Incarcerated Women Fight for Human Rights in California’s Prisons & more

Incarcerated Women Fight for Human Rights in California’s Prisons
Diana Zuniga, statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), speaks with TRNN Correspondent Eddie Conway –   April 30, 2015

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Incarcerated Women Fight for Human Rights in California's PrisonsEDDIE CONWAY, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News. This is the Light Behind Bars segment. Thank you for joining me for Part 2. Our guest today is Diana Zuniga. Diana is the statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget.What is the significance of gender and its relationship to incarceration? And what is the situation for women in the California prisons and jail system?ZUNIGA: You know, just to talk about gender a little bit, I think that a lot of times gender is really lost in our conversation about prisons. And just looking at historically what has happened to, in the guise of really helping people in women’s prisons, has been really scary.In about 2007 there was this huge push to promote gender-responsive prisons. And there were about a handful of gender-responsive prisons that were built. What we ended up finding out last year, what really came to the public eye last year, was that there–in these prisons there were about 214 women that were sterilized without their permission. So a lot of times we don’t hear about the medical neglect and medical issues and human rights issues that are happening in prisons as far as when it has to do with gender. And a lot of times this is because there are less women inside women’s prisons than the male population.What we’ve really been working to do is to expand programs for women specifically. Many of our member organizations have been doing this for years, and that resulted in a program that was passed in 2011 called the Alternative Custody Program. In 2011 this program was passed and it was basically meant to help women that were primary caregivers come back to their communities. A lot of times it was women with lower-level offenses, and instead of serving their time in state prison they would be able to serve their time in a community-based organization or at home under electronic monitoring. The main focus was to reconnect them with their children and reconnect them with their families and their communities.When this policy passed, there were about 7,200 applications that were submitted. To date only 410 people in women’s prisons have been able to actually get the program. So CURB along with its member organizations Justice Now and California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children have been really shopping around an idea to really solidify and support this program from being expanded and really utilized in the way that we thought it was going to be utilized.Recently CURB and Justice Now were able to secure a bill, SB 219, that would actually help alleviate some of the issues that are happening with the Alternative Custody Program. Our bill would basically create a timeline for the application process. There’s no timeline right now, so a lot of times the applications will be just sitting there. Our bill creates a timeline and actually a way to appeal the decision if you are denied. Our bill also does not allow for women to be denied the program if they have any type of medical or mental health condition. In the past we have seen that women with diabetes or with any type of mental health condition, with dental issues, have actually been denied the program.And lastly, our bill would connect folks to be able to access medical coverage in order to answer some of the issues that they are actually facing when they come into the community and are given the Alternative Custody Program. We really think that this is a good step in the right direction and a way to bring people in women’s prisons back to their communities.CONWAY: And it sounds like a good program, the Alternative Custody Program. But I want you to step back a minute. Earlier you said two hundred and some women were sterilized without their consent. How did that happen?ZUNIGA: How did that happen. That is the huge question. There were a lot of issues–similar to why the Plata/Coleman case came about, there were a lot of issues with medical neglect that were happening inside of the state prisons. One of those things that came about, which was a separate issue from the Plata/Coleman case was this sterilization. Recently last year our member organization Justice Now was able to pass an anti-sterilization bill to make sure, or to create safeguards so that this won’t happen to women in the future.What we heard was that–you know, what we heard from many of the women that were sterilized was that they would go in to the healthcare facility with maybe some issues of cramps or any, any type of issue that they were experiencing. Many times they, some of them didn’t know that they had actually been sterilized until they were released from prison and were actually trying to have children and realized, when they went to the doctor again, or their medical practitioner, that they had been sterilized.There is documentation that Justice Now was able to get a hold of that was really able to be the fuel to focus this bill and really pass it unanimously. Right now Justice Now and I believe it’s the Board of State and Community Corrections are responsible for making sure that this doesn’t happen in the future. It’s a really unfortunate thing that happened to many women. I mean, 214, and those are the only ones that are documented. So who knows if it happened to additional women that the documentation got lost. We’re not too sure if it happened to more women than that.CONWAY: Okay. Diana, thank you for joining me, and thank you for participating in this segment of the Light Behind Bars. And hopefully you will join me again in the future to give us an update on what’s going on in the prison system.ZUNIGA: Definitely.CONWAY: Okay. And thank you for joining The Real News.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Death Row News to fight the Death Penalty – GA: ‘Cloudy’ Drugs for Kelly Gissendaner’s Execution Were Kept T

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Kelly Gissendaner Gives Statement Ahead of Execution

Death Row News to fight the Death Penalty – GA: ‘Cloudy’ Drugs for Kelly Gissendaner’s Execution Were Kept T.

GA: ‘Cloudy’ Drugs for Kelly Gissendaner’s Execution Were Kept T
Fri Apr 17, 2015 13:44

‘Cloudy’ Drugs for Kelly Gissendaner’s Execution Were Kept Too Cold
By Tracy ConnorAn investigation into cloudy drugs that were nearly used for the execution of Kelly Gissendaner in Georgia last month has determined they were stored at the wrong temperature. The condition of the drugs caused the execution to be postponed.In court papers, state officials said the pentobarbital, which was purchased from a compounding pharmacy that made a special batch, was kept at 37 degrees when it should have been kept at 59 degrees. That may have caused the “precipitation” that made the solution look cloudy, they said.

Gissendaner, 46, has argued that the last-minute glitch…

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Arizona woman cleared after 22 years on death row: ‘This is not happiness’

Arizona woman cleared after 22 years on death row: ‘This is not happiness’

Debra Milke describes her release as ‘bittersweet’ after 25 years served for the murder of her son, in a case that rested on the work of disgraced detective

Debra Milke Phoenix
Debra Milke speaks in Phoenix. Milke spoke out for the first time after spending two decades on death row in the killing of her son. Her case was dismissed earlier this week. Photograph: Matt York/AP

An Arizona woman who spent 22 years on death row after being convicted of conspiring to murder her son in a case that rested on the work of a detective with a history of misconduct says regaining her freedom was vindicating but bittersweet.

On Monday, a judge formally dismissed murder charges against Debra Milke, ending what her lawyers called a “living nightmare” that spanned nearly half her life. After her son was found dead, the now-discredited Phoenix police detective Armando Saldate claimed Milke confessed to arranging her son’s murder, even though there was no witness or recording. …

In less than 40 years, 124 countries have abolished the death penalty – and here’s why the rest should end it too

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In less than 40 years, 124 countries have abolished the death penalty – and here’s why the rest should end it too

In less than 40 years, 124 countries have abolished the death penalty – and here’s why the rest should end it too

Bali Nine drug trafficking duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will face a firing squad. Photo: Getty Images

Marched in handcuffs across the tarmac by a group of heavily armed officers wearing balaclavas and thick helmets, the bare faces of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran appeared even more tragic.

The blurry images showing them being taken onto the plane headed for Nusakambangan Island Prison highlighted the inhumanity of the fate that Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is adamant they will face.

After more than 10 years in prison, they are among the next group whom…

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New York Is Illegally Shackling Pregnant, Incarcerated Women

Featured photo - New York Is Illegally Shackling Pregnant, Incarcerated Women 

New York Is Illegally Shackling Pregnant, Incarcerated Women

The state of New York is illegally shackling incarcerated women during childbirth, according to a new report on reproductive justice from the Correctional Association of New York.

“Women continue to be shackled on the way to the hospital (even when they are in labor), during recovery (even within hours after giving birth and for long periods of time), and on the way back to the prison (even with waist chains just days after having a C-section),” the report said. New York passed an anti-shackling statute in 2009, but according to the Correctional Association, “23 of 27 women the CA surveyed who gave birth after the law went into effect said they were shackled at least once in violation of the statute.”

In many ways, the state of New York is abusing pregnant, incarcerated women all over again, given that 90% of all incarcerated women experienced sexual and physical abuse before heading to prison, according to the report.

Every year nearly 2,000 women give birth in America’s prisons and jails. Being jailed is a traumatic experience for women in and of itself, given the lack of training and concern for incarcerated women. But “this trauma is compounded by the lack of supportive services to help women grapple with the issues that led them to prison and the challenges they face once inside, including being separated from their families,” the Correctional Association said. Dani McCalin, writing at Truthout, reported that, “Women who are not pregnant use newspaper and magazines while on their periods because they are not provided an adequate number of pads.”

Now, couple pregnancy with incarceration and one can only imagine the horror that pregnant inmates face. In New York, pregnant women complained that prison officials did not provide them with enough food, adequate prenatal care, vitamins, heat, ventilation or privacy. The report highlighted how such an environment left many women “feeling depressed and ill-equipped to find stable homes for their babies.”

Clearly, the shackling of pregnant of women is an incredibly painful experience. “Shackling causes physical and psychological pain. It heightens the risk of blood clots and limits the mobility that someone needs for a safe pregnancy and safe delivery. It can cause fetal death”, the Correctional Association’s Tamar Kraft-Stolar said. 

Shackling can also cause pulled groin muscles and the separation of pubic bones. And because of the potential for injury, many states have restricted the practice. Yet some states, such as California, Texas, and New York, have struggled to fully ban such inhumane treatment, according to the New York Times. But the fact that many prison officials maintain the idea that it is okay to shackle pregnant women, speaks to a broader hatred and lack of compassion for women generally.

“We need to stop sending pregnant women to prison in the first place. It’s unacceptable that the law is being violated, but we need to stop locking up so many women, especially so many pregnant women”, said Kraft-Stolar.

Photo: Yanina Manolova/AP

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Outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley officially commutes death sentences

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Outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley officially commutes death sentences

Commutations signed for Vernon Evans, Anthony Grandison, Jody Lee Miles, Heath Burch

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley


Gov. Martin O’Malley

ANNAPOLIS, Md. —Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has officially commuted the death sentences of four inmates who had been sentenced to die before Maryland banned capital punishment in 2013.

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Kitzhaber could Commute Sentences of all 34 (1 Woman) Death Row Inmates before Leaving office (poll)

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Kitzhaber could commute sentences of all 34 death row inmates before leaving office (poll)

The death chamber at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. (Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian)

With the rapidly approaching departure of Gov. John Kitzhaber, conjecture is flying about what he might do with the 33 men and one woman on Oregon’s death row.

Before he leaves…

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Women in New York State Prisons Face Solitary Confinement and Shackling While Pregnant or Sick

Women in New York State Prisons Face Solitary Confinement and Shackling While Pregnant or Sick

RJ-Report-Cover-JPEG-231x300What does solitary confinement have to do with reproductive justice? Quite a lot, says a new report about reproductive health care in New York’s women’s prisons. The Correctional Association of New York, a criminal justice policy and advocacy organization, released Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons. The report is a culmination of the organization’s five-year study of the state’s women’s prisons, including in-person interviews with over 950 incarcerated women and 1,500 mailed-in surveys.

New York State incarcerates nearly 4,000 women each year. On any given day, the New York Department of Corrections and Community Service (DOCCS) imprisons 2,300 women, for which it is responsible for providing health care, including reproductive health care. But that care is “woefully substandard,” charges the report. The Correctional Association found that DOCCS systemically offered substandard medical treatment, inadequate access to gynecological care, poor conditions for pregnant women, and insufficient supplies of feminine hygiene products and toilet paper. In addition, pregnant women are routinely shackled during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery, in violation of the state’s 2009 law.

Solitary confinement exacerbates these problems. Approximately 1,600 people are placed in solitary confinement in New York’s women’s prisons each year. On any given day, 100 women are held in solitary confinement. Until recently, no exceptions were made for pregnant women. But even women who are not pregnant have found that solitary confinement further obstructs their ability to access reproductive health care. “Solitary is especially dangerous for pregnant women because it impedes access to critical OB care and prevents women from getting the regular exercise and movement that are vital for a healthy pregnancy,” the report states. In addition, many pregnant women already experience stress and depression, feelings intensified by isolation. For pregnant women, the additional stress of being locked in a cell for 23 hours a day lowers their ability to fight infection and increases the risk of preterm labor, miscarriage, and low birth weight in babies.

Among the women surveyed by the Correctional Association, the three most common charges for isolation were, in order, disobeying a direct order, creating a disturbance, and being out of place. “It’s one of the clearest examples of how the prison system is a system of punishment and only uses punishment to address behaviors that need intervention and support,” Tamar Kraft-Stolar, director of the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project and the author of the report, told Solitary Watch.

DOCCS has two forms of solitary confinement—the Special Housing Unit (SHU), which is used to punish more serious rules violations, and keeplock, for less serious infractions. People placed in keeplock are usually confined to their own cells; if they live in a dorm setting, they are sent to a separate keeplock unit. SHU cells are in a separate area. In keeplock, individuals are allowed to keep their possessions while those in SHU are denied almost all of their property and receive only the minimal number of state-issued items. People generally spend no more than 60 days in keeplock, whereas people can spend months, years or even decades in the SHU.

Whether in SHU or keeplock, people are confined to their cells 23 hours each day. They cannot participate in programs, receive packages, or use the phone except to make legal or emergency calls. In addition, they are limited to one non-legal visit per week and three five to ten minute showers per week. They often have difficulty accessing doctors. When they are visited by medical staff, they are frequently forced to shout their concerns through a locked metal door, allowing people in neighboring cells and nearby staff to hear.

Until 2014, no written policy regulated pregnancy and solitary confinement. But as part of the settlement for the class-action lawsuit Peoples v Fischer, DOCCS issued a memo establishing a “presumption” against SHU placement for pregnant women unless a watch commander believes she poses “an immediate and substantial risk [to herself or others]…or an immediate and substantial threat to the safety and good order of the facility,” which remain left to the discretion of prison staff and officials. The memo does not restrict pregnant women from being placed in keeplock, instead suggesting it as an alternate placement for pregnant women who receive a SHU sentence.

The Correctional Association identified seven women held in solitary while pregnant between 2009 and 2012. All had problems accessing prenatal care from isolation. In one instance, a woman spent four weeks in keeplock where her complaints of bleeding were ignored. After the Correctional Association intervened, she was given medical attention and diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, in which the pregnancy occurs outside the womb and, if unaddressed, can be fatal.

“Elle Farah” was pregnant when she arrived at Albion Correctional Facility for a work release violation. The week before, she had visited the emergency room for what she had thought was a miscarriage. “They told me to wait and come back on Friday [two days later] for a sonogram and a D&C,” she told Solitary Watch. But work release rules dictated that she return to prison on Friday for the weekend and so she missed the appointment. When she was released on Sunday, she had a drink. “After that, I got sick. I was throwing up. I was throwing up on my way to parole [the next day],” she said. At the parole office, she failed her breathalyzer test and was sent to Albion. When her vomiting continued, she wondered whether she was miscarrying. When she told the sergeant that she was pregnant, she recalled that “he was really nasty about it. He said, ‘That’s not gonna get you out of SHU.’” The prison sent her to an outside hospital where she was told that she was having a miscarriage, that doctors could do nothing, and that she simply had to wait.

A prison nurse served as her hearing officer. At one point, Elle recalled, he stopped the recorder and told her that he had looked at her sonogram and, although she had been told that she was miscarrying, the baby looked fine. He then turned the recorder on and sentenced her to 90 days in SHU. She received no additional medical care or extra food. She was able to shower three times a week and exercise by herself in a small outdoor cage.

Because Albion has no facilities for pregnant women, Elle was transferred to Bedford Hills two weeks later. She was fully shackled, including waist chains, for the entire ten-hour bus ride. When she arrived at Bedford, she was placed in SHU. “Even though I was in solitary in both places, I was happy to go from one solitary to another because Bedford’s was a little bit better,” she said. But even with the extra snack that Bedford provides pregnant women (“usually a bologna sandwich,” she recalled, although pregnant women are advised to avoid deli meats which can be life-threatening to a fetus), she remembered that she was always hungry. “I had to wait a long time to eat and there wasn’t a lot of healthy food.”

Even women who are not pregnant face reproductive injustices while in isolation. Donna Hylton was in the SHU at Bedford Hills for three months when she sought care for a burning sensation in her urethra. First, she had to tell the officer that she wanted to sign up for sick call. “You have to yell your business down a corridor full of women,” she explained. Hours later, a male officer arrived and asked, “Who signed up for sick call? Why do you want to sign up for sick call?” The response, Hyton remembered, “felt like a gross violation of my privacy.”

Two days later, a nurse, accompanied by two officers, stopped in front of her cell and spoke to Hylton through the closed door. Two weeks after that, Hylton was placed in handcuffs, ankle cuffs and a waist chain before being escorted to the prison’s medical unit. There, a nurse asked if she had been having sex. “The door was open and a sergeant was right outside,” she remembered. “There was no privacy.” Another week passed before she was once again shackled and brought to the gynecologist, who asked the same question about sex. He did not examine her before prescribing Tylenol.

Finally, the woman in the adjoining cell, Judith Clark, helped Hylton figure out that she had a urinary tract infection triggered by antibiotics for a sinus infection. To access medical care, Hylton once again had to yell down the corridor to sign up for sick call and go through the whole process again. But this time, the gynecologist examined her. Although her waist chain and ankle cuffs were removed, she remained cuffed by one hand during the exam. “”You’re cuffed, you’re chained, you’re strapped. You have to take off some of your clothes while being restrained,” she explained. “Being a [rape] survivor, it was very violating. I was re-traumatized.”

Hylton was taken off the antibiotics for her sinus infection and placed on medication for a urinary tract infection. “But it was only because of Judy that I learned what was causing it,” she remembered. “No one had asked me anything about my medications.”

Hylton’s medical ordeal happened in 1987. Nearly 30 years later, the Correctional Association found that women face the same obstacles. Nearly half of the women surveyed attempted to access gynecological care while in isolation. More than one-third reported that the officers refused to place their names on the sick call list unless the woman described her concern. The practice has caused some women to refrain from seeking medical, particularly gynecological, care while in solitary. Given that the average SHU sentence is about three months and that the average keeplock sentence ranges between 14 and 27 days, not seeking health care can have deleterious, and sometimes long-lasting, effects.

In addition, some women have reported that nurses on sick call rounds dismissed their concerns and refused to allow them to see a doctor. Even when nurses are not dismissive, they must assess the woman through the closed cell door. Women also reported waiting for weeks before seeing a doctor. In the meantime, their symptoms often worsened. Like Hylton, women in the SHU are taken to gynecological appointments in shackles. DOCCS policy is to remove shackles for the appointment at the doctor’s request, but seven of the 25 women who had GYN exams while in isolation reported that they remained in restraints while being examined.

The Correctional Association also has a Prison Visiting Project, which visits and monitors conditions in both men’s and women’s prisons in New York State. Scott Paltrowitz, the project’s associate director, points out that many of these concerns, such as access and quality of medical care, are also experienced in men’s isolation units. “Solitary confinement is torture for all people because of the intense suffering and severe physical and psychological debilitation it causes,” he told Solitary Watch. “The particularly devastating gender-specific impacts on women in solitary highlighted in Reproductive Injustice epitomize the egregious nature of this practice and the extreme punitive approach utilized in New York State prisons. New York needs to end this practice for all people.”

Hylton agrees. “No one should be dehumanized in such a fashion.” So does Elle Farah. “Don’t put no pregnant person in SHU,” she recommended, adding, “I hope the whole solitary thing ends. The crime doesn’t justify the punishment.”

“These [stories] are examples of why we need to keep people out of solitary and keep people out of prison altogether,” said Tamar Kraft-Stolar. The report is the launching point for the Correctional Association’s Campaign to End Reproductive Injustice, which seeks to raise reproductive health care standards in prison, end shackling during all stages of pregnancy, and push New York to continue shifting away from incarceration by utilizing more alternatives to incarceration and ending the criminalization of social and economic issues.

Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America

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Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America

Ram Subramanian • Ruth Delaney • Stephen Roberts • Nancy Fishman • Peggy McGarry

Local jails, which exist in nearly every town and city in America, are built to hold people deemed too dangerous to release pending trial or at high risk of flight. This, however, is no longer primarily what jails do or whom they hold, as people too poor to post bail languish there and racial disparities disproportionately impact communities of color. This report reviews existing research and data to take a deeper look at our nation’s misuse of local jails and to determine how we arrived at this point. It also highlights jurisdictions that have taken steps to mitigate negative consequences, all with the aim of informing local policymakers and their constituents who are interested in in reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and promoting stronger, healthier…

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