“There’s something really, really going on in that place for a 14-year-old to want to kill herself”

In the United States, children are routinely thrown into solitary confinement, often for the most trivial reasons and often for long periods of time. As of a study conducted last year, 28 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of punitive solitary confinement in juvenile correctional facilities. This list of 29 includes jurisdictions that allow up to four hours per day. Additionally, of these 29 states, 25 allow for solitary confinement for non-punitive reasons, such as so-called safety concerns. Of the 25, 12 allow for indefinite solitary confinement of juveniles … for their own good. These are the `good’ states. At the other end, seven states have no limits on solitary confinement of juveniles: Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Texas, and Wyoming. The remaining 15 states offer a smorgasbord of juvenile solitary confinement offerings, ranging from six hours to 90 days. Four states allow for children to be thrown into the hole for more than 5 days. North Carolina and West Virginia allow for up to 10 days isolation. Until last year, California allowed for 90 days of isolation. As of January 1, 2017, new laws went into effect concerning California’s use of solitary confinement for children. With that change, Wisconsin became the winner of the race to hell, with its allowance of up to 60 days in isolation for children. This week, four children, and their attorneys, families, friends and supporters, said NO MORE, and filed a lawsuit. This is the story of Meranda Davis’ daughter, known as KD, currently held at Copper Lake School for Girls, one of two juvenile detention facilities in Wisconsin. It’s not a school, and it’s not for girls. It’s hell, and it has been so for a long time.

The lawsuit opens: “The State of Wisconsin operates the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls, which incarcerate approximately 150-200 youth who are as young as 14 years old, in remote northern Wisconsin. The State routinely subjects these youth to unlawful solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and pepper spraying. Prior to state and federal raids on the facility at the end of 2015, staff also regularly physically abused youth in the facility. Currently, Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections officials lock up approximately 15 to 20% percent or more of the facilities’ young residents in solitary confinement cells for 22 or 23 hours per day. Many of these children are forced to spend their only free hour of time per day outside of a solitary confinement cell in handcuffs and chained to a table. Officers also repeatedly and excessively use Bear Mace and other pepper sprays against the youth, causing them excruciating pain and impairing their breathing.”

While the situation is cruel and usual torture, the real point is that two years ago, the federal government put Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools on notice, and not only did nothing happen, the situation actually worsened. As Laurence Dupuis, attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin, noted, “Usually when the ACLU shows up, people start changing their habits and things get a bit better. We saw none of that here.”

Meranda Davis takes the story from there: “If you choose to steal cars, you deserve to wind up in a juvenile jail. I know that. But nobody deserves to be treated the way they treat people in there … She call me crying after getting out of solitary. They send kids for two weeks just for talking back in class. One time, they were punishing a girl in solitary, so they just fired a whole can of pepper spray into the unit. Everyone was coughing and crying. My daughter was coughing up blood … She said that they kept on throwing her in confinement and she basically lost her mind. She had a seizure. She just lost her mind and didn’t know what to do because she didn’t have any support. She just was like thrown in a room and nothing.” According to Meranda Davis, her daughter tried to kill herself, “There’s something really, really going on in that place for a 14-year-old, she was 14 at the time, to want to kill herself.”

There’s something really really wrong with a State and in a nation that drives children to suicide. Copper Lake School for Girls and Lincoln Hills School for Boys should be shut down, but that is only the beginning. We can’t continue to throw children into cages, we can’t continue to throw away their lives and the lives of their families and communities, and we can’t continue to condone and support torture. End solitary confinement of children now. End solitary confinement now. Without delay and without exception. As Meranda Davis said of her daughter, “She has big hopes and she is the reason I am standing here right now. I want her changed. I don’t want to see her come out a wicked person times 10.”

 

(Photo Credit 1: Kyle Rogers/Northwoods River News) (Image Credit: New York Times/Amanda Lanzone)

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)

If faut arrêter d’enchainer les femmes!

Aux Etats Unis, dans le Wisconsin, en juin 2013, Alicia Beltran enceinte de 14 semaines ne pensait pas en se rendant à son rendez vous de suivi de grossesse que son cas servirait à lancer une action de justice pour enfin remettre en cause les lois fœticides et autres lois qui permettent d’envoyer en prison des femmes enceintes accusées de mettre en danger la vie du fœtus qu’elles portent.

Alicia Bretan s’étant sevrée d’une accoutumance médicamenteuse l’année passée, décide d’en parler à son docteur et son assistant pour plus de sureté. Au lieu de répondre à ses questions et inquiétudes, le cabinet de son docteur a appelé la police en vertu de ces lois qui donnent au fœtus le statut d’une personne, trahissant ainsi le secret médical et la confiance qui devrait être à la base de la relation patient – praticien.

Deux jours plus tard la police est venue l’arrêter à son domicile et a placé chaines et menottes sur poignets et chevilles. Elle fut ensuite conduite ainsi enchaînée au tribunal où une procédure expéditive l’attendait. Le fœtus était représenté par un avocat, mais Alicia Bretan n’avait droit à aucune assistance légale ou médicale. Le juge ordonna qu’elle suive un traitement de désintoxication, bien qu’aucune trace de drogue n’ait été trouvée dans les analyses réalisées après, bien qu’elle ait eu soin de veiller sur sa grossesse, bien qu’elle avait fait confiance à son docteur et à la société pour la respecter. A la suite de ce jugement les problèmes se sont accumulés pour Bretan et elle a finalement perdu son emploi, puisqu’il n’y a pas de garantie d’emploi pour les femmes enceintes aux Etats Unis. De plus, toute cette action en justice a sans aucun doute eu des effets néfastes sur sa santé et la santé du fœtus ainsi que sur son statut social et celui de sa famille présent et à venir.

Le Wisconsin comme le Maryland font partie des 38 états qui ont fait passer ces lois fœticides ; le Wisconsin, le Minnesota et le Dakota du sud se sont aussi dotés des lois dites “cocaïne mom“ qui expédient encore plus vite en prison les femmes enceintes qui auraient utilisé de la drogue. Enfin après toutes ces années ce cas a ouvert la voie à la première action en justice au niveau fédéral soutenue par deux ONG qui défendent les droits reproductifs des femmes  “The National Advocates For Pregnant Women et The Reproductive Justice Clinic ainsi que l’avocat de la plaignante Linda S. Vanden Heuvel. Il faut savoir que durant la dernière décennie le risque de se retrouver derrière les barreaux pour les femmes n’a fait qu’augmenter et en particulier pour les femmes enceintes.

Cette action en justice est la première du genre contre ces lois qui menacent les femmes et  les rendent légalement inferieures au fœtus qu’elles portent, tout particulièrement lorsque celles-ci sont des femmes de couleur, pauvres, bref socialement vulnérables.

L’an passé, une loi interdisant l’utilisation de chaines et autres moyens de contrôle sur les détenues enceintes a été proposée au vote durant la session de travail du parlement du Maryland. Etonnement cette loi a été rejetée.

Ces pratiques qui consistent à enchainer les femmes enceintes servent deux buts, d’abord elles rendent les femmes inferieures, les deshumanisant, et ensuite elles “déféminisent“ la société. L’année dernière le Maryland a abrogé la peine de mort, il serait temps pour cet état de joindre les 18 autres états qui interdisent cette pratique.

Espérons que cette affaire créera un précédent, Quoiqu’il en soit nous ne devrions pas oublier que l’argument pour ces lois fœticides était d’apporter une protection supplémentaire aux femmes enceintes ; en réalité en faisant du fœtus une personne elles avaient pour but de réduire et peut être même d’éliminer le droit à l’avortement  et le droit des femmes à contrôler leur corps. Les attaques constantes contre le corps de la femme sont une insulte au désir d’une société qui se voudrait plus juste et plus équilibrée.

Nous devons soutenir tous les efforts pour désenchaîner les femmes aux Etats Unis et ailleurs.

Stop shackling pregnant women!

Alicia Beltran

Alicia Beltran

In Wisconsin, Alicia Beltran, 14 weeks pregnant, went for a prenatal check up to make sure that everything was going to be well. She explained to the PA in her doctor’s office her concerns. One was a pill addiction that she had actually ended a year earlier. Instead of addressing her concerns, her doctor’s office betrayed her trust and the celebrated code of confidentiality between patients and doctors, supposedly the basis of medical practice. They called the police. Two days later, the police came to Beltran’s home and shackled her. She was rushed to court handcuffed and shackled, where she was denied access to a counsel but where a lawyer was already assigned to represent her fetus. Then, she was ordered into a drug treatment program although there was no trace of drug in her body, although she was taking care of herself, although she had trusted her doctor and society to respect her as a person. For Beltran, the consequences of this abusive treatment are dire. They include losing her job. In fact, the state has endangered her health, the health of her fetus, her social status and the well being of her family, current and future.

Wisconsin is one of 38 states, including Maryland, that has passed so-called feticide laws. Three states – Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota – have passed “cocaine mom” laws, and that’s what happened to Alicia Beltran. Finally, the first federal lawsuit to challenge these laws has been filed by The National Advocates For Pregnant Women, the Reproductive Justice Clinic of New York University School of Law, and Linda S. Vanden Heuvel, Alicia Beltran’s lawyer. This threat to pregnant women has been on the rise as more women are thrown behind bars.

The lawsuit is the first to challenge these laws that are threatening women for being less than the fetus they carry, especially when they are women of color and/or poor, in brief socially vulnerable.

Last year, a bill was introduced in committee in the Maryland legislature. If passed, the bill would have put into law a ban on shackling pregnant inmates. Surprisingly, or not, the bill was defeated.

These practices of shackling pregnant women serve two purposes. They render women as less than human and they “de-womanize” society. Last year, Maryland repealed the death penalty. It is time for Maryland, and all states, to show real commitment to women’s rights and women’s equality.

Hopefully, Alicia Beltran’s case will set a precedent. Whatever comes out of the suit, we should not forget that feticide laws were presented to protect pregnant women. In reality, by creating the fetus as a full person separated from the woman’s body, feticide laws have one purpose:  to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, Roe v Wade and its guarantees of women’s right to decide for themselves. External control of a woman’s body is an assault on the dream and the possibilities of a society with more equality, better distribution of wealth, and richer harmony. We need to support all and any efforts to “de-shackle” women.

 

(Photo Credit: Feministing / The New York Times)

Violence against women haunts independence

 

Egyptian men and women in one hand

“After the revolution”. In Egypt and Tunisia, women who made the revolution, women who pushed Mubarak out, are now facing the struggle for more rights, autonomy, and physical safety. This should come as no surprise to the rest of the so-called independent world.

Yesterday, August 6, Jamaica celebrated 49 years of independence from the United Kingdom. There were celebrations. At the same time, sexual violence against girls is both increasing and intensifying.

Across the African continent, August is celebrated as Women’s Month. August was chosen to commemorate the August 9, 1956, women’s march in Pretoria, in protest of the infamous pass laws. The women chanted, shouted, screamed: “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!”. “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!”

That was 55 years ago. Today, the women are still being `touched’, and in the most violent ways. Across the nation, campaigns, such as the One in Nine Campaign, and organizations, such as the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, struggle to address and end violence agains women. Organizations such as Free Gender struggle to address and end violence against lesbian, and in particular Black lesbian, women. All of these women’s organizations, all of these women, all of these feminists, struggle to address and end the hatred that is rape.

In many places, such as in the United States, that hatred often takes the form of legislation. For example, in 2005 Wisconsin passed a law that barred access to hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for prison inmates and others in state custody. Three transgender women prisoners, Andrea Fields, Jessica Davison, Vankemah Moaton, challenged the law, and this week, after six years, won their case in a federal appeals court.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, transgender women are hunted, attacked, often killed. For the crime of being transgender women. For the crime of being women.

What is independence? What is a revolution? Across the globe, women continue to struggle for the basics of independence, of autonomy. That begins with real recognition, that begins with the State as well as the citizenry and the population ensuring women’s safety. Women are not specters and are not promises to be met. Until women’s simple physical integrity is ensured, rather than promised, violence against women will continue to haunt independence.

 

(Photo Credit: NPR / STR / AP)

War on Workers? “Ladies First!”

A teach-in about the War on Workers took place recently in Washington, DC.

“The war”’ was described and analyzed by four panelists and a moderator. The moderator was male. Three of the panelists were males.  The one woman came from the National Education Association.  The panel discussed at some length the state of union activities in the U.S. given the struggles in Wisconsin and other areas of the country. Then the panel took questions.

I asked about gender politics, about the relation between the attacks on the funding of women’s resources, such as reproductive health, the general attack on collective bargaining rights from the State, and what labor unions were doing about it.  When Scott Walker and friends decided to eliminate collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin’s public sector workers, they only did it to female-dominated fields like teachers and nurses, but not to male-dominated ones like police and firefighters.

The panel did not answer my question.  But all four men did look to their right at the woman at the end of the table.  One of them then said, in a loud voice, “Ladies first!”

The response from the NEA representative was that women’s rights were something that unions had fought for as part of the broader labor movement, and that these attacks from the right were typical reactionary nonsense.  There was no discussion on what labor unions were doing to address this intersection between gender and the labor movement.

Needless to say, this response did not satisfy me.  But then I realized—the panel had relayed the philosophy that haunts women in the workforce, from the local to the global, from unions to the State: Ladies first!

Politicians can’t use the necessary vocabulary when discussing reproductive health, but a congressman can viciously tell lies about Planned Parenthood and alter records to get away with it.  The House of Representatives tried with all of its might to redefine the definition of rape to include a stipulation of whether the act is “forcible” or not, all for the sake of denying women access to safe abortions.  In the words of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the proposed bill was “a violent act against women.”  Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia claimed that the Constitution does not grant the same protections to women or the LGBTQ community as it does to other groups.

What is the logic behind who should be eliminated from the State’s dialogue, whether it’s in debate or in established law?  Ladies first!

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the poster-child for attacking teachers’ unions, whether he is stumping or berating individual teachers.  The rhetoric involves insults and putting dissenters “in their place,” as well as comments that sexualize State actions against teachers’ unions.  In the same period, Christie told the press to “take the bat out” against a female state senator, prompting two other women politicians from New Jersey to criticize his comments as advocating violence against women.  Earlier in the same year, Christie vetoed a bill that would have provided funding for women’s health and family planning through an expansion of Medicaid programs because of New Jersey’s budget crisis. Christie has blamed this budget crisis on teachers’ unions as a scapegoat to pass austerity measures, even though his administration “forgot” to apply for federal educational funding.

In Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s administration’s attempt to take away collective bargaining rights from public-sector workers has targeted women workers.  Other austerity measures being debated cut funding from women’s reproductive health services.  All of this austerity against women is in the service of a budget crisis that isn’t even real.

When the austerity State decides to cut funding for social services and get rid of basic workplace rights, which population does it look to?  Ladies first!

After the panel was over, the one woman panelist came up to me and said that although many high-ranking officials of the NEA are women, she and others in the organization never thought of the attacks on collective bargaining as a “women’s issue.”  Often women’s rights in reproductive health and in the workplace are painted as two separate issues, but they are not.

The panel’s response reproduced the same narrative.  And this narrative of women as secondary to the “movement” as a whole, brings up a final question:

When a progressive movement needs to react to the State’s austerity measures, what representation is conveniently forgotten in the overall narrative?

“Ladies first!”

It’s time to move beyond the chivalrous, neoliberal logics of “Ladies first!” and talk about, teach, and organize for all workers’ power and rights, equally and at the same time.

 

(Photo Credit: Workers World)

What is left: after solitary confinement in schools

Prison is a bad place for children. Solitary confinement is worse yet. Extended solitary confinement is lethal. These are not surprising statements, and the news that underwrites them, though dismaying, is not particularly shocking.

Immigration detention centers in the US, such as the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, run by Corrections Corporation of America, or the Reeves County Detention Center, run by GEO, are lethal, fatal black holes for all residents. Joe Arpaio’s jail in Maricopa County is only the best known example of humiliation and terror against all Latinas and Latinos, irrespective of status, and which results in increased anxiety and mental health problems for Latina and Latino children.

And it is estimated that more than 60 of those held in Guantanamo were under 18 when they were arrested and sent to Cuba.

In England, Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is so terrible for children that the entire nation is now considered unsafe for children of immigrant parents, including those seeking asylum and refuge. The place literally drives children mad.

Juvenile centers in the United States report that sexual abuse of prisoners, by other prisoners and, more, by staff, is off the charts. In 2008 – 2009, in more than a few juvenile detention centers, a recent study suggested that nearly one out of every three prisoners suffered some sort of sexual abuse.

When children go to prison, how are they educated? According to some, they’re not at all. California is being sued in a federal class action case for failing to educate youth in their `probation camps.’

These are terrible and tragic and all too familiar. Prison is a bad place, after all. Bad things happen.

Those bad things that happen to children are not restricted to prisons. Take “seclusion rooms”, for example: “Seclusion is the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. This includes situations where a door is locked as well as where the door is blocked by other objects or held by staff.”

This happens in schools all over the United States.

In the state of Georgia, public schools have “seclusion rooms,” solitary confinement cells. The doors are double bolted on the outside: “Seclusion rooms are allowed in Georgia public schools provided they are big enough for children to lie down, have good visibility and have locks that spring open in case of an emergency such as a fire. In 2004, Jonathan King, 13, hanged himself in one such room, a stark, 8-foot-by-8-foot “timeout” room in a Gainesville public school.” Time out. When schools put children into solitary confinement, what time is left?

What is left for Jonathan King’s parents, so many years later? Pain, anguish. Only now is Georgia finally responding by considering a law that protects all students from seclusion and restraint. It only took the State legislature six years … equal to almost half of Jonathan King’s entire life.

In May 2009, the Missouri state legislature passed a law giving the school districts two years in which to devise written policies governing the use of seclusion rooms. Before that, there were no policies, only the practice of solitary confinement of school children without a single written guideline or rule. This is now an issue in the upcoming GOP primary for State Senate. One candidate sees restrictions on solitary confinement of children as a violation of local sovereignty.

Florida state legislators are also considering a bill to restrict the use of restraint and seclusion. There are seclusion rooms all over the state school system, from elementary on up. Up til now, there has been no written policy.

Not surprisingly, solitary confinement is of particular concern to parents of children living with disabilities. Here are two stories from Florida:

When a twelve year old girl with autism repeated names of movies, shoved papers off her desk or waved her arms and kicked her legs toward approaching teachers, they responded by grabbing the eighty pound girl, forcing her to the ground and holding her there. This happened forty-four times during the 2006-07 school year.  She was held once for an hour, and, on average, twenty-two minutes at a time.  At least one incident left her back badly bruised.

When a seven year old girl, diagnosed with autism and bipolar disorder had her head pushed to the floor, the parents discovered several other frequent inappropriate uses of restraint and seclusion. The county where they live leaves it to individual schools to write their own policies on restraint or seclusion use.

These come from a 2009 report issued by the National Disability Rights Network: School is not supposed to hurt: Investigative Report on Abusive Restraint and Seclusion in Schools.  The stories come from all over the United States.

On the cover is the picture of a lovely, smiling seven year-old girl, from Wisconsin:

A seven year old girl was suffocated and killed at a mental health day treatment facility when several adult staff pinned her to the floor in a prone restraint.  This child, who was diagnosed with an emotional disturbance and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, died because she was blowing bubbles in her milk and did not follow the time-out rules regarding movement.

Greenfield School District, outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, applied to use Federal stimulus funds to build seclusion rooms in elementary and middle schools. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently rejected the application, instructing all school districts in the state that stimulus funds and special education funds not be used for that purpose. Greenfield is disappointed.

School is not supposed to hurt. It’s not only the children sent to isolation who suffer. What are the other children in the classrooms, in the hallways, in the school offices, who witness these acts and know of these rooms as part of the norm, what are they being taught? What becomes of a generation of child witnesses to torture?

 

(Video Credit: Vimeo/StopHurtingKids.com)