Ending solitary confinement, the problem that doesn’t “exist” in New Jersey

Nafeesah Goldsmith

Nafeesah Goldsmith is a community organizer with the nonprofit organization Jersey City Together. She graduated Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree and is working towards a Master’s in Criminal Justice at Monmouth University. She has been working to curtail the practice of solitary confinement in New Jersey, as she has had first hand experience of its abuse. For nearly 13 years, Nafeesah Goldsmith was incarcerated for at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility and was forced to spend nearly 60 days in solitary confinement—in the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, a male inmate facility since Edna Mahan did not have its own isolation ward (now, it does).

There Goldsmith spent two months of isolation, “with the exception of 45 minutes of recreation time, most days, in the prison yard. She said she sometimes went without showering, depending on the mood of the guards. To pass the time she spoke with isolated prisoners through the vents and the toilet, sometimes playing a makeshift version of hangman.” 

For inmates in segregation, the most traumatizing aspect is the dehumanizing treatment they face while in solitary confinement. Goldsmith is still reminded of the anguished cries from the other solitary cells: “You hear nothing but screams and it’s loud and there’s banging. You have people having mental episodes and people having medical emergencies. You have people with seizures and you have people attempting suicide.” That is only some of the horror that people suffer in solitary, or as New Jersey calls it, administrative segregation.

Seizing on the nomenclature of the term for solitary confinement, in 2016 former Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill to restrict the practice to 15 or 20 consecutive days over a two-month period. The bill would have also sought to exempt mentally ill or pregnant inmates and require daily medical evaluations for those in isolation. His excuse? The piece of legislation, “seeks to resolve a problem that does not exist in New Jersey.”

But the problem very much does exist in the Garden State. Of the roughly 80,000 inmates in the United States currently in isolation, New Jersey holds 1,500. New Jersey ranks fourth in the country in the amount of time it places people in isolation. As far back as 2011 the United Nations claimed such punishment amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Today, however, there is a turn of opinion in the Garden State, and another bill is back on the table. A-314/S-3261 would have similar exemptions as the bill Christie vetoed, and expand it to include people over 21 and young and 65 and older, and people with developmental disabilities and serious mental conditions. Survivors are telling their stories and forcing others who would not have interacted with the criminal justice system to examine the uses and abuses of solitary confinement. It is forcing the citizens of New Jersey to recognize that we are not treating other people with respect and dignity the moment that they are labeled “prisoner.” 

Nafeesah Goldsmith’s bravery and willingness to come forward with her story, along with those of others, is helping to make significant and positive changes in New Jersey as regards our treatment of incarcerated human beings. She is willing to tell her story at schools, at coalition events, and to anyone who will listen. It’s time we started to listen. 

(Photo Credit: Asbury Park Press / Doug Ford)

In Saudi Arabia, reports of torture of women’s rights activists

Loujain Al-Hathloul

Women’s and human rights activists, who have been arrested and arbitrarily detained for their activism, are being abused in Saudi Arabia prisons. Amnesty International obtained new reports of torture and escalating abuse of human rights activists who had been detained since May 2018. Their testimony matched earlier Amnesty reports concerning ten activist women prisoners who were tortured in November 2018. The new reports document that the incarcerated have been subjected to torture, including sexual abuse, during their first three months of detention, when they were detained informally in an unknown location. “One woman activist was wrongly told by an interrogator that her family members had died, and was made to believe this for an entire month. According to another account, two activists were forced to kiss each other while interrogators watched. One activist reported that interrogators had forced water into her mouth as she was shouting while being torture. Others reported being tortured with electric shocks.” 

Earlier reports state that while informally detained, activists were tortured with electric shocks and flogged repeatedly, which caused some to be unable to walk or even stand properly. More recent reports expand the number of activists who have experienced such torture while in prison. 

The activists – including Loujain al-Hathloul; Eman al-Nahjan; Aziza al-Yousef; Shadan al-Anezi; and Nouf Abdulaziz – were moved from the Dhahban Prison in Jeddag to Al-Ha’ir Prison in Riyadh. Other activists, including Samar Badawi and Amal al-Harbi, are still in Dhahban Prison. Nassima al-Sada was moved to al-Mabahith Prison in Damman. All activists have been detained for months without being formally charged or referred to trial. The crackdown on human rights activists saw a wave of arrests and raids of political and activist organizations, including the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, human rights lawyers and academics. 

Saudi Arabia has dismissed Amnesty’s claims, calling them baseless while also defending their use of their own independent investigation into the allegations. Saudi backed investigators visited the women in prison and interviewed the detainees. Given Saudi Arabia’s involvement  in the killing of journalist and regime-critic Jamal Khashoggi and the high-profile case of 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammad, the latest cases of human rights abuses from the Saudi regime could damage their ability “to attract foreign investment” and so any State-sponsored investigations are highly suspect.

The women and activists detained are being used as political pawns for good international PR in Saudi Arabia. Insiders have hoped that the women will be released in time to coincide with a signification international event, like the 2020 G20 Summit set to be held in Riyadh. They hope the Saudi regime will attempt to wrap up any more “embarrassing things” on the international stage before the meeting is set to take place. Activists like Bessma Momani, a professor at the University of Waterloo, and groups of other academics, are working to nominate al-Hatloul for the Nobel Peace Prize, with the hope that the importance of the nomination highlights “a young person who wants nothing more than to see half of her country have the same legal rights as the other half.” 

(Photo Credit: CBC)

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)

Cyntoia Brown: “I learned my life was—and is—not over. I can create opportunities where I can actually help people.”

Cyntoia Brown at her graduation from Lipscomb University

Cyntoia Brown was young when she was forced into sex-trafficking and was a teen prostitute under her pimp. At sixteen she killed the man who made a conscious decision to buy her for the night for sex and, fearing punishment from the other man who had forced her into prostitution, stole his money and fled. Because some money is better than nothing. 

When she was sixteen, Brown was considered competent to be tried as an adult, convicted of murder and robbery, and sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, Tennessee amended its juvenile sentencing guidelines. Her case helped to alter how the state deals with sex trafficking victims, especially juvenile victims. In the eyes of Tennessee today, she would have been a victim of multiple crimes done upon her. Nevertheless, she was kept in prison. She would have had to spend 51 years in prison before she became eligible for parole. She would have spent her whole life in prison for the violent acts of men.

Thanks to activists and organizers, the outgoing Tennessee Governor Bill Halsam granted clemency to 30-year-old Brown, and she is set to be released to parole supervision in August. However noble Halsam’s clemency sentence is, the state has continued to ignore the terms of Brown’s exploitation, as a young sex trafficking victim boughtfor sex by the man that she killed: “Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life. Transformation should be accompanied by hope.”

In the 2011 documentary “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story,” Brown’s life as a survivor of abuse is detailed by Brown herself, where she was trafficked and raped repeatedly at a young age, from her pimp and other men. Evidence revealed in the documentary also suggests that Brown suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which can cause her brain damage. None of the jury that convicted Brown ever saw any of that evidence. Her experiences as a young child had drastically changed her behavior as a teenager, putting her on the wrong side of the law. 

Brown has excelled in prison, transforming herself and helping other at-risk youth as a mentor, working on receiving a bachelor’s degree with the goal of creating a nonprofit so she can help other people. Cyntoia Brown would not have been in prison had our society cared about the exploitation of young Black girls, putting them in prison for the consequences of actions that were survival choices.

Cyntoia Brown may have been thrown into prison, the system may have wanted her to disappear into oblivion like other youths with similar stories, but Brown’s optimism and desire to help others like her is proof that the opposite has occurred. On top of her work with at-risk-youths in collaboration with Tennessee’s Juvenile Justice System, she graduated from Lipscomb University in 2015 with an associate’s degree, and now uses her experience for continued good, “I learned my life was—and is—not over. I can create opportunities where I can actually help people.”

(Photo Credit: Tennessean)

New Jersey’s Police Have an Excessive Force Problem

Police have the right to punch you if you’re resisting arrest. They have the right to tackle you if they think you might flee. And they have the right to shoot you if they fear for their lives. The single greatest authority granted a police officer is the right to harm another person, and most use it sparingly to protect themselves and the public. But who’s watching the ones who abuse their power?”

NJ Advance Media for NJ.com recently published a 16-month investigation, which found that the tracking for New Jersey’s police use of excessive force is broken, with no statewide collection, little oversight by state officials and no standard practices in the department. NJ.com compiled nearly 73,000 instances of use-of-force, covering municipal police departments and State Police from 2012 through 2016, filing 506 public records requests to highlight the extraordinary use of excessive force on New Jerseyans by the state’s law enforcement. 

The report highlight a disturbing trend: around ten percent of officers account for 38 percent of all uses of force, with a total of 296 officers using force more than five times the state average. Between 2012 and 2016 9,302 people were injured by police; 4,210 of those were serious enough cases that required hospital care. At least 156 officers put at least one person in the hospital in each of the five years under review. 

In New Jersey, populations of color fare far worse in than whites. People of color are three times more likely to face police force. For example, in Lakewood, a Black person 21 times more likely to face police force than whites. Because of inconsistent and lackluster reporting, New Jersey fails to monitor trends to flag officers who use disproportionately excessive amounts of force. Though the state recently implemented an early warning system to identify potential problem officers, they did not mandate tracking use-of-force trends as a criterion for tracking. 

From the local to the state level, police officers are not held accountable when their excessive use of force puts people in harm’s way and are able to continue working without fear of losing their jobs. The numbers of people hurt in the process of being put in contact with police is staggering. One officer in Camden reported injuring 27 people in the four-year span alone

The report highlights the state’s complete relinquishment of responsibility for its citizens. As police officers are able to use deadly force on Black bodies, they get away punishment free because of a lack of consistent and modern reporting on use of force. 

The groundbreaking report also has its enemies in the Policeman’s Benevolent Association, or PBA, whose president, Patrick Colligan, issued a two-page response, criticizing, “The state of the journalism industry.” His criticism did not address the substantial numbers of excessive force New Jersey police have used and continued to use on marginalized communities. Police must be held accountable, both for the racist discrimination and violence perpetrated on Black people and Black communities and for the extraordinary number of citizens they have injured or sent to the hospital over the small span of four to five years. Change must come to address the use of excessive force in the state, and accountability needs to be addressed in the 468 local police departments as in the state police. That means standing up to a large group of PBA and supporters when tackling the issue in the future. Until then, more people will get hurt and marginalized communities will be the worst hit. (Click here to see the town and county breakdown of police use of force in the state of the New Jersey.)

(Infographic credit: NJ.com)

Children are being abused in immigration facilities where there is neither justice nor accountability

In July, ProPublica’s investigation of the conditions of immigrant youth shelters found a disturbing number of incidences of sexual abuse in multiple shelters around the United States. Within the past five years, police have responded to 125 calls reporting sex offences at shelters that solely serve immigrant children. Those numbers don’t include the additional 200 calls from more than a dozen shelters that care for at-risk youth. For children who are already facing obstacles, taking the dangerous trek crossing the border with or without their parents, the incidences of being abused by other residents and staff members is continuous traumatization. These children’s centers have received nearly $4.5 billion for housing and other services since the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America in 2014. The high-profile incidents, where staff and residents have acted as predators, have led to arrests. One of the more heinous reports include a youth case worker who was convicted of molesting seven boys over nearly a year at an Arizona, having worked for months without a full background check. 

Substantial changes to protect children or investigate incidences at the shelters have been slow to address the issues in the shelters, to the point of gross negligence.

Late last month, investigators warned that the Trump administration had waived FBI fingerprint background checks of staffers and had allowed dangerously few mental health counselors at a tent camp housing 2800 migrant children in Tornillo, Texas. More recent reports suggest that investigations into reports by migrant children are opened and closed, within alarming speeds. Often within days, or even worse, hours. 

In one incident, a 13-year old named Alex was housed in Boystown, outside Miami. Alex was assaulted by other residents of the facility. After a few days of harassment by the perpetrators, Alex reported the assault to his counselor: “The counselor told him that a surveillance tape had captured the teenagers dragging him by his hands and feet into a room, and that there might have been a witness. But Alex’s report did not trigger a child sexual assault investigation, including a specialized interview designed to help children talk about what happened, as child abuse experts recommend. Instead, the shelter waited nearly a month to call the police. When it finally did, a police report shows, the shelter’s lead mental health counselor told the officers ‘the incident was settled, and no sexual crime occurred between the boys like first was thought among the staff.’ And instead of investigating the incident themselves, officers with the Miami-Dade Police Department took the counselor’s word for it and quickly closed the case, never interviewing Alex.” 

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami reported that it had handled the boy’s case correctly and blamed Alex for the delays. The Archdiocese has received $6 million in Miami just last year to care for 80 children at Boystown. 

Many obstacles are put into place to stop children like Alex from speaking about their assaults. Children are intimidated by their attackers from coming forward, especially if that attacker is a staff member. Staffers at immigrant shelters report or conduct investigations, if at all, at a snail’s pace. Finally, many youth and their families fear reporting to the police, for fear of arrest and deportation. 

Alex’s mother, Yojana, enraged that it had taken nearly three weeks to hear of the incident from staff, immediately wanted to go to the police and demand accountability from the shelter and the attackers, but her status as undocumented made her fearful of retaliation and arrest from ICE. As ICE agents have been arresting parents and family members, or members of their household when they come forward to claim their children — 170 sponsors or people connected to them have been arrested and 109 of those people had no prior criminal record — Yojana and her husband Jairo’s fear of being detained was legitimate. Alex feared his report would delay his release from the center. 

Youth immigrant shelters have received large sums of money from the federal government to take care of children separated from their parents or detained because they came into the country as unaccompanied minors. When those children are hurt or abused while in those shelters, it is this country’s fault, the fault of the citizens who ignore and vilify those same children and their families. It is the non-profit’s fault for taking their money and not investing it in the care of children who are housed and waiting to go to their parents or guardians. The fault lies in the current administration and previous administration who caused the crises in Central America and now refuse to come to terms with the consequences of their actions in creating large populations of asylum seekers.

(Image Credit: ProPublica / Hokyoung Kim)

France’s protest over a gas tax takes on new meaning

Europe has been thrown into disarray for the past several weeks. In France, the Yellow Vests Protests, at first protesting their objection to Macron’s gas tax– a step in the right direction to combat climate change – have now risen to address the needs of poor working-class families, including calls for higher wages, lower taxes, better pensions and easier university entry requirements. While the protests may be co-opted by far-right leaders, especially at the behest of climate-change deniers in large corporations that are to blame for CO2 emissions, Macron’s austerity measures laid the foundation for the Yellow Vests. The gas tax was that straw that broke the camel’s back.

President Macron, a centrist millionaire who has no understanding of the struggles of the working class in France, came into power — thankfully ousting far-right candidate Marie La Pen —  “vowing to face down protestors and drive through long-postponed economic reforms.” His policy reforms were the austerity measures that are sweeping across the globe as capitalist elites consolidate power and wealth and working-class families pay the price. 

In his 18 months in office, Macron has reduced the power of the unions in workplace relations, ending the special benefits enjoyed by railway workers, and made it easier for companies to hire and fire staff. He ended the wealth tax on all assets from property — a whopping 70% cut in the tax for France’s millionaires: “It was meant to boost investment in the economy, but it was seen by many poorer voters as further proof that this former banker-turned-president was still primarily a friend of business, not of the squeezed working and middle class.” The biggest winners of the tax cut has been the richest 1% in France. 

The protests have largely moved hard-left, as demonstrators demand more funding for social programs. It remains to be seen whether far-right leaders will capitalize on the protests for their own gain. Given how close La Pen was to winning in the previous election, it remains to be seen if the shift of economic blame would push on La Pen’s anti-migrant and racist undertones. For now, however, it seems that the anger is at the political elite, who have largely ignored the sufferings of the working-class.

What does this mean for climate change? Attempting to lower CO2 emissions is essential in combating the damaging effects of the planet’s rising temperatures. At the same time, it is necessary that we understand the ways in which capitalism is the driving force of the rise of carbon emissions. The report issued by the United Nations scientific panel on climate change points to the rectification that “requires transforming the world economy within just a few years … Capitalism’s legacy is climate change. It’s logically impossible to claim that capitalism is a sustainable economic system and that climate change is real. Asserting both is the definition of trying to have your cake and eat it too. There is no debate as to who is to blame for climate change. Our economic masters have chosen to accumulate as much money as possibly while spending a sizable chunk on propaganda telling you that the certainty scientists have on this topic is actually just some big liberal hoax perpetrated by Al Gore.” 

The fight for the working-class and for the environment are inherently linked — alongside women’s demand for equality, because women will be damaged the worst by the climate change. The struggles for working class power, women’s power and the environment together require a struggle to end the economic system of capitalism before it consumes all the world’s resources and destroys the earth that we need to survive. Macron’s gas tax will not effectively change the problem. The forces of corporations that destroy the environment are the true culprit of climate change. We must demand and force their end, because if the world is irreparably damaged, if we are all on this sinking ship together, then the capitalists had best worry, not about their bottom line but rather the cliff the global proletariat will through them off of. A specter haunts the environment … 

The impact of Macron’s proposed budget on working people

(Image Credit: Femmes en Lutte 93) (Infographic Credit: BBC)

New Jersey ended its contract with ICE: A week later the retaliation began

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announces new directive concerning collaboration with ICE

On Thursday, November 29, NJ State Attorney General Gurbir Grewalannounced the implementation of new guidelines in New Jersey’s cooperation with ICE. His new directives curtailed local police’s ability to inquire about someone’s immigration status and turn undocumented immigrants over to immigration officials for deportation. The AG said the policy shift is to ameliorate relations between police officials and the immigrant communities where they serve: “No law-abiding resident of this great state should live in fear that a routine traffic stop by local police will result in his or her deportation from this country.”

Yes, it is that easy for states and local municipalities and cities to end their cooperation with ICE. 

Under the new rules, New Jersey police cannot stop or detain anyone based on their immigration status, nor can they ask the immigration status of anyone unless it is part of an ongoing investigation into a serious criminal offense. Further, police cannot participate in ICE raids, and ICE cannot utilize state or local resources. 

The new policy has been the keystone of the Murphy administration, which has been working on revamping police guidelines regarding undocumented immigrants since shortly after he was elected, and said he would make New Jersey a “sanctuary state” during his campaign.

True to its authoritarian nature, a week later, in response to the new directives, ICE conducted “at-large” arrests. In one of the largest raids in the history of New Jersey, officials on Friday announced the arrest of 105 peopleover a five-day period. They began literally right after the Attorney General released the new directive.  

Led by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, the operationresulted in arrests across the state, including 24 in Hudson County, 10 in Middlesex County, 14 in Monmouth County, four in Bergen County, 11 in Passaic County and 6 in Essex County. Those arrested last week were citizens of Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Korea, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, Trinidad and Venezuela. 

According to Carlos Rojas Rodriguez, a community organizer for Movimiento Cosecha, which lobbies for expanded rights for undocumented immigrants in the state, including access to driver’s licenses, the new arrests had to be connected to the directive, and called ICE a rogue agency: “It is a shame that while the new AG is trying to create trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement, the ICE director John Tsoukaris is trying to destroy that trust and criminalize immigrants across the state.”

Those arrested were people and citizens of the state of New Jersey, a state that, like New York, has a history of being a melting pot of immigrants, migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees fleeing economic depression, state-sanctioned violence, hoping for a better life for themselves and their children. Almost every resident shares their immigrant story of “Coming to America” with pride and reverence for their family members who made the journey. Those undocumented in the state are no exceptions.  

As a community, now, we must decide whether or not we are going to honor the memories of those who are coming as the descendants of immigrants ourselves, or as prejudiced individuals who have forgotten our collective history of migration. We must also  come to terms with the hypocrisy of the Trump administrationand ICE deportation machine, who would arrest undocumented immigrants in this state but leave those who benefit the Trump business alone to have their labor exploited. 

(Photo Credit: NorthJersey.com) (Video Credit: YouTube)

If men get to run without a shirt on, women should be able to too

In warm weather, running can be hard with extra layers on. As a runner, I know. From May to September, when the weather hits 60-90 degrees every day, I’m not running with a sports bra, shirts and shorts on; I’m removing as many layers as I can so I don’t overheat and harm myself. That means I’m running with just a sports bra and shorts on. My comfort and my health override any preconceived ideas of what women should be wearing while they workout. The same can be said of all women when they’re exercising.

For this reason, Rowan University is wrong to police women track athletes who were exercising while the football team was in practice, and were called out for removing their shirts after a particularly difficult practice. After an afternoon workout of mile repeats in 60-degree weather, the athletes finished their workout in their sports bras, while some male runners ran without shirts on. Can you guess who was told they were distracting the football players? The women.

“I was holding a 5:45 or 5:50 during mile repeats. We were dead and sweaty,” teammate and senior Hannah Vendetta says. Team members recalled that one of the football coaches approached the women’s cross-country coach and told them that the runners were distracting the football players. A few days later, the team learned during an athletics department meeting that “they all had to wear shirts during practice. Also, the cross-country teams were no longer allowed to use the track while the football team practiced. Instead, if they wanted to run in the afternoon, they would need to make do with the Glassboro High School track across the street. Or they could change their practice time.”

The University administration has claimed that there has always been a policy wherein only one sports team at a time has use of the facilities, but students and alumni have disputed the claim that the policy has ever been enforced. In a response to the administration’s explanations, alumna Grace Kaler tweeted, “From the Year 2010-2014, this policy was never enforced. We had always shared the facility. As a former captain, and student-athlete, I am so disappointed to see the sports bra rule still in play, but now to cover it up with this, is extremely disheartening.”

Rowan student Gina Capone heard of the incident from her former teammates and, enraged, posted an article on Odyssey. Her piece took the Athletics Department to task, citing unfair treatment of the cross-country team, policing women’s bodies, and perpetuating a “boys will be boys” culture on campus. The next morning, the post had gone viral, throwing Rowan into the spotlight on the eve of hosting the NCAA Division III regional cross-country championships. The university can profit off of women athletes, while also policing their bodies and what they get to wear when it gets too hot to train?

There is a verbal policy in place – the “shirts required rule” – that supposedly applies to male and female across all sports. According to VP of University Relations Joe Cardona, “The verbal policy was adopted to create standards for all student athletes. We want to keep standards above a normal rec or intramural team. You’re playing a NCAA sport.” But only the women were policed by the “verbal policy”; the men without their shirts on were completely disregarded in the call out.

Thanks to the outrage from Capone’s article, the university has created a new written policy, reversing its stance. “There will be no restriction of sports bras without shirts as practice apparel. By clarifying our support for women’s athletics and its student-athletes, Rowan strongly affirms its commitment to ensuring that women are able to train and perform at the highest levels,” says University President Ali A. Houshmand.

But the underlying issue of policing of women’s bodies remains. A runner is not running without a shirt to attract men nor to distract football players. They are running because it is hot outside, and unnecessary clothing is going to be discarded to maintain an athlete’s comfort level. If you’re so worried about the football players or men getting distracted, set punitive measures for those players. I’m willing to bet grueling wind sprints or any other exercise will teach a player not to ogle another athlete.

Stop policing women’s bodies. They aren’t there for your entertainment. Learn to do better.

 

(Photo Credit: Outside)

In New Jersey, the Monroe School District is Putting Children in Solitary Confinement

Whitehall Elemenary School seclusion room

In New Jersey, Monroe Townships School Districts are using solitary confinement, hidden as “timeout rooms” or “calm-down spaces” to punish children in their school districts. A child who has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum came home from Whitehall Elementary School, recounted to his mother and father that he had, “been put in a room for time out.” When asked to describe the room, he called it a little room, almost like a jail. The truth of it was even worse. When parents visited the school, they were given firsthand views of the time out room, and the description of a jail was generous. “This is solitary confinement,” the father, Scott Reiss said of the padded room. “This is unacceptable.”

The seclusion room is a space sectioned off in a corner of a special needs classroom, with padded walls and floors that are usually found in a gym. The room, as explained by Superintendent Richard Perry, “is utilized in conjunction with special education related services and interventions, involving behavioral disabilities in which students may become violent toward other students and staff and/or causing harm to themselves. Also, other students, who are classified, utilize this space as a means of safety when they feel emotionally overwhelmed.”

But the seclusion room looks more like solitary confinement than a room where disabled students can “calm down.” It doesn’t seem like any student can potentially calm themselves after outbursts in such a small, confined space. Instead, it pushes disabled children in a space where they can neither be seen nor heard. While the superintendent claimed that every parent is informed of the room and a report is filed when a child is put in the room, after Reiss went public with the photos, other parents voiced their concerns because they also didn’t know the room existed.

Instead of padded walls, an inviting space could be infinitely more successful in calming a student. Stephanie Reiss, the child’s mother suggested an area with partial walls, beanbag chairs and child-friendly accommodations: “All I want is a better, acceptable space for the kids to calm down. That’s all I want.”

The use of physical restraint and seclusion techniques on students with disabilities is permitted by a state law enacted by Christie in January before he left office. The measure does not specify what a seclusion space should look like. However, it does require prior written consent of the student’s primary care physician, unless the space is needed in an emergency to keep the student or others physically safe. The state law does not apply to the use of “timeout” which it describes as “the monitored separation of a student in a non-locked setting and is implemented for the purpose of calming.”

Though the bill had wide bipartisan support, it raises questions. Lacking specific guidelines on seclusion or time-out rooms, instances like the padded solitary room in Whitehall can be considered an acceptable form of removing an unruly student.

Even though Superintendent Perry has stated that the room is not used as a punishment, the padded walls and mats look far more punitive than relocating a student to have them calm down. If grown adults are affected negatively from such solitary confinement, why do we subject young children to the same? “This is unacceptable.”

Inside the seclusion room