Friday, January 27, 2012

Former Prisoner Reflects on Life in Prison for Women on One Year Anniversary UN Guideline for Treatment of Women in Prison

UN Guidelines on the Treatment Of Women in Prison - 1 Year Anniversary

On December 21, 2010 the United Nations adopted “Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders” or the Bangkok Rules. The document can be examined at – beginning on page 9.
Some of the measures which are particular to women and addressed in the rules are:
Arrangements for Minor Children
That women be allowed to make arrangements for their children at time of arrest and that if she is unable, suspension of her detention must be considered. This rule states that women be permitted themselves to ensure their children have adequate caregivers, and not that the state place these children in state care as the first and only option. 

Incarcerated Near Home and Family  
Women are to be imprisoned close to their homes and families. 

They are to be provided items necessary for hygiene, 

Women are to have access to gynecological care, with a female healthcare provider if she wishes. 

Women disclosing incidents of violence against them are to be provided legal and psychological counselling. 

Oppressive Prison Routines
a)  Alternatives to strip searches should be developed and implemented in order to avoid possible psychological and physical harm.

b)  Pregnant, breastfeeding, or women imprisoned with children are not to be placed in solitary confinement and no woman is to be denied access to family visits - ever. 

c)  Women in labour, and giving birth should never be put in restraints. 

Author, Former Prisoner (sheryl jarvis):
I personally don't feel that any of these rules goes far enough in seeking the protection of women in places of confinement, but the provision restricting the shackling of women in labour or giving birth should be expanded in particularly obvious ways,
No pregnant women, disabled women, women undergoing surgery or other medical procedures, women in pain or injured, or women with any significant health issues should be placed in restraints.  I would even take this a step further and mandate that no women be placed in restraints at all unless immediate and unquestionable harm to the woman or others would otherwise take place.  I would expect that circumstances involving immediate and unquestionable harm be spelled out as well.
Because we are talking about an international treaty I think its important to know the differences between rules, conventions, principles, guidelines,  and declarations when we are examining the specifics of any international agreement to be used in advocating for the human rights of any person.
Treaties are agreements between international states whereby responsibilities are taken on, and written into law. Conventions, once ratified are usually seen to have the force of international treaties, however they are not always legally binding. This depends on the language of the agreement and those made between member states at the time of signing. For instance, The Geneva Convention included requirements that member states write the convention rules into their national laws.
Rules, principles and guidelines on the other hand are strictly, suggested practices and are not legally binding.
The Independent, a UK media agency produced the below findings from a survey which they carried out to mark the one year anniversary of the “Bangkok Guidelines”. While the results are disturbing they are not at all unusual in most men's or women's prisons anywhere in the world, including Canada. 
I have included that article below and in blue writing I go over the abuses raised in more detail as they come up within the article and compare these to what I know of Canadian institutions.

Force-fed and beaten – life for women in jail

New UN guidelines are being flouted worldwide, Independent on Sunday research shows

Female prisoners around the world are being subjected to body cavity searches, beatings and force-feeding, are held in padded cells, shackled during childbirth, and made to work in chain gangs. Some of the worst conditions are in developing countries, but there are also serious abuses and overcrowding in Europe and North America. These are the major findings of a survey by The Independent on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of United Nations rules governing the treatment of women in prison.
The "Bangkok Rules" make stipulations about contact with families, gender-specific healthcare, psychological treatment and hygiene, and they forbid strip searches in most circumstances. The guidelines were adopted on 21 December 2010, but reports from around the world show they are being widely flouted.
In Greece, for example, prisoners have been offered a choice between a vaginal search and solitary confinement on a course of laxatives.
Author, Former Prisoner (sheryl jarvis):

First of all I don't get the application of laxatives in lieu of an internal vaginal search. Unless I'm mistaken women, like men, poo out their ass and not the vagina. So either both rectal and vaginal searches are carried out upon entry into the prison or the forced prescribing of laxatives is strictly punitive and can't even be argued to be for a purpose of any kind.
Secondly, while I've never heard of people being forced to take laxatives in Canadian penal institutions, we do subject people to what's called “dry celling”. Anyone who has been subjected to this practice can speak of the inhumanity of it. Prisoners suspected of holding drugs or weapons (or even tobacco and matches) can and will be held in a dry segregation cell. This means no access to water for any reason until a sufficient number of bowel movements have been examined. No water for drinking, bathing, or even to wash your hands after peeing, pooing or changing sanitary napkins. Besides the potential health consequences in not being permitted to wash your hands, its a simply disgusting practice. Then there is the wonderment of the bathroom facilities themselves. As stated there is no water, also no sink, and no toilet in many cases. Prisoners must squat, on camera into an open hole in the floor. The contents of your bladder and bowels will then be examined by staff. And they won't give up easy. Prisoners have been held in these conditions for weeks and I wouldn't be surprised to hear of cases lasting longer than that.

Violence Encouraged by Prison Staff 
Chinese prison officers encouraged inmates to tie each other up and fight.
Author, Former Prisoner (sheryl jarvis):

In Canada, hated prisoners are set up by guards to be beaten by other prisoners. You may guess at some of the usual victims vulnerable to this practice. Guards don't like rapists and child predators any more than the prisoners do.
But also making you vulnerable to this kind of retribution are things like getting away with something. If for instance your drug package didn't come out in the dry cell, but the minute your back on range, the whole place stinks of pot... well some screws are apt to take this personally. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can see you made vulnerable to retributive beatings as well.  A means of ensuring you keep your mouth shut or be subjected to more of the same.  Making complaints about your treatment by staff is a no no too.
Other prisoners are recruited to look after all these kinds of things. But guards are not beyond laying a beating on you themselves as well.

Shackling Pregnant and Birthing Women

In Turkmenistan, prisoners are shackled to their beds as they give birth - a practice that is also legal in most of the United States.
Author, Former Prisoner (sheryl jarvis):

A practice that is legal in Canada, Australia, and many other places all over the world. 2 years ago in a Toronto hospital a woman was left labouring with her legs shackled together. She could not open her legs to allow the doctor to catch the baby during delivery and the guard could not be found to remove the leg irons. Anyone who has been in labour or even accompanied a woman while she laboured knows that this woman is not going anywhere and further she is a danger to no one. This applies for most women prisoners in labour or not. Anytime a prisoner is in substantial medical distress, pain or injury, they should not be shackled – period.

South African prisoners complain that they run out of water on an almost monthly basis.

Male Guard on Female Prisoner Violence

A Russian male deputy prison governor was jailed for beating female inmates with his fists and boots.

 Author, Former Prisoner (sheryl jarvis):

 Yes boys and girls it happens here in Canada too. Its important to understand that prisons operate around a mentality of sadism, violence, and abuse. Guards demonstrate how tough, how adept and ready for the job they are, through brutality. The more sadistic a guard is, the more likely they will be promoted. I have witnessed male guards punching and kicking female prisoners. Also common is for a prisoner to be moved to solitary so that a group of guards can kick the shit out of her. Usually when I have heard of this happening or been around to actually hear it happening – It will be female guards on female prisoners or male guards on male prisoners. But not always.

Rape victims have been jailed in Afghanistan for having extramarital sex. And women's prisons from Russia to Canada, France to Australia have been condemned for their appalling living conditions and inadequate mental and physical healthcare.

Increasing Rates of Female Incarceration
Just as alarming is the steep rise in the number of women being jailed. More than 500,000 are in prison around the world.

Author, Former Prisoner (sheryl jarvis):

  Common stats throughout the “free” world. Many European nations, North America, and Australia have all seen similar increases. In fact many statistics in these countries are disturbingly similar where women are concerned. 80% of female prisoners have experienced sexual abuse in childhood; 2/3rds of women are mothers, 2/3rds or mothers were sole support parents on their arrest; 70% admit substance use issues; most were unemployed when arrested, and educational attainment is often below grade 10.
In the US alone, there are now eight times more women in prison than 30 years ago. Fiona Cannon, who chairs the Prison Reform Trust's Women's Justice Taskforce, said women's prisons are now seen as "stop-gap providers of drug detox, social care, mental health assessment and treatment, and temporary housing". Self-harm and suicide are far more common among female prisoners than male, relatively few women are in jail for violent crimes, a majority have children, and many are drug addicts or victims of sexual abuse.
At Johannesburg Women's Prison, cells typically contain one toilet, one sink, one shower and as many as 40 people. Prisoners are locked in from 2pm to 8am. "People can kill each other before they unlock the cells," Duduzile Matlhabadile, a former prisoner, told The IoS. "You don't know what's going to happen. It's not safe in there." Ms Matlhabadile, who served 12 years for armed robbery and homicide, recalled an incident in which a woman threw boiling water over a fellow prisoner; it took two hours for the guards to come and open the doors. She said her cell would often be without water for two days at a time.
A former judge inspector of prisons in South Africa, Deon van Zyl, last year called the country's prison conditions "shockingly inhumane". Campaigners at the Wits Justice Project, which investigates problems in South Africa’s justice system, say the Department of Correctional Services has ignored their requests to gain access to prisons since February, adding that anecdotal evidence indicates conditions have not improved.
In northern Turkmenistan, inmates at the Dashoguz Women's Prison colony are reportedly handcuffed to the bed from both sides while giving birth. The baby is given away and the woman returns to forced labour a day or two later. More than 2,000 women are housed in a colony built for 1,000. Fights break out when food is handed out: black bread, porridge and a thin soup made of bones, cotton oil and pumpkin make up the daily diet.
The EU has its share of horrors, too. Greece's Thiva Women's Prison is an hour north of Athens. A former detoxification centre, it has the bleak atmosphere of a converted warehouse. Its dormitories each hold six bunk beds and a couple of single beds. A communal area features a concrete floor, dark green walls and little else; the exercise yard contains no equipment or shelter. Messages are conveyed to inmates via a loudspeaker.

Excessive Internal and Strip Searches
Vaginal searches are conducted there, as in other women's prisons in Greece. Until earlier this year, prisoners who refused a vaginal examination on arrival were placed in a segregation unit for several days and made to take laxatives. Authorities say vaginal searches are now undertaken only in exceptional circumstances and are now done by trained doctors, rather than by nursing assistants. They say laxatives are no longer administered, but monitors from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture confirmed that the practice was still going on when they visited in January.
In France, strip searches are more or less routine, and inmates' letters seen by The IoS complain about being made to adopt degrading positions. One pregnant woman was told to lift up her breasts while being searched before being permitted to see her family in the visiting room.
Author, Former Prisoner (sheryl jarvis):

  This is routine everywhere as far as I know. Men and women are strip searched routinely. If you are coming or going to court, having a visit – coming or going, when cells or common areas are searched, so are prisoner bodies. I would say 2-3 strip searches per week if attending court is pretty average. And if you are sentenced and not having regular family visits, then I would expect to be stripped at least a couple times a month.
Lifting breasts, bending over, squatting and coughing, spreading cheeks, being told to remove tampons - these are all common routines of a strip search. So is removing false teeth, and prosthetics, standing on one foot to show the bottom of the other, lifting arms to show your pits, removing any piercings – etc, etc. Plenty of discriminatory abuses occur during body searches with regards to people with physical limitations or disabilities.

Denied Access to Gynecological Care or Conversely, Forced Access
But the real problem in France's prisons is healthcare. In the mixed-sex Nîmes Prison in southern France, for example, there is no facility for gynecological examinations, which means that no preventative consultations are done.
Author, Former Prisoner (sheryl jarvis):

Conversely in Canada I have heard of young underage women being coersively subjected to internal and breast exams as part of a court ordered psychological examination. It was presented as a service which they could take advantage of if they wished. However because the girls were being held in custody until court ordered psychological exam was satisfied, girls felt they would be viewed as oppositional if they refused any part of the court ordered stipulation.
In England and Wales, conditions are far more benign, but the number of women in jail has increased from 1,800 in 1996 to 4,100 now. More than half of female prisoners say that they have suffered domestic violence, 37 per cent have previously attempted suicide, nearly 40 per cent left school before 16, and one in three have experienced sexual abuse. More than two-thirds of female prisoners have children, which means, according to Home Office research in 2003, that prison deprives nearly 20,000 children of their mothers each year. And judges do not take into account whether a defendant is a primary carer. "It's deeply ingrained in judges that a child must not be an excuse to avoid imprisonment," said Rona Epstein, who has studied 47 cases in England and Wales where judges have ignored the rights of the child.

The situation in North America is worse. The California state prison healthcare system has been in federal receivership since 2006. To get healthcare and living conditions to a constitutional minimum, the state has been ordered to reduce its prison population by 33,000 over the next two years. In the meantime, supplies of medicines and sanitary products are limited, and under-staffing means prisons are in lock-down mode.
Author, Former Prisoner (sheryl jarvis):

A common occurrence this side of the US border as well. Facilities are often understaffed and overcrowded. Under-staffing leads to ongoing and continuous lock-downs which see prisoners forced to remain in overcrowded cells. Most times one person cells hold 3 prisoners, requiring one person to sleep with their head directly in front of the toilet. Prisoners are denied access to services guaranteed in the Canadian Charter or enshrined in other law. Such as the right to 1 hour of outdoor yard time per day, the right to access family visits and telephone calls, the right to legal counsel, adequate healthcare, and the right to be safe from disease and violence, among others. Left untreated and unaddressed these conditions emulate that of a pressure cooker. The heat increases until pressure eventually blows the top off. Its dangerous for prisoners and for staff. It is getting worse as we speak and expected to worsen further still with the passing of Bill C10.
Two-thirds of education staff have been laid off in the past two years, and all the while the prison population continues to rise.
The state's two biggest female prisons are both in the desert town of Chowchilla. Valley State Prison is designed to hold 2,024 people and is currently housing 3,810. Central California Women's Facility is holding 3,918, far more than its 2,004 capacity. Cells originally built for four people are holding 10. "We've never, ever had the reports of violence among peers that we're seeing now," said Cynthia Chandler, the director of the women's campaign group Justice Now. "People are dirty, their cells are dirty, they're bleeding on themselves, they're emotional and in a state of despair. It's creating conditions inside a pressure cooker." And, across the border in Arizona, female chain gangs are made to bury the dead and clear wasteland in the desert heat, in a scheme introduced by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in June.
Andrew Coyle, director of the International Centre for Prison Studies at London University, said: "Scandinavian practice in general terms is better than in many other countries. That's because they put fewer people in prison, and the consequence is they can run them more decently and humanely. The criminal justice system is kept for those who need to be locked up for the sake of society.
"Reducing re-offending is a false target. It's based on the premise that sending someone to prison makes them less likely to commit crime. In fact, one of the strongest predictors of future offending is being sent to prison. We know the solutions: more community-based facilities and putting women in small units close to home. The answers are there. They're just not being implemented."

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