England’s seclusion rooms form a landscape of atrocity and shame

In 2017, New Zealand banned schoolhouse seclusion rooms. On Friday, a report came out indicating that across England primary and secondary schools are routinely using “seclusion rooms”. The report suggested that both the scale and frequency of use is much higher than expected: “Many schools use them as part of an escalating set of disciplinary measures. Our research found over two-thirds of the country’s largest academy trusts have schools that use some form of isolation, although with varying labels from `inclusion units’ and `consequence booths’ to `time-out spaces’ and `calm rooms’.” The isolation cells are used from the first year. Primary school students can stay in for a day at a time; secondary school students can stay in for five consecutive days. The torture of solitary confinement clothed in the language of inclusion, consequence, time-out and calm is the lesson children across England – and Canada and the United States and beyond – are learning in an age of expanding and intensifying zero tolerance. While A Critique of Pure Tolerance once inspired a generation of activists to action, today we need A Critique of Zero Tolerance. We need it, and, even more, our children and grandchildren need it … now.

In August, a report noted that exclusion, or out-of-school suspension, was rampant in secondary schools across England. 45 schools suspended at least 20% of their students, with some schools topping 40%. In September, a follow up report noted the rampant use of isolation booths, variously referred to as “consequences rooms” or “internal exclusion.” The line from “internal exclusion” to alienation to abnegation to death-in-life to lifelong trauma is direct.

August, September, October, another month, another discovery … of a phenomenon taking place all over the country. Founded in 2013, the TBAP Multi-Academy Trust “supports learners who are experiencing difficulty with or have been excluded from mainstream education.” The people at TBAP Multi-Academy Trust know that seclusion rooms don’t work and, equally important, are bad for all children and all learners. Last year, TBAP Multi-Academy Trust Chairman of the Board Paul Dix wrote, “A room with isolation booths is the bleakest sign of an institution giving up. It shouts ‘we don’t know what to do’ at children who often don’t know what they’ve done wrong. Look around inside any isolation room where children are separated for long periods of time from the rest of the school, and I would lay good money that more than 80% of the children in there have additional needs. Some will have a diagnosed special educational need or disability, others will be struggling with hidden that are all too obvious to those who work with them every day: trauma, anxiety, attachment, grief, or plain old-fashioned neglect. The sins of the adult world are soaked up by a minority of children. Then we stick them in a booth and call it education. The booths are a shame on all of us, not the children who are forced to sit in them.”

How many more times must we “discover” that throwing children into seclusion rooms, no matter what they’re called, is wrong? Why do we need to discuss whether the rooms “work” or are too “costly”? What about the cost to children’s lives? What about the cost, as well, to the very concept of education? What does a child learn when exclusion is called inclusion, terror is called calm, and a war on childrenis called education? We should all be ashamed. Are we?

 

(Photo Credit: Cambridgeshire Live)

Jamaican Christine Case, 40, died on Sunday at Yarl’s Wood

Jamaican Christine Case, 40, died on Sunday at Yarl’s Wood. Nothing to be seen here; move along; just another Jamaican woman in Yarl’s Wood. “One more dead body behind the walls of Britain’s detention centres.” One more dead woman. That’s all.

Officially Christine Case died of a massive pulmonary thromboembolism, but fellow prisoners tell a different story. They say Christine Case was denied medical assistance. It’s also been claimed that local National Health Service doctors who offered assistance to distressed prisoners after Case’s death were turned away.

Serco runs Yarl’s Wood. Serco claims they have “24-hour, seven-day urgent medical cover on site at Yarl’s Wood.” And yet … Christine Case is dead.

Some say Christine Case called for help, as she was feeling severe chest pains, and that the `care’ she received was paracetamol, a mild analgesic for minor aches and pains. Not for severe pains, and especially not for severe chest pains.

Emma Mlotshwa, of Medical Justice, noted: “We are shocked but not surprised to hear of this tragic death. Any death in immigration detention is avoidable as immigration detention is optional. Our volunteer independent doctors have seen an alarming number of incidents of medical mistreatment. The only thing we are surprised about is that there have not been more deaths.”

People have questions. The immigration minister promises, yet again, yet another investigation.

Meanwhile, Yarl’s Wood is in lockdown. Yarl’s Wood is a house of women’s fear and women’s mourning … and women’s solidarity.

Four years ago, almost to the day, women prisoners, asylum seekers all, at Yarl’s Wood organized a massive hunger strike. 35-year-old Jamaican asylum seeker Denise McNeil was identified as a `ringleader’, moved to another prison, and placed in solitary. The Yarl’s Wood women hunger strikers took the calculus of violence and turned it on its head. They said they are better than that, they are women, fighters used to fighting, peacemakers used to making peace, and no one decides that it is right for them to be slaughtered.

The world paid attention … for a minute.

Twenty-one years ago immigration officers killed Jamaican Joy Gardner, 40, as her five-year-old son and her mother watched. What has changed since then? The killing now takes place behind walls and bars.

For some, the handling of women asylum seekers at Yarl’s Wood `puts the UK to shame.’ It does, but it does more than that. It shames the world, where this is the allotted fate for far, far too many women. Black women. Immigrant women. Women.  A woman died that night.

 

(Photo Credit: Handout / BBC)

Alabama’s shame is the United States’ shame

Last week, five women from Bessemer and Birmingham met outside the Hugo L. Black U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Birmingham. They look like a pretty diverse handful of women. They stood there, alone, with their children and their placards, and explained that they are all U.S. citizens, that their children are U.S. citizens, and that their partners are undocumented residents. They appealed to the better conscience and the better consciousness, not to mention the common sense, of the State and of the Court to overturn HB56. They explained that without their partners’ income, they would face desperate times: “If you don’t want to pay for our kids, repeal HB56.”

Quite a few women in Alabama are expressing similar concerns. Lana and Jamie Boatwright run a tomato farm on Chandler Mountain, in Alabama. The tomatoes are ready for picking, but the workers have fled, mostly to Florida where the fieldwork is better and, thus far, the laws are less hostile.

And it’s not just farmers who are suffering, already, from the culture of the law. Contractors, already squeezed by a deep and long recession, now can’t find workers. Teachers, school nurses and school systems report that the children are beginning to disappear. Foley Elementary School, with a 20% Latina/o population, already reports absences, withdrawals, and, even more, a climate of fear, sorrow, pain and suffering, trauma. Those are children. Not that it should matter but it needs to be said, those are children who are mostly U.S. citizens. What is the name for that curriculum, the one these children experience and study?

And the mothers are gathering and organizing, as they do. Mothers who are undocumented residents, like Trini, Erica Suarez, and so many others, are organizing power of attorney for their kids, should “the worst” occur. Mothers with proper papers or with citizenship, women like Rosa Toussaint Ortiz, are agreeing to take care of the children, should “the worst” occur. And activists, women like Monica Hernandez and Helen Rivas, promise to continue to take care of the women, men, children, not to forget, to continue the struggle.

The situation is shameful.

Alabama’s shame is the United States’ shame, and it has a familiar ring to it. What is the name of the shameful system that is emerging in Alabama? First, terrorize a racially or ethnically identified minority population. The terror did not begin with the passage of the law. The terror began with the first mention of its possibility. Then criminalize that population. Then put the “newly minted” criminals in prisons, and if those prisons could be private, as they will be in Alabama, all the better. Then, and here’s the kicker, when businesses, and in particular when farmers and contractors “discover” that the labor well has gone dry, provide them with prisoners, at rock bottom prices, of course. That’s what John McMillan, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, suggested. The State is looking into short- and long-term solutions to the labor problem and is feeling “optimistic.”

Optimistic?

What is the name of that system of shame that Alabama is dutifully re-enacting? Some call it slavery, and perhaps they’re right. What would you call that shame, that shameful system, which haunts the United States?

 

(Photo Credit: al.com)