The struggle to end the shaming of Black girl students in schools continues

In the past three days, a Black 15-year-old girl student was finally released from juvenile detention in Michigan. She had been incarcerated for 78 days for the crime of not having completed her homework. At the same time, a 7-year-old Black girl student in Jamaica was informed by the High Court that when, as a 5-year-old, she was told to cut her dreadlocks or be forced to leave school, her Constitutional rights had not been violated. At the same time, England’s Department of Education reported that, in many regions, Black students face three times as many fixed term exclusions as do White students. Girls are particularly targeted for their hair, or at least that’s the official reason. This is the world of Black Girl Education today, a world that believes that Black girls pose a particular danger to themselves and, even more, to `the world’. 

In Michigan, a Black 15-year-old girl student known as Grace was sent to juvenile detention for having violated probation. Her `violation’ was not having completed her online school assignments. According to her mother, when Grace’s school went online, Grace had trouble keeping up. The Judge decided that Grace’s difficulty, as well as her learning disabilities and other issues, constituted a threat to the community, and so sent her to juvenile detention, where she would “thrive” and the community would be saved. This all happened in the Oakland County court. Over the last four years, the Oakland County Court adjudicated around 4800 juvenile cases, of which 42% concerned Black youths. 15% of Oakland County youth are Black. After a major campaign, Grace has been `released’ to home detention.

For Black girls, the assault on their integrity is even more intense. Four years ago, girls were being forced into the juvenile `justice’ system at an alarmingly increasing rate, largely because girls were arrested more often than boys for status offenses and were more severely punished for those offenses. Those `offenses’ are not crimes. That’s what makes them `status’ offenses. If the girls were older, there would be no offense, no crime. But they are girls, and they must be protected from themselves. This is the vicious cycle that has been constructed in exactly the same period that has witnessed girl power on the rise: “In a 2010 national census of youth in custody, girls comprised 16% of all detained youth but 40% of those were detained for a status offense. At one time and in some states, girls comprised more than 70% of youth detained for status offenses.” This is the United States’ program of no girl left behind. This is girls’ education in the United States, and, in the past four years, the situation for Black and Brown girls has only grown worse. Despite activists’ great work, the school-to-prison pipeline has not only grown but is sucking in Black and Brown girls at a faster and faster rate. In that context, there’s no surprise that a judge would say that sending a young Black girl student to prison is the best thing for her, for her wellbeing and her education. Boys will be boys, and girls will be jailed, especially Black girls

Meanwhile, on Friday, Jamaica’s high court ruled that a school was within its rights to tell a 5-year-old girl student that she must cut her dreadlocks or leave school. The girl student, identified as Z, and her parents have challenged the school for two years. Z is now 7 years old. By all accounts, she is an excellent student. By all accounts, she has not in any way prevented others around her from pursuing their education. To the contrary, she is described as an ideal student and learner who helps her fellow students. Z’s desire to learn must give way to the politics of hair, of Black girls’ hair, and that’s Constitutionally fineZ’s parents have sworn to challenge the ruling and to continue the struggle.

Meanwhile, in many parts of England, Black students are disciplined three times as often as their White counterparts. Their offense, other than Being Black? “Black hairstyles, kissing teeth and fist-bumping.” “Black hairstyles” can send a child student, more often than not a Black girl student, into isolation or expulsion. An assistant head of school remembers a Black girl student who was told to cut her Afro because other students “couldn’t see the board … These may be small, micro things that you are doing to change yourself, but after a while it really wears you down. It’s the message that you are almost not good enough. You are having to tame your hair, tame your blackness, and it’s happening from when you are a child.”

This is happening in the same year that Ruby Williams won an out-of-court settlement of £8,500 for the abuse she suffered, for her hair, for Being Black, from the age of 11 years old on. It’s happening when you are a child, when you are a student. What is the child student learning, what is Black girl’s education in this world? 

Four years ago, almost to the day, Liepollo Lebohang Pheko wrote about a similar situation in South African schools: “Black Girl – you MATTER. Your HAIR matters, your LANGUAGE matters, your CHOICES matter and your VOICE matters. In case I haven’t told you today – you are valuable, loved, precious and powerful. Speak even if your voice shakes and fight even while you are scared. I LOVE you Black Child, Black Girl, and I stand with you. You give me such hope and courage. #Racism and imperialism ARE falling #Afros and Dreadlocks are Rising.”

Four years later, from the United States to Jamaica to England and beyond, say it loud, say it proud: “Black Girl – you MATTER. Your HAIR matters, your LANGUAGE matters, your CHOICES matter and your VOICE matters.” The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press)

Michigan built a special hell for women, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility

Recently, reflecting on family separation and other forms of public policy abuse of migrant and immigrant families and communities, regular Women In and Beyond the Global contributor Nichole Smith wondered, “Have we no shame?” Consider the conditions of women’s prisons, jails, and detention centers across the United States, from Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution to Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women to Pennsylvania’s SCI-Muncy to Texas’ Karnes County Residential Center to the Charleston County Jail in South Carolina to Alaska’s Anchorage Correctional Complex and between and beyond. Have we no shame? Take, for example, Michigan’s one women’s prison, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility. Go there and you will see and smell that we have no shame, we have no capacity for shame.

In April 2012, the ACLU “persuaded” the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility to stop its practice of invasive strip search of all women prisoners who had a contact visit … with family, clergy, friends, attorneys, anyone.

In September 2014, the ACLU, Michigan Department of Corrections, and US Department of Justice announced they were investigating the abuse and torture of prisoners living with mental illnesses who had the misfortune of ending up in the Women’s Huron Valley. Women were hogtied naked for hours on end, deprived of food and water, thrown into solitary. Advocates and supporters argued that Huron Valley was a closed system, and as such was ripe for abuse.

In November 2015, a twenty-five-year-old Black woman, Janika Nichole Edmond died, or better was executed in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.  Janika Edmond’s story is short and terribly familiar: Janika Edmond lived with mental illness. Once in Michigan’s `criminal justice’ system, her condition deteriorated. She had a history of assaulting prison guards, which resulted in her being sent to solitary, which resulted in her becoming more aggressive. The rate of `incident reports’ skyrocketed. No one did anything. In 2014, Janika Edmond made a rope out of a towel and tried to hang herself. Earlier in 2015, Janika Edmond was found with a razor. She said, repeatedly, that she was “tired of being here” and was hearing voices. No one on staff listened to Janika Edmond’s voice. The day she died, Janika Edmonds asked for a suicide prevention vest. The guards laughed. Hours later, she lay dead on the floor. “The death report provided by the MDOC [Michigan Department of Corrections] for Edmond shows her presumed cause of death was suicide.” When Janika Edmonds died, the State was still “investigating” the July 16 death of Kayla Renea Miller, in Huron Valley. 

In 2012, Carol Jacobsen, founder and Director of the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Projectnoted, “Abu Ghraib has nothing on Huron Valley.” She was describing the irony that Huron Valley was meant to solve the crisis of abuse of women prisoners in the Robert Scott Correctional Facility. As a result of widespread torture and abuse, Scott was closed in 2009, and the women were moved to Huron Valley, which is worse than Scott. In 2012, we “cared” about Abu Ghraib. Huron Valley? Not so much.

For the past seven years, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility has been described, accurately, as hell. On November 20, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility was sued for “perilous” conditionsAccording to the lawsuit, “The women have complained about the presence of mold in the facility for years, and continue to do so, but their pleas have been ignored.” Huron Valley “is operating under a state of degradation, filth, and inhumanity, endangering the health and safety of incarcerated women.” One of the attorneys described Huron Valley as “medieval and dungeon-like.” Another added, “This prison has a long history of problems: dilapidated conditions, unsafe conditions, and unconstitutional conditions. This has been going on for a long time. To make matters worse, there’s no ventilation. So these women are trapped in these boxes and are literally being poisoned on a daily basis, with no ventilation.”

Michigan’s only women’s prison, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, is not medieval. It is modern, all too modern. Overcrowded, toxic, lethal … and this is us. Michigan’s only women’s prison, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, is the architecture of shame in the United States of America. Michigan built a special hell for women, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, and it’s been going on for years and it’s going on now. Have we no shame? You tell me.

(Photo Credit: Michigan NPR)

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)

Janika Nichole Edmond died in Michigan’s women’s prison: Who cares?

Janika Nichole Edmond

In November 2015, a twenty-five-year-old Black woman, Janika Nichole Edmond died, or better was executed, in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Michigan’s only women’s prison. Two years ago, Huron Valley was investigated for alleged human rights abuses against mentally ill female inmates, and today Janika Nichole Edmond is dead.

Janika Edmond’s story is short and terribly familiar: Janika Edmond lived with mental illness. Once in Michigan’s `criminal justice’ system, her condition deteriorated. She had a history of assaulting prison guards, which resulted in her being sent to solitary, which resulted in her becoming more aggressive. The rate of `incident reports’ skyrocketed. No one did anything. In 2014, Janika Edmond made a rope out of a towel and tried to hang herself. Earlier in 2015, Janika Edmond was found with a razor. She said, repeatedly, that she was “tired of being here” and was hearing voices. Unfortunately, no one on staff heard or listened to Janika Edmond’s voice. The day she died, Janika Edmonds asked for a suicide prevention vest. The guards laughed. Hours later, she lay dead on the floor. “The death report provided by the MDOC [Michigan Department of Corrections] for Edmond shows her presumed cause of death was suicide.”

That was no suicide. That was murder at the hands of the State. The State had agency, power, volition, and policy. The State wanted Janika Edmond dead, and Janika Edmond is dead.

Two prison officers have been suspended or fired, depending on the report. While they bear their own responsibility, this crime emerged from years of abuse and torture. When Janika Edmonds died, the State was still “investigating” the July 16 death of Kayla Renea Miller, in Huron Valley. From the Anchorage Correctional Complex in Alaska to the California Institution for Women to SCI-Muncy in Pennsylvania to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, women were dropping like flies and they continue to do so.

None of this is new. In 2012, Carol Jacobsen, founder and Director of the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project, noted, “Abu Ghraib has nothing on Huron Valley.” She was describing the irony that Huron Valley was meant to solve the crisis of abuse of women prisoners in the Robert Scott Correctional Facility. As a result of widespread torture and abuse, Scott was closed in 2009, and all the women were moved to Huron Valley, which, according to Carol Jacobsen, is worse than Scott.

That was 2012. In the intervening four years, the conditions at Huron Valley have only worsened, as they have nationally. According to the United States Department of Justice, in state prisons, “suicide was the most common unnatural cause of death among female prisoners from 2001 to 2012.” What happened to Janika Nichole Edmond? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, just another Black woman crying out for help, dying in agony, “tired of being here.” In her death, she joins “the most common.” Who cares? Who cares? Who cares? #SayHerName

 

(Photo Credit: MLive.com)

Aura Rosser, Kyera Singleton, Shae Ward, Shirley Beckley: Black women’s lives matter

A year ago, Aura Rosser moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor to start a new life, and by many accounts, she was succeeding. On November 9, however, she and her partner were fighting. Her partner called the police. Two police officers arrived. One of them shot and killed Aura Rosser, who apparently held a knife in her hand. Then the police department went silent. The ACLU and the Ann Arbor Independent filed Freedom of Information Act applications. Students and townspeople organized. The officers were named. The Ann Arbor City Council voted to equip police with body and car cameras. The lack of cameras did not kill Aura Rosser. A man with a gun killed Aura Rosser.

Students, led by Kyera Singleton, have mobilized communities across Ann Arbor and beyond. Singleton explained, “It’s really important that we break the silence about who’s a victim of police violence. We can’t be silent when it happens to a woman and then go out and march when it happens to a man. … These national movements often take place around the bodies of men, and then black women may get erased.”

Aura Rosser’s sister, Shae Ward, agrees. She knew Aura Rosser and doubts that she would have actually attacked anyone, much less someone with a gun. Who was Aura Rosser? According to Shae Ward, “She was very artistic. She was deeply into painting with oils and acrylics. She’s a culture-type of gal. She was a really sweet girl. Wild. Outgoing. Articulate.” She was also the mother of three children.

Now, communities are trying to raise money for the funeral and for the children. Many are asking where the State is in all this. They argue that the State, in this instance Ann Arbor, killed a young Black woman, and the very least it could do is to bear the expenses of her funeral. Ann Arbor has opted to purchase cameras for police bodies and cars.

Shirley Beckley, 71 years old, went to the City Council and demanded a different kind of payment. Respect. Dignity. She asked for three minutes of silence. This request actually confused the City Council, but finally, after the Mayor laughed, they allowed for three minutes, three whole minutes, of silence.

Black women’s lives matter. Cameras will not stop the State assault on Black women’s lives. They will only record and document the assaults. In the same way that prisons have not reduced crime, because they never were intended to, cameras will not reduce State violence against Black women, people, or communities. Only a fundamental change in policing practices and cultures will begin to do that, and that change begins with this: Black women’s lives matter.

 

(Photo Credit: Huffington Post / Alejo Stark)

Michigan Women’s Prison: “Ripe for Abuse”

News broke this week that Michigan’s only women’s prison, Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, is under investigation from the ACLU, Michigan Department of Corrections, and US Department of Justice for alleged human rights abuses against mentally ill female inmates.

Inmates are being hog tied naked, with their feet and hands cuffed together behind their backs, for two hours or more as a form of punishment if they do not “learn to behave,” witnesses claim. Prisoners have also been denied food and water. According to Kary Moss, executive director of ACLU of Michigan, the water was shut off in solitary confinement and guards failed to provide any to inmates for hours or even days. Some women are left standing, sitting, or lying in their own feces or urine for days on end, denied showers, and often controlled by the use of tasers.

For one mentally ill inmate at the Valley, poor sanitation, lack of food and water, and other forms of continuous abuse ended her life as she knew it. Last month she was found non-responsive in her cell. She was transferred to an outside hospital where she was pronounced brain dead. She is not the only the only casualty to come out of WHVC. There have been several prisoners who have died from both suicide and medical neglect in the past few years alone. Is this the intended function of our criminal justice system? What is the role of corrections in America today? Is it to punish mentally ill women until they are pronounced brain dead?

Luckily, women prisoners in Michigan have some advocates on the outside. Carol Jacobsen has been working for years to expose the conditions inside the prison. Jacobsen is a professor at University of Michigan and director of the Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project. While she has done many interviews with inmates throughout the years, she has found that civilian access to living quarters inside the prison is nearly impossible. Jacobson stated, “As long as it’s such a closed system, it’s ripe for abuse.” Why the secrecy? According to Jacobson, “Abu Ghraib has nothing on Huron Valley or Michigan prisons. Our prisons in Michigan have torture going on every day.”

Prisoners themselves are speaking out against what they see as intolerable conditions. In February, three inmates wrote formal grievances to the MDOC describing how four women were housed together in a 96-square foot chemical caustic closet repurposed into a cell. Inmate Karen Felton wrote, “The cell I’m in is inadequately small for myself and three others, and there are not enough lockers, no privacy, inadequate desks and chairs, and there is no ventilation.”

The three women’s grievances, however, did not change their living conditions. As a matter of procedure, when more than one complaint is submitted regarding a given issue, all duplicates are rejected by the grievance coordinator. Therefore, only one of the three grievances, submitted by a prisoner named Robin Sutton, was investigated. The MDOC responded: “All prisoners housed in Dickinson unit have been treated humanely and with dignity in matters of health care, personal safety and general living conditions.”

The use of hog-ties, denial of food and water, unsanitary conditions, excessive use of tasers, and forcing four women to live in a chemical closet is considered humane? All inmates, including the mentally ill, deserve more dignity than this.

 

(Photo Credit: Michigan Deparment of Corrections)

Michigan: Demand clear standards that protect the rights and health of pregnant inmates!

In Maryland, incarcerated women are struggling for the right to safe and humane birthing conditions.  Currently, Maryland practices the shackling of pregnant inmates before, during, and after labor and the delivery of their babies.

But this isn’t the only state where that proverbial glow radiating from expectant mothers is dulled by the heavy chains habitually used to restrain them.  In fact, only 18 states have legislation limiting the use of shackles on pregnant women.  Michigan is one of those states.

Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti is the only women’s prison in Michigan.  According to the operating procedures at HVCF, pregnant prisoners are handcuffed during transport to the hospital, even if they are in active labor. At the hospital, the prisoner’s handcuffs are removed and no other form of restraint may be used during labor and delivery, with exceptions through authorization.  However, there is no state legislation mandating this practice.  Furthermore, not all incarcerated women are housed at Huron Valley; many serve their sentences in local jails throughout the state.  What are the operational procedures, if any, that protect pregnant and postpartum women there?  And how is HVCF held accountable to make sure they comply with operating procedures?

There are three main reasons why we should be concerned about the shackling of pregnant inmates: 1.) cruelty, trauma, and humiliation associated with shackling, 2.) the significant health risks they pose to pregnant women, and 3.) constitutionality. According to the ACLU, every single court that has consider the practice of shackling women during labor has found it to be unconstitutional.

On Tuesday January 28th, Maryland lawmakers will gather in Annapolis to decide on the fate of HB27, the “Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act.”  Michigan should follow Maryland’s lead by demanding clear standards that protect the rights and health of pregnant inmates.

 

(Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Corrections)