The State declares as a matter-of-fact: the autopsy results will take weeks. Do not ask anything else until then. Meanwhile, time drags on for Gynnya McMillen’s family, who struggle with the trauma of losing Gynnya and the lack of even the most basic information surrounding her death.

It is unclear exactly why Gynnya McMillen was in custody at the Lincoln Village Youth Development and Regional Juvenile Detention Center. A police department spokesperson said she was the “perpetrator” in a domestic dispute with her parents. It is unclear what circumstances led up to her death in that facility.

What is clear is that Gynnya McMillen spent time years before in a center for kids in crisis. Gynnya needed help then, and she needed help when the Kentucky Department of Corrections put her in its custody last week. Now, Gynnya McMillen is dead.

A spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Corrections wants you to know that Gynnya McMillen is the first juvenile death in a Kentucky juvenile center since 1999. Lincoln Village’s website boasts the opportunities it provides for its children inmates, including “continuous supervision.”

Under the “continuous supervision” of Kentucky and all its opportunities, Gynnya McMillen died in a day.

Her name was Gynnya McMillen. She joins the list of women and girls, many Black, who wind up dead under “care” of the State. Her family deserves answers. We all deserve answers.

For updates and to get involved, follow Justice for Gynnya McMillen.

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Justice for Gynnya McMillen)

Who’s Afraid of Louisville’s West End?

Recently, I moved to the city of Louisville, Kentucky, largest city in the state. It is famous for the Kentucky Derby, bourbon, Louisville Slugger baseball bats, and being the “Gateway to the South,” among other things. Last year, AARP rated Louisville as the number one best city to visit in 2014. So when I packed my things and resettled in Louisville, I was unprepared for a warning I got from a resident there.

The resident was a worker for a pest-control company, doing routine preventative spraying in my apartment. Right after he finished spraying but right before leaving the apartment, he told me that he was glad to be done with his assignments that day in the West End of Louisville. I asked him why he felt this way.

“Well, you know, those people in the West End, the way they live. They make really great choices with their lives. Always doing what’s best for themselves,” he told me. The sarcasm in his voice was obvious. New to the city, I had not been in the West End yet. The pest control worker left quickly, and I did not get to press him on what he meant by his implications about “those people” who live in the West End and their supposed “choices.”

Then, at a recent meet-up of leftists in Louisville, someone made a comment that “white people are afraid to go into the West End.” I was intrigued.

I did a quick search on the internet of the words “West End Louisville.” From the results, it was obvious that the West End is Louisville’s Black ghetto. The first result that came up was a webpage listing “Louisville Warnings and Dangers.” Many commenters on the page remark that the West End is unsafe in general and especially for visitors. They warn of high crime, of drugs, of gang violence, while demarcating a border not to cross: “DO NOT venture past 8th st at night.”

One commenter writes: “there are kentucky fried chicken stands on every corner and crack dealers..the west end is where 99 percent of murders and rapes happen..its kinda like the harlem of the mid west,,so if your white and go past 8th street run the stop signs and dontstop.” These comments remind me of what a well-meaning friend of mine said to me when I told her I would be living in South Atlanta (where much of the city’s Black underclass resides) for a while: “Stay away from the areas around the airport They are incredibly unsafe.”

If you look at a map, the West End is a very large portion of Louisville and is made up of many different neighborhoods. Yet the political class, media, and outsiders talk about the West End as a monolithic block. Yet when analysts examine “crime in the ‘West End’,” the data does not uphold the myth of a criminal (Black) area where most crimes are committed.

We are familiar with the narratives around neighborhoods with high densities of Black people, constructed through histories of neoliberal gentrification schemes and the War on Drugs. They use tropes such as welfare queens, thugs, rampant violent crackheads, etc. They also invoke the theme of personal choice, as if the Black working class and underclass somehow willingly chose to live in substandard housing, to work low-wage jobs, and to be subjected to intense surveillance. These narratives are part of the white paranoia that makes excuses for State violence against Black people; they are always already guilty of a crime, always already guilty of making the society at large unsafe.

I drove west down Broadway, into the Shawnee neighborhood of the West End, to get my Kentucky drivers license and library card. As I drove and walked through various blocks, I did not see roving thugs, dead bodies, or drug deals. In fact, I did not see much of anything. No grocery stores, few restaurants beyond fast food, fewer houses with central air conditioning, fewer people out and about. The landscape was bare, save a paternalistic billboard here and there warning Black mothers not to have abortions. I wonder what everyone is so scared of.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Irena Tran / louisville.com) (Photo Credit 2: Sierra Club)