In Scotland, what happened to Katie Allan? Death by omission of care

Katie Allan

In Scotland, in early March, Katie Allan, 20 years old, was arrested for drunk driving and convicted to 16 months in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution. Less than three months later, in early June, Katie Allan was “found dead” in her cell. On, October 4, William Lindsay, also called William Brown, was brought before a magistrate for possession of a knife, assault, and breach of peace. Although he was “flagged” as a suicide risk, William Lindsay was sent to the same Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution. Within 48 hours of arrival, on Sunday, William Lindsay was “found dead”. Now Katie Allen and William Lindsay lay in the same narrative ground, buried in expressions of “sympathy” and “tragedy”. William Lindsay was the fourth youth to commit suicide in Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution in two years. After Katie Allan’s death, absolutely nothing was done to ameliorate the situation. There was no tragedy. There is no tragedy in multiply redundant public policy. Katie Allan’s and William Lindsay’s families demand justice. We all should. We all should ask, “How many deaths will it take til we know that too many people have died?” How many deaths will it take til we know that too many children have been sacrificed … and for what?

Katie Allan studied geography at Glasgow University. One night, she drank way too much, got in her car, and went to drive home. On her way, she hit a 15-year-old-boy who was out for a run. She knocked him unconscious and left him in the middle of the road. When she appeared in court, she expressed great concern for the boy, great remorse for what she had done, and said she was ready for her punishment. She kept putting her hands before her, as if to accept handcuffs. Katie Allan was ready for justice. Katie Allan was also a young woman who self-harmed, often. Her parents told the authorities that Katie needed help. She got no help. Her parents say she was bullied and regularly subjected to strip searches. She never received any medical or psychiatric treatment. By the time Katie Allan was “found dead”, she had pulled out much of her hair.

This is not a tale of tragedy but one of horror. Why did no one in the system help this young woman, who obviously needed assistance? Why must the parents be the ones to advocate, during life and, even more, after death, for justice for their loved ones … and for the loved ones of others? How many suicides in custody does it take for an agency to recognize the peril?

On Friday of this past week, Scotland’s Justice Secretary announced that a “review would examine arrangements for young people with mental health issues entering custody, including the information available about their backgrounds, reception arrangements and on-going support and supervision while in custody.” Almost a full six months after Katie Allen was put into a suicidal situation. What would have happened if William Lindsay had not suffered the same death by omission sentence? How many deaths does it take?

On November 25, 2018, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, think of Katie Allan and all the women who have been sentenced to death by omission of care, all the women who have been knowingly sent to their deaths by throwing them into cells like so much trash and then waiting for the moment to “find them dead.” How many deaths does it take til we know?

William Lindsay

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Falkirk Herald) (Photo Credit 2: John Devlin / The Scotsman)

Scotland: 400 children tortured, buried in unmarked mass graves, and no crime was committed

Inside the orphanage

From 1864 to 1981, children were sent to the Smyllum Park Orphanage, in Lanarkshire, Scotland, where they were routinely tortured, sexually abused, and then dumped into unmarked graves. The orphanage was run by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent DePaul. The sisters who died received proper funerals, complete gravesite and headstone. Close to 12,000 children stayed, and suffered, in the Smyllum Park Orphanage. In 2003, two survivors, Frank Docherty and Jim Kane, found what they thought might be a mass grave of Smyllum. They pushed the Daughters of Charity for some answers. In 2004, the order responded that they thought 120 children had died in the orphanage. Frank Docherty and Jim Kane suspected those figures were low. They continued to push. Earlier this year, both Frank Docherty and Jim Kane died. This past Sunday, the BBC and Scotland’s Sunday Post published the results of a joint investigation, and they claimed over 400 children are buried in that gravesite. As of Tuesday, the police have said that there was no evidence of criminal activity, but they will continue to investigate any allegations. If the activity was not criminal, what then was it? Ordinary?

In 2013, Andi Lavery founded White Flowers Alba, a group that advocating for Smyllum Park Orphanage survivors. After reading through the death certificates gathered by the reporters, Lavery said, “Why should they be dying from starvation? Why should they be dying from treatable infections? Why should they be dying from beatings?” These are not “rhetorical” questions. Andi Lavery, and others, want answers.

Marie Peachey is now 54 years old. She, her brother Samuel and sister Brenda suffered the orphanage from 1964 and 1969. Marie Peachey has suffered ever since. In 1997, she went to the police with allegations of abuse, but they said it had happened too long before. In 2003, she tried to sue the Daughters of Charity, but was told, again, that the events had happened to distantly in the past. In 1998, Marie Peachey was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Today she says, “It is awful to think of all of those poor children buried and forgotten. We have endured years and years of secrets and lies about this and everything else that went on at Smyllum. The truth must come out. It was a horrible being there. I was routinely beaten.”

Theresa Tolmie-McGrane entered the Smyllum Park Orphanages in 1968. She was six years old: “Every child was beaten, punished, locked in a dark room, made to eat their own vomit and I would say that most of us had our mouths rinsed out with carbolic soap.” Theresa Tolmie-McGrane describes sexual abuse, physical violence and systematic psychological torture. One nun in particular tried to break the girl-child down: “She almost made it such that I didn’t get to university. She did everything she could to sabotage. I’ve never met someone who tried to destroy another person in such a systematic way. Thank God she didn’t succeed.” Theresa Tolmie-McGrane left the orphanage at 17, went to university, and today is a practicing psychologist in Norway.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry is investigating the case. From members of government to the Church and beyond, everyone is shocked at the tragedy. For decades, survivors have told their stories, to no avail. For decades, family relatives of those children demanded answers, to no avail. To their dying days, Frank Docherty and Jim Kane demanded what the White Flowers Alba demand: accountability, redress, and the restoration of dignity. Frank Docherty and Jim Kane died without seeing any of that.

This story hearkens to the story of Tuam, in Ireland, where infants and children born in the institution were ‘buried’ in septic tanks. From Tuam to Lanarkshire and beyond, people ask, “Who throws dead children into an unmarked grave?” Who? Everyone. In the process of modern `nation building’, some bodies have value and others have less than none and end up in trash heaps, septic tanks, unmarked graves. There was is no secret and there is no surprise here. The activity was not criminal, it was altogether ordinary.

 

(Photo Credit: Sunday Post)

Tomorrow Scotland finally demolishes Cornton Vale, its only women’s prison


This morning, Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, wrote, “Tomorrow sees a major milestone in the transformation of our justice system. We will begin the demolition of Cornton Vale women’s prison, a move that marks the next stage in our plans to ensure Scotland’s penal policy doesn’t just punish people who’ve committed crimes – important though that is – but helps deliver safer communities in the long term.” Cornton Vale is Scotland’s only women’s prison, and it has been a toxic hot mess for decades. Its destruction is welcome and long overdue.

Cornton Vale has been called the “vale of death”, due to its regularly high rate of suicide. Between 1995 and 1998, eight prisoners hanged themselves. Yvonne Gilmour hanged herself in 1996. So did Angela Bollan. Outcry and inquiry ensued. In 2001, in the span of a single week, Frances Carvell and Michelle McElvar hanged themselves. Outcry and inquiry ensued. In 2012, Sarah Mitchell was “found dead” in her cell. Outcry and inquiry ensued.

Outcry and inquiry, outcry and inquiry, the same drumbeat for more than twenty years. During that time, commissions found that the prison was overcrowded. Report after report decried the rising rate of women’s incarceration. Everyone seemed to agree that too many women were being thrown into prison. Meanwhile, Scotland’s women prison population rose by 120% since 2000. As of last year, Scotland “boasted” the second highest rate of female imprisonment in northern Europe. Spain’s number one.

Last year, a commission found that women at Cornton Vale were forced to use their cell sinks as toilets at night, because they had no access to proper toilets. It was just the latest scandal to mark the dismal history of Cornton Vale. Various commissions have described Cornton Vale as “not fit for purpose”; “wholly unacceptable in the 21st century”; “in a state of crisis”; “Victorian”; “a significant breach of human dignity”; “an unacceptably poor establishment”; “disgracefully poor”; and, as always, notorious.

After all the reports and deaths and harm, Scotland finally decided to shut Cornton Vale down. The first plan was to replace Cornton Vale with a larger prison, but cooler, evidence based heads prevailed, and that plan was dropped for another, an 80-bed prison, five regional 20-bed facilities, community sentencing and service, and much greater funding for mental health, drug abuse, counseling and more.

Cornton Vale is more than a “vale of death”, although that would have been enough. It was the vale of women’s slow and painful death and deaths. For the past two decades, Scotland  criminalized women’s lives and bodies and then, by unequal funding within the prison system, ensured that no one would leave unharmed. Tomorrow is a milestone. Cornton Vale will be demolished. Which women’s prison is next?

In the UK, disbelief haunts the asylum process for women

Two hundred years ago, poetic faith was described as “that willing suspension of disbelief.” At that point, a culture of disbelief meant folk cultures and fantasy were relegated to the dustbin of history by `the lettered classes.’ Today, disbelief sends women asylum seekers to prison. Progress?

In the United Kingdom, women asylum seekers encounter a “culture of disbelief.” When Asylum Aid looked into the situation of initial decision-making in women asylum seekers cases, they found that 87 percent were turned down at the first hearing. Why? The UK Border Agency agents didn’t believe the claims. 87 percent is high, but that’s actually not the higher math. 42 percent of the rejected claims were overturned on appeal. In fact, 50% were ultimately overturned. The over-all average for overturning rejected appeals is 28%. That means that women’s stories are discounted as lies, at least by the border agents who make the preliminary decisions.

And it gets worse. Women wait longer than men to hear a final decision. How do they live while waiting?

In Scotland, all asylum seekers receive free healthcare. This includes those whose claims have been rejected. This means women. First, women make up a proportionately large part of those appealing, post rejection. Second, addressing women’s health concerns and, even more, women asylum seekers’ health concerns by engaging with the women as autonomous persons helps bring them into the larger and everyday social world. It is part of a larger Scottish project of refugee integration. But Scotland is the exception. For the rest of the United Kingdom, for Westminster, the situation is toxic, lethal.

Asylum seekers do not need to labor under the additional burdens, or are they punishments, of isolation and desperation. And depression. The vast majority of women asylum seekers are fleeing sexual and physical violence. Add to that isolation and a dehumanizing process, and you have a perfect recipe for self-harm and worse.

What is the architecture of the culture of disbelief? Prison. Private prison, at that, such as Yarl’s Wood, run by Serco. The typical scenario for a woman asylum seeker is travel long distance, end up in an overcrowded room with tons of strangers, approach a person sitting, austerely, behind a glass, and then, in a loud enough voice to be heard by a bunch of people, tell him or her the story of how you were violated. And then suffer rejection, being called a liar. And then go to Yarl’s Wood … or some other prison.

Welcome to the so-called “culture of disbelief.” Welcome to `democracy’.

It’s not disbelief. It’s efficiency. If 87 percent of the storytellers are rejected, that’s because the judge isn’t listening. Anyway, it’s more efficient to reject 87 percent, even if half will be overturned. Think of the savings from those who don’t appeal and from those who appeal and don’t succeed. And then think of the profits generated through the incarceration of innocent women courageous enough to tell their stories to strangers, courageous enough to seek a better world, despite all odds. That’s extraction of value, of profit, from time, from flesh, from pain and suffering, from degradation, from women.

This system, this version of `democracy’, was established during the bubbly times, during the economically ascendant times … for some. What is coming, as the UK charges from efficiency to austerity, is predictable. More cuts. Cuts to legal aid. Cuts to health services. Cuts upon cuts.

What is needed is a national campaign of willing a suspension of the culture of disbelief. Call it …  democracy. Call it, as well, feminism.

 

(Photo Credit: Liverpool Antifascists)

Children are disappearing, into the night, into the fog

Children are disappearing. Sometimes spectacularly. Sometimes silently. Sometimes `without notice’. That children are disappearing is not new. Children asylum seekers and children of asylum seekers have been disappearing into detention centers in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Greece, and elsewhere. In Australia, imprisoned children of asylum seekers are disappearing into the tortured self mutilation that must serve as a kind of escape from their current everyday circumstances.  Children of incarcerated mothers are disappearing in South Africa, Scotland, the United States and elsewhere. Children in schools are disappearing into seclusion rooms, aka solitary confinement.  In the United States, children of undocumented residents are disappearing, shipped like so much baggage, back to Mexico and parts unknown, often on their own.  In Jamaica, girl prisoners disappear into prison fires that were altogether predictable and preventable.  None of this is new. We have discussed this and more before. The events are not new nor is the failure to take responsibility.

Children are disappearing. Sometimes spectacularly, sometimes silently, other times `without notice’.

In England, an inquest opens today. It’s the second time around for this inquest. It concerns the death in custody, in August 2004, of Adam Rickwood. Adam was 14 when he was found hanging in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, a private prison run by Serco, the same people who run Yarl’s Wood in the UK and all the immigrant detention centers in Australia, most notoriously Villawood.

When Adam Rickwood, who had never been in custody before, refused to go to his cell, he was `forcibly restrained’ with `a nose distraction’, a violent and invasive chop to the nose. Hours later, he was found dead, hanging, in his cell. At the first inquest, in 2007, the coroner refused to let the jury decide if the restraint constituted an assault.  It took thirteen years of struggle on the part of Adam’s mother, Carol Pounder, before the first hearing took place. Dissatisfied with the complete opacity of the system, she continued to push, and finally, finally a second inquest has been ordered. That starts today. Adam Rickwood would be thirty years old now.

Meanwhile, across England, there are 6000 children whose mothers are incarcerated, and, basically, no one officially knows their whereabouts. According to the Prison Advice and Care Trust, or PACT, they are “the forgotten children.”  According to PACT, the mothers of 17,000 children are in prison, and of those, 6000 are not in care nor are they staying with their fathers. They are `forgotten.’ Children are disappearing, some into the night, others into the fog.

At the same time, in Ireland, eleven unaccompanied children asylum seekers went missing last year.  Six have yet to be found.  Between 2000 and 2010, 512 unaccompanied children seeking asylum were `forgotten’. Of those, only 72 were ever found by the State. Forgetting children is not an exception, it’s the rule, when the children are children of color, children of asylum seekers, children of the poor, children in prison.  Children of strangers, children of neighbors are disappearing, into the night, into the fog.

In the United States, Phylicia Simone Barnes is a 16 year old honor student from Monroe, North Carolina. In December, she was visiting Baltimore, thinking of attending Towson University, a local university. Phylicia went missing on December 28. There has been little, very little, media attention, despite the efforts of family, the Baltimore Police Department, and the FBI to draw attention to this case.  Why? Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi thinks he knows the reason: “”I can’t see how this case is any different from Natalee Holloway. Is it because she’s African-American? Why?” When teenager Natalee Holloway disappeared, on holiday in Aruba, there was a `media frenzy.’ For Phylicia Simone Barnes, who is Black, there is fog. She is a forgotten child.

Christina Green was born on September 11, 2001, to Roxanna and John Green, in West Grove, Pennsylvania. She was one of the 50 Faces of Hope, faces of children born on that fateful day.  Like Phylicia Simone Barnes, Christina was a star student, an engaging child, bright, mature, `amazing’. She was killed on Saturday, in a volley of gunfire apparently directed primarily against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

What becomes of hope when a Face of Hope is lost? Children are disappearing, sometimes spectacularly, amidst blazing gunfire, sometimes through a policy of practiced omission and amnesia.  In the moment, the route of spectacle or silent lack of notice seems to matter. But in the end, they are all forgotten children, and they haunt the days and ways of our world.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC.co.uk)

Children of Incarcerated Mothers, or Albie Sachs haunts U.S. prisons!

Albie Sachs is a South African judge who haunts the U.S. prison system. Why? Because he is a decent human being, that’s why. He decided to listen to a woman colleague. He decided that primary caregivers of children should not be sent to jail. Here’s a version of the story:

“Albie Sachs…was fleetingly in the UK last week, primarily to tell the story behind the judgment he made in South Africa not to send a woman to prison because it would infringe the human rights of her three children.…

“Judges are the storytellers of the 21st century,” says 74-year-old Sachs….

At first sight, he had intended to throw out an appeal on behalf of Mrs M, who was facing four years in jail for up to 40 counts of credit card fraud that she had committed while under a suspended sentence for similar offences. “I remember drafting an extremely dismissive response. I said: ‘This doesn’t raise a constitutional question. She simply wants to avoid going to jail. She doesn’t make out a case, and her prospects of success are zero.’ “It was a female colleague…who insisted that the case be heard. She argued that the human rights of the accused woman’s children were not being looked at separately.

“She said: ‘There is something you are missing. What about the children? Mrs M has three teenage children. She lives in an area that we politely call fragile, an area of gangs, drug-peddling and a fair amount of violence. The indications are that she is a good mother, and the magistrate gave no attention to the children’s interests.’

“The minute my colleague spoke to me about the importance of the three teenage children of Mrs M, I started to see them not as three small citizens who had the right to grow up into big citizens but as three threatened, worrying, precarious, conflicted young boys who had a claim on the court, a claim on our society as individuals, as children, and a claim not to be treated solely as extensions of the rights of the mother, but in their own terms.”

As a result, Sachs created a legal precedent in 2007: a woman who otherwise would have gone to jail did not have to, because of her children’s rights. “We could have said the children’s rights must be considered but sent Mrs M to jail anyway, perhaps for a lesser term. But that would not have changed anything.”…

Although three judges dissented from the majority verdict, the precedent was set in South Africa that – at least in borderline cases – primary caregivers of children should not be sent to jail. And if the court decided to jail a primary caregiver, it had to take some responsibility for what happens to the children. “The court can’t simply say that she should have thought of that before she committed the offence, or that she can’t hide behind her children.”…

At the time he was drafting the judgment, Sachs did not know of any country that took the rights of offenders’ children into account, but he subsequently discovered that similar ideas were being framed in Scotland in a report by the then children’s commissioner, Kathleen Marshall. The report, Not Seen, Not Heard, Not Guilty, argues that the rights of offenders’ children to family life under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are systematically ignored by the court system. The report found that almost two-thirds of prisoners in the Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling had children under 18, but there was no provision to take their rights into account during sentencing.

“This was astonishing,” Sachs told the audience. “In a totally different legal system, in a totally different society, a conclusion was being reached that is almost identical. It showed that the time has come for new ways of thinking.””

Albie Sachs haunts the United States, home of “the incarceration generation”: “The chances of seeing a parent go to prison have never been greater, especially for poor black Americans, and new research is documenting the long-term harm to the children they leave behind. Recent studies indicate that having an incarcerated parent doubles the chance that a child will be at least temporarily homeless and measurably increases the likelihood of physically aggressive behavior, social isolation, depression and problems in school — all portending dimmer prospects in adulthood. “Parental imprisonment has emerged as a novel, and distinctly American, childhood risk that is concentrated among black children and children of low-education parents,” said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who is studying what some now call the “incarceration generation.” Incarceration rates in the United States have multiplied over the last three decades, in part because of stiffer sentencing rules. At any given moment, more than 1.5 million children have a parent, usually their father, in prison, according to federal data. But many more are affected over the course of childhood, especially if they are black, new studies show. Among those born in 1990, one in four black children, compared with one in 25 white children, had a father in prison by age 14. Risk is concentrated among black children whose parents are high-school dropouts; half of those children had a father in prison, compared with one in 14 white children with dropout parents, according to a report by Dr. Wildeman recently published in the journal Demography. For both blacks and whites, the chances of parental incarceration were far higher than they were for children born just 12 years earlier, in 1978.”

None of this is new, news or surprising. Cage the fathers, superexploit the mothers, forget the children. It’s simple. Put a nation of mothers behind bars, where too often there are no fathers or other guardians around and there is no public support, and you imprison the children. Where’s the surprise? Shackle pregnant women prisoners in labor and delivery, in the name of security. Are you surprised? This has all been said before. It’s common knowledge.

In South Africa, Albie Sachs acted. In Scotland, so did Kathleen Marshall. In the U.S., it’s time, it’s way past time, for similar action.

(Image Credit: http://childrenofprisoners.eu)