Where are the women? In England and Wales, in prison awaiting trial, under attack


Yesterday, England’s House of Commons Justice Committee delivered its report, “The role of adult custodial remand in the criminal justice system”. The Committee’s summary opens, “At present, the number of defendants being held in custodial remand while awaiting trial is at the highest level it has been for 50 years. They are also being held for longer periods of time, often beyond the statutory six-month limit. Recent figures show that 770 prisoners have been held on custodial remand for over two years, awaiting trial.” The highest level in 50 years. Longer periods of detention. Since 1976, the Bail Act was supposed to avoid precisely this situation, securing the “general right to bail of accused persons”. The idea was to reduce and then keep at a minimum the size of the population of people incarcerated while awaiting trial or any process: “Section 4 (1) raises the presumption that all unconvicted defendants in criminal proceedings will be granted bail.” With a fifty-year high in size and historical record lengths detained as remand incarcerated people, it’s clear the State has refused to recognize its own law, and with that, the dignity and rights of people, especially of women. Where are the women in England and Wales? According to the House of Commons Justice Committee, they’re incarcerated and awaiting trial: “The use of custodial remand for non-violent offences is a particularly acute practice for women. 85% of women on remand in prison have been charged for a non-violent crime.” 85% of women on remand in prison have been charged for an offense that, if found guilty, would not result in incarceration, and yet there they sit, incarcerated.

Two-thirds of the women remanded to prison are found not guilty or given a community outcome. There are little to no services in the remand sections of prisons, and yet “acutely mentally unwell women” are remanded to prison, often. When pressed to at least collect data on the situation, the government “rejected” the proposal, on the grounds that it was moving to implement reforms. The highest level in 50 years must be the result of those reforms. According to various support organizations, most women remanded to prison have no fixed abode, at the moment of reception.

The report goes on to describe “The female estate”: “The number of women received into prison on remand increased by 9% between April to June 2020 and July to September 2021. Women entering prison on remand account for over half of the women received into prison in a given year. The size and geography of the women’s estate means women tend to be held further from home, creating difficulties in maintaining contact with their families and within the remit of local services. 40% of women remanded into custody do not go on to receive a custodial sentence …. Almost nine in 10 women held on remand are low or medium risk of serious harm to the public …. Women can be held in prison on remand due to a lack of available appropriate accommodation in the community rather than because they are a threat to the public.”

Finally, “an acting prison governor at Bronzefield Prison, which has the highest number of remanded women in the country, noted that the large number of women on remand had restricted the capacity for prison staff to work constructively with the sentenced women in their care.”

It took decades for this deplorable and utterly predictable situation to occur. In 2012, the Chief Inspector of Prisons noted that remand incarcerated people were treated worse than convicted incarcerated people, and that women were “over-represented” in that population. Eleven years later, women are more over-represented and for longer periods of time. And then there’s Covid. Decades of defunding public services, throwing women into prison `protection’ for `their own good’ as well as the `public safety’, and ignoring, and violating. laws, because, really, what does the law mean for women, have resulted in a thoroughly outrageous and, again, altogether predictable situation. Where are the women in England and Wales today? In prison, under attack.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Gabriel Saints / UK House of Commons Justice Committee)

In Pakistan, women’s jails are overcrowded, mostly with women awaiting trial

According to today’s Express Tribune, in Sindh, one of Pakistan’s four provinces, jails are “bursting at the seams with twice the population”. Some jails are at six times their prescribed capacity. In another piece, still in today’s Express Tribune, in Punjab, the most populous province in Pakistan, 927 women are currently incarcerated. Of those women, 91 are mothers currently living, in prison, with their children. What do these numbers mean, and, even more, where are the women?

Sindh’s three women’s jails are located in Karachi, Hyderabad, and Sukkur. Together, they house 486 women. Their official capacity is 420, and so they’re 18% over capacity. To put that in perspective, Sindh’s jails’ official capacity is 13,500, and they currently house 23,500. The jails for men and women are 74% over capacity. Here’s the thing about the incarcerated women’s `rosy’ picture. Of the 486 incarcerated women, 421 are under trial, or remand, prisoners. That is, they are awaiting trial. 87% of the women have not been convicted of any crime. For the general prison population in Sindh, 77% are awaiting trial. If the State were to release people, and especially women, before trial, not only would there be no `prison overcrowding’ … there would be almost no prison. Further, if the State were to release women who are awaiting trial, the impact on their children would be beneficial.

Which brings us to Punjab, where 927 women are incarcerated. 91 of them are mothers raising their children in prison. Of the 91 mothers, 67 are awaiting trial. 74% of the women are officially not guilty of anything, but they and their children must suffer incarceration. As is so often the case around the world, the women explain they are charged with having assaulted abusive partners. In other cases, the partners can’t take the children, for any of a number of reasons, including divorce. And so, in one province alone, 105 children under the age of six live and grow, or not, in prisons, where the schools are mostly missing in action and where the environment is cruel and inappropriate.

Meanwhile, Punjab jails are 38% beyond their prescribed capacity. The jails experience regular food shortages, as well as staffing shortages. Punjab has 42 prisons; 21 have no doctors. The whole system has a grand total of 40 doctors, for a population of close to 51,000 and growing … and getting sick and dying.

At the end of last year, Pakistan’s prison and jails housed 85,670 individuals, of whom 60,000 – 70% — were awaiting trial. At that time, 1399 women were incarcerated. It’s not clear how long people wait in overcrowded, toxic, life-threatening conditions for `justice to be served’, but it is clear that the situation is untenable. None of this is new: “Pakistan inherited an outdated prison system from the British colonial regime in India and it has not changed much in over 200 years. Even today, the Prisons Act 1894 and the Prisoners Act 1900 are the main laws which govern prisons and prisoners in Pakistan.” The Prisons Act 1894 emerged from recommendations of the 1838 Prison Discipline Committee.

From 1838 to 2022, and beyond, from Pakistan, and India, to England and beyond, women and children suffer indignity, violence, cruelty, disease and death because State policy has created the circumstances in which prisons are crowded `beyond capacity’. You know what is within our capacity? Justice. Shut the prisons and jails. Decolonize justice systems today.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic credit: The Express Tribune)

Women in Tihar Jail say NO! to the State’s criminal neglect and abuse

612 women refused to accept death in life in Tihar Jail, New Delhi’s Central Jail. 612 women prisoners in Tihar Jail, South Asia’s largest prison, informed the State that they had been in prison awaiting trial for more than half of the maximum sentence for their various crimes. On Thursday, July 8, responding to a letter by Supreme Court Justice Kurian Joseph, the Delhi High Court decided to take over. Justice Joseph had written directly to the Delhi High Court Chief Justice G. Rohini, the High Court’s first woman Chief Justice, “earnestly” requesting her “to take up the matter appropriately so that the cry for justice is answered in accordance with law with the promptitude with which a mother responds to the cry of her child”.

In a plea to Justice Joseph, the 612 women in Tihar Jail described the cruel separation from their children six years and older; the severe overcrowding of the women’s jail; the insufferable delay in disposal of their cases; the unjust bail bonds conditions; the “lack of sympathy” from the jailhouse courts and doctors; and the inadequacy of legal aid made available to women prisoners.

The women asked to be released immediately on personal bond.

On Friday, July 9, testifying before the High Court, the Delhi government agreed: “Out of 622 inmates, 463 are undertrial prisoners, and there are only 159 convicts.” The Delhi government advocate noted that Jail No. 6, the women’s jail, was designed to hold a maximum of 400 women, and currently holds 622. Effectively, one State agency told another State agency it was time to let my non-people go.

From 1993 to 1995, Tihar Jail, under the direction of Kiran Bedi, was, as its current website still claims, a “harbinger of human rights of prisoners.” Kiran Bedi was dumped in 1995, and, twenty years later, here’s Tihar Jail today, or at least in 2013, the most recent accounting. Tihar Central Jail No. 6, the women’s jail, had a capacity of 400, and a population of 615. Of the 615, 471 were awaiting trial. 77 percent of the women in Tihar were remand prisoners, and in the following year it only worsened. 75 percent of the men in Tihar were also awaiting trial. Last year, The Indian Police Journal noted, “Overcrowding in jails has become a normal feature now. For instance, the latest report on India’s largest jail (Tihar Jail) reveals that it has at present anywhere between 9,000-10,000 inmates as against its total capacity to accommodate around 3,300 prisoners. Consequently, no correctional activities can be carried on successfully under such circumstances.”

Overcrowding and paralysis are the new norm for Tihar. The Ministry of Home Affairs 2013 data confirms this. It reports that, at the end of 2013, 45 remand women prisoners were in Tihar with 47 children: “1,252 women undertrials with their 1,518 children were lodged in various prisons in the country at the end of 2013 … A large number of women undertrials … were lodged in women jails.”

None of this is new. That prison is a special hell for women across India is common knowledge, as is the particular hell designed for “released women prisoners”. Why is Tihar Jail criminally overcrowded? The courts are to blame, along with the police and the general public who care for a second and then move on to more dramatic issues. 612 women in Tihar Jail said NO to all of that: the criminal and universal neglect, the violation of their human rights and dignity, the assault on them as women. In the largest prison comlex in the largest democracy in the world, women said YES to justice and women’s power.


(Photo Credit: http://indiatoday.intoday.in)

England’s vicious assault on women awaiting trial

Around the world, people suffer the overuse of pre-trial detention. Too many people are kept for too long, often in violation of national Constitutions and laws. Second, too many people are kept in prison lock-ups, which are not equipped to handle diverse populations. This often means children are held with adults; men and women are held in the same space; remand prisoners and convicted prisoners are held together, and the list goes on. It’s a global crisis, and it’s getting worse by the day.

In England and Wales, this presumption of guilt has particular gendered aspects:

In England and Wales, about a third of men and half of women remanded to pretrial detention are poor enough to receive council housing benefits. … In England and Wales, half of men and two-thirds of women who were employed at the time of arrest lost their jobs as a result of their pretrial detention.”

While the ratios may not be shocking, they bear reflection. How does the so-called criminal justice system, and the State of which it is an ever-growing part, address the gender imbalance? How does the State respond to half of the women being in need of assistance and two-thirds of the women workers losing their jobs as a result of pre-trial detention?

A 2009 report noted that, in the preceding decade, the number of women in English and Welsh prisons had increased by 60%, compared to 28% for men. Much of this rise was due to revised sentencing rules, or better, the intersection of the State will-to-incarcerate and the political economic war on women. Here’s what that looks like.

Between 1997 and 2007, there was a 40% increase in the number of women in prison awaiting trial. In the same period, men prisoners awaiting trial decreased by 11%. More than 40% of women prisoners awaiting trial have attempted suicide at some point in their lives; for men that number is a little over 25%. Nearly two-thirds of women remand prisoners suffer from depression, a figure far higher than that of sentenced women prisoners. Half of all women on remand receive no visits from their family (for men, that number is 25%).

An earlier report by the Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales noted that, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, 65% of women had lost their jobs because of detention, and only 11% expected to have a job on release. This compared with 51% of men losing their jobs and 18% expecting to have a job upon release. Between 2000 and 2009, the numbers for women only worsened.

For decades, British public policy has wreaked havoc on women’s lives by eliminating mental health assistance, severely limiting housing and other forms of assistance, and increasing and intensifying “opportunities for arrest”. More women are arrested, held, receive little to no proper attention, receive little to no preparation for trial, lose their jobs, communities, support network, and, often, lives, and for what? Who has benefited from this decades long vicious assault on women’s lives? When innocence is gutted, who profits?


(Image Credit: Open Society Foundations)

In Zimbabwe, conditions are not favourable to women prisoners

In Harare today, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Law Society of Zimbabwe launched a joint research report, Pre-Trial Detention in Zimbabwe: Analysis of the Criminal Justice System and Conditions of Pre-Trial Detention. The conditions are infernal, evil, and lethal, but you knew that already. Over 100 human beings starved to death in Zimbabwe’s prisons last year. Prisoners like Rebecca Mafukeni died, or were killed, through malign neglect. Other prisoners confirm Yvonne Musarurwa’s description of Zimbabwe’s prisons as nightmare. Not nightmarish. Nightmare itself. In Zimbabwe, prison = death.

Thanks to direct and indirect political control of the police and the corrections system, the prisons are severely overcrowded. That’s why Robert Mugabe gave `amnesty’ to some 2000 prisoners a couple weeks ago. The presidential amnesty released all women prisoners, except those serving life sentences, and all juveniles. Terminally ill prisoners and elderly prisoners were also released. 505 women were promised release; three were left inside.

According to Female Prisoner Support Trust (FEMPRIST) director Rita Nyamupinga, “These women were caught up in criminal activities out of ignorance.” For example, somebody hid a gun allegedly used in a crime at one woman’s house, apparently unbeknownst to her. When found, she was sent to prison … for life. As so often occurs, around the world, the three women were abandoned, especially by male partners, once they went behind bars.

Today’s report adds remand prisoners to the picture. Thirty percent, one of three, residents of Zimbabwe’s prisons and jails are awaiting trial. They’re not guilty, and they’re not convicted. They’re just too poor or too despised by the regime to be allowed freedom. Despite a “strong legislative framework”, “excessive detention” goes hand in glove with administrative incompetence and political malfeasance

Whatever the causes, the lived reality is severely overcrowded, deadly prisons, housing close to 17,000 people, where some have waited for two months for their trials while others have waited eleven years. Eleven years a remand prisoner.

And for women: “Mlondolozi, Shurugwi and Chikurubi are the only fully fledged female prisons in Zimbabwe. All the other prisons have a section that has been set aside for women and the conditions are not favourable to female inmates. In particular, pregnant inmates are treated like any other female prisoner, without due recognition of their needs. After giving birth at public health facilities, they are returned to jail with their newly born babies – sometimes as young as a day or two old. Unfortunately, prison facilities are not designed to support the post-natal care of either the mothers or the babies. The plight of older children incarcerated alongside their mothers is also serious since there are no proper facilities to cater for their early childhood development needs because the ZPS does not have a budget line for such support.”

One former prisoner remembers, “It is inhuman and completely degrading for 17 women to be packed into a cell that does not even have a toilet. Particularly because by 4pm you are already locked up in the cell and it will only be opened in the morning between 6 and 7am. I think it is particularly inhuman to force those women to relieve themselves in little containers that they have each cut around.”

Zimbabwe’s prisons are designed to be destructive to fatal for pregnant women, indigent women, women with children, women living with HIV, women living with any chronic illness, women living with any disability, all women. Don’t release 500 only to replace them with 1000. Open the gates, tear down the walls, start anew.


(Photo Credit: Wits Justice Project)