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)