Australia’s “I can’t breathe” moment … or not

 


Last night, Australians watched in horror as the investigative journalism series Four Corners showed the torture and abuse of children in a so-called juvenile justice facility in the Northern Territory. The show opens: “The image you have just seen isn’t from Guantanamo bay…. or Abu Ghraib.. but Australia in 2015… A boy, hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone. It is barbaric. This is juvenile justice in the Northern Territory, a system that punishes troubled children instead of rehabilitating them – where children as young as 10 are locked up and 13 year olds are kept in solitary confinement. Most of the images secured by Four Corners in this investigation have never been seen publicly. They are shocking – but for the sake of these children who are desperate for the truth to be known, we cannot look away.” It may “shocking” but none of it is new. We have known all along.

At a number of points in the near hour-long documentary, children are heard to plead, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” To no one’s surprise, their pleas go unattended, or worse, their pleas incite the guards to further and more intense violence. From Staten Island to Berrimah, where the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre is located, “I can’t breathe”. Eric Garner haunts the world … to no one’s surprise.

To no one’s surprise, a majority of the children in the video and center are Aboriginal. To no one’s surprise, Indigenous incarceration in Australia is rampant.

To no one’s surprise, this very torture of Aboriginal children in custody had been reported, and largely ignored, last year. It takes a video to document the destruction of a child.

When indigenous leader Nova Peris was a Senator, she raised this very issue in Parliament, and now she asks, “How many more royal commissions do Aboriginal people have to get excited about? There was a lot of hope when the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody was done, yet barely any recommendations were implemented. In 1997, the Bringing Them Home report about children in out-of-home care gave us hope, but what actually happened there, if anything? No-one listened. These kids need rehabilitation, they don’t need torture: hate breeds hate, they need to know that there is life outside. Over the years people brushed these kids off, calling them ‘little bastards’. These are kids as young as 11 years old, how are they even thinking criminal activities. Let’s look at the underlying issues here.”

To no one’s surprise, the Indigenous Affairs Minister ignored earlier reports of abuse. They didn’t “pique” his interest.

So now, the Northern Territory Minister has been fired; the “shocked” Prime Minister has called for a Royal Commission; and the guards in the video are still guarding the very children they were taped abusing.

Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Eric Garner. The new Gulag Archipelago, same as it ever was. We all share Australia’s shame. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

 

(Image Credit: Fastcodesign) (Photo Credit: ABC Four Corners)

The time for concern is over. Shut Yarl’s Wood down today!

Last year, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded a report on Yarl’s Wood: “Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern … Yarl’s Wood is failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women held … We have raised many of the concerns in this report before. Pregnant detainees and women with mental health problems should only be held in the most exceptional circumstances.” Over the weekend, it was reported that the Home Office refused to reveal how many women have been raped or sexually assaulted because “disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests” of companies that run Yarl’s Wood. Serco runs Yarl’s Wood, and G4S provides Yarl’s Wood health services. Today, the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner demanded that the Home Office release information about the number of pregnant women held in immigration detention, which would mean primarily Yarl’s Wood. This demand comes after months of the Home Office refusing to answer questions, refusing to acknowledge that questions and requests have been made. When it comes to women, the only thing that counts is corporate and State profit. Mass produced illegality is big business, generally. The big business of women’s illegality has been secured in black sites in our backyards. Across the suburban spectrum of so-called liberal representative democracies, women asylum seekers are being renditioned.

Yarl’s Wood is filled with pregnant women, women trauma survivors, lesbian women, African women, women torture survivors, women seeking help, and it is as it has always been, a special “hell on earth” designed to torture precisely those women. Ira Putilova, a Russian LGBTQ activist who sought asylum in England and was thrown into Yarl’s Wood, reflected on the case of Prossie N, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist who was deported to Uganda: “We came and left, but Yarl’s Wood stayed and we should do something with it. Help people inside. … Because borders and detention centres should disappear and all homophobes and racists should be sent to the moon! Fuck them! Free Prossie N!”

Borders and detentions centers must disappear. This is the inhuman geography of purchased security, in which the State acts as nothing more than the bouncer at the door of the global club of “commercial interests.” The time for “concern” is over. Yarl’s Wood is a black site in which women are being abused in an ever growing infinite of ways. It is an abomination, and it is being replicated everywhere. Tear it down … now. Shut Yarl’s Wood and its fraternal order of detention centers across the “free world” today.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Establishment) (Photo Credit 2: BBC News)

Australia is NOT shocked by the routine torture of women asylum seekers on Nauru

Yesterday, Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru released a report, Protection Denied, Abuse Condoned: Women on Nauru at Risk. It’s a powerful, and all too familiar, description that ends with recommendations for Australia, guilty of waging a war on women, through a campaign of systemic sexual violence and torture. While gruesome and horrifying, none of this is new, and the Australian government is not shocked by the routine torture of women asylum seekers on Nauru. If anything, it’s proud of the system of routine, deterrent torture.

After briefly detailing the recent intensification of violence against women asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru, the report notes, “Ample evidence of the likely damaging impact of inde nite detention and lack of adequate health facilities on detainees was readily accessible when Labor reopened Nauru. For example, an Oxfam Report published in 2007 painted `a shocking picture of psychological damage for the detainees’ including mass hunger strikes, multiple incidents of self-harm and widespread depression and other psychological conditions. Oxfam may have been shocked, but this was already old news to those who had erected the Nauru adventure.

A page later, the report notes, “Stories of the sexual assault of women on Nauru both in the camps and in the community have been told in horrified whispers to trusted people. They are backed up by reports of shocking incidents.” Maybe ordinary people with a sense of conscience or humanity would find these incidents shocking, but, again, not the members of the Australian Parliament.

Repeatedly, the population was allowed to be shocked as long as its elected government refused the shock: “The Australian population had been shocked by vivid footage of the SIEV 221 carrying mainly Iranian asylum seekers foundering onto the jagged cliffs of Christmas Island in December 2010. More than 40 people died, including children and babies. In 2013, when Rudd was Prime Minister again, he announced that none of those detained in o shore centres would ever make it to Australia.”

In 2012, when an Expert Panel recommended the re-opening of offshore centers, “the refugee and human rights sector was visibly shocked.” The centers were re-opened.

There was no shock when one atrocity after another was reported, and there was no shock when the detention center and later the island itself became “a black site, with access to the island denied to the international media.” There can be no shock, given the purpose of Nauru. Nauru was set up as a dumping ground built on a legalistic nicety: “The detention centres on Nauru house women and children who arrived in Australia by sea seeking asylum after 19 July 2013 and who the Australian government has declared will not have their claims processed in Australia, nor will they be allowed to settle in Australia.”

The name for the policy that allows this toxic legerdemain is No Advantage. In 2001, Australia established offshore centers. In 2008, the Nauru center was closed. In 2012, under the No Advantage policy, the Nauru center was re-opened: “The basic premise was that asylum seekers arriving after 13 August 2012 would be given no advantage over those who waited for a humanitarian visa in a refugee camp overseas.” The result was predictable. Four years later, “No Advantage underpins the punitive offshore regime where even death by violence, death by medical neglect, rape of women and sexual abuse of children has not deterred either the current or the previous government from this policy.” No one is shocked.

None of this will come as a shock to members of the Australian Parliament. Letters and photographs detailing the attacks on women have been sent to every Member of Parliament and Senator. They know what is happening on Nauru.”

The report is harrowing as was the last and as will be the next. Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru has done great work here. Their recommendations to Australia are eminently sensible and familiar: obey the law; close Nauru and Manus Island; transfer everyone to Australia; invest in ending violence against women on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.

But no one is shocked by “a deliberate policy of sending women who have already been exposed to sexual violence to a place where they are exposed to further violence.” No one is shocked by the torment of women on Nauru. We need a new kind of report. Let the next report on the atrocities in the camps focus on the members of Parliament who are not shocked. Show the faces of members of Parliament as they yawn and roll their eyes at the stories of rape and torture. Include mirrors, because right now, no one is shocked by the routine torture of women asylum seekers on Nauru or anywhere else.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru) (Photo Credit 2: New Matilda / Refugee Action Coalition)

England built a special hell for children, Medway Secure Training Centre

In England, children are being sent into “secure training centres” where they are brutalized by staff. On Monday, the BBC aired an undercover report concerning Medway Secure Training Centre. The program showed children, girls and boys, aged 12 to 17, physically and verbally abused by staff, morning, noon, and night. The program also showed staff conspiring to conceal their misdeeds. While dismaying and heart wrenching, none of this is new or shocking. Physical, verbal and mental abuse amounting to torture is the norm in juvenile centers, and it’s not merely the actions of one or two staff members. Violence against children is State policy.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, responded to the BBC documentary: “Watching this programme made me cry. The deliberate cruelty against children was one of the most upsetting things I have seen in this country. Shocking also was the institutionalised fraud being perpetrated to cover up that abuse.”

Many have noted that Medway is managed by G4S. While certainly the contract with G4S should be rescinded and the money repaid, it’s not only Medway that is “rotten to the core.” It’s the entire institution of State and social responsibility for children. Behind institutionalized fraud lies institutional violence against children, and that, again, is State public policy. Whatever the reason that children end up in cages called “secure training centres”, the bottom line is that the State has decided they are to blame for everything that happens to them from here on out. That’s why deaths of children in custody, such as those of Adam Rickwood, 14 years old, and Gareth Myatt, 15 years old, in 2004, produce investigations and commissions of inquiry and then absolutely no change.

The United Kingdom has three kinds of institutions for “juvenile offenders”: secure children’s homes; secure training centres; and young offender institutions. Secure children’s homes actually look after the children’s welfare and well-being. They cost more than the “training” centers. In the past decade, the number of secure children’s homes has been cut, while the budgets for “training” centers has ballooned. This didn’t just happen. The State chose to send children into the night and fog of secure training, where it was widely known that “force”, call it violence, is used more often and more energetically. When children become training, what else can you expect?

So, what happens now? Some have said, “Enough is enough. We don’t need further reviews or vague promises that lessons will be learned.” Others have begun to describe a “collective shame”: “Far too often it’s children who have been abused and neglected from infancy – many of whom have mental health problems and learning difficulties, and are in need our protection – who end up incarcerated and written off. Worse still, many will experience violence and mistreatment while in prison, as recent reports of abuse by staff at G4S-run Medway secure training centre in Kent show. And Medway, exposed by Panorama, which led shadow home secretary Andy Burnham to call for G4S to be stripped of its youth prisons contract, is far from an isolated case.”

Where there is no collectivity, there is no collective shame. Where there is no memory, there is never enough. The commissions will not produce more secure children’s homes. They will rename secure training centers, relocate them, paint the walls a pastel `soothing’ color, and continue to torture children. England built a special hell for children, and Medway Secure Training Centre is not its name. It’s name is England.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC / PA)

Tell the US to stop sentencing children to life without parole!


The United States stands alone in the world in sentencing children to life without the possibility of parole. Life without the possibility of parole is torture, but for children it’s a special hell. For girls, it’s worse. That’s the takeaway of this week’s report by Juan E. Méndez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In his report, Juan Méndez “explores the international legal framework and standards protecting children deprived of their liberty from being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment and from experiencing developmentally harmful and torturous conditions of confinement. He also examines specific statutes and standards applying to prevent torture and ill-treatment of children deprived of liberty, and shortcomings in the practical implementation of legal standards.”

The report references girls’ need for access to gynecologists and education on women’s health; and their need for autonomous space, separated from boys as well as adults. The recommendations include respecting the heightened vulnerability of girls, as well as minority children, children living with disabilities, and migrant children. For migrant minority girls living with disabilities, the vulnerabilities are off the chart. In his last recommendation concerning treatment of children in detention, Méndez singles out girls, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children, and children with disabilities.

The report notes, “Children in detention should be provided throughout the day with a full programme of education, sport, vocational training, recreation and other purposeful out-of-cell activities. This includes physical exercise for at least two hours every day in the open air, and preferably for a considerably longer time. Girls should under no circumstances receive less care, protection, assistance and training, including equal access to sport and recreation.”

And here is the heart, and heartlessness, of the matter: “Girls deprived of their liberty are at a heightened risk of sexual violence, sexual exploitation and underage pregnancies while in detention. The risk of sexual abuse is greater when male guards supervise girls in detention. Girls deprived of their liberty have different needs not only to those of adults but also of boys. Girls in detention are often not only children but also carers, either as mothers or as siblings, and have specific health, hygiene and sanitary needs. Across the globe, girls are rarely kept separately from women in pretrial and post-conviction settings. Similarly, the Special Rapporteur notes that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children are at a heightened risk.”

Imagine that that daily “heightened risk” and intensified vulnerability form the visible, pre-ordained and immutable arc of your life. That is the policy practiced by the United States, alone in the world, and it’s designed for Black children. When it comes to girls, and particularly to Black girls, it’s designed for those whose vulnerability is already a matter of State practice. 80 percent of girls and nearly half of all children sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole have been physically abused. 77 percent of girls and 20 percent of all youth lifers said they have been sexually abused. This is the algebra of torture, cruelty, inhumanity, and degradation. Children sentenced to life without possibility of parole are the child soldiers of the United States. What exactly is the war being waged?

(Photo Credit: TakePart.com)

Black women prisoners still haunt International Women’s Day

Around the world, women of color, Black women, Aboriginal women languish in solitary confinement. Many die there. Their numbers grow incrementally by the day. BobbyLee Worm, an Aboriginal woman prisoner in Canada, refused to become another abject statistic of prison morbidity and mortality.

In 2006, BobbyLee Worm, 19 years old, entered Edmonton Institution for Women. Shortly after, she was moved to Fraser Valley Institution. The Fraser Valley Institution described itself as “a multi-level facility for women … Programs focus on the particular needs of women offenders, including Aboriginal inmates and those with psychological problems or learning disabilities.”

One of these particular programs was called Management Protocol. Established in 2005, Management Protocol was “a special program for handling women prisoners who have been involved in a major violent incident or threat of incident while in the system.” By 2011 seven women prisoners had been on Management Protocol. All seven were Aboriginal women.

Management Protocol was indefinite and unregulated solitary confinement. Twenty- three hours a day for as long as the prison deemed `adequate’ and `necessary.’ How did one leave Management Protocol? One earned one’s way out. To this day, how one earned an exit visa remains a mystery.

BobbyLee Worm entered prison June 7, 2006. She was a first time offender, sentenced to six years, four months. She spent more than three and a half years in solitary confinement: 23 hours a day in a cell 10 by 8 feet, with no meaningful human contact. For months on end. She was 19 years old.

With the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, or BCCLA, BobbyLee Worm sued the State for violation of her constitutional rights. Two days after the lawsuit was filed, BobbyLee Worm was removed from Management Protocol. Soon after, the Correctional Service of Canada, or CSC, announced it would shut down the Management Protocol program. In May 2013, BobbyLee Worm and the Canadian prison state settled the suit out of court. According to all reports, BobbyLee Worm was pleased with settlement.

This is a story of State investments and of women’s resistance and refusal. Who was BobbyLee Worm? According to her former attorney, “She was a teenage runaway living on the street, she was addicted to drugs, she was a survivor of serious childhood abuse and trauma and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and from depression. She had never had the opportunity to have any sort of trauma or abuse counselling, which she desperately needed. And the response of corrections was to subject BobbyLee to one of the harshest and most psychologically damaging punitive measures that they have available to them. And I think BobbyLee’s story is, sadly, not atypical. This happens to hundreds of prisoners across the country every day.”

This happens to hundreds of prisoners across the country every day, and in particular to Aboriginal women and girls.

What was the Management Protocol? For the CSC, it was a major commitment: “When the protocol was designed in 2003, experts advised the CSC that it was illegal. CSC leadership implemented it anyway. In 2008, the Office of the Correctional Investigator recommended that the program be rescinded, and CSC’s own review agreed that the protocol was dysfunctional. But it was only when the BCCLA filed suit that the CSC cancelled it … The law that allowed the management protocol remains on the books.”

The CSC wanted Management Protocol … badly. It wanted cages for young Aboriginal women, especially those desperately in need. Aboriginal women, Black women, women of color who live with that kind of desperate need are told they owe a debt to society, and prison is not enough. They must go into the hole, they must be tortured.

After the settlement was announced, BobbyLee Worm explained, “There were times when I lost all hope. Solitary confinement does one thing. It breaks a person’s will to live. Being locked up like that you feel like you’re losing your mind. The only contact with another human is through a food slot. Days turn into nights and into days and you don’t know if you’ll ever get out.” Debra Worm, BobbyLee’s mother, commented, “As a mother, that’s the worst feeling in the world to know your child is being broken apart but not being able to do anything to save her.”

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada recently filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the laws governing solitary confinement. Sunday, March 8, 2015, is International Women’s Day. In 2011, Black women prisoners haunted International Women’s Day. In 2015, they still do. And next year?

 

(Image Credit: Erin Marie Konsmo, Media Arts Justice and Projects Coordinator, Native Youth Sexual Health Network)

Campsfield House: And torture survivors should not be detained

According to a report released today by HM Chief Inspectorate of Prisons: Report on an unannounced inspection of Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, prison is a bad place for children and survivors of torture. Compared to last year’s inspection of Harmondsworth, a real hellhole, Campsfield House is ok: “Overall, this was a very positive inspection. Staff and managers at Campsfield House should be congratulated in dealing professionally and sensitively with detainees who were going through what, for many, was a difficult and unhappy time. However, whatever the strengths of the centre, detention should not be used for children, victims of torture or anyone for unreasonable lengths of time. Further improvements to national processes are required to ensure this does not happen.”

Ian Dunt, who follows UK prison matters, responded, “Britain detains torture victims. It is happening in even the best-run and most conscientious detention centres. It is in the small print of the positive inspection reports. It is starting to become a truism – a moral inconvenience, the pothole of the human rights world.” The BBC focused on the detention of children. No one, as of yet, has focused on “unreasonable lengths of time.”

The key phrase is “national processes.” Campsfield House may have a fine staff, although there was last year’s hunger strike and the prison’s brutal response. Whether or not the conditions have improved, one imagines today’s prisoners repeating last year’s prisoners: “We want our freedom. We want our life with dignity.”

Freedom and dignity for asylum seekers is not part of “national processes,” not at the bleak hellhole of Harmondsworth or at the pastel hellhole of Campsfield House.

Consider Rule 35. According to the Home Office, “Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001 sets out requirements for healthcare staff at removal centres in regards to any detained person: whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued detention or any conditions of detention; suspected of having suicidal intentions; and for whom there are concerns that they may have been a victim of torture.”

For whom there are concerns that they may have been a victim of torture. There’s the rub, because no one with any authority is concerned. The Rule is clear, and its application is laid out in great detail, and none of that matters. Here’s Rule 35 at Campsfield: “Many [Rule 35 reports] merely repeated the detainee’s account and failed to provide a medical opinion, for example, on the consistencies between scarring and alleged methods of torture. Caseworkers’ responses were prompt, although sometimes dismissive, while others did not comply with Home Office policy. In two separate cases, a doctor stated that a detainee might have been the victim of torture but caseworkers maintained they should remain in detention stating that this would not impact on the detainee’s health; the impact on their health was irrelevant as Home Office policy is not to detain torture survivors. In another case, a caseworker maintained that a person should remain in detention because he ‘did not mention being tortured during your screening interview ….’ “

The Inspectorate recommends, “The Home Office should ensure that the rule 35 process provides vulnerable detainees with adequate protection. The reports should include a clinical opinion wherever possible, caseworkers’ responses should address detainees’ vulnerability and torture survivors should not be detained.”

The Home Office has no interest in ensuring protection for the vulnerable immigrant or migrant. The Home Office feels that such protections are a waste of time and money. In 2013, the Home Office was forced by the High Court to pay compensation to torture survivors for the abuse they had endured in “immigration detention centres.” The abuse was the systemic violation of Rule 35. Did anything improve after that? No.

In 2014, Women for Refugee Women documented the rampant violation of Rule 35 in Yarl’s Wood and elsewhere. In 2012, Medical Justice detailed the extensive, systemic violation of Rule 35, and its impact on immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers who are survivors of torture. Throughout this period, researchers have studied the role of doctors in investigation, prevention and treatment of torture; health care for immigrant detainees; and the health implications of the state of immigration detention centres in the UK. They all found that systemic violation of Rule 35 leaves those who have somehow managed to survive torture to fend for themselves behind bars. Has anything improved as a result of the research? No.

Instead, the Home Office has responded by tightening the screws. What’s the difference between last year’s horrible Harmondsworth and this year’s not-so-horrible Campsfield House: “Routine searches of detainees’ rooms were unnecessary. Strip-searches and handcuffs were only used when justified.” We are the people who demonstrate our sense of justice, compassion and humanity by seizing those torture survivors who have struggled to move beyond the violence and throwing them into cages where strip-searches and handcuffs are used only when justified.

 

(Photo Credit: Campaign to Close Campsfield)

Trauma and violence have become the global school curriculum

 

Paballo Seane, 19, was buried recently: “Paballo Seane, 19, a Grade 12 pupil at Cefups Academy, which is on a farm 11km outside Nelspruit, died in hospital over a week ago after allegedly being sjambokked by a teacher. She was buried on Saturday in her home town, Bloemfontein, in the Free State.”

Since Paballo Seane died, or was killed, former students of the Cefups Academy have reported their memories of sjamboks as a fairly regular “pedagogical tool.” Parents are threatening to take their children out of the school, and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza has said if corporal punishment was used, the academy will be closed.

Will it be closed?

This is not the first time Cefups Academy has run into precisely this trouble. In 1999, Simon Mkhatshwa, the school’s founder, was convicted for sjambokking a teacher.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana, a graduate of Cefups Academy, describes Simon Mkhatshwa as a “typical traditional man who believed that what must happen at school was teaching and learning and nothing else”.

Is the sjambok teaching, learning, or nothing else?

The violence done to Paballo Seane in school by a staff member is no anomaly, neither in South Africa nor around the world.

Across the United States, schools use so-called seclusion rooms, which are solitary confinement cells. Teachers are not supposed to use the rooms for punishment, but they do regularly. More often than not, the children believe that their punishment was not apt and normal, because teachers are fair and just. And so they don’t tell their parents. Not surprisingly, the majority of children are living with disabilities.

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven? No longer.

And in India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights “has written to state government to make it mandatory for teachers to sign an undertaking against torture to students.” This is due to a spike over the last two years in complaints of torture of students by school staff.

Teachers need to sign a document that says they will not “undertake” the torture of students?

The gender dynamic of staff violence has yet to be studied conclusively. What is known is that the experience is traumatic, hurts deeply and lasts forever. Trauma and violence have become the global curriculum.

Last week, Kathleen Dey, of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, urged South Africans not to use Women’s Day, August 9, as an alibi for hiding from precisely violence against women. This week, on August 12, the world `celebrated’ International Youth Day. Think of that, and think of Paballo Seane dying under the lash of a sjambok. Think of the girls across South Africa, the United States, India and around the world who suffer violence in the one place that is meant to help precisely girls advance in this world and the next: school. Remember Paballo Seane and all the girls, and then do something.

 

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, very different version can be found here. Thanks to Kathleen Dey and all the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)

(Photo Credit: Lowvelder)

How many women are forced to give birth in solitary confinement?

We the people must be persuaded that no child should be born in a solitary confinement cell. We the people must be persuaded that no woman should have to give birth while in solitary confinement. Who are we? We are the United States of America. In this man’s land, pregnant women prisoners have less than no reproductive justice or rights. Instead of care, they receive neglect and abuse that crosses over into torture.

Last week, Nicole Guerrero filed a lawsuit against the Wichita County Jail, in Texas, and others for having forced her to give birth in solitary. The baby died. It’s a terrible story, and it’s an increasingly common one. While much of the focus has been, and will be, on the details of the case, consider as well the larger, national framework. Nicole Guerrero is not an exception. She is the face of the everyday violence against women, and in particular against pregnant women, in the prisons and jails of the United States.

Last year, in response to the Pelican Bay hunger strike in California, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, found nearly 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, although the numbers are difficult to determine. He urged the United States to suspend prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement and to consider the rights and needs of the vulnerable: “I urge the US Government to adopt concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances, including an absolute ban of solitary confinement of any duration for juveniles, persons with psychosocial disabilities or other disabilities or health conditions, pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers as well as those serving a life sentence and prisoners on death row.”

Pregnant women, women with infants, breastfeeding mothers: these are the most recent targets of mass incarceration, those charged with “fetal endangerment.” As charges against pregnant women both rise and intensify, more and more pregnant women are going into the prison system, and the vast majority end up in local and county jails, or in State prisons, like the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama. Inevitably, more women will undergo childbirth in solitary, and more children will be born in solitary.

When Delegate Mary Washington, of Baltimore, first heard of a pregnant woman prisoner, en route to the hospital, being shackled, she said, “Wait. What? What do you mean … shackled?” The woman telling herthe story explained she meant exactly what she said. Pregnant women prisoners, women prisoners in childbirth, are routinely shackled. It’s part of the new normal.

Nicole Guerrero is a signature of the next phase of that new normal. She is neither anomaly nor exception, and despite her pain, anguish and suffering, she is not the stuff of high drama. The national history of infamy is not made up of tragedy, but rather an endless series of ordinary episodes that combine to form normalcy. Our normalcy. We are the people who demand to be persuaded that there’s something wrong with a system that forces women to go through childbirth while in solitary confinement. We are the people who demand to be persuaded that the destruction of women is a bad thing. Remember that.

 

(Photo Credit: guardianlv.com)

The ordinary everyday torture of schoolchildren

Trevon Hanks

Everyday, across the United States, children leave home and go off to school, where they are routinely tortured. It’s the price of running an efficient country.

Across the United States, school systems are being charged with Taser abuse of children, and especially of children of color and children living with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Wake County, North Carolina, for violation of students’ constitutional rights. Eight students are named in the complaint. They’re all Black. The violation consists of overly high rates of arrest and use of extreme violence, including use of Tasers, pepper spray, and choke holds.

In Syracuse, New York, two students and the New York ACLU are charging the school system with similar violations. In the case of one student, Trevon Hanks, his crime was breaking down and crying. Hanks had been out of school for medical reasons, and had tried to make up for lost time. On his eighteenth birthday, he found out that he would not graduate on time, and he broke down, literally. Crying, in a near fetal position on the floor, the school police came and assaulted him, including using a Taser. As in North Carolina, the stories are the tip of an iceberg.

The iceberg extends beyond this school system or that.

In Texas last year, Noe Niño de Rivera was Tasered by two school police officers. Niño de Rivera collapsed, fell to the floor, and suffered severe brain hemorrhage. After 52 days in induced coma, Niño de Rivera is not expected to fully recover … ever. Staff can’t use Tasers in juvenile detention, but in the school corridors, it’s all good.

In Wisconsin, students, parents, advocates struggle with a system-wide over reliance on seclusion rooms and physical restraint. In Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, students, parents, advocates continue to struggle with the aftermath of the “kids for cash” regime, in which thousands of children were sent off to juvenile detention, and sometimes adult prisons, for minor, and status.

In Santa Ana, California, a 14-year-old boy was tagging a tree with graffiti, when a police officer happened by. The officer jumped on the boy, who called out for help. The officer put the boy in a chokehold. The boy continues to cry out for help. “Stop fighting me,” shouted the officer. “I’m not fighting you,” replied the boy. Witnesses called on the officer to stop. One witness, Elvia Fernandez, tells the boy, in Spanish, “Relax. Don’t move.” The officer shouts at her to stop speaking in Spanish.

Seclusion rooms. Tasers. Choke holds. Harassment. Intimidation. Much of this is directed at students of color and at student living with disabilities. On one hand, the school system has always bullied its minorities. Some must learn to accept their roles as the persecuted. But there’s more. School systems invest in `scientific’ seclusion rooms and `technologically advanced’ Tasers. School police are trained in the most efficient ways to disable an offender.

What is lost in this porridge of science and technology? Children. Some children, by their very presence, impede the efficient engine of education. They must be punished, and they are. They must be tortured, and they are, across the entire nation.

 

(Photo credit: NYCLU)