Michigan built a special hell for women, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility

Recently, reflecting on family separation and other forms of public policy abuse of migrant and immigrant families and communities, regular Women In and Beyond the Global contributor Nichole Smith wondered, “Have we no shame?” Consider the conditions of women’s prisons, jails, and detention centers across the United States, from Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution to Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women to Pennsylvania’s SCI-Muncy to Texas’ Karnes County Residential Center to the Charleston County Jail in South Carolina to Alaska’s Anchorage Correctional Complex and between and beyond. Have we no shame? Take, for example, Michigan’s one women’s prison, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility. Go there and you will see and smell that we have no shame, we have no capacity for shame.

In April 2012, the ACLU “persuaded” the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility to stop its practice of invasive strip search of all women prisoners who had a contact visit … with family, clergy, friends, attorneys, anyone.

In September 2014, the ACLU, Michigan Department of Corrections, and US Department of Justice announced they were investigating the abuse and torture of prisoners living with mental illnesses who had the misfortune of ending up in the Women’s Huron Valley. Women were hogtied naked for hours on end, deprived of food and water, thrown into solitary. Advocates and supporters argued that Huron Valley was a closed system, and as such was ripe for abuse.

In November 2015, a twenty-five-year-old Black woman, Janika Nichole Edmond died, or better was executed in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.  Janika Edmond’s story is short and terribly familiar: Janika Edmond lived with mental illness. Once in Michigan’s `criminal justice’ system, her condition deteriorated. She had a history of assaulting prison guards, which resulted in her being sent to solitary, which resulted in her becoming more aggressive. The rate of `incident reports’ skyrocketed. No one did anything. In 2014, Janika Edmond made a rope out of a towel and tried to hang herself. Earlier in 2015, Janika Edmond was found with a razor. She said, repeatedly, that she was “tired of being here” and was hearing voices. No one on staff listened to Janika Edmond’s voice. The day she died, Janika Edmonds asked for a suicide prevention vest. The guards laughed. Hours later, she lay dead on the floor. “The death report provided by the MDOC [Michigan Department of Corrections] for Edmond shows her presumed cause of death was suicide.” When Janika Edmonds died, the State was still “investigating” the July 16 death of Kayla Renea Miller, in Huron Valley. 

In 2012, Carol Jacobsen, founder and Director of the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Projectnoted, “Abu Ghraib has nothing on Huron Valley.” She was describing the irony that Huron Valley was meant to solve the crisis of abuse of women prisoners in the Robert Scott Correctional Facility. As a result of widespread torture and abuse, Scott was closed in 2009, and the women were moved to Huron Valley, which is worse than Scott. In 2012, we “cared” about Abu Ghraib. Huron Valley? Not so much.

For the past seven years, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility has been described, accurately, as hell. On November 20, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility was sued for “perilous” conditionsAccording to the lawsuit, “The women have complained about the presence of mold in the facility for years, and continue to do so, but their pleas have been ignored.” Huron Valley “is operating under a state of degradation, filth, and inhumanity, endangering the health and safety of incarcerated women.” One of the attorneys described Huron Valley as “medieval and dungeon-like.” Another added, “This prison has a long history of problems: dilapidated conditions, unsafe conditions, and unconstitutional conditions. This has been going on for a long time. To make matters worse, there’s no ventilation. So these women are trapped in these boxes and are literally being poisoned on a daily basis, with no ventilation.”

Michigan’s only women’s prison, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, is not medieval. It is modern, all too modern. Overcrowded, toxic, lethal … and this is us. Michigan’s only women’s prison, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, is the architecture of shame in the United States of America. Michigan built a special hell for women, the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, and it’s been going on for years and it’s going on now. Have we no shame? You tell me.

(Photo Credit: Michigan NPR)

Janika Nichole Edmond died in Michigan’s women’s prison: Who cares?

Janika Nichole Edmond

In November 2015, a twenty-five-year-old Black woman, Janika Nichole Edmond died, or better was executed, in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Michigan’s only women’s prison. Two years ago, Huron Valley was investigated for alleged human rights abuses against mentally ill female inmates, and today Janika Nichole Edmond is dead.

Janika Edmond’s story is short and terribly familiar: Janika Edmond lived with mental illness. Once in Michigan’s `criminal justice’ system, her condition deteriorated. She had a history of assaulting prison guards, which resulted in her being sent to solitary, which resulted in her becoming more aggressive. The rate of `incident reports’ skyrocketed. No one did anything. In 2014, Janika Edmond made a rope out of a towel and tried to hang herself. Earlier in 2015, Janika Edmond was found with a razor. She said, repeatedly, that she was “tired of being here” and was hearing voices. Unfortunately, no one on staff heard or listened to Janika Edmond’s voice. The day she died, Janika Edmonds asked for a suicide prevention vest. The guards laughed. Hours later, she lay dead on the floor. “The death report provided by the MDOC [Michigan Department of Corrections] for Edmond shows her presumed cause of death was suicide.”

That was no suicide. That was murder at the hands of the State. The State had agency, power, volition, and policy. The State wanted Janika Edmond dead, and Janika Edmond is dead.

Two prison officers have been suspended or fired, depending on the report. While they bear their own responsibility, this crime emerged from years of abuse and torture. When Janika Edmonds died, the State was still “investigating” the July 16 death of Kayla Renea Miller, in Huron Valley. From the Anchorage Correctional Complex in Alaska to the California Institution for Women to SCI-Muncy in Pennsylvania to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, women were dropping like flies and they continue to do so.

None of this is new. In 2012, Carol Jacobsen, founder and Director of the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project, noted, “Abu Ghraib has nothing on Huron Valley.” She was describing the irony that Huron Valley was meant to solve the crisis of abuse of women prisoners in the Robert Scott Correctional Facility. As a result of widespread torture and abuse, Scott was closed in 2009, and all the women were moved to Huron Valley, which, according to Carol Jacobsen, is worse than Scott.

That was 2012. In the intervening four years, the conditions at Huron Valley have only worsened, as they have nationally. According to the United States Department of Justice, in state prisons, “suicide was the most common unnatural cause of death among female prisoners from 2001 to 2012.” What happened to Janika Nichole Edmond? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, just another Black woman crying out for help, dying in agony, “tired of being here.” In her death, she joins “the most common.” Who cares? Who cares? Who cares? #SayHerName

 

(Photo Credit: MLive.com)

Michigan Women’s Prison: “Ripe for Abuse”

News broke this week that Michigan’s only women’s prison, Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, is under investigation from the ACLU, Michigan Department of Corrections, and US Department of Justice for alleged human rights abuses against mentally ill female inmates.

Inmates are being hog tied naked, with their feet and hands cuffed together behind their backs, for two hours or more as a form of punishment if they do not “learn to behave,” witnesses claim. Prisoners have also been denied food and water. According to Kary Moss, executive director of ACLU of Michigan, the water was shut off in solitary confinement and guards failed to provide any to inmates for hours or even days. Some women are left standing, sitting, or lying in their own feces or urine for days on end, denied showers, and often controlled by the use of tasers.

For one mentally ill inmate at the Valley, poor sanitation, lack of food and water, and other forms of continuous abuse ended her life as she knew it. Last month she was found non-responsive in her cell. She was transferred to an outside hospital where she was pronounced brain dead. She is not the only the only casualty to come out of WHVC. There have been several prisoners who have died from both suicide and medical neglect in the past few years alone. Is this the intended function of our criminal justice system? What is the role of corrections in America today? Is it to punish mentally ill women until they are pronounced brain dead?

Luckily, women prisoners in Michigan have some advocates on the outside. Carol Jacobsen has been working for years to expose the conditions inside the prison. Jacobsen is a professor at University of Michigan and director of the Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project. While she has done many interviews with inmates throughout the years, she has found that civilian access to living quarters inside the prison is nearly impossible. Jacobson stated, “As long as it’s such a closed system, it’s ripe for abuse.” Why the secrecy? According to Jacobson, “Abu Ghraib has nothing on Huron Valley or Michigan prisons. Our prisons in Michigan have torture going on every day.”

Prisoners themselves are speaking out against what they see as intolerable conditions. In February, three inmates wrote formal grievances to the MDOC describing how four women were housed together in a 96-square foot chemical caustic closet repurposed into a cell. Inmate Karen Felton wrote, “The cell I’m in is inadequately small for myself and three others, and there are not enough lockers, no privacy, inadequate desks and chairs, and there is no ventilation.”

The three women’s grievances, however, did not change their living conditions. As a matter of procedure, when more than one complaint is submitted regarding a given issue, all duplicates are rejected by the grievance coordinator. Therefore, only one of the three grievances, submitted by a prisoner named Robin Sutton, was investigated. The MDOC responded: “All prisoners housed in Dickinson unit have been treated humanely and with dignity in matters of health care, personal safety and general living conditions.”

The use of hog-ties, denial of food and water, unsanitary conditions, excessive use of tasers, and forcing four women to live in a chemical closet is considered humane? All inmates, including the mentally ill, deserve more dignity than this.

 

(Photo Credit: Michigan Deparment of Corrections)