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)