Monday, August 24, 2020
The 2020 American Black Film Festival is under way. If you have not participated yet, you have time to see several features over the remaining days of the festival. The festival runs through Sunday and addresses many human and civil rights.
The festival includes short and feature films and discussions by directors, writers,and other diverse story tellers. One of the many interesting films is Son of the South, produced by Spike Lee. Here is a summary:
Directed by Barry Alexander Brown the film is set in the summer of 1961, Son of the South tells the true story of Bob Zellner, grandson of an Alabama Klansman, who went against his family as the civil rights movement began to heat up in the deep South. Living in Montgomery, he witnessed first-hand the heroism of John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr and Rosa Parks who said to him when he was wavering, “Something bad is going to happen right in front of you someday and you’re going to have to choose which side you’re on – not choosing is a choice.” This is an honest and inspiring account of what it takes to do the right thing.
A discussion with Barry Alexander Brown will follow the screening.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
The Trump administration attempted to prevent trans individuals from receiving healthcare. The administration attempted to "to erase protections for transgender patients against discrimination by doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies, dealing a blow to the broader legal reasoning it has used to try to roll back transgender rights across the government." Judge Block of the Federal District Court (Brooklyn) found that the proposed roll back was unconstitutional under the Bostock case.
While the ruling is only a preliminary injunction, Bostock made clear that the definition of sex discrimination includes trans individuals. Hooray!
Monday, August 17, 2020
Women's national right to vote is 100 years old. Those women who led and supported the movement to change the law so that women could vote were brave. Katy Cady Stanton,Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul and Margaret Fuller are the names most Americans associate with the suffrage movement. Who can name the leading Black women who promoted suffrage?
Only with BLM has the general white populace become aware of Black women's leadership in the suffrage movement. This week brought articles on Black women who not only advanced suffrage but did so effectively. The New York Times this week included information on how black women, including Ida B. Wells, documented the Black suffrage movement through photography. Black suffrage organizers argued that racism and sexism could not be separated. Today's BLM women recognize that intersectionality as the #Say Her Name movement represents.
For a time, Alice Paul was persuaded by racists who felt that Southern women would not support Northern suffrage movement if Black women were permitted to march with White women. The Guardian wrote about this choice in describing an incident documented in PBS' "The Vote". Once again racism was permitted to influence decision making, which only postponed US reckoning with race. While ultimately Alice Paul agreed that Black women would not march separately, her initial opposition and continued failure to give equal status to the Black leaders caused harm.
Some of the many Black suffrage leaders' names to remember: Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, May Howard Jackson, Harriet Gibbs Marshall, Drs. Amanda Gray and Eva Walsh, Anna Evans Murray, Georgia Simpson, Harriet Shad, Lulie Niles Fisher, Lucretia A. Freeman, Minnie Gaines, Florence Henderson, Nettie Johnson, and Carrie Clifford. #SayTheirNames.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Much excitement has greeted Mr. Biden's announcement that his vice-presidential running mate is Senator Kamala Harris.
The selection of a Black, female running mate is a consequence of and a response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Harris is not without her controversy, particularly on issues of mass incarceration and prosecutorial rigidity. During her prosecutorial and Attorney General days she opposed release of incarcerated people proved innocent. Then after their release she opposed awarding the compensation to the exonerees. Law and order was one of her signature policies. Both Biden and Harris will have difficulty distancing themselves from the players who maintained (and in Biden's case built) the carceral state.
That said, Senator Harris brings high energy to the campaign and she brings self-confidence and a commitment to helping the most desperate during the current health crisis. She knows how Congress works and is a good match for the bad boys of Congress. Her inquiries at the Kavanaugh hearings revealed her understanding of issues that impact women. And her parental heritage ensures her understanding of multiple cultures.
How exciting it would be if our first female president is a woman of color. The vice-presidency could set her up well for a presidential run.
No candidate will meet all needs. But as the authors of How Democracies Die reminds us, in order to defeat an autocrat it is only necessary that opposition groups unite behind the alternative candidate. Whatever disagreements anti-autocrats may have with the alternate candidate are unimportant. Unification to defeat the autocrat is imperative to the survival of a democratic state. Everything else can be dealt with later. The 2020 election is our turning point. Post-election we either struggle on as a democracy or we bid farewell to the Republic and acknowledge the solidification of the US as an authoritarian state.
Monday, August 10, 2020
The Violence Against Women's Act was pursued by well-intentioned advocates. Much good has come from the funding that accompanied the act's passage. Funded domestic violence shelters and other services for those experiencing intimate partner abuse has provided options to survivors and their children. From the beginning, however, there were serious flaws in the act. But those were not significant enough for advocates to abandon their advocacy.
Women of color were mostly excluded from the VAWA drafting process. If they had been, they would have raised objections to the stream of funding being primarily to and through the police. Advocates quickly assessed the error of the overwhelming role that law enforcement was assigned under VAWA. The act presumes that the criminal system - law enforcement and prosecutors - is entitled to lead anti intimate partner abuse efforts. How wrong that presumption is.
Had women of color, particularly Native and African American women, been guiding VAWA's development, they would have cautioned about the risks of criminal law involvement. Certainly there are times when victims are safe only when the abusive partner is confined. But many downsides can result from survivors' participation in the criminal system. Survivors complain of not having control over the criminal process. When survivors do not wish to pursue charges, they can be subpoenaed or held in contempt. In one case, the survivor was arrested for contempt for failing to appear at a scheduled hearing. Ultimately the prosecution decided that even with the survivor's testimony they did not have sufficient evidence to prosecute. The survivor ended up with an arrest record for a case the prosecution never pursued.
Further detrimental consequences from the criminal system abound. Cooperation with police can be dangerous to survivors who fear and suffer worse abuse because of their cooperation. Survivors suffering from PTSD or other mental health disorders may not have capacity to testify without suffering further health consequences. Mothers, particularly women of color, may lose custody of their children to the state or to the abuser for "failing to protect" them from an abuser over whom the mother has no control. The arrested abusive partner may not be able to find work, even after an acquittal. With a conviction, employment may be even more difficult to obtain, leaving the the survivor and children financially desperate.
Drastically reducing funding to the criminal system and shifting those funds to civil services can provide what victims decide they need. This could include permanent, safe housing and financial support until survivors can be self-sufficient; mental health resources for survivors and their children. With a shift in funding, survivors could design their own restorative plans for them, their children and even their abusers if they desire.
For critical thinking on the criminal legal system and it's sideways direction in domestic violence cases, I suggest reading Leigh Goodmark's book "decriminalizing Domestic Violence".
Thursday, August 6, 2020
In the U.S. we are familiar with the decades of abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar of young female gymnast, other countries are reporting similar abuses of their girls. Professor Dunlap followed Nassar in earlier posts.
Now other countries are recognizing abuses against their young athletes.
"Complaints by at least 20 former Australian gymnasts about physical and mental abuse during their careers has prompted Gymnastics Australia to ask a human rights group to investigate. The gymnasts, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medalists, have recently spoken of a toxic culture within the sport. They also used social media platforms to detail fat-shaming and other forms of abuse." While the identity of the gymnasts was not disclosed, public fat shaming of male athletes has not been observed by this writer. The Australian Human Rights Commission will investigate.
Meanwhile Dutch authorities are investigating similar abuses and in the meantime has suspended the women's training program. British Gymnastics is conducting an investigation into the abuse of their female gymnasts. And Flemish Gymnastics Federation is conducting its own investigation.
The brave women who accused Larry Nassar empowered women and girls around the world to report abuse. Another thank you to those brave women who came forward in Michigan.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
In a recent ranking the United States came in 34th as the country best for raising a family. Iceland ranked first, having received A+ rankings for safety, cost, and health. Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Luxembourg received A+ rankings.
The United States was ranked 34 out of 3v5 counties. Not surprisingly, the US received an "F" in safety. Other categories in which the US received failing grades were cost and time. No grade was higher than a C+ and those were received in the happiness and education categories. A D- in health rounds out the scoring.
If you are not one of the 1% category, you already know why the ranking is low - and appropriate. Millions in the country have inadequate or no health insurance. Most public schools are under-resourced, particularly those in communities of color. The cost of living is excessive with those in minimum wage positions unable to escape the consequences of poverty. The divide between the wealthy and those barely able to sustain themselves has not been this wide since the so-called "Golden Age". Not only is safety not secure in the US, those sworn to serve and protect can be causing the most harm depending upon your skin color. The C+ the US received in "happiness" was generous grading indeed.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
It would be difficult indeed to deny systemic racism in our public institutions, particularly our legal ones. This realization for some seems overwhelming, making it difficult for them know where to begin.
Envisioning our legal systems as huge and unmovable machines incapable of stopping reinforces helplessness. What is denied in that assessment is that our legal system is populated by individuals and supported by individual citizens who passively accept the policies of racism embedded in our culture.
Local elections of district attorneys and in many jurisdictions, judges, are under the control of individual citizens. We determine leadership of the courts and in prosecutions. In deciding through elections who that leadership will be, we decide what the policies and institutional culture will be. Philadelphia's citizens took control and elected District Attorney Larry Krasner. Mr. Krasner examined racist policies and took measures toward eliminating systemic bias. This included holding biased and violent police officers accountable. Mr. Krasner announced today that he intends to arrest any federal agents sent to Philadelphia by the President who behave as they did in Portland- kidnapping protesters.
For those who do not have direct experience with our legal systems, apathy might be the response to local elections of judges, court clerks and prosecuting attorneys. As we have heard as part of BLM, silence is violence. Scrutiny of candidates' policy agenda is critical. No election is too local to fail to scrutinize the bias of candidates and their willingness to "go along" with the status quo. Voting apathy is not acceptable. We must be mindful that each elected official reflects our individual and community values. Bias in all forms can be addressed.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
A new series released on Netflix explores the impact of having no home, no identity, and no country. The series was co-created and directed by Cate Blanchett who is a UNHCR goodwill ambassador and awardee. The series follows a 20-year-old Rohingya refugee and her one-year-old son as they seek safety in a refugee settlement. The six-part series is set in one of Australia's detention camps.
Ms. Blanchett recommends a list of movies to watch during COVID-19 that will inform the viewer of refugee barriers and conditions. The list is:
- Capernaum, directed by Nadine Labaki
- Shoplifters, directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
- News from Home, directed by Chantal Akerman
- The Other Side of Hope, directed by Aki Kaurismaki
- Babel, directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu
- The Joy Luck Club, directed by Wayne Wang
Monday, June 29, 2020
The holding in Whole Women's Health survived. Today's release of the US Supreme Court's opinion in June Medical Services v Russo relied on differing legal interpretations. In striking down Louisiana's restrictive abortion law, Justice Breyer noted that the Louisiana law was practically the same as the Texas law struck down by the Supreme Court in Whole Women's Health. Both Texas and Louisiana sought to require doctors performing abortions to have privileges at local hospitals, an impossible process for the doctors named as Plaintiffs in the June Medical Services cases, as they proved during the pendency of the case.
Justice Breyer focuses on the standard of review for Appellate Courts in reviewing a District Court order. He emphasized the limited availability for courts to reinterpret the lower court's findings. Those findings were, as noted, were more extensive than the findings made in the Texas case. He also noted that when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the Louisiana District Court's holding that the law was unduly burdensome on women seeking abortions they did so by criticizing the lower court findings. Justice Breyer observed that the Appeals Court cannot reinterpret the lower court's findings and the Appeals Court should not have done so. "In light of the record, the District Court’s significant factual findings—both as to burdens and as to benefits—have ample evidentiary support and are not clearly erroneous. Thus, the court’s related factual and legal determinations and its ultimate conclusion that Act 620 is unconstitutional are proper."
Justice Roberts took a different approach. The Chief Justice, who dissented in Whole Women's Health, wrote in his concurring opinion "The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike. The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents."
The anti-choice legal strategists did not anticipate this result. They rushed to move June Medical Services through the system in order to reach the Supreme Court. One concession they made in the lower court was to stipulate that the Plaintiff doctors had standing to bring the case. The strategy focused on speed, getting the case before the Supreme Court as soon as possible after securing what the strategists perceived as a majority "anti-abortion" justices. The strategists presumed that the decision would come down to the justices' personal preferences. What the anti-choice lawyers failed to properly assess was Justice Robert's commitment to the rule of law and his dedication to maintaining the integrity of the Court. What they thought was an opportunity for Chief Justice Roberts to turn his Women's Whole Health dissent into a majority opinion resulted in his commitment to preserving one of the court's fundamental legal concepts.
The anti-choice strategists will return. June Medical Services is a stumbling block but not an insurmountable one. In future anti-choice laws will be crafted without mimicking other laws that have failed. Then stare decisis may not be invoked.
Monday, June 22, 2020
Law professors and moviegoers may associate the phrase "Get your feet off our necks" with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In both the documentary "RBG" and the movie "On the Basis of Sex" we hear Justice Ginsberg say "I ask no favor for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks." Many readers may not appreciate that Justice Ginsberg was quoting Sarah Grimke, a 19th century southern abolitionist who relocated to Philadelphia along with her sister, Angelina. Following the end of the Civil War, Ms. Grimke turned her attention to feminist issues. In that context, she said: "But I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright …”
The current demonstrators incorporated the slogan substituting "knees" for "feet". Appropriately so. While the Grimke sisters were dedicated abolitionists, who themselves were criticized and threatened, they did not promote equality between Blacks and Whites. Paraphrasing Sarah's statement expands the work of the Grimke sisters. The revised phrase is apt. Not only does the Floyd video show the perpetrator's knee as the deadly weapon, but more reports have surfaced supporting that police have used the same deadly technique on other black people.
Demonstrators using the paraphrased words of Sarah Grimke to reflect current reality may finish what the abolitionists left undone. Enslaved people were legally freed but then the law was used to continue their enslavement in different forms. Equality and equity were never achieved. Now is the time to make this right.
Monday, June 1, 2020
George Floyd died on May 25, 2020. Mr. Floyd died because a police officer decided to kill him by cutting off his blood and air supply with the officer's knee. Mr. Floyd left a six-year old daughter. He had moved to Minneapolis for a fresh start and was laid off due to COVID-19. Floyd was a human being, one whose life was eliminated on film.
Mr. Floyd called for his deceased mother when he was dying. I can imagine no response to that fact other than being brought to our knees. Outrage at the actions of Officer Chauvin is matched by the grief of knowing Mr. Floyd was aware of his impending death and sought help or perhaps, I prefer to think solace, from his deceased mother. -
The horror, of course, is compounded for African Americans who live with actual or threatened police brutality every day. African Americans, no matter what their socioeconomic status face daily indignities that are largely unacknowledged by white people.
The country is at a pivotal point. African Americans and others are grieving a brutal and unnecessary death. And much of the white US is carrying on as usual, even if carrying on looks different during semi-quarantine. Lately, news reports give more focus to property damage than to the sources and impact of racial discrimination.
Mr. Floyd is not yet buried. The grief is raw and new. When death happens, we step out of our ordinary routines. Those who can stop working. We take time to cry and be with our friends and family. What to do in grief is complex. But we can ask African American individual and communities how we can help.
I am disturbed when I see the world operating largely without acknowledging this grief. Why aren’t flags at half-mast. Why aren’t we demanding official times of mourning? As with any grieving, we need to acknowledge the pain of those suffering most. We need to be of service whatever that looks like. That doesn't happen when the world continues as usual, even at its new slower speed.
Monday, May 11, 2020
Since the 2016 election the human US rights advocates have turned to the federal courts for help. The courts have not always ruled in favor of human rights advocate, but there were many victories. Advocates often gave thanks for an independent judiciary. The judiciary has been the only branch of government that has operated within their original design as an independent branch of government.
The Justice Department's attempt to unwind the convictions of Michael Flynn has a broader purpose than adjusting Mr. Flynn's conviction status. Attorney General Barr is testing the process to determine if the dismissal mechanism is a successful tool in undermining judicial authority.
In his exploration for a presidential campaign, President Trump tested how much he could control voters' mind by creating the "birther" movement. What he learned was that through the most implausible of tools he could create a base of supporters. This is DOJ's birther moment within the legal system. How much will DOJ be able to manipulate the judicial branch through established legal mechanisms.
DOJ's motion to dismiss the Flynn prosecution is a prototype. And a clever one. A presidential pardon would accomplish the same result but in an election year this route is a safer route. In addition, this route tests the court in determining if the method is one that can be replicated. Judge Sullivan has been brought into a critical process. Agreed upon motions are frequently allowed without intensive scrutiny. But this motion is not like others. Whichever way Judge Sullivan decides, the ruling will be historic.
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
In February two Georgia white men attempted to abduct a black jogger. When the jogger resisted he was shot and killed. The prosecutor felt there was insufficient evidence to take the case to the grand jury.
This week a black security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, MI was shot in the of the back of the head for requesting that a customer wear a mask or not be served.
The largest and most aggressive protest against sheltering regulations was in Michigan, a state with a female governor in a state where the city with highest cluster of CORONA 19 is Detroit, a primarily African American city.
Today President Trump called on citizens to become warriors. The LA Times reported:
"In recent days, he’s begun describing citizens as “warriors” in the battle against the pandemic and suggested some of those fighters might have to die if that will help boost the economy. "
About six months before his death, I had the privilege of hearing Congressman Cummings speak. An audience member asked what scares him most. Mr. Cummings said that after listening to witnesses at the Michael Cohen hearings, what scared him most is what Trump means when he said that he would not go quietly.
Assault rifles remain the weapon of choice. Gun sales are on the rise and the President is losing popularity.
The signal has been given.
Sunday, May 3, 2020
Despite advocacy asking states to release incarcerated individuals early, the US has released relatively few people in comparison with other countries. Prisons and jails are not safe for the incarcerated or for staff. Only a few days ago Governor Cuomo announced that pregnant women women would be released. But the group of women to be released is narrow. Only women with convictions for non-violent crimes will be released and only then if their remaining sentence is under six months.
Release wouldn't be as critical if jails and prisons were otherwise safe spaces. But those inside report horrid conditions. There is not effective or even enhanced sanitation. Women who are suspected of having symptoms are often isolated in deplorable conditions. At one prison, women were moved to a prion wing that had been closed in years. The cells are filthy with walls filled with mold. Others report a shortage of food, and and disinfecting supplies. No efforts are made at physical differences.
Human Rights Watch issued a report. While it is NY specific, the report is worth a read. The frightening conditions described are prevalent in most jails and prisons across the country.
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Ian M. Kysel, Visiting Assistant Clinical Progessor of Law, Cornell Law School sends along this post:
In the hopes that it may be useful in your work, I wanted to share new work on human mobility and human rights in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic: Principles of protection for migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons (which I realize many of you have signed). The final document was endorsed by more than 800 academics around the world. You can find the 14 Principles here and accompanying press release here.
These Principles were developed in the past couple of weeks under the auspices of the Program on Forced Migration, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University; the Migration and Human Rights Program, Cornell Law School; and the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, The New School. The document’s drafters included: T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Chaloka Beyani, Iain Byrne, Francois Crépeau, Joanne Csete, Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, Walter Kälin, Ian M. Kysel, Jane McAdam, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Anna Shea, Leah Zamore and Monette Zard (significant credit goes to Alex and Monette and their teams!).
We hope that it is useful in your work and also that you might share the principles widely, with law and policymakers, civil society colleagues and academics and on social media platforms as you see appropriate. By visiting this Google Drive Folder, you'll find some social media templates you can use to share with your networks, along with a folder of images for that purpose. We're also posting from the social media channels listed, if you'd like to retweet, quote-tweet, comment, or share.
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Many are recommending gratitude practices as a survival tool during our current isolation. As one teacher says, it is difficult to be sad if you are grateful. One of the benefits of isolation is time to reflect. This can be a time of spiritual growth if we choose to reflect on ourselves and the current state of our world. Mental health providers support the use of gratitude to enhance well-being. One study resulted in surprising findings. After ten weeks of gratitude reflections, participants reported better mental health but also that they engaged in more physical exercise.
Practicing gratitude is humbling. As I write this I recognize my place of privilege. As of now, my employment is not threatened and I have a pleasant place to spend my time along with pleasant company. I do spend a part of each day looking for various ways I can support those who need immediate help. Perhaps that is part of my gratitude and meditation practices.
Optimism is a side benefit of gratitude. Those of us who have resources owe it to ourselves and others to remain optimistic. Advocates need to maintain optimism to carry on their work for those whose lives and human rights are at extreme risk now. So sleep (much), drink (water) and be grateful!
Monday, April 20, 2020
A recent post discussed how states have used the COVID 19 emergency to restrict abortion accessibility claiming that abortions are "non-essential" medical services. Now the 5th Circuit has upheld the abortion restrictions issued by Texas that limit medical procedures to essential services only. While abortion was not directly mentioned, the state's attorney general interpreted the order to include abortions. While federal district courts twice stayed the order as applied to abortions but today the Court of Appeals overruled the District Court and reinstated the ban in its entirety.
The Court reached far back into legal history in order to rationalize its decision. The Court cited 1905 Supreme Court decision Jacobson v Massachusetts which upheld a mandatory vaccination law during a smallpox outbreak. The case offered little in the way of analogy. The orders are vastly different and the Texas ban does not rationalize how the abortion restrictions will assist in containing the COVID-19 threat. While medication abortions are permitted along with those that would be time-barred during the duration of the ban, the orders discount not only women's autonomy but the psychological and physical harm that women will suffer by delayed procedures.
Friday, April 17, 2020
Good strategists know when to seize an opportunity. Texas began the trend by declaring abortion elective surgery permissible only if the mother's physical health is at risk. Seizing hospitals' cancellations of elective surgery opened a pathway for anti-choice politicians to create circumstances that all but eliminate the possibility for most women to obtain an abortion.
Other states followed. Arkansas and Tennessee among them. Appellate Courts have met challenges to the restrictions in various ways and Planned Parenthood has requested a hearing with the US Supreme Court. No response has been heard from the court.
Alaska has joined the ban-abortion contingent by declaring abortions non essential unless the life or health of the mother is endangered. Women in Alaska exemplify the hardship that bans create, particularly in states comprised mostly of a rural population. Abuse survivors, particularly, Alaskan Natives often experience their abuse without help. Adverse weather conditions, remote locations, poverty and few local resources leave survivors in desperate conditions at the hands of their abusers. The same conditions already inhibit rural Alaskan women from obtaining abortions. Imposing additional burdens on Alaskan women effectively eliminates their choice. Travel to another state for the procedure is unaffordable and risky for women in abusive relationships. Even those in non-abusive circumstances will be restricted by distance and expense.
The imposed restrictions already have removed choice. To argue otherwise is a fallacy. COVID19 related unemployment adds an additional stressor that influences women to choose termination of a pregnancy. The related loss of healthcare and other benefits makes looming or worsening poverty a real possibility for many women. Imposing the ban at a time when women and families are facing the most serious loss of income and the highest unemployment that the country has experienced is particularly cruel. Ideology and empathy are not compatible.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
The Department of Justice began investigating the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in 2018. The Justice Department report was released this week. The primary finding was of rampant sexual abuse of incarcerated women by correctional officers and other staff. Since the investigation began DOJ reports:
In May 2018, an Edna Mahan correction officer was found guilty of five counts of sexually abusing prisoners. According to the sentencing judge, the “pervasive culture” at Edna Mahan allowed this correction officer to abuse his “position of authority to indulge in [his] own sexual stimulation.”
In July 2018, another Edna Mahan correction officer pled guilty to three counts of official misconduct after he admitted sexually abusing three separate prisoners.
In January 2019, another correction officer pled guilty to official misconduct charges after admitting that he repeatedly sexually abused two Edna Mahan prisoners over a period of several years. In sentencing him, the New Jersey court concluded that the officer had “sexually assaulted a vulnerable population.”
Others have been indicted.
As reported by the NY Times, “Sexual abuse should not be a part of any prisoner’s punishment,” Eric S. Dreiband, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement accompanying the report, the result of an investigation by the division and the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey. “Women prisoners at Edna Mahan are at substantial risk of sexual abuse by staff because systemic deficiencies discourage prisoners from reporting sexual abuse and allow sexual abuse to occur undetected and undeterred.”
Incarcerated women have complained for decades of the sexual and other abuse they are subjected to while confined. Edna Mahan's women were no different. The women endured years of abuse, which included being forced to have sex with other women while staff observed. The report went on to say that “Our society requires prisoners to give up their liberty, but that surrender does not encompass the basic right to be free from severe unwanted sexual contact.” The question has to be asked - why did it take years of reporting for any significant investigation to be done? Other incarcerated women report similar abuses at a wide number of facilities but life is often more difficult for them if they report the abuse. The women of Edna Mahan were courageous in their reporting but not after years of being threatened into silence.
Most incarcerated women lost their liberty for non-violent crimes. Most incarcerated women were abused during their pre-incarceration years. These women do need prison. They need services. Whether the needed help is for substance abuse, mental health, education or reunification with children, prisons to not provided supportive environments that will assist women to have healthy lives. The abolition of prisons for women and girls is a national movement, led by the National Council of Incarcerated Women and Girls.
Those interested in joining the abolitionist movement will readily find local organizations leading the efforts locally. Prisons for women have a sordid history of physical and sexual abuse of women and failure to provide services even at the level male provided to incarcerated men. Time indeed is up on the incarcerated of women and girls.