Women on community sentences are being failed by the system

Hayley, a former offender, worked for the St Giles Trust’s Wire project, which proved highly effective at helping women prisoners resettle after release from jail. Funding for the project ended March 2015.

The last big change put in place by Chris Grayling still standing is the break up of the 100 year old successful probation service. The impact on women has been catastrophic and something needs to be done urgently to change the system to protect women.

Women given a short prison term now have to be handed over to private companies to supervise them for a year after their release. This didn’t happen until Grayling unnecessarily added it to everyone given a short prison sentence. Some will argue that it was introduced to help and support women, and men, but as I far as I can see it is doing neither, it just punishes them for longer and sets them up to fail. We are already seeing hundreds of people being returned to prison for failing to obey the strictures imposed by the community rehabilitation companies (there is an oxymoron for you).

Many more women are given a community sentence but they too are being failed.

Baroness Corston and I went to see Simon Hughes when he was (briefly) the prisons minister to urge him to make sure that women’s centres were funded as part of the privatisation of probation. He didn’t. The consequence has been that women’s centres have had their funding cut by the private companies and some have withdrawn from delivering justice services completely because it was no longer financially viable.

I have seen a letter from the minister responsible for equalities and justice, Caroline Dinenage, clearly stating that women are being short-changed in the new landscape.

She admits that the capital coming from the sale of Holloway will not benefit women but will sink into the building of huge new prisons for men.

She admits that CRCs do not have to fund women’s centres or provide women only services. In fact, the cut-rate contracts and payment by results model pushes the CRCs to do everything on the cheap and that means getting as many people as possible processed through the system as they can. Group work is the way they do it. It is totally unsuitable, and possibly dangerous, to place a lone woman in a group of men to deal with offending behaviour which I fear is what will happen to women in rural areas and small towns where there simply are not enough women to form a group.

Anyway, group work is not appropriate for many very vulnerable women. The success of women’s centres has been to care for women as individuals. It works, as the Ministry of Justice research and evaluations show.

These years of expertise and experience of successful working with the few women who commit crimes is being lost.

The CRCs are not caring for women properly and safely; they are too expensive.

The only route out of this morass is to take women out of this structure completely.

I suggest we look at having a national system for managing women in the penal system including on community sentences. The CRCs would probably welcome having no more responsibility for managing the handful of women in their area and a national service, or the probation service, could resurrect the centres of excellence and good practice.

I would be all part of a chipping away at the muddle that is ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ that over coming years is likely to implode anyway. Let’s rescue women first.

 

(This piece first appeared on Frances Crook’s blog. The original is here. Thanks to the Howard League for Penal Reform for allowing us to share this.)

(Photo Credit: Martin Godwin / The Guardian)

Patriarchy never fails women; patriarchy always assaults women. #PatriarchyMustFall

In the news this week: in Cambodia rape victims have been “failed” by the so-called justice system; South Africa’s justice system is “failing” women; the United Kingdom “fails” women who suffer from domestic violence; and the United States’ program of mass incarceration fails all women, particularly women of color. The only problem with these “failures” is that they are successes. They are part and parcel of the public policy of patriarchy-as-nation-State. The State does not fail women; the State assaults women.

One of every twenty women in the world lives in the United States. One of every three women prisoners in the world is currently in a United States prison or jail, and that figure does not include immigrant detention centers. Globally, the 25 jurisdictions with the highest rate of female incarceration are 24 individual states and the District of Columbia. West Virginia tops that list, imprisoning 273 out of 100,000 women. There is no failure here. There is a decades long campaign to cage and otherwise brutalize women, and particularly women of color, all in the name of `protecting’ not only Society but also the women themselves.

In Cambodia, LICADHO, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, released a report yesterday that documented the massive “failure” of the State to address rape: “LICADHO’s monitors report that it is usually the result of a failure by police to respond to reports by victims, and in some cases, of suspects being tipped off by police that a claim has been made against them … This report brings to light the immense failure of the Cambodian justice system to properly investigate and punish cases of sexual violence against women and children. The reasons for this failure are many: corruption, discriminatory attitudes towards women and girls, misinterpretation of the law, and lack of resources all combine to perpetuate and entrench a system in which impunity prevails.

“The report has focused on the failures of the justice system rather than on the experience of individual victims; it must not be forgotten that at the centre of all the cases discussed there were women and children who had experienced a terrifying and violent attack resulting in psychological and often physical trauma. The failure of the criminal justice system to punish their attackers compounds their experience of abuse and perpetuates the harm they suffer. Moreover, every failure to punish reinforces existing public mistrust of the Cambodian justice system and conveys the message that rape is not an offence that will be treated seriously; it not only lets down the victims concerned but reduces the likelihood that future victims will take the risk of reporting the crimes committed against them.”

There is no failure in Cambodia. Police refuse to respond. The State refuses to put women and children at the center. We hear similar reports from South Africa, where the justice system fails “to adequately address gender based violence since the impunity of men as rapists is tacitly accepted.” Likewise, in the United Kingdom, when the State proposes to cut or almost eliminate domestic violence services, we are told, “The current government is failing women.”

There is no failure here. The State seeks to reduce women’s autonomy and dignity, and thereby extract ever more value, all of which accrues to men’s power, stature, wealth and pleasure. None of this is new. It’s the oldest play in patriarchy’s rulebook. Stop calling structural violence against women “failure.” Call it violence against women, and stop it. #PatriarchyMustFall

 

(Photo Credit: EPA / Kim Ludbrook / Daily Maverick)

Why the number of prisoners committing suicide rose so sharply last year

 

Last year, prison suicides in England and Wales reached a seven-year high, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform, the Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, and the House of Commons Justice Committee. For all three, this dubious accomplishment parallels cuts in prison staff, harsher prison regimes, and various `efficiencies’ imposed across the so-called justice system. Add to that cuts in public health and housing services. Austerity kills.

The Ombudsman’s most recent report, Learning from PPO Investigations: self-inflicted deaths of prisoners – 2013/14, found a 64% increase in self-inflicted deaths in custody over the previous year. While that number captured a bit of attention, here’s a paragraph that many overlooked: “There were self-inflicted deaths at 53 different prisons, 56% more than the previous year. This included prisons where there had not been self-inflicted deaths for many years, sometimes ever.” Under austerity measures, the Empire of Prison Suicides has expanded rapidly and hungrily.

The Empire has expanded both geographically and demographically. Who are the ones who perished `at their own hands’? “In 2013/14, the prisoners who died were significantly less likely to have been convicted or charged with violent and sexual offences. There was also a significant increase in deaths among those serving short sentences of less than six months.”

Most of the prisoners who committed suicide were in their first month of custody. More had spent less than two hours out of their cell in the days before their deaths. Not `hardened’ nor `violent’ nor `in for long’. In other words, more or less ordinary people.

Frances Cook, Executive Director of the Howard League, noted, “No one should be so desperate whilst they are in the care of the state that they take their own life. The numbers hide the true extent of misery inside prisons and for families. It is particularly tragic that teenagers and other young people have died by their own hand in our prisons and we should all be ashamed that this happened.”

The tragedy is in the deaths, not the ages, and we should indeed all be ashamed. The State is not ashamed. As a Justice Committee report last week noted, “The prison system in England and Wales has one of the highest incarceration levels in Europe, standing at 149 per 100,000 people.” The report noted that when Justice Secretary Grayling was presented with the rising tide of suicide, his response was to blame society. On the question of suicides, the Justice Committee report concluded, “The Ministry told us they had looked hard for evidence of factors which could be causing an increase in suicide rates, self-harm and levels of assault in prisons. Worryingly, they had not managed to arrive at any hypothesis as to why this has taken place. In our view it is not possible to avoid the conclusion that the confluence of estate modernisation and re-configuration, efficiency savings, staffing shortages, and changes in operational policy, including to the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, have made a significant contribution to the deterioration in safety.”

We should all be ashamed, and we should all be worried, worried about States that have looked and refuse to see, refuse to see unavoidable conclusions and, even more, refuse to see the humanity in each of us. Global leaders of incarceration, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, have gained their ascendancy by stuffing more and more people into prisons and jails, and then expressing shock and dismay when the conditions of confinement push prisoners to self-harm and suicide. A war on crime turns whole populations into `a problem’ and entire neighborhoods into lands belonging to no one. It’s a kind of genocide by erasure.

In the United Kingdom last year, almost all those prisoners who killed themselves did so by hanging. They turned the belittling spectacle of their erasure into one last spectacle of sacrifice. While the State spokespeople express dismay, and the State accountants chalk it up as another efficiency, the various gods of justice and humanity look on and weep.

 

(Image Credit: rs21.org.uk)

UK uses destitution and violence to `protect’ women domestic violence victims

 


In London last week, the Joint Committee on Human Rights presented Parliament with its report, Violence Against Women and Girls. As before, the report is grim, in particular when it comes to State inaction vis-à-vis domestic violence. The authors of the report describe themselves as troubled and concerned, especially about women asylum seekers and refugees: “We heard particular concerns regarding victims with insecure immigration status, asylum seekers or refugees. These women and girls are often overlooked. Immigration policy is developed separately from policy about violence against women and girls. We urge the Government to address the gap in service provision for women with insecure immigration status and to review the use of the detained fast track process for victims of violence against women and girls.”

The abusive treatment of women asylum seekers who are in abusive relationships is State policy, not the error of overworked or unimaginative staff members. “The gap in service provision” and “the use of the detained fast track process” are not oversights. They achieve their intended goals: render efficiencies at the expense of women whose lives mean less than nothing to the State: “Throughout our inquiry we have heard about the experiences of a wide range of different groups of women including those with particular needs, for example women seeking asylum or refugees, women with learning difficulties, women from black and minority ethnic communities and women from communities of belief or religion.”

The treatment of women asylum seekers and refugees in abusive relationships in the UK is in direct opposition to the treatment of women in post-disaster zones: “We are concerned that, during the time it takes for a spouse suffering from violence to regularise their immigration status, they are very often left facing destitution or having to remain in a violent relationship. We find it worrying that current Home Office policies leave people destitute during the asylum and immigration process and that this in itself leads to women being at a greater risk of being a victim of violence. This is in contrast to funding being provided by the Department for International Development to post-disaster zones which looks specifically to address such survival strategies used by women.”

In other words, what’s good for Darfur is no good for Dover. Why is that?

To answer that, the report analyzes the fast track detention system; the culture of disbelief; and the lack of gender sensitivity; and concludes: “Despite the Minister’s assurances, we are disturbed by the evidence we received that the routine use of male interpreters, the operation of fast-track detention system and the reported culture of disbelief within the Home Office all result in victims suffering further trauma whilst seeking asylum or immigration to the UK. We find this unacceptable.”

We find this unacceptable. “This” is the systematic behavior and public policy of the State. The report has been described as demonstrating a failure: “UK failing to protect female domestic violence victims”; “Trapped with your abuser: How the Home Office fails domestic violence victims.” The Home Office didn’t fail; it achieved its stated goals. Calling it failure is an alibi. Rather say this: UK refuses to protect female domestic violence victims. How the Home Offices violates domestic violence victims. How the State uses destitution and violence to `protect’ women domestic violence victims. We find this unacceptable.

 

(Photo Credit: Lacuna)

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)

Chambermaids in Paris reject precariousness

 

The dirty secret of the European “developed economies” adjustment to the rules of the neoliberal market is being increasingly questioned. The neoliberal ideological tool of work flexibility has reached the welfare states to dismantle the social protection laws and produce social vulnerability. The cost of labor is now presented as the reason for unemployment and public deficit while the number of billionaires has doubled since the beginning of the financial crisis.

After the revelations of the precarious condition of over 7 million German workers who live with about 400 Euros (about $ 500) in a country with growing inequalities and poor protection of women workers with regards to pregnancy and child care, here comes the “Zero hour contracts” of the United Kingdom. Le Monde recently published an investigation of these contracts.

“Zero hour” already signals hopelessness for working people, especially women. The contracts keep workers underemployed, without work or benefits. The workers are summarily summoned to work when their labor is needed. Between jobs, they receive no pay. The materialistic order has reached a new height of mechanistic denial of life for the women and men whose lives are dictated by a “zero hour contract (ZHC).”

Every day, workers stare at their cell phones, waiting for a text message tol tell them if they’ll work or not, if they’ll make money or not.

In Great Britain, companies receive about 1900 Euros ($2200) for a new employment contract. Thus, in order to receive this precious subsidy, some companies don’t call their ZHC workers and make room for new workers with the same dreadful contract. “We, the contracted workers, we are like the cookies that we pack at the factory; we move on a conveyer belt and then we fall in a box to leave room for the next one.” declared one of these workers. For instance Mac Donald UK has enrolled 90% of its work force under ZHC.

Of course, the wage/hour is lower than full time wages, and, without benefits, workers’ precariousness is higher as is as their state of stress. In the northern suburbs of Liverpool where there is a high ZHC employment rate, 45% of children live in poverty. These destabilizing conditions keep people in fear and contribute to heightened an anti immigrant sentiment.

In France, chambermaids, mostly women of color, of five stars hotels in Paris have been fighting to stop this kind of contracted work and to demand full employment contracts. They have been demonstrating in the streets of Paris and are still demonstrating, although their colleagues from the Luxury Hyatt of Place Vendome and Madeleine have obtained a serious raise ($ 350/month) with full time work guarantees.

Other luxury hotels, such as the Park Hyatt, continue to contract chambermaid work. Under these conditions, the pace of work is intense, the wages are meager, and overtime work is never paid. They have minimum health coverage compared to average French workers.

These hotel workers have received the support of the Mairie (City Hall) de Paris. Recently, at the forum “Feminist Struggles and Reflections to Advance Society”, the deputy mayor of Paris, Helene Bidard declared that it is urgent to fight along with these workers because they symbolize the situation of the women constantly facing precarious work. They dared bring to light these shady practices that take advantage of the most vulnerable populations, women and in particular immigrant women. She further announced that the City of Paris is negotiating strong measures with the Ministry of Tourism to remove stars from hotels that contract chambermaid work.

The current neoliberal frenzy that bestows to labor cost numbers a justificatory power that mistreats populations increasing inequalities needs to come to an end. We need to raise the spatula like the Burkinabe women.

 

(Photo credit: Rue 89/ Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff)

Mary Hounga’s victory is a victory for all women workers everywhere

At the end of July, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed down its judgment in the case of Hounga (Appellant) v Allen and another (Respondents), In their unanimous decision, the Court decided to protect and strengthen the rights of women workers, and in particular of migrant and immigrant women workers, irrespective of legal status. It’s a great decision and an important victory for women everywhere.

Lord Nicholas Wilson, Justice of the Supreme Court, explained the case and the Court decision as follows. On 28 January 2007, “Mrs. Allen” brought “Miss Hounga”, aged around 14, into the United Kingdom on a visitor’s visa. Miss Hounga is described as illiterate. She had lived with Mrs. Allen’s brother in Lagos. Miss Hounga was brought into the United Kingdom under two false claims. First, her age was listed as 20. Second, she was claimed as the granddaughter of Mrs. Allen’s mother. Miss Hounga was “aware” of the false pretense. She knew that she could only stay for six months and that she could not legally work for pay.

Miss Hounga, illiterate and 14 years old, “entered into a contract” with Mrs. Allen to help with Mrs. Allen’s children. Miss Hounga never received any pay, nor was she ever allowed to attend school. Further, Mrs. Allen verbally, emotionally, and physically abused Miss Hounga, and repeatedly threatened her with prison, explaining that since she was “illegal”, if she were caught on the streets, she would go to jail. Miss Hounga lived under these conditions for a year.

On 17 July 2008, Mrs. Allen pushed Miss Hounga out of the house, locked the door, and that was that. Miss Hounga was found by someone, who took her to Social Services.

Miss Hounga sued Mrs. Allen for discrimination, since she was brutally mistreated because of her Nigerian nationality and her unlawful immigration status. The Employment Tribunal agreed with Miss Hounga and demanded that Mrs. Allen pay compensation. Mrs. Allen appealed the case, claiming “the defense of illegality.” That is, Mrs. Allen claimed that since Miss Hounga was working illegally, she could not sue. The Court of Appeals agreed with Mrs. Allen.

The Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the Employment Tribunal’s decision. For two of the Justices, “the defense of illegality” did not hold, and so that alone sufficed to throw the appeal out. For the remaining three, the more compelling argument was that Miss Hounga had been trafficked. They argued that the public policy of maintaining the integrity of the legal process was secondary to the public policy of opposing trafficking and protecting the rights, if not the well being, of vulnerable people. To accept Mrs. Allen’s claim of “defense of illegality” and to refuse Miss Hounga’s appeal would be, in the words of Justice Wilson, “an affront.”

Anti-trafficking activists and others have hailed this decision as an important step forward. The immigration status of a worker has no bearing on the labor rights of that worker, including the right to sue the employer in court. In the United States, women understand that courts matter. In South Africa, women understand as well that judges matter. And in this decision, in the United Kingdom, Mary Hounga, who as a child labored in virtual slavery in someone’s house, has demonstrated that courts matter, judges matter, justice matters, women and girls matter. All women. All girls. Always.

 

(Video Credit: UK Supreme Court / YouTube)

Harriet Nakigudde, Aderonke Apata … African Lesbian Asylum Seekers

 

Harriet Nakigudde

The surveillance and security State has a new version of an old song: “Don’t talk of stars burning above. If you are queer, show me.” The newest subjects of this travesty are Harriet Nakigudde, a 30-year-old lesbian from Uganda, and Aderonke Apata, a 47-year-old lesbian from Nigeria. Both live in England, but the treatment they’re receiving could as easily be in the United States, anywhere in the European Union, South Africa, Australia or any other country that receives gay and lesbian asylum seekers on the condition that they `prove’ that they are not only homosexual but also exclusively homosexual. There are no multiple subject positionalities in the modern asylum process.

Given that African refugees and asylum seekers are already “the untouchables of our time,” African lesbian asylum seekers suffer a more intense and more layered, some would say intersectional, untouchability. Home Affair Offices, Border Agencies, Immigration and Custom Enforcement, whatever, all collude in a public policy that is producing a new identity, the Lesbian Asylum Seeker. And within that identity is the most denigrated, the African Lesbian Asylum Seeker.

Harriet Nakigudde was supposed to be sent back to Uganda today. Why? Because she failed to prove that she is sufficiently lesbian. Due to “administrative reasons”, her flight was cancelled. But Harriet Nakigudde is still on the hook, as of now. She still faces return to a family that persecuted and raped her, in order to “cure” her, and to a country that increasingly criminalizes all same-sex engagements.

Aderonke Apata has provided all sorts of evidence of her lesbian identity and of the dangers she personally faces if returned to Nigeria. Home Affairs wants more, and so Apata is providing a home video of herself and her partner: ““I feel so bad it’s got to this stage. It’s such a desperate and precarious situation to be in, very dangerous, because anything could happen to those pictures, those videos.”.

With one face, the State sings, “Show me” to the African Lesbian Asylum Seeker and, with the other face, decries the State homophobia of the backward African nations. It’s textbook sexual orientalism at work. Instead of virgin or whore, you now have victim or vixen, as long as they’re `African.’

At one level, this is old news. Critics, activists, scholars have long discussed the representational challenges of lesbian asylum claims. While policies may formally change, the staffs do not, and so in England, for example, there’s no special training to those who adjudicate asylum claims based on sexual identity. Asylum is asylum is asylum, and, under Fast-Track Detention, that means pretty much everyone is guilty until proven guiltier.

Lesbian asylum seekers, and refugees, are constructed as deportable before the fact. Their `identities’ are largely declared as undecipherable by the State. If the State can’t read the bar code of your sexual identity, you don’t get into the club. With that policy, the State produces its new extravagantly disposable subject, the African Lesbian Asylum Seeker, who must prove that she has not only been persecuted but has been raped, who must proved that she is not only lesbian, but is fully immersed in a lesbian life style, who must prove … that which really cannot be proven. “Show me, show me now.”

 

(Photo Credit: GayStarNews.com)

Detention centers: No country for young girls

Two girls, both under five years old, were released after two days and nights in detention. Last night, Basirat and Rashidat, and their mother, Afusat Saliu, were released from Cedars pre-departure `accommodation’. They spent Wednesday at Cayley House, “a non-residential short-term holding facility at Heathrow Airport.” It’s not a facility. It’s a prison. Here’s how their mother, Afusat Saliu, describes their first night: “It was terrible. We had to sleep on the floor. There was no privacy – if you went to the toilet, you went in front of everyone. I felt terrible. Some of the crew at Cayley House were nice, but it was not a good environment for a child.”

No place for a child. In a report released today, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons agrees. Too much force is used too often. Officers show up in full battle gear, don’t announce themselves, don’t knock on the door, batter the door down and rush in. They have two speeds: terrifying and terrorizing: “Whatever one’s views on immigration, the distress described in this report of the families passing through the centre and its potential impact on the children involved is disturbing. It was difficult to see how the children’s welfare was being promoted in line with statutory requirements.”

42 families `passed through’ Cedars last year. Suicide and self-harm measures were initiated 25 times. This is the new math of neoliberal fortress nations. The mothers who seek help are bad mothers, the children who need help are bad girls. They’re defective products that must be removed.

Thanks to a mighty hue and cry, including leaning on Richard Branson not to allow his airline to be used for deportation, Afusat Saliu and her daughters, Basirat and Rashidat, were given a reprieve, while their case is `reviewed.’ In the name of the girls, Afusat Saliu applied for asylum, because she fears her daughters will be forced to undergo female genital mutilation in Nigeria.

Think of all the work and time that has gone into keeping two young girls out of prison.

Those two young girls, those babies, should never have been in prison in the first place. They should never have been forced to leave their home in Leeds and shuttle from one hole to another. They should never have been forced to feel their mother’s distress. You don’t need a government commission – not from the United Kingdom, nor Australia, nor the United States, nor anywhere – to know that. You know in your bones and in your soul.

Detention centers, prisons, are no country for young girls. They are terrible. I feel terrible.

 

(Photo credit: Anj Handa / PA)

Pregnant asylum seekers in the UK: Punished for being a woman

Most women asylum seekers are fleeing so-called ‘non-political’ violence. Domestic violence, including within the extended family and community, ranks high. So does religious persecution of women and violence against lesbians. Women flee such violence because they know it’s wrong. When women asylum seekers are criminalized for seeking asylum, they are being punished for the knowledge they have as women. That’s a witch-hunt, and that’s what’s happening around the world today.

Last week, world leaders overwhelmingly endorsed the Every Newborn Action Plan, which calls for a global concerted effort to address infant mortality. This endorsement came on the heels of a major report, also released last week, which notes, “Every year, 2·9 million newborn babies die from largely preventable causes, and 2·6 million more are stillborn.” The report argues that every newborn counts, and, implicitly, that every mother of every newborn counts.

Would that it were true.

Around the world, women asylum seekers learn that not all maternities are equal. For example, in the United Kingdom, a recent study found asylum seekers receiving housing and subsistence support from the Home Office are regularly `dispersed’ to areas outside London. Pregnant women seeking asylum are often dispersed very late in their pregnancies or soon after delivery. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has argued that pregnant women asylum seekers have special needs and particular vulnerabilities and need additional and particular support. The Home Office has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that finding. Women asylum seekers have reported the experience of `dispersal’ is distressing. `Dispersal’ interrupted established maternity care. It left women without social and family support. Because of the day-to-day realities of dispersal and of childbirth, many women asylum seekers gave birth alone. Midwives have reported that they do the best they can, but the `dispersal’ system disrupts everything.

A pregnant woman asylum seeker suffered flashbacks from sexual violence in her home country. She was `dispersed’ in late pregnancy. According to her midwife, “She needed some stability and care because she felt confident with the people who were looking after her and felt she could trust them. The best outcome would have been for her not to be transferred especially at that late stage.”

Since 2000, there has been a 9% increase in maternal mortality in the United Kingdom. One of the factors pumping the increase is “poorer access to healthcare, especially in some ethnic minority communities and among asylum seekers.”

The criminalization of asylum seekers is an assault on “mental, developmental and physical health,” and it is part and parcel of global mass incarceration. The criminalization of women asylum seekers inevitably means the pain, suffering and often death of women in childbirth as of their children. And who are these women? Women fleeing torture, seeking justice. Punished for fleeing, punished for remembering, punished for needing, punished for being a woman.

 

(Image Credit: freedomfromtorture.org)