Posts Tagged ‘incarcerated women’
Overpoliced and Underprotected: Women, Race, and Criminalization
Recently, mass incarceration has been theorized as a system of racialized social control. This frame, however, often relies on long-standing gender reductionism that posits the primary subject of punishment and criminalization as male. At the same time, the unprecedented growth of female incarceration has spawned a host of gender-sensitive interventions, yet the discourses that are gender-sensitive often marginalize if not entirely erase the distinctive racial dimensions of the punitive turn in public policy. This Symposium will interrogate how criminalization is mediated through various intersections of race, gender and class and will shed light on the dimensions of racialized criminalization that are gendered differently.
Moreover, this symposium will investigate the parallel and reinforcing nature of institutions that prepare certain populations for incarceration and function to exclude them upon their release. In examining various logics of punishment, the discussion will not be limited to formal boundaries of the criminal justice system, nor the processes that govern adjudications of innocence or guilt. Instead, this symposium will interrogate the processes of control that parallel and intersect with the prison system such as the public health, welfare, foster care and education systems. Examining these overlaps reveals the way that systems which are seen as policing race have gender dimensions and those which are seen as embodying gender norms police them along racial lines. Lastly, we will examine the ways in which formalistic examinations of the criminal justice systems and constitutional limitations on state action can obscure these race and gender dynamics.
The full lineup of panels and panelists is at this link.
Since 2003, the Legal Aid Society has been pursuing a class-action suit on behalf of “present and future” female inmates in the New York state prison system, alleging a pattern of “sexual abuse—including forcible rape—of women prisoners by state correctional officers,” facilitated by inadequate staff screening, training, oversight, and grievance procedures. Claiming violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, the plaintiffs are asking a federal district court to issue an injunction requiring the New York DOC to implement more effective policies and procedures for preventing sexual abuse.
At the trial court level, the case had been dismissed by district judge Kevin Duffy, in part because some of the plaintiffs are no longer in prison, so their requests for injunctive relief are moot. Now the Second Circuit has reversed that ruling, reinstating the lawsuit as to those plaintiffs and sending it back to the district court for further proceedings to determine if the case can proceed as a class action. (Full opinion PDF here – note, the case has had a very complicated procedural history and this is mainly a procedural ruling, so the opinion may be hard to follow; I’ll translate some of the legalese after the jump, if you’re curious).
The AP reports on the stance of the New York Department of Corrections:
In April, Corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer testified the department has adopted a series of directives and orientation materials for prisoners and notices to staff and inmates emphasizing zero tolerance sexual abuse. He noted the department’s inspector general has one of the few prison sex crimes units in the nation investigating allegations of misconduct by staff, as well as abuse by inmates on one another.
“The reality, however, is that while we do not willingly tolerate sexual abuse of our offenders, we may not be able to ever fully eradicate the occurrence,” he said. “Our approach is to take proactive preventive measures, immediately respond to all allegations and seek criminal penalties where appropriate believing that such efforts have a deterrent effect within the system.”
Rutgers-Camden will host a public conference on Wednesday, June 23, “that aims to open a dialogue about the needs of children and families of the incarcerated and how the private and public sectors can better respond.” More details:
Panels will be held on policy issues surrounding the Adoption and Safe Families Act (AFSA); the role of educators supporting children and families; the developmental effects of trauma on children; interventions for children of incarcerated parents; and best practices for supporting child and parent relationships. Representatives from regional corrections facilities and social services agencies will also be speaking, in addition to the keynote speaker, a formerly incarcerated father who founded Frontline Dads, for fathers dealing with life before and after incarceration.
The occasion for the conference is Rutgers professor Jane Siegel’s new book, Disrupted Childhoods: Children of Women in Prison(Rutgers UP, 2011). The conference is open to the public, but it looks like there’s a $45 fee. Registration form here.
Today’s New York Times has an article about health care in Texas county jails, leading off with the recent death of Amy Lynn Cowling, 33, a mother of three:*
Ms. Cowling was pulled over on Christmas Eve for speeding and arrested for outstanding warrants on minor charges. She was bipolar and methadone-dependent and took a raft of medications each day. For the five days she was in Gregg County Jail, Ms. Cowling and her family pleaded with officials to give her the medicines that sat in her purse in the jail’s storage room. They never did.
Ms. Cowling’s death is the most recent at Sheriff Maxey Cerliano’s Gregg County Jail in Longview. Since 2005, nine inmates have died there — most were attributed to health conditions like cancer, diabetes and stomach ulcers — far more than at other facilities its size. Bowie County Jail, in East Texas on the Arkansas border, reported five deaths in the same period, as did Brazoria County Jail, south of Houston on the Gulf Coast. In Williamson County in Central Texas near Austin, the jail reported just two deaths.
Interviews with prison experts and people with firsthand experience with the Gregg County lockup and its medical staff, as well as a review of scores of public documents, reveal a troubled local jail where staff turnover is high and inmates routinely complain about conditions. Criminal justice advocates say the situation in Gregg County is not unique; it is representative of systemic problems that plague local jails statewide.
* CORRECTION: This post has been corrected to reflect that Ms. Cowling had three children (not five as I erroneously stated initially).
If you think California is the only state that fills its prison rec rooms with bunk beds, you haven’t visited Oklahoma:
“I remember when we put in those bunks and were quoted as saying it would be temporary,” Justin Jones, Oklahoma Department of Corrections director, said. “Here we are in 2010, and they are still there, except now they are stacked two high. In the Department of Corrections, temporary is at least 15 years.”
Granted, at “just” 99% of capacity, Oklahoma’s prisons aren’t nearly as overcrowded as California’s. But 99% is far from ideal — prison administrators say that you never want to be that close to full, so you have flexibility to move people around safely and admit newly sentenced offenders sent to you by the courts. (I once heard the job of running a prison compared to running a hotel where you can’t ever hang up a “no vacancy” sign.)
And unlike California, which actually has average per capita incarceration rates for the U.S., Oklahoma leads the nation in locking up women, and also has one of the highest rates of locking up men. Now, with the prison system sucking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the state budget each year, lawmakers and citizens in the Sooner State are pondering alternatives:
A recent Tulsa World survey also showed strong public support for finding alternatives to incarceration for many nonviolent female offenders and for doing more to help the children they leave behind.
Sen. Brian Bingman, the new Senate president pro tem, said he supports “anything that we can do to keep nonviolent criminals out of prisons.”
Bingman, R-Sapulpa, also said he wants to learn more about the governor’s role in the parole process before deciding whether that requirement should continue.
Gov.-elect Mary Fallin said she would consider legislation removing the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders, adding that for heinous crimes, the governor would have to remain involved.
Fallin also has said that expanding drug and mental health courts would help relieve prison congestion.
I don’t watch fake news, so I missed this, but apparently Marion Jones talked prison reform in her recent interview with Jon Stewart:
It’s interesting, cause you never know where life is going to take you. Ten years ago, I would have never thought that I’d be an advocate for prison reform… If you don’t equip the people who are in prison with the resources to get an education, so that when they get out they can be successful–they’re gonna wind up right back in prison, or wind up being your neighbor. Or worse, maybe marrying your daughter or your son.
As a reluctant connoisseur of anonymous Internet comments, I have noticed that versions of the same comment sprout up like weeds at the end of any article regarding prison or jail conditions: “If inmates don’t want to be treated this way, maybe they shouldn’t commit crimes!” Well, readers of today’s News-Herald needn’t leave such comments, because the editorial board has beaten them to it:
While we support greater accountability and consistency, and while we don’t feel women should be shackled to the extent they suffer lasting hip and back injuries while giving birth, as an Arkansas women alleges in a lawsuit, we feel the better way for mothers to avoid these problems is simply to stay out of prison in the first place.
You know, I’m sure the mothers in question also “feel” that it would have been “better” “simply to stay out of prison in the first place.”
That’s the headline of this Campus Progress report (h/t: Adam Serwer). Immigration detention generally happens in private prisons run by the Corrections Corporation of America or county jails that contract with ICE. LGBT detainees are especially at risk:
And at the San Pedro Service Processing Center in California, a guard forced a transgender woman to repeatedly perform oral sex on him while she waited for her attorney in a holding cell. Even after she reported the incident, the staff took so long arranging for evidence collection that she was forced to wait overnight to wash out her mouth.
Violence against LGBT detainees, in particular, is a growing problem, as they are especially vulnerable within the detention system. In addition to being singled out for harassment as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity, transgender women often face the added risk. They are often housed with male detainees and supervised by male guards. Under those conditions, transgender women are even more susceptible to violence than those held in women-only facilities. …
Unfortunately, efforts to safeguard this particularly vulnerable population have proven distinctly harmful as well. For instance, when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted site visits of seven Southwest detention centers last year, they were troubled to find that some facilities attempted to protect LGBT detainees by keeping them in solitary confinement—a harshly punitive measure often used in prisons to discipline disobedient criminal inmates.
Earlier this week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1900, which would have banned the shackling of incarcerated women who are pregnant, absent a security risk. The bill was supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and had passed without any “no” votes in the state legislature. Here is a response from Karen Shain of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
This year’s edition of the annual Shaking the Foundations conference, put on by students at Stanford Law School, will feature a panel entitled “Locked Up and Locked Out: Reproductive Rights of Women in Prison.” The panel will be Saturday, October 15, featuring the following speakers:
- Kim Buchanan, Associate Professor of Law, University of Southern California, Gould School of Law
- Sara Ainsworth, Senior Legal & Legislative Counsel, Legal Voice
- Amy Fettig, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown Law School/Staff Counsel, ACLU National Prison Project
- Sally Lieber, Former State Assembly Member, State of California
- Carolyn Sufrin, M.D., Clinical Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of California, San Francisco/Women’s Health Specialist, San Francisco Department of Public Health/Jail Health Services
Other panels of possible interest to readers will cover immigration reform, wrongful convictions, healthcare for transgender people, and more. The cost for the two-day conference is $5 for students, $20 for other attendees, and includes three catered meals. You can register online at this link.