In Western Australia, Aboriginal women go to prison for unpaid fines

What’s it called when a force seizes women of color and holds them hostage until they, or someone else, pays for their release? Kidnapping? Trafficking? Slavery? In Western Australia, as elsewhere, it’s called criminal justice, and it targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Debbie Kilroy, Executive Director of Sisters Inside, decided that enough was already way too much, and so this past Saturday she organized a GoFundMe campaign to bail out one hundred single Aboriginal mothers. While the effort is terrific, why are women, and particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women still being held hostage by the State?

Here’s Debbie Kilroy’s plea: “Western Australia’s response to poverty and homelessness is imprisonment. Western Australia refuses to change the laws where people who have no criminal convictions are imprisoned if they do not have the capacity to pay a fine.  People are languishing in prison for not being able to pay their fines.  Single Aboriginal mothers make up the majority of those in prison who do not have the capacity to pay fines. They are living in absolute poverty and cannot afford food and shelter for their children let alone pay a fine. They will never have the financial capacity to pay a fine.  So we want to raise $99,000.00 to have at least 100 single Aboriginal mothers freed from prison and have warrants vacated.  If you can financially assist this movement it would be greatly appreciated.  The funds will only be used to release people from prison.”

In August 2014, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman, called Ms. Dhu, died in custody in Western Australia. She was being held for unpaid parking fines. Ms. Dhu complained, some say screamed and begged, of intense pains. She was sent to hospital twice and returned, untreated, to the jail. On her third trip to the hospital, she died, in the emergency room, within 20 minutes. It is reported that she never saw a doctor. Her grandmother says she “had broken ribs, bleeding on the lungs and was in excruciating pain.”Ms. Dhu was murdered by State systems of accounting. She was in jail for $3,622 in unpaid fines. The jail staff and the hospital staff decided she wasn’t worth believing or treating. She wasn’t worth the bother, and so Ms. Dhu died and remains dead. No amount of accounting will bring her justice. Her family and community are left to struggle with the State systems of accounting that value their lives as beneath assessment. What does justice for Ms. Dhu mean today?

Ms. Dhu’s case has become the standard by which we mark the incarceration of Indigenous women in Australia, but that doesn’t mean things have improved. A year ago, Human Rights Watch reported“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population, and 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous peers.” While the report was perfectly accurate, it was also perfectly redundant, given that it reiterated issues came up in major reports published in  2010201120122013201420152016, and 2017. Last month, reporters Hayley Gleeson and Julia Baird wondered, “Why are our prisons full of domestic violence victims?” 

Women, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, end up in prison for unpaid fines. Women suffering domestic violence call the police, and, if they have unpaid fines, the police come … and take the women to prison, as happened to a 35-year-old Noongar woman in September 2017. In what world does that make sense? In our world.

In Australia, rates of incarceration are increasing regularly, and women’s rates of incarceration far outnumber the rates for men. Why? Explanations include criminalization of women’s homelessness, women’s mental illness, women’s addictions, women’s poverty, women’s health. The bottom line is women. Cash bail systems and prison for unpaid fine systems are just another weapon in the State war on women. While Western Australia is the only state in Australia that imprisons people for unpaid fines, the issue is mass and hyper incarceration. As Debbie Kilroy noted, “The wheels are just turning so slowly. This is a priority for many Australians across the country, it’s not just a West Australian issue. It’s nice to say we will get draft legislation in six months but come on.”

We don’t need another report. We need action, and not only in Australia. If you can, consider donating to Debbie Kilroy’s FreeThePeople campaign, here. Whether you do or not, remember the women, around the world, who call the people because they are being abused and end up in prison. It’s way past time to shut that system down. Come on.

(Infographic Credit: ABC)

In Western Australia, Bandyup Women’s Prison is still (akin to) torture. Shut it down!

Inside Bandyup Women’s Prison

On December 12, Neil Morgan, the Inspector of Custodial Services for Western Australia, released a scathing report summary, benignly entitled The birth at Bandyup Women’s Prison in March 2018. Just in time for Christmas, the report tells the story of Amy (not her real name) who gave birth, alone in a cell, at Bandyup Women’s Prison, the only women’s prison in Western Australia. The Inspector’s media release on the report opens: “The Inspector of Custodial Services, Neil Morgan, has voiced serious concerns about a birth at Bandyup Women’s Prison on 11 March 2018. Despite pleading for help multiple times for over an hour, a woman (‘Amy’) gave birth alone in a locked cell at 7.40pm. Staff observed events through a hatch in the cell door, but the door was not unlocked for several minutes after the birth.

On releasing a summary of his report into the birth, Mr Morgan said: `I wanted to know how such an event could occur in a 21st Century Australian prison and to prevent it happening again.’” What do we imagine a 21stCentury prison, Australian or otherwise, is, and especially for women? Bandyup Women’s Prison has been known as a hellhole for years, and yet … there it is.

Here is Amy’s story, reduced to a timeline. At 5:30, Amy made a cell call, saying she was in labor. She was taken Bandyup Health Centre. The nurses were not told of the cell call. So, they gave her paracetamol, or acetaminophen, and sent her back to her cell. At 6 pm, the prison went into night lock down. At 6:30, Amy made a number of cell calls. She sounded distressed and said she was in labor. Custodial staff came to the door, and talked to Amy, through the door. Amy became increasingly distressed. Nursing staff arrived around 7:35, a full hour later. According to the Inspector’s report, “By this time, Amy’s distress was palpable, and she clearly needed help. However, the nursing staff could only assess her through the locked cell door, because the only person with cell keys was a senior staff member in the gatehouse.” At 7:40, alone, in a cramped cell, Amy gave birth: “Excessive delays continued even after Amy had delivered her child. Due to poor record keeping, we cannot put a precise time on it, but it took somewhere between seven and 12 minutes before the officer from the gatehouse arrived with the keys, and the cell door was opened. This finally allowed assistance to be provided. Amy and her baby were transferred to hospital that evening.”

Why was Amy in prison? The Inspector’s report begins: “On 30 January 2018, a woman we will call ‘Amy’ appeared in court. She was in the late stages of pregnancy and was granted bail subject to a number of conditions. However, she was unable to meet the conditions and was taken to the Melaleuca Remand and Reintegration Facility (Melaleuca). On 17 February 2018, Amy was moved to Bandyup Women’s Prison (Bandyup).” Amy was in prison because she couldn’t pull together enough money to post bail. 

Why was Amy in prison? Amy is an Indigenous woman, living in Australia. In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population. Amy is an Indigenous woman living in Western Australia. Western Australia has the highest imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Australia and boasts the highest rates of Indigenous prisoners awaiting trial

Bandyup Women’s Prison has been acknowledged, for years, as a hellhole. In 2015, it was the most overcrowded prison in Western Australia, famous for an Indigenous woman’s death in custodygross mismanagement of vulnerable individuals and populations, sponsoring a culture of despair, and worse. In 2015, Neil Morgan, the same Neil Morgan, issued a damning report. Three years later, the State is shocked to discover the conditions of the 21stCentury Australian prison. The time for inspections,reports, shock and discovery is over. How many more women must give birth, alone, in a filthy cramped cell, simply because they can’t pay the exit fee? How many more Indigenous women must suffer torture and death behind bars for having committed the crime of being-Indigenous-woman? How many more Amy’s? Close Bandyup Women’s Prison today. Shut it down!

(Photo credit: The West Australian)

States of Abandonment: South African prisons are toxic and lethal

On Thursday, the South African Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services, JICS, issued its 2017-2018 annual report on the state, and statelessness, of prisons in South Africa. The findings are both dismal and altogether anticipated. The prisons are in disarray. Due to restricted funding, JICS inspectors only visited 81 facilities. South Africa has 243 “correctional service centers.” Overcrowding is way up, suicide is way up, remand prisoners still make up way too much of the population. Infrastructure is a disgrace. Assault and torture are everywhere. Rehabilitation is virtually nonexistent. According to JICS inspecting judge Johann Vincent van der Westhuizen, “Overcrowding is at the core of everything else that exists (within prisons) … The situation of mentally ill inmates has become urgent.” In one year, the number of prison suicides rose from 52 to 82. In the past year, suicide was the highest cause of unnatural deaths in prison. What is going on?

On one hand, mental health institutions are overcrowded, and so patients are being transferred to prisons. The State has decided to correct of the mistakes it made in Life Esidimeni by dumping those living with mental illness into already overcrowded and under resourced spaces which have the benefit of invisibility. Out of sight, out of mind, out of luck, and, soon, out of breath. This is the State of Abandonment: “Zones of abandonment … accelerate the death of the unwanted. In this bureaucratically and relationally sanctioned register of social death, the human, the mental and the chemical are complicit: their entanglement expresses a common sense that authorized the lives of some while disallowing the lives of others.”

164,129 people are being held in South African prisons. 44,158 are awaiting trial. 27% of those persons in these hellholes are officially still innocent. Further, according to the JICS report, 1200 prisoners diagnosed with mental illness were kept with the general population. Many of those 1200 are awaiting transfer to “an accredited institution.” The public policy right now is to move people living with mental illnesses who are in overcrowded state hospitals to overcrowded prisons … and then “discover” and wonder that suicide is on the rise.

Prisons are not mental health institutions. The staff is not trained, the very architecture is inappropriate. The staff is also not trained to diagnose for mental health issues. Solitary confinement, or segregation, is traumatic. Extended solitary confinement is traumatizing. Intense overcrowding produces trauma. There are individuals who enter the prison with mental illnesses, and there are those who suffer mental illness because of the conditions in prison. 1200 is a low estimate.

Who sees prison as an “interim” solution for people living with mental illness? What is the name of that policy? Call it necropolitical abandonment, a policy of who might barely live and who definitely will die, slowly and in agony. “The report found that most facilities were in a `state of decay’.”

 

(Image Credit: Judicial Inspectorate for Prison Services / Times South Africa)

HM Prison Eastwood Park leading the nation in women prisoners’ self-harm barely receives attention?


In July, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales released their annual report, and it was predictably grim, especially for women prisoners. Much of the news media in England, especially the local media, focused on the numbers concerning HMP Leeds, where each day sees around two women prisoners engaging in self-harm. In 2017, there were 712 `incidents’ of self-harm in Leeds, a 30% increase over the previous year, which saw 548 self-harm events. At Leeds women’s prison, 65 out of every 100 women is engaging in self-harm. Leeds is a bad place … but not the worst. Way down in any article on “the prison where self-harm incidents happen almost twice daily” would be a version of this nugget: “HMP Leeds was not the worst for self-harming however; Eastwood Park women’s prison in South Gloucestershire has the worst self-harm problem in the prison system. There were only 394 women on average at the prison in 2017/18 but there were 1,770 cases recorded in 2017.” Eastwood Park leads the nation in women prisoners’ self-harm, and somehow that’s not particularly important? Why?

In recent years, Eastwood Park has hosted a number of women prisoner deaths that have garnered some attention. In 2013, Natasha Evans collapsed in her cell. At the inquest, two years later, expert testimony suggested that Natasha Evans died because of lack, or systematic refusal, of appropriate care. Since 2013, six more women prisoners have suffered non-self-inflicted deaths at Eastwood Park. Most recently, in June 2016, Michalla Sweeting choked to death on her own vomit. Michalla Sweeting arrived in Eastwood Park after three days in police custody. She was put on a methadone detox program. She started vomiting, staff noted that and did nothing, she died. This May, two years later, the inquest jury found that Michalla Sweeting died of gross negligence committed by prison and healthcare staff.

That’s the same prison and healthcare staff that supposedly is addressing the “complex needs” of Eastwood Park prison population. In 2016, seven women died inside Eastwood Park. Three of those were “self-inflicted deaths.” In 2017, no one died in Eastwood Park … but the self-harm continues.

There are no women’s prisons in Wales, and so Welch women are sent to primarily to Eastwood Park and to HMP Styal, another hellhole. Eastwood Park holds a little over 400 prisoners, of whom 40% are from Wales, which means their families and home communities are far away. Eastwood Park is supposed to have a mother-and-baby unit. In November 2016, it was reported as temporarily closed. Today, two years later, it’s still closed. Eastwood Park is hard on everyone, and particularly on Welch women and on mothers.

The rate of self-harm in Eastwood Park is 449 incidents per 100 prisoners. In 2017, there were 1,770 incidents. While that’s down from the record high of 2016, it’s the second highest number of incidents of self-harm since 2010. “On average, there were four incidents of self-harm a day at HMP Eastwood Park in 2017.”

On January 2017, the Chief Inspector of Prisons reported on Eastwood Park: “The population remained vulnerable; many women were a long way from home, which was a problem for the large number who had dependent children. Nearly half of the women had a disability, and over three quarters reported mental health or emotional well-being issues. Eighty-four per cent of women said they had various problems on arrival at the prison, and over half said this included issues with drugs, while over a third reported having alcohol problems. Levels of self-harm had increased and were overall relatively high.”

Against this backdrop, the Inspector concluded, “We still considered Eastwood Park to be a well-led, generally safe and decent prison, but it was showing signs of being under strain. Staffing levels had not kept pace with the rise in population, nor with its increasing complexity.”

Nineteen months later, the rate of self-harm is four per day, and 449 incidents per 100 women. That’s safety and decency in a State committed to locking women up. It’s not the prison that’s under strain; it’s women, and the strain is public policy. In July, the Inspector noted, “The number of women prisoners is growing for the first time since 2012, putting a strain on the system and emphasising the need for a strategy for women’s prisons …  The high rate of self-harm among women prisoners is indicative of the very complex needs of many women.”

The Inspector noted that the two women’s prisons inspected “were not doing enough to address the very complex needs of women prisoners.” Not doing enough. Very complex needs. This is the language of neoliberal State alibi that suggests, implicitly, that the reason women prisoners have rising, and astronomical, rates and incidences of self-harm is the set of “very complex needs.” This is nonsense. The State refuses to address women’s needs and, even more, women’s lives, and that is reason for the rates and numbers of women prisoners’ self-harm. Period. At HMP Eastwood Park, women self-harm four times a day, every day, and absolutely no one cares. If we did, we’d stop it.

 

(Photo Credit: Gloucestershire Live)

#YouKnowYou’reLockedUpWhen


#YouKnowYou’reLockedUpWhen

People you once would’ve swiped left to are now right, right, right. A few years in and everyone’s a 10.

You’ve thought of countless different ways to take yourself out and weighed the pros and cons of each.

You start believing you’re in love with book authors, artists, musicians, poets who “speak to,” “understand” you that you’ll never meet and who are either twice or half your age.

You become one of the two personality types: a) obsessed with showering as frequently and as long as possible, fantasize about it; b) shower not when your celly threatens to beat your ass, but only when they threaten to pour water on your TV.

Torture is epitomized by the restaurant advertisement commercials on TV.

You wake up just a few minutes before they ring the bell and bellow “COUNT!” in the morning because you’re #institutionalized

Every single recipe you see in a cooking magazine you try to emulate, prison-style, with crazy substitutions. Every. Single. One.

Someone asks you your religion, you respond with “David Sedaris.”

Can sleep for 18 hours straight, because oblivion is the only way to Forget.

You eat, sleep, self-mutilate, shit, repeat; Because Depression.

Just managing to wash a few pairs of underwear is a major accomplishment for the day.

You call people who (never) answer, and (never) will.

Sex either dominates your thoughts or you become completely uninterested in it.

You cease to care or care too much.

“Who fucking cares, I’m gonna die here anyway.”

You start to question your sexuality, when just a few months earlier you were bashing those who were “gay for the stay.”

You take offense to drop-the-soap jokes and go to great lengths to explain why they’re so offensive.

You’ve mastered multiple musical instruments, languages, academic subject areas, and The Art Of Keeping Pepper Spray Out Of Your Orifices When Shit Hits The Fan.

You become more cynical than Diogenes. Woof.

Prison Tip #1637: Don’t spit on people. Just don’t. K, thx.

You get your skull bashed in with a lock-in-a-sock before 6 am count; what’s a ‘Good Morning?’

You have to piss in a cup because the COs won’t let you out of your cell to use the common restroom. Not fun, trust me.

Gel pepper spray sticks to the surfaces of The Block for weeks, continuing to burn and cause pain because it was just Created To Suck.

You listen to officers’ radios, just ear hustling because you’re nosy and have a need to know what’s going on.

Other incarcerated people usually do not make credible sources if they’re storytelling. Widely and ironically dubbed ‘inmate.com,’ they’ve been certified fake news by us pseudo fact checkers.

When you hear someone say “I didn’t do it, what happened was…” you can’t help but roll your eyes and say “Frankly I don’t care if you did or didn’t, I still want you out of prison, like, yesterday.”

You give yourself pathetic prison-hacked pedicures on the reg because some things never change.

You start to look at your Prison’s Administration as omnipotent, omniscient, supreme Beings. You can’t help it– especially if they’re nice!

While getting ready in the morning and loudly exclaim to no one in particular “Hmm, what outfit should I wear today? Cocoa Brown Uniform #1, Cocoa Brown Uniform #2, or Cocoa Brown Uniform #3?” At first glance they may appear the same, but #3 is your “Church Outfit” and #2 you’ve distressed for that Grunge Look.

Your incarcerated lifestyle allows you to be More Hipster Than Most. Pshhh, sellouts.

 

(Photo Credit: Ms. Magazine)

#YouKnowYourLockedUp

#YouKnowYourLockedUp when …

You have to learn how to thread your eyebrows with a piece of string you’ve pulled from your pants.

You have to make instant coffee with the lukewarm water in your sink.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks are all different variations of Ramen.

To keep your sodas somewhat cold, you plop the bottles in your toilet’s water. Pinkies up when you sip, ladies!

“Bend over it and spread ’em open” ceases to have a sexual connotation.

You have to wash your clothes by hand in any available receptacle: a wash basin, a mop bucket; even a cleaned-out trash can when times get tough.

You master the art of the bird bath during lock downs or stints in solitary confinement. Gotta hit the hot areas, people.

You stand by the cell door waiting in anticipation for mail every afternoon, even those days you know none is going to come.

Coffee, water, brush your teeth since the dental department exists only in name and couldn’t be more indifferent. Rinse, and repeat.

You forget trivial things like what your cell phone number was, but remember what your mother’s favorite sweater felt like when the fabric was pressed against your skin.

You get a flashlight beamed in your face every 30 minutes as you try to sleep at night.

Your private, personal, emotionally and psychologically raw, vulnerable journals are read by and the contents inquired about by the search team during routine cell searches. Privacy? Common human decency? What foreign concepts are those?

Your voice is suppressed, your rights violated, your opinions dismissed on a daily basis because you are subhuman: an “Inmate.”

 

(Photo Credit: Ms. Magazine)

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”

A cell at Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre

Human Rights Watch released a report today, I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished: Abuse and Neglect of Prisoners with Disabilities in Australia, that describes the horror of prison for those living with disabilities. Prisoners living with disabilities are tortured in every way possible, from extended and extensive use of solitary confinement to sexual violence to physical and psychological torture to … The list is endless. One prisoner spent 19 years in solitary confinement. Prison-carers provide care for prisoners with high support needs. In one prison, six of the eight prison-carers are convicted sex offenders. At the center of this garden of earthly evil are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. At the center of that center are Aboriginal and Torres Islander Strait women: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”. None of this is new.

HRW researchers reached women at Bandyup Women’s Prison, in West Swan, Western Australia, and Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre, in Wacol, Brisbane, Queensland. Both are infamous for chronic overcrowding and the occasional death in custody. Today’s report largely reiterates earlier findings. The hyper-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait women is “integrally linked to the social and economic disadvantages that result from years of structural discrimination.”

Many people with disabilities that we interviewed, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities, had experienced family and sexual violence multiple times in their lives. Facing sexual, physical, and verbal violence in prison, particularly from staff, perpetuates this cycle of violence and creates distrust between staff and prisoners. One woman with a disability told Human Rights Watch: “The officers [use] intimidation tactics. Especially for us girls, that just reminds us of our domestic violence back home, it scares us. If you want to get through to us, they should be nice to us.” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have high rates of psychosocial disabilities, intellectual disability, and trauma: “About 73 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and 86 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison have a diagnosed mental health condition …. Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland prisons, 73 percent of male and 86 percent of female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners had a diagnosed psychosocial disability”.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait women have more contact with police, generally, and the contact starts at a younger age. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities “experience higher rates of poverty, homelessness, domestic and sexual violence, and abuse than non-indigenous peers and peers without disabilities.”

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population, and 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous peers.”

None of this is new. These very issues came up in major reports published in  2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and last year. It’s a new year, and so we have another study that reports that Australia, like the United States, has invested a great deal in intensifying the vulnerability of the most vulnerable, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The more vulnerable women become, the more they are told to shoulder responsibility, individually and as a group, for all the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them, body and soul. Women suffer repeated trauma, and it’s their fault. Prisons are cruel and ineffective, especially for women, and that’s just fine. Mass incarceration is destroying indigenous women and families, and that’s just fine. Everything is fine. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population.

 

(Photo Credit: ABC)

Florida’s special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution, ran out of water

Florida built a special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution. In 2015, Lowell housed, or better caged, 2696 women, surpassing the Central California Women’s Facility and thus becoming the largest women’s prison in the United States. From the start, in 1956, to today, the place has been a nightmare: overcrowded, rampant with staff abuse of prisoners and institutional abuse of staff, severely under resourced, violent, toxic and lethal. In 2014, Michelle Tierney, Latandra Ellington, Regina A. Cooper, and Affricka G. Jean died “under suspicious circumstances.” They did not die; they were killed by the institution. From the outset, death-in-life has been the everyday norm for Lowell. Last week, Lowell hit a new low, no water for days. The Lowell Correctional Institution, hellhole of inhumane practices, became the Lowell Correctional Institution, hellhole of `subhuman’ conditions.

Here’s the official version: Lightning struck a water pump on Saturday, July 8. It shut down water and a geothermal line, which meant no water and no `air conditioning’. On Monday, July 10, the Florida Department of Correction released a statement: “Storm damage over the weekend caused maintenance issues that effected the well pumps and geothermal line at Lowell Correctional Institution. Institution maintenance staff responded immediately and have been on scene trying to resolve the issues with assistance from the local fire department and contractors. The geothermal line has been repaired and a replacement pump for the well is expected to arrive today. All inmates have access to drinking water. Toilets and sinks are operational using non-potable water being brought in to the institution.”

On Thursday, July 13, The Miami Herald reported that drinking water was still unavailable, and would be unavailable for at least another three days.

Lowell Correctional Institution doesn’t have air conditioning. Instead it relies on geo-thermal cooling. The State admits that the system is faulty, at best. Prison staff say the system doesn’t work at all in a number of the dormitories. Now, it officially doesn’t work anywhere. Meanwhile, Lowell has been cited repeatedly for unhygienic conditions, including worms and mold in the showers and sinks. Last week, for at least three days, the showers and sinks were officially shut off. Toilets were also `inoperational’, which prisoners explained means toilets overflowing with feces.

One staff member said, “It’s a disgusting mess; the women are living in subhuman conditions.” Another added, “I don’t understand why the health department doesn’t get involved. There’s been a constant problem here with sanitation. Toilets that don’t work — sometimes only one works for 160 inmates.”

Florida maintains that the situation in Lowell Correctional Institution is under control and just fine. Florida can make that claim because the situation in Lowell Correctional Institution has been subhuman for years, and who complained? Prisoners, their families and friends, staff members, and the occasional activist. Where’s the hue and cry over the abysmal conditions in the nation’s largest women’s prison? Florida built a special hell for women, Lowell Correctional Institution, and really, who cares?

 

(Photo Credit: Miami Herald / Emily Michot)

What happened to Manjula Shette? The routine torture of women in India’s prisons

Manjula Shette

Manjula Shette spent about ten years in prison, in India. By all accounts, she was a model prisoner. Most of her time, Manjula Shette spent at the notorious Yerwada Prison, located in Pune, in the state of Maharashtra. There, she worked as a jail warden, which meant advocating for fellow prisoners and keeping the peace. This year, she volunteered to be moved to the notorious Byculla Jail, in Mumbai, where, among other issues, she found she was forced to work round the clock. According to family members and inmates at Byculla, Manjula Shette was very popular with the other inmates. On the morning of June 23, Manjula Shette complained that two eggs and five pieces of bread were missing from the morning rations. She was taken to an office, beaten up, deposited back in her cell, there further beaten and tortured in the presence of other prisoners, taken to hospital, and died. Later reports suggest she was already dead before she was taken to hospital. Byculla Jail prisoners erupted and occupied the jail, taking control of the rooftop and calling for justice. All 291 women have been charged with rioting and assaulting officers. Six officers are under investigation. While some are shocked, many say that what happened to Manjula Shette is an average day in India’s women’s prisons and jails. In other words, nothing really happened. No one, in this instance named Manjula Shette, was murdered by the State.

In March 2017, the Mumbai High Court formally declared that Yerwada, Byculla, and Arthur Road Jails were hellholes, and that they had to be cleaned up … by May. This decision came as part of a three-year inquiry into the conditions in these three notorious Maharashtra jails. No positive changes emerged from the High Court pronouncement. Further, those prisoners who were prominent advocates were targeted for retribution.

And Manjula Shette is dead.

According to Raja Bagga, of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, or CHRI, “Every three days, there is a death in a Maharashtra jail.” Death stalks Maharashtra’s women’s jails and prisons, as does custodial rape, extreme overcrowding, lack of adequate food, and a generally toxic environment and living, and dying, conditions. Byculla is supposed to have maximum 165 women. Currently 291 women are housed there, and that offsets the overcrowding at the Arthur Road Jail. Discrimination against women is common, and for women of various minority groups, the treatment is worse. The vast majority of women in jails are awaiting trial, and many have been for a long time.

Sanjoy Hazarika, the director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, added that Shetye’s death reflected the “internal rot and impunity” that characterizes India’s prisons and jails. The CHRI is calling for immediate measures to open the prisons to monitoring, as a first step. While that first step would be welcome, it does not address the calculus of rot and impunity. In India, prisoners are treated viciously because they are viewed as rot. That’s why a popular prisoner, a prisoner advocate, must be eliminated, and the elimination must be visible and spectacular. What happened to Manjula Shette? Absolutely nothing. What will happen to the prison system, as distinct from the individual prison guards? Absolutely nothing. Why is India’s women prison and jail population growing at astronomical rates? To grow the national economy. The increased and intensified torture of women in India’s prisons and jails is a key element of national development. Who will remember Manjula Shette a year from now? Her family and the women prisoners who, for a brief moment, took control of the Byculla Jail. That’s it. What is the market value of a woman prisoner’s life? Two eggs, five pieces of bread.

And Manjula Shette is dead.

Byculla Jail women prisoners occupy the roof, demand justice

 

(Photo Credits: The Hindu)

Stop sending mothers and children to prison!

A mothers’ workshop at Oyam Prison

Today in Uganda, a leading headline reads, “24 children in prison with their mothers”. The article opens, “About 24 children are locked up in the seven prisons of Lira, Oyam, Kole, Alebtong, Otuke, Apac and Dokolo districts with their only crime being born to mothers suspected of breaking the law. Currently, there are 228 female inmates in the seven prisons.” The article concludes, “The prison population in Uganda is said to be growing at a 10 per cent rate annually. Currently, there are 284 children living with their mothers in 21 female prisons.” While Uganda’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded, with a recorded occupancy rate of 293% as of October 2016, more than half of whom are pre-trial or remand prisoners, the situation of mothers and children in prison is a global phenomenon. The global gulag has produced a global prison crèche and nursery. Children are the future.

While the issue of mothers behind bars has garnered increased attention, as witness this year’s Mother’s Day National Mama’s Bail Out Day campaign, the ever increasing global population of mothers with children in prison has not. In Uganda, the population of mothers incarcerated with children has grown steadily for the last ten years. According to the Turkish government, 560 children are in Turkish prisons along with their mothers. The children age just born to six years old. In 2014, 334 children were living with their mothers in Turkish prisons. Incarcerating innocent children is a major growth industry. In Kenya, hundreds of children under four live with their mothers in prison; in Bolivia over 1000 children do. In Cambodia, two years ago, the Prime Minister wanted to find a “solution” to children in prison with their mothers. Thus far, none has been found. Quite the opposite.

Around the world, where do children live? Increasingly, in prison. In 2008, the International Centre for Prison Studies reported that the following countries kept mothers and children together … in prison: England and Wales; Australia; Brazil; Canada; Denmark; Finland; Germany; Greece; Italy; Netherlands; New Zealand; Russia; Sweden; Switzerland; and the United States. Spain kept mothers and children together in “family” cells. No information was available for France, Japan, or, curiously Turkey. Of the 20 nation-states surveyed, only Norway said, NO.

In 2014, the Law Library of Congress’s Laws on Children Residing with Parents in Prison expanded the survey to 97 countries. Here’s their list of those who keep mothers and children together in prison: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Burma/Myanmar, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, England and Wales, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Libya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe. From A to Z, babies behind bars are everywhere.

None of this is surprising. Skyrocketing rates of incarceration for women, and especially younger women, means incarcerating more and more infants and children.

But it’s not inevitable: “Norway does not allow children to stay with their parents in prison. Instead, a new mother is housed outside of the penitentiary in a mødrehjem (home for mothers) until her child is old enough to be separated from her, generally around nine months of age. Mothers with young children and short sentences may serve their entire sentence at the home for mothers …. In general, the Norwegian prison policy reserves prison sentences for the most heinous crimes and attempts to avoid sentencing criminals to prison. Courts have also chosen to transform certain sentences from prison sentences to community service, generally in cases where mothers are convicted of drug offenses but have since been drug free and are caring for a small child. At the start of 2012, 255 women were incarcerated in Norway, of whom 187 were serving out the sentence in an alternative institution.”

Norway is taking this approach beyond its border, funding, for example, an `open prison’ for women and children in Lithuania. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step.

The State alibi for caging innocent children is the good of the child. What does that say about the world outside the prison, if the best place for an infant or young child is behind bars? What is justice, if sending a child to prison is fine and dandy, no matter how minor or negligible the mother’s so-called offense? Want to keep children out of prisons and jails? Imagine a world in which close to 75% of women convicted of criminal offense do not end up in prison. Imagine Norway.

 

(Photo Credit: Daily Monitor / Bill Oketch)