A staggering 81% of women in Texas' prison system are mothers - and many do not have opportunities to see their children.

    This has significant consequences for women and their children. A woman with higher levels of family support is less likely to return to prison, and a woman's ongoing relationship with her children is a compelling motivator for reentry success. Limiting incarcerated women's access to their children disregards these benefits.

    At the same time, children suffer. Parental incarceration can lead to serious mental, physical, and emotional health issues.

    As part of our Justice for Women Campaign, TCJC is fighting to promote family unity, including through improved visitation practices, lowered phone call fees, and closer proximity between incarcerated women and their children. We're also fighting for better treatment of pregnant women and new mothers, improved access to quality health care and hygiene products, and less violence against incarcerated women.

    This Mother’s Day, consider honoring the mothers in your life by making a tax-deductible donation to our Justice for Women Campaign! We want Texas' incarcerated mothers to have the opportunities that other women have to bond with their children - moments that are critically important to the health and stability of both women and their children.

    We thank you for your support!

    New Report Highlights Issues Facing Women in Texas' Criminal Justice System
    TCJC Calls for Reforms to Treat Women with Dignity and Remove Barriers to Family Unity in Texas Prisons and Jails

    AUSTIN, TX (April 24, 2018) — Today, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization focused on adult and youth justice policy reform, released its second report today on women in Texas prisons and jails. An Unsupported Population: The Treatment of Women in Texas’ Criminal Justice System explores the unique issues facing women impacted by the criminal justice system, including challenges within Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) facilities, and it makes recommendations for programs and policies that treat women with dignity and increase the likelihood that they can successfully rejoin their families and communities.

    “There are significant issues facing women who are incarcerated in Texas prisons and jails,” said Lindsey Linder, Policy Attorney at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the report’s author. “Not only are these women unsupported by the current system, but they are continually being re-victimized by policies and practices that fail to account for their needs.”

    Currently, more than 12,000 women are incarcerated in Texas’ state corrections system, 64 percent for a nonviolent offense. A staggering 81 percent of incarcerated women are mothers.

    The report, which includes the findings of a survey of more than 430 women incarcerated in Texas prisons, reveals that the majority of women in TDCJ have been identified as suffering from a substance abuse disorder; that nearly half of the women surveyed never see their children; that women commonly experience a lack of access to basic hygiene items; and that women have far more limited access to degree plans, certifications, and technical courses than incarcerated men.

    The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition urges policymakers to adopt the report’s recommendations, which emphasize gender-specific programming, improved conditions of confinement, strategies to increase family unity, and better preparation for the release from incarceration. These improvements will hold women accountable while helping them heal and increase the likelihood that they can successfully transition back to their families and communities—essential steps to improve public safety and reduce costs associated with incarceration.

    “On behalf of the House Committee on Corrections, I commend the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition's work on the challenge involved with the incarceration of women,” said State Representative James White, Chairman of the House Corrections Committee. “Over the last several decades, Texas has experienced substantial increases in female incarceration. This is unacceptable for Texas families and public safety. This report provides every stakeholder with the tools necessary to uplift Texas women and improve community safety.”

    An Unsupported Population: The Treatment of Women in Texas’ Criminal Justice System is part two of a two-part report series. The first report, A Growing Population: The Surge of Women into Texas’ Criminal Justice System, was released in March and examined the rise in the number of women in Texas’ justice system. For a copy of both reports, visit www.TexasCJC.org/womens-justice.

    About the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
    The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization focused primarily on adult and youth justice policy reform at the state and county level. With a commitment to strengthening families and communities across Texas, TCJC brings expertise and diverse perspectives to identify and advance solutions that help Texas spend money responsibly and ensure incarceration is rare and the last response after other, more appropriate interventions have been tried and have failed. To learn more, visit www.texascjc.org.

    Media Contact for Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
    Lisa Koetz
    Bloom Communications

    New Report Shows Growing Number of Women in Texas Prisons and Jails
    TCJC Calls for Reforms to Safely Reduce the Number of Women in Texas' Criminal Justice System

    AUSTIN, TX (March 8, 2018) — Today, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization focused on adult and youth justice policy reform, released part one of a two-part report series on women in Texas prisons and jails. A Growing Population: The Surge of Women into Texas’ Criminal Justice System examines the staggering rise in the number of women in Texas’ justice system and makes recommendations for programs and policies that can reverse this trend and effectively redirect women away from incarceration.

    “While issues facing system-impacted women are abundant and complex, two predominant themes developed in our research,” said Lindsey Linder, Policy Attorney at TCJC and the report’s author. “First, the number of women in the Texas criminal justice system has rapidly increased for decades. And second, Texas is failing to adequately support these women.”

    Texas incarcerates more women by sheer number than any other U.S. state – now totaling more than 12,000 women in the state corrections system, the majority for nonviolent offenses. Since 1980, female incarceration in Texas prisons has increased 908%, compared to an increase in the male prison population of 396%. From 2009-2016, Texas reduced its men’s prison population by 8,577 while backfilling its prisons with 554 women.

    “Research shows the unique circumstances of women, including a history of physical or sexual abuse, mental health issues, and substance use disorders, that affect the increasing population rate and pose significant challenges to their post-release reintegration,” said Justice Rebeca Martinez, Texas 4th Court of Appeals.

    TCJC’s report substantiates this, including through the results of a survey of more than 430 women incarcerated in Texas prisons.

    “The vast majority of women in Texas prisons have extensive trauma histories and most of them are mothers,” said Linder. “Others have faced poverty, as well as trouble accessing housing, employment, and education opportunities, which lead to justice system involvement. It is critical that we help these women address the root causes of their criminality through community supports and services, rather than through incarceration.”

    TCJC urges local and state official to adopt the report’s recommendations, which emphasize pretrial diversion, specialized treatment options for women on probation, bail reform, and more help for women with drug offenses. These improvements will hold women accountable while helping them heal and allowing them to remain in their communities and with their families—essential steps to improve public safety and reduce costs associated with incarceration.

    “We must do a better job of diverting women into community programs that help them stay out of jails and prisons and connected with their children and families,” said Honorable Beckie Palomo, Texas District Court Judge.

    For a copy of the report and other information, visit

    About the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
    The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization focused primarily on adult and youth justice policy reform at the state and county level. With a commitment to strengthening families and communities across Texas, TCJC brings expertise and diverse perspectives to identify and advance solutions that help Texas spend money responsibly and ensure incarceration is rare and the last response after other, more appropriate interventions have been tried and have failed. To learn more, visit www.texascjc.org.

    Media Contact for Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
    Lisa Koetz
    Bloom Communications

    Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
    1714 Fortview Road, Suite 104
    Austin, TX 78704

    Texas Female Prison population rises as Male population decreases

    By Keri Blakinger
    January 11, 2018

    The female prison population in the Lone Star state is on the rise even as fewer men are filling state lock-ups - but experts say it's not clear why.

    With its baffling numbers, outlined in a freshly released Prison Policy Initiative report put out Tuesday, Texas bucked the national trend from 2009 to 2015. Across the country, prison populations gradually dipped for both genders over the same time, although men saw sharper reductions than women.

    So why is Texas one of a handful of states that didn't follow that pattern?

    "If that question had an answer I think we would be closer to solving it," said Lindsey Linder, a policy attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

    Between 2009 and 2015, the female prison population in Texas increased by 10 percent - more than 1,100 inmates - while the male population sunk by four percent.

    While male state prison populations across the country fell more than 5 percent between 2009 and 2015, the number of women locked up decreased by less than half a percent.

    In 2016 Bureau of Justice Statistics data released Wednesday, the female head count in prisons across the country actually increased by about 700 inmates.

    "In 35 states, women's population numbers have fared worse than men's, and in a few extraordinary states, women's prison populations have even grown enough to counteract reductions in the men's population," the report notes. "Too often, states undermine their commitment to criminal justice reform by ignoring women's incarceration."

    Though it doesn't delve into Texas-specific answers, the report offers a few suggestions to explain the national patterns.

    For one, women have a greater chance of disciplinary sanctions for similar behavior when compared to their male counterparts, the reports notes. That can reduce chances of early release and lengthen sentences.

    "In many states, treating women's incarceration as an afterthought has, in effect, held back efforts to decarcerate," the report notes.

    That could be part of the problem in Texas, too, Linder said.

    "I think that all of the risk assessments and treatment opportunities and educational opportunities are typically designed based on the average prisoner population, and so because women make up a small portion of the overall justice system population I think that their needs get drowned out to where the reforms that we advocate for aren't reaching them because we aren't thinking about them," she said. "When we created these opportunities we were thinking about the prison population as a whole, which is overwhelmingly male."

    Aside from Texas, seven other states saw similar trends with increasing female prison populations between 2009 and 2015, and in 19 states growth in women's prison numbers outpaced rises in male populations. Using the BJS numbers through 2016 released Wednesday, 14 states saw female prison populations stay steady or increase.

    Wendy Sawyer, a Prison Policy Initiative senior policy analyst, pointed to an increased reliance on probation as a possible explanation for the long-term rise in female prison populations.

    "Probation has a way of acting as a net-widener because oftentimes there's a lot of conditions people have to meet and oftentimes they're difficult to meet," she said. "Sometimes I think for women it's even harder to comply with some of those conditions, especially when you consider that some women are caretakers of children."

    Also, there are typically fewer diversion programs available to women as such options often target the larger male populations, as noted in the report.

    "The data is really clear the reforms that we've implemented in recent years have not impacted women," Linder said. "I think just not thinking intentionally about women is why they have not been impacted."

    Read More HERE



    The Mental Health Crisis Facing Women in Prison
    A new study shows a striking disparity between incarcerated men and women.

    By Manuel Villa

    More than two-thirds of incarcerated women in America reported having a history of mental health problems — a far higher percentage than their male counterparts, according to a study released Thursday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    Although the prevalence of mental health disorders among people in prisons and jails is a well-known problem, the dramatic gender disparity exposed in the new report has been less discussed.

    The survey, conducted from February 2011 to March 2012, asked more than 100,000 men and women in hundreds of U.S. jails and prisons whether they had ever been diagnosed by a mental health professional with a psychological disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety. The survey also posed questions about inmates’ mood and emotions in the previous 30 days.

    Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed said they had been diagnosed with a mental health condition. About 19 percent experienced an episode of serious psychological distress in the month before being surveyed. When the data is broken down by gender, the differences are stark.

    Diagnosed history
    Source: Indicators of Mental Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011-12, Bureau of Justice Statistics

    Although women make up only 7 percent of the prison population, 66 percent of women in prison reported having a history of a mental disorder, almost twice the percentage of men in prison. And one in five women in prison had recently experienced serious psychological distress, while one in seven men had.

    A similar gender imbalance was found among those in local jails. Sixty-eight percent of women in jail reported having been diagnosed with a mental health condition, versus 41 percent of men.

    Diagnosed history

    Source: Indicators of Mental Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011-12, Bureau of Justice Statistics

    Experts don’t fully understand why such a gender disparity exists. “I have never seen a study that establishes the reasons for this,” says Ron Honberg, senior policy adviser at the National Alliance for Mental Illness. “Because of that, we can only speculate, but I believe one factor is that incarcerated women have experienced sexual trauma before their imprisonment at a much higher rate than men. They are also likely more inclined to report psychological distress to the prison mental health services than male inmates.”

    The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ researchers also found a disparity between inmates of different races. More than half of the white people in prison, of both sexes, reported a diagnosis of a mental disorder, nearly double the rate for Hispanics and more than 1.6 times higher than black people in prison. The numbers for those in jails were similar.

    This finding comes as no surprise to Dr. Robert Cohen, a member of the New York City Board of Correction. According to Cohen, who was director of medical and mental health services at New York City’s Rikers Island jail in the 1980s, the survey responses may not reflect the actual number of inmates with mental health conditions.

    Citing a 2015 study on New York City’s jail mental health services, Cohen pointed out that at Rikers, “older white men were directed towards mental health services, while younger black and Hispanic men were directed to solitary confinement, and self harm. I don't think that fact reflects different rates of mental illness, I think it demonstrates racial bias."

    Advocates for the incarcerated argue that for all people in prisons and jails — more than 2 million people nationwide — mental health services are lacking at best. “Prisons and jails are not hospitals,” said Eric Balaban, a senior staff counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. “Not only they are not where inmates should be receiving mental health treatment, they are anti-therapeutic.”

    The Mental Health Crisis Facing Women in Prison


      Women in Prison
      The State Of Women In Prison

      Rev. Vivian Nixon

      Life for women behind bars is far from easy, especially when women face serious gender-specific issues that men simply do not.

      The Real Orange Is The New Black: Six Experts Speak Out About Women in Prison
      Six experts entrenched in the system -- from the executive director of a prison reform organization, to a forensic psychologist, to a prison arts teacher -- were asked this question: What can we do to affect systemic change for women in prison? Here's what they had to say...
      While female incarceration has been part and parcel of the criminal justice system for decades (and, in fact, is on the rise), misconceptions have been perpetuated and complicated by the recent influx of pop culture fodder like the show Orange is the New Black or the film Monster.

      These depictions of the female incarcerated have served as a dubious catalyst; female imprisonment has finally entered the national discourse.

      But often lost in the chatter are legitimate questions: What’s the most effective path for rehabilitation? What reforms are necessary to improve the system for women? How do misconceptions about female imprisonment hurt actual female prisoners?

      To address these and other issues, six experts entrenched in the system—from the executive director of a prison reform organization, to a forensic psychologist, to a prison arts teacher—were asked this question:

      Donna Leone Hamm, Judge (Ret.)
      Executive director of Middle Ground Prison Reform
      According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, nearly one-third of all female prisoners worldwide are incarcerated in the United States. Presently, there are 210,000 women in prison in the U.S.; China is a distant second with 84,600. The female prison population consists of women who’ve been sexually, physically and emotionally abused since childhood, as well as those who are drug-dependent, those who have moderate-to-severe mental health issues, and some fewer who are criminally-inclined.

      If we as a society do not want incarceration to be completely debilitating in the long-term, then we have to be willing to insure that the prison experience for female lawbreakers will truly help them overcome the deficiencies and problems that led to their criminal behavior in the first place. Because of their vastly lower numbers, women constitute a more realistic and constructive cohort for genuinely constructive pilot programs than the mens’ prisons.

      A primary focus would be to avoid creating an environment for female incarceration that is a mirror image of the traditional male prison. Sincere and realistic identification of the problems and issues that led to criminal conduct should be factored into a formal classification and treatment program. One size does not fit all when it comes to prisoners, male or female.

      Forensic psychologist

      It is abundantly clear that there is a complete over-reliance on incarceration to address crime. Criminal justice generally has a four-pronged justification: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. The current system is overly focused on the first two aspects, while often compromising the latter, which is arguably a more proportionate and sustainable approach, especially for women.

      In general, prisons have increasingly become overfull “warehouses,” designed and operated by men, for profit, and with insufficient oversight. Both state and private prisons have a lack of mental health and other resources to care for prisoners and prepare them properly for release. Sentence durations have become disproportionate to offenses and sentences of life without possibility of parole (LWOP) are commonplace, even for adolescents and non-violent offenses.

      Specifically focused at female offenders, I argue for the following changes:

      • Stop privatization of prisons and implement proper oversight.
      • Ensure adequate mental health services at prisons: assessment, supervision, and therapy, instead of pharmacological treatment only (incarcerated women have higher rates of physical and sexual abuse experiences, substance use problems, depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior than women in the general population).
      • Facilitate more regular and convenient outside contact by personal visits, online message boards, etc.
      • Improve reentry to communities by vocational and skills training, education, case management and supervision, in- and outpatient mental health care, housing assistance, volunteer mentorships, social services, and family counseling.

      Implement gender-sensitive and trauma-informed cultures in prison and the criminal justice system.
      • Develop and implement reliable risk assessment and management processes in the criminal justice system, including prison classification systems designed for appropriate custody designations for female inmates. Divert female offenders convicted of first-time, or lesser offenses, as well as younger and mentally ill offenders to alternative arrangements than incarceration.

      Maya Schenwar
      Author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better; editor-in-chief of Truthout
      Women are the fastest-growing group in prison. Over the past 35 years, the population of women in prison has increased by about 800%. Many are locked up for decades, caught in the sprawling tentacles of the lingering “war on drugs.” Many others are incarcerated for crimes of self-defense, or for survival crimes—for doing necessary things to sustain their lives and, often, the lives of their children, while struggling with severe poverty. No matter what they are locked up for, their crimes are likely to have sprung from their circumstances—poverty, or homelessness, or trauma, or addiction, or a violent relationship—and imprisonment does nothing to alleviate those circumstances.

      Many, many women are locked up simply because of their skin color, for this is a system that is grounded in racism. Black women are much more likely to be targeted by police and much more likely to be incarcerated than white women, for the same crimes. And this is a system that is grounded in violence: For many women, prison is a place where state-sanctioned sexual and physical abuse runs rampant. Even if no one lays a hand on them, the act of incarceration is a kind of violence—they have been torn from their families and communities and isolated and caged.

      Most women in prison are survivors of physical or sexual abuse; they are being re-traumatized. All women in prison are human beings, and they are being denied their humanity.

      This is part of a special series at Ravishly.com, an alternative news+culture women’s website. To read these perspectives in full, click here.

      Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

      Six Experts Speak Out About Women In Prison

      Women In Prison

      July 12, 2016

      Texas Women Prisoners Living in the misery of Ad-Seg

      TDCJ, in particular, Lane Murray Unit, is infamous for their “cross action” ways, in which the prison officials write bogus disciplinary cases, utilize threatening language consumed of epithets, abuse their authority, retaliate by destroying inmates’ personal property, tearing up cells during cell searches, utilize excessive “use of force,” deny inmates release to population even though they meet the requirements, and deny us rank, medical and/or psych assistance. The list goes on and on at the unit unanimously nicknamed “Miserable Murray.”

      These prison officials are corrupt. When we write grievances or have our family contact the warden, we face retribution for our reports of abuse. When we make a staff complaint, we face retribution for our reports of abuse.

      Living in the misery of Ad-Seg causes much psychological damage. Justice needs to be served.

      Investigations and surveillance and/or substantive monitoring needs to begin immediately. Gatesville, Texas, is a prominent area for racism. And the prisons have made it a duty to hire their worst racists. Ninety percent of the prison officials are in fact racist and disrespectful.

      Lane Murray Unit is extremely tainted with corruption and the dire need of an ombudsman is evident. These officers are continually bullying, taunting, ridiculing and humiliating inmates, sexually harassing and underhandedly convicting inmates writing disciplinary cases that are lies. Gatesville, Texas, is an area submerged in evil and hatred that wants inmates to basically die. They’re biased against inmates because of a crime we did or did not commit.

      Living in the misery of Ad-Seg causes much psychological damage. Justice needs to be served.

      I am writing seeking justice, help and assistance, fighting the cause for women in Texas prisons. I suffer daily for the wrongs I have or have not committed along with other women who don’t deserve “double jeopardy” punishment and abuse. Just being in prison is punishment enough.

      We need help! The slavery of prison must end. Women in prison face abuse by the hands of those who are supposed to screen us for security, not inflict harm.

      About me: I am an offender housed in Ad-Seg at Lane Murray Unit for four years and counting. I’m currently a Stat-4 Level One, and I’ve been major case free for two and a half years, meeting all the requirements to be released from Ad-Seg, but yet I’m still held in captivity for unjustifiable reasons.

      Send our sister some love and light:
      Britney Gulley #1601283
      Lane Murray Unit
      1916 North Highway 36-Bypass
      Gatesville, Texas 76596

      The U.S. Is Depressingly Good At Putting Women Behind Bars

      By Melissa Jeltsen
      Huffington Post
      Posted: July 5, 2016

      Most women are in prison for crimes directly related to social inequity — poverty, addiction, mental illness, domestic violence and trauma.” The United States puts women behind bars at a higher rate than every other country in the world, save for Thailand.

      “Women make up a small portion of our prison population, but they are a growing one,” said Aleks Kajstura, legal director at Prison Policy Initiative and co-author of the report.

      Over the past four decades, the rate of women imprisoned in the U.S. has risen sharply. The Sentencing Project calculated that the number of women in prison is increasing at nearly double the rate of men.

      It’s not just any woman we lock up in the country,” she said, adding that a disproportionate number of women in prison are women of color and women from low-income communities — the majority of whom are mothers.

      The majority of incarcerated women have histories of physical or sexual abuse prior to their incarceration. While black women represent only 13 percent of the total U.S. female population, they make up 30 percent of incarcerated women.

      Why So Many Domestic Violence Survivors Don’t Get Help — Even When They Ask For It

      Each year, the organization does a one-day survey of domestic violence programs nationwide to calculate how many people are accessing help and what services they need. Almost 90 percent of domestic violence programs in the U.S. participated in the 2014 census.

      The result is a heartbreaking snapshot of the lack of domestic violence services in the United States, a country where 1 in 4 women are estimated to experience domestic violence and three women are killed in a domestic homicide on average each day.

      Over the course of a single day last year, 67,646 adults and children received help from local domestic violence programs. But during that same 24-hour period, 10,871 other requests were not met because advocates did not have enough resources.

      While the findings were consistent with the last few years of the census, advocates say it’s simply more evidence that federal funding for domestic violence services is at an unacceptably low level — a predicament with a devastating human cost.

      Southworth said many women escape with only the clothes on their backs, and may not have access to money to pay for accommodations. Women may be subject to financial abuse, a common tactic used to control victims, which can make it even more difficult to leave. If a woman has been isolated — another hallmark of abusive relationships — she may lack a support system to assist her.

      According to the domestic violence programs that were surveyed, 28 percent of the unmet requests were caused by reduced government funding. Southworth said that when adjusted for inflation, federal funding for local domestic violence shelters has flatlined since 2007.

      “My heart breaks each and every time I have to tell a courageous survivor that we don’t have a safe place for her family to sleep, an attorney to help her file for a desperately needed protection order or a children’s counseling session to debrief the nightmares her child saw at home,” Southworth said. “I know times are tough, but women are dying.”

      Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

      Want to get involved? Here’s what you can do to help.
      Contact reporter Melissa Jeltsen at melissa.jeltsen@huffingtonpost.com.

      The U.S. Is Depressingly Good At Putting Women Behind Bars

      June 3

      Females to face Death Penalty

      Concert pianist's wife faces death penalty trial after 'smothering' their 1-year-old and 5 year-old daughter with a pillow in Texas----Sofya Tsygankova is accused of killing daughters Nika, 5, and Michaela, 1

      A Forth Worth mother is facing a death penalty trial after she was indicted on 2 counts of capital murder over the deaths of her 2 daughters.

      Ukrainian-born Sofya Tsygankova is accused of smothering her 2 daughters Nika, 5, and Michaela Koholodenko, 1, with a pillow at her home in Benbrook, Forth Worth in March 2016.

      Tsygankova pleaded not guilty to both charges and is currently in Tarrant County jail with a bond set of $2 million.

      The 32-year-old suspect is the estrange wife of internationally renowned pianist Vadym Kholodenko, who discovered his wife covered in blood and the bodies of his daughters when he arrived a their house on March 17 to take the girls to school.

      According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Tsygankova 'was going crazy and she had blood on her'.

      Responding officers who arrived at the scene said: 'Tsygankova was rocking back and forth, and making noises'.

      'Officer Wallace was unable to understand what she was saying. Tsyganokova was wearing a mid-length night gown that was covered in blood.

      'Officer Wallace observed blood on both of her arms as well. Officer Wallace noticed a cut on the inside of her left wrist. Officer Wallace noticed a puncture wound on Tsygoankova's chest, near the inside of her left breast.'

      Officer Wallace reported he discovered the body of 1-year-old Michela Kholodenco lying on her back with 'a light colored fluid running out of her mouth'. He described her as 'ashen colored' and cold to the touch.

      The body of 5-year-old Nika showed signs of rigor mortis.

      Officers found a pillow 'partially resting' on Michela's head in the master bedroom.

      According to court documents, 'the pillow had a slight indentation on top consistent with the size of a small head'. The documents claimed there was 'a small spot of biological fluid' on the pillow.

      A search team recovered large butcher knife with blood on the blade and the handle hidden outside on the patio. A 2nd, cleaver style knife was inside the bath tub, beside 3 bottles of prescription medicine.

      Officers also found an empty bottle of prescription medicine in the kitchen.

      In an affidavit, Detective R James met with Tsygankova in the intensive care unit of John Peter Smith Hospital.

      He claims Tsygankova told him: 'I think I committed suicide.' She admitted injuring herself with a knife and taking a lot of pills. He said: 'She didn't want to live.'

      James said Tsygankova waived her Miranda Rights and allegedly told the officers she 'didn't see any future for me and kids'. She later asked: 'Did I do anything bad to my kids?'

      Vadym Kholodenko was born in 1986 in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and is best known as being the winner of the Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

      He is the 1st musician in his family and began performing publicly aged 13 with concerts in the U.S. China, Hungary, and Croatia.

      In 2005, he began studying in Moscow at the Moscow P. I. Tchaikovsky Conservatory.

      His big break came in 2013 when he won the Van Cliburn competition and was praised for his 'mesmerizing and exhilarating performances'.

      It led him to play with the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and at the Portland Piano International.

      He also released a live CD of his performances at the Van Cliburn competition and followed it up with a studio recording.

      Kholodenko eventually settled in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and 2 daughters.

      (source: dailymail.co.uk)



        November 26

        The Fight for Better Care for Pregnant Women in Texas Jails

        By Alexa Garcia-Ditta

        Shela Williams, a 29-year-old mother living in Austin, was incarcerated when she was 18 weeks pregnant with her second son, Israel. Williams was seeing a specialist before she went to the Travis County Jail because Israel had spina bifida and the pregnancy was high-risk.

        Williams told the Current that although she told the jail's medical staff about her condition when she was booked, they didn't schedule an appointment with a physician until weeks later. At 24 weeks, a doctor told Williams that her baby "wasn't going to make it," she said, remembering feeling uncomfortable and disrespected throughout the exam. A few weeks later, she was induced at an Austin hospital, more than two months before her due date.

        She gave birth with the help of a midwife while a jail guard watched from the corner of the hospital room. Israel wasn't breathing when he was born. She spent one night holding her baby, then returned to jail while her family planned and held Israel's funeral.

        "That's really stressful for [family] to plan a funeral by themselves because they were expecting Israel to make it ... I'm blessed that my family was so strong," she told the Current. "Never in a million years did I think I wasn't going to get to go ... but I get through it, I go to his grave."

        Williams carries a pale yellow box with a butterfly on top that contains the few photos she has of her son. She shares her story in the hope that it will raise awareness in the fight for better health care for pregnant women in Texas jails.

        A coalition of organizations, including the Texas Jail Project, Austin-based Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman Pregnancy and Women's Clinic for women of color, Amnesty International and Moms Rising is calling on the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to implement more robust, detailed policies and procedures to ensure pregnant women get proper obstetric, prenatal and postpartum care while they're incarcerated in Texas county jails. The coalition argues that, with more than 200 county jails statewide, the commission's minimum standards aren't strong enough, nor are county jails held accountable if appropriate care isn't available, creating a dangerous situation for expectant inmates.

        Kellee Coleman, Williams' friend and a birth companion with Mama Sana, was also incarcerated while she was pregnant. She shared Williams' experience with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards at a November 6 public hearing in Austin.

        "Everyone deserves adequate care no matter where they are; babies don't have to die," Coleman said.

        Diana Claitor with the Texas Jail Project has heard from hundreds of Texas women and their families about the inadequate medical care they've received while incarcerated. According the Sentencing Project's analysis of 2010 Bureau of Justice Statistics data, more than 205,000 women nationwide are incarcerated in federal prisons, state prisons and local jails, a number that has increased every five years since the 1980s. The data show women are more likely than men to be behind bars for nonviolent drug or property crimes.

        According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, on October 1 of this year, 527 pregnant women were incarcerated in Texas county jails. The monthly average, Claitor says, hovers between 400 and 500.

        "Most jails and prisons are built by men for men, and so as the increase of incarcerated women has occurred, a lot of these problems are having to be worked out," Claitor said at the November 6 hearing. "The needs of pregnant inmates are very important to the families and those children."

        A state law passed in 2009 required the commission to adopt a framework of "reasonable" standards for county jails to determine if a female inmate is pregnant, and ensure that county jail health services plans, which are submitted to the commission for approval every five years or so, address the medical care, mental health, housing and nutritional needs of pregnant inmates. In 2012, the commission required county jails to add general language to their health services plan.

        Diana Spiller is with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. She said the agency doesn't outline specific services or standards of care because resources and availability of medical providers varies across the state. Larger jails in urban counties likely have more medical personnel available to treat and care for pregnant inmates, she said, while more rural counties may not even have an obstetrics specialist in the area.

        "I think one of the complaints about our current standards is that they're too vague or too general," she said. "If we mandated specific treatment or protocol that might be setting [smaller, rural counties] up for failure and they cannot comply ... that's where we're trying to juggle."

        The Current's review of county health-services plans in the San Antonio area reveals the lack of specificity. While the Comal and Guadalupe plans essentially repeat the general language provided by the commission verbatim, Bexar County's is a bit more robust—likely indicative of the resources available in our more urban area.

        As of November 21, 26 inmates incarcerated in the Bexar County jail were pregnant. University Health System, the county hospital district, has a $10.8 million budget for detention health-care services. It employs more than 200 medical and counseling staff to provide medical and mental health services at the jail.

        Martha Rodriguez, senior director of Detention Health Care Services, told the Current that every woman is screened and given a urine test when she arrives at the jail. Rodriguez said pregnant inmates are immediately put on a prenatal vitamin regimen and placed on a "pregnancy diet" that consists of more protein, extra fruits and vegetables, and an extra snack.

        An ultrasound machine UHS purchased 18 months ago allows the physicians to do most prenatal care on site, but if women need more specialized care they are sent off-site to UHS-operated clinics. At 24 weeks, Rodriguez said, pregnant inmates receive an extra mattress to sleep on and expectant inmates are seen by a physician every two to four weeks, depending on where they are in their pregnancies. If a woman is scheduled to deliver while she is incarcerated, a bed is arranged at the hospital. Rodriguez said 17 incarcerated women have given birth during their sentences this year.

        "We've been fortunate to be able to secure equipment that makes our services even better," she said. "It helps us ensure that we provide the same level of care for the ladies here that they would get out in the community."

        A 2011 review of the implementation of the 2009 law in six urban areas, including Bexar County, by Claitor and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas found that protocol like prenatal vitamins, high-calorie diets and low bunk-bed assignments varied from facility to facility. Claitor said an updated, more thorough review of what goes on at all county jails is a must.

        "It's really hard to tell [if the standards are being implemented]," she said.

        A related state law passed in 2009 banned the use of shackles and restraints on pregnant women during labor, delivery and after delivery, "unless the sheriff or another person with supervisory authority over the jail determines that the use of restraints is necessary to ensure the safety and security of the woman or her infant, jail or medical personnel, or any member of the public; or prevent a substantial risk that the woman will attempt escape."

        While the commission does require that county jails document the use of restraints, counties aren't required to report those incidents to the agency. Matt Simpson, policy strategist with the ACLU of Texas, who worked on the two bills with Claitor, said the jail commission needs a way to review the use of restraints when inspecting the facilities.

        "I think it's very rare that there'd be a public safety concern, but if that exception is used and [women] are shackled, I think it's important that the TCJS document it," he said.

        Spiller said TCJS inspectors look at the overall medical care provided to inmates.

        "When our inspectors go into the facility, that's when they start looking at the medical care of inmates," she said. "They've been known to ask specifically for pregnant inmates and look at their care."

        The Current requested records related to the use of restraints at the Bexar County Jail well over two weeks ago, but the county has yet to release the information.

        Claitor says Texas women who were incarcerated while pregnant have privately shared with her that they feel mistreated while in jail, that they don't receive appropriate medical attention when they request it and that they have been restrained or confined arbitrarily.

        In the last several months, some, like Williams, have spoken publicly. Nicole Guerrero, of North Texas, who was five months pregnant when she was detained at the Wichita Falls County jail in June 2012 filed a lawsuit against the county in May alleging violation of her 14th Amendment due process rights. According to the original complaint, Guerrero was experiencing bleeding and cramping but was repeatedly told by medical staff that her baby was fine. Guerrero eventually went into labor and her baby was born "dark purple," the complaint states, and died several hours later. The case is set to go to trial next year.

        Jessica De Samito, a 24-year-old pregnant veteran, was detained this summer at the Guadalupe County Jail after violating her probation. Incarcerated 24 weeks into her pregnancy, she was denied essential methadone medication needed to curb her opiate addiction. Without methadone, considered by national medical experts to be the gold standard of treatment for opioid-dependent pregnant women, De Samito was in danger of a stillbirth. Lawyers and advocates intervened on behalf of De Samito, and she was ultimately released back into the community.

        Stories like these have prompted discussion between the commission and advocacy groups about how best to care for pregnant women in Texas county jails.

        "Our board is committed to ensuring that the proper thing is done and has directed staff to do so as well," said Brandon Wood, executive director of TCJS.

        In addition to implementing current standards and a more detailed framework for procedures, advocates are also calling for better data collection on the outcomes of jail pregnancies, as well as an expanded roster of service providers available to care for them while they're incarcerated.

        Paula Rojas, a certified midwife and co-founder of Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman, wants the commission to make information about licensed midwives, doulas and nurse midwives readily available to county jails, especially facilities that don't have enough medical providers. Medical research shows stress can impact pregnancy, and given the stressful nature of incarceration, Rojas also recommends that all incarcerated pregnant women be given the same level of extra care high-risk pregnant women in the community receive, including more routine ultrasounds and extra monitoring. If an incarcerated woman is found to have a high-risk pregnancy, she should receive even more.

        "That would be absolutely logical because it's about being in hyper-stressful conditions," she said.

        Other recommendations include policies that prohibit pregnant women from being placed in solitary confinement and specific protocols for labor and delivery.

        Since this summer, stakeholders have come together to discuss how to improve policies and Spiller says the commission is working to gather as much information as possible from advocates like Claitor and Rojas.

        "Our role in this issue is still being developed," she told the Current. The next commission meeting is scheduled for February 5.

        But do pregnant women really need to be in jail? If care isn't available, their offenses are nonviolent and they don't pose a public safety threat, why not consider alternatives like bond, Simpson asks. Health outcomes would improve, families wouldn't be separated and women could see the same doctor throughout their pregnancy.

        "Unless there's a massive public-safety concern, maybe [pregnant women] need to be bonded out or go back in the community where they have access to medical care," he said. "Pregnant inmates are probably really good candidates for diversion."

        The Fight for Better Care for Pregnant Women in Texas Jails

        Pregnant Women In Texas County Jails Deserve Better Than This

        Published: 26 June 2014

        Photo By;Andrew D. Brosig/The Associated Press
        Guards walk through a dormatory cell housing female inmates
        at the Nacogdoches (Texas) County Jail.

        A federal lawsuit in Wichita Falls shines a spotlight on a dramatic example of how the opportunity for lifesaving medical intervention is often missed in county jails. In this case, a child was tragically lost.

        This is the story that Nicole Guerrero tells in the lawsuit, filed in May in the Northern District of Texas, alleging that Wichita County violated her rights under the U.S. Constitution:

        On June 2, 2012, the Wichita Falls Police Department arrested Nicole, who was five months pregnant, for violating her probation. Nine days later, she started experiencing back pain and cramps, and she noticed that blood and other fluids were coming out of her vagina. In response to Nicole’s cries for help, officers escorted her to the nurse’s station around 6:30 p.m. The nurse listened to the baby’s heartbeat, said it sounded fine and sent Nicole back to her cell.

        By 11 p.m., Guerrero knew something was terribly wrong. As she started experiencing contractions, she frantically pushed the medical emergency button in her cell, over and over again. The nurses didn’t check on her for hours, until 3:30 a.m.

        Yet again, they ignored her distress and took her to the “cage” — what her attorney described as a solitary confinement cell — unfolding a mat over the floor for her to lie on. Jailers typically call these medical separation cells.

        Nicole gave birth there, alone, to a baby who was dark purple, its umbilical cord wrapped around its neck.

        Guerrero’s story may sound unbelievable, but unfortunately, those of us who are advocates for people held in local jails can believe it.

        At the Texas Jail Project, we have had former inmates and loved ones report poor nutrition, improper housing, neglect and lack of medical care, including a woman describing what it was like to labor and deliver alone in the Taylor County Jail. Luckily, her son survived.

        On texasjailproject.org, co-founder Diane Wilson retells a story shared by a traumatized young woman whose baby died in an ambulance after being delivered at the Victoria County Jail with no assistance. Because of those and other reports emailed and called in since 2007, the Texas Jail Project was instrumental in the passage of two bills requiring medical care and banning shackling of inmates in labor.

        However, the new laws and the standards subsequently passed by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards did not prevent inhumane treatment of Guerrero, nor did it prevent her child from dying. Policies, practices and attitudes in county jails need to change to stop mistreatment of women and prevent deaths of infants born there. In fact, the first responsibility of jails’ medical units is to see that the births occur in the hospital, not the jail.

        The Wichita County jail and all county jails can ensure proper care of pregnant inmates by following a simple rule: If the woman appears to be in labor and reports that she is, she should be transported to the emergency department of the local hospital. Period. Second, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which provides the training and accreditation of Texas jailers, should add information on supervising pregnant inmates to the Basic Jailer Training curriculum.

        Finally, we ask those two agencies as well as the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas to encourage officers and medical providers to re-evaluate their attitudes toward pregnant women in their custody. It may be possible for them to coordinate with officers of the court who can suggest programs and alternatives to jail, especially during pretrial incarceration.

        We should never allow another opportunity for intervention to pass us by as happened in Wichita County, when the lack of responsible medical action was the difference between life and death for Nicole Guerrero’s child.

        Diana Claitor is executive director of the Texas Jail Project and may be contacted at diana@texasjailproject.org. Burke Butler is an attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project and may be contacted at burke@texascivilrightsproject.org.

        Pregnant Women In Texas County Jails Deserve Better Than This


          Parker County "Grinch" Sentenced to 70 Years in Prison Woman caught stealing Christmas lights arrested in separate case

          By Scott Gordon
          Dec 13, 2013

          A woman known as the Christmas “Grinch” for stealing Christmas lights from a Parker County family’s home was sentenced to 70 years in prison on Friday after she was convicted of a separate burglary.

          Dana Brock, 44, of Hurst, shook her head when the judge read the jury’s sentence.

          Prosecutors pushed for a long sentence because of her lengthy criminal record.

          Brock gained notoriety in December 2012 when she was caught on surveillance video stealing Christmas lights from outside a family’s Aledo home while they were inside sleeping.

          She was arrested again in May after she stole a weed wacker and a power washer from another homeowner’s garage.

          She also was caught on video in that case.

          "One of our deputies who responded out to this case and looked at the surveillance video at the homeowner's house saw her on the video and said, 'Hey, that's the Grinch,’” said assistant Parker County district attorney Jeff Swain. “He knew right away who it was."

          A jury deliberated just five minutes before convicting her on Thursday.

          In the sentencing phase of her trial, prosecutors pointed to her long criminal history.

          Brock’s record dates to when she was a 17-year-old and was convicted in Arizona of solicitation to commit murder. Over the years she also was convicted of credit card abuse, injury to a child, theft, assault, and drug possession.

          Instead of two to 20 years in prison for burglary of a habitation, she faced 25 years to life under the "three strikes and you're out" law.

          She shook her head as the judge read her 70-year sentence.

          "A 70-year sentence will knock the air out of your stomach,” said her attorney Raul Navarez. “She kept asking me, '70 years? Are you serious? 70 years?' Because 70 years is a pretty harsh sentence for this kind of a deal. And quite frankly, that's what I argued to the jury. But the jury decided and we have to respect that."

          Navarez and prosecutors agree it didn't help her case when jurors saw the video of her stealing Christmas lights.

          "When you're known as the Christmas Grinch, people do remember you,” Swain said.

          Brock declined an interview request after she was sentenced.

          Parker County "Grinch" Sentenced to 70 Years in Prison Woman caught stealing Christmas lights arrested in separate case

          Sept. 11

          Woman Escapes Death Penalty; Faces Life Sentences In Infant's Death

          Central Texas prosecutors have announced they will not seek the death penalty against a woman previously convicted of killing a 3-month-old child she was baby-sitting.

          Cathy Lynn Henderson was days away from execution in 2007 when a state appeals court halted her punishment for the 1994 death of Brandon Baugh. The same court awarded Henderson, 56, a new trial.

          The Travis County District Attorney said Henderson will be retried for capital murder and faces a life sentence if convicted.

          In a 2007 interview Henderson said she was holding Brandon, trying to calm him when he slipped out of her arms and fell on the floor.

          Henderson said she performed CPR but didn't call 911. She buried him 60 miles away and fled.

          At her trial medical examiner Roberto Bayardo testified it was "impossible" to attribute Brandon's head injury to an accidental fall. Bayardo recanted in 2007, saying advances in the understanding of pediatric head injuries found short falls could produce injuries he discovered during Brandon's 1994 autopsy.

          (Source: gosanangelo.com)

          Feeling The Squeeze
          Rise In Female Inmate Numbers Has Area Jails Looking For Solutions

          Posted: July 1st, 2013
          By Joe Gamm

          [Photo 1]
          Michael Norris/Amarillo Globe News
          Sgt. Cindy Johnson checks the bolts on a mirror to make sure none are missing at the Potter County Detention Center.
          [Photo 2]
          Michael Norris/Amarillo Globe News
          Sgt. Cindy Johnson highlights some marks on the wall to show where inmates have in the past tried to make holes in the walls at the Potter County Detention Center.

          [Photo 3]
          Michael Norris/Amarillo Globe News
          Lt. Robert Laird holds open the door to a pod as
          Deputy Heath Wood rushes in carrying a fire extinguisher
          during a test of the smoke alarm inside one of the pods
          at the Potter County Detention Center.

          Squeezed by a surge in the number of women behind bars, space is tightening in jails such as Potter County, where some inmates do their time not in the women’s pod, but in the infirmary.

          Potter County Detention Center operators monitor the facility’s population daily, especially the female population, which hovers near capacity, Sheriff Brian Thomas said.

          There were 99 women housed in the Potter jail Dec. 8, but the facility is only equipped for 96, officials said. To meet state standards, jailers were forced to house some of the inmates in the infirmary.

          Trends show the number of women facing incarceration increasing.

          The number of women in prisons increased 400 percent from 1985 to 2006, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number of men increased about 200 percent during the same span.

          The Texas Department of Criminal Justice also has seen an increase in the number of female inmates. From 1991 to last year, the number of women in the prison system increased by 75 percent, from 2,081 to 3,637. Over the same period, the number of men in the system increased 52 percent, from 21,436 to 32,543.

          Under a contract with Childress County, Potter jail operators ship inmates there when the local lockup runs out of space. The counties recently made the annual arrangement permanent. Unless Childress’ prices change, the contract will automatically renew each year.

          Over the summer, Potter sent 20 inmates to Childress at a daily cost of $35 per inmate, Thomas said. Potter also covered inmates’ medical expenses and paid two people to transport inmates two hours each way anytime a court appearance was scheduled.

          The female population of the Hale County jail also has ballooned, from about 5 percent to 30 percent of inmates over the past 10 years, County Judge Bill Coleman said.

          Hale County officials are considering building a new jail, but first must make repairs, estimated at more than $1 million, to the existing facility, Coleman said. Housing inmates from other counties, the jail brought in about $1.25 million last fiscal year, Coleman said.

          Randall County opened a new jail in 2001 and added a 144-bed pod about two years ago, said Danny Alexander, the Sheriff’s Office spokesman. Randall County houses inmates for the Amarillo Police Department and for federal agencies.

          From January through October, jailers booked 6,784 men and 2,323 women into the facility, said Capt. Paul Horn, the jail commander.

          “(Crowding in the jail) is kind of streaky,” Horn said. “We’ll have times when it is crowded, then it falls off. One thing that is an overriding factor for us is when local agencies conduct warrants pushes. Anytime something like that occurs, it causes us to have a spike in population.”

          Thomas said he would like a new, 1,500-bed jail similar to the one in Lubbock County, which has a capacity of 1,512.

          Potter’s current jail has 598 beds. Thomas said he understands other work would come ahead of a jail, including ongoing repairs to Potter County’s historic courthouse and the district courthouse.

          “If we had to redo the district courts building, (adding a pod) might be something we have to do to have enough space for potential prisoners,” said Potter County Commissioner H.R. Kelly. “We have to wait and see how bad or good the district courts building is.”

          Numerous problems — including poor drainage, water leaks, sunken walkways and unexplained window cracks — have cropped up in the 26-year-old courts building at 500 S. Fillmore St. During the last two fiscal years, Potter spent nearly $550,000 to upgrade the building’s elevators.

          The structure, built to house several county offices and give district courts a new home in 1985, cost $8.6 million, according to county records.

          Joe Gamm can be reached at 806-345-3474 or joe.gamm@amarillo.com.

          Feeling The Squeeze

          Texas Poised to Hit 500th Execution; Texas is on the eve of its 500th execution since death penalty reinstatement

          With the execution of Kimberly McCarthy slated for June 26, Texas is on the eve of a historic first: The 1st state to have executed 500 individuals since reinstatement of the death penalty ??? an event that also extends Gov. Rick Perry's record as the U.S. governor presiding over the most executions ever carried out. McCarthy is slated not only to be tagged with the infamous fate of 500, but will also become only the 5th woman - and the 3rd black woman - executed in Texas since 1854.

          McCarthy, who was previously married to New Black Panther Party founder Aaron Michaels, was sentenced to die for the 1997 robbery-murder of her 71-year-old neighbor, retired professor Dorothy Booth. According to the state, McCarthy's crack cocaine addiction led her to employ a ruse - she needed to borrow sugar, she told Booth - in order to get into Booth's house. Booth was repeatedly stabbed, and her finger, with ring on it, was cut off. Booth's car and credit cards were also stolen; McCarthy told police she pawned the items to get money for drugs.

          McCarthy was first slated to be executed in January, but that date with death was halted by a Dallas County judge in order to consider a claim that minority potential jurors were improperly struck by prosecutors from serving in McCarthy's trial (it was actually her second trial; her initial 1998 conviction was overturned after the courts found that the state improperly included into evidence a statement McCarthy made to police after she had "unambiguously" invoked her right to counsel). In a letter to Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, McCarthy's attorney Maurie Levin pointed out that at the time of McCarthy's trial racial discrimination "pervaded" the county's jury selection process. Levin also noted that Watkins had told The Dallas Morning News that he would advocate during the recently concluded 83rd Legislature for passage of the Texas Racial Justice Act, which would allow death row inmates to appeal based on claims that racism played a role in their conviction.

          McCarthy's execution was postponed until April 3 and then again, to June 26, on Watkins' request, in order to afford the Legislature time to consider whether to pass a racial justice law - either Dallas Sen. Royce West's Senate Bill 1270 or Houston Rep. Senfronia Thompson's House Bill 2458. Neither bill was successful. Thompson's bill received a hearing in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, but was not called up for a vote; West's measure wasn't even given a hearing. Those bills were fashioned after the landmark Racial Justice Act passed by North Carolina; in early June, the Republican-led legislature there repealed the RJA.

          Nonetheless, litigation is expected to continue as McCarthy's date draws nearer. Indeed, an appeal filed June 18 again raises claims related to racial bias. A separate filed motion seeks also to recuse CCA Presiding Judge Sharon Keller and Judge Michael Keasler from considering McCarthy's appeals based on the fact that both judges once served as prosecutors in Dallas where McCarthy's case - and racial bias claims - originated.

          (source: Austin Chronicle)

          Vigil To Call For The Closure Of Dawson State Jail

          Vigil to call for the closure of Dawson State Jail

          March 7, 2013 6:00 pm

          March 7, 2013 7:00 pm

          Criminal Law Reform, Dallas

          Holly Kirby

          Dawson State Jail

          Dawson State Jail
          106 West Commerce Street
          Downtown Dallas

          Thursday, March 7th
          6:00 p.m. -7:00 p.m.

          How Many More Women Will Die at Dawson State Jail?
          Recent media accounts of inadequate medical care and a rash of preventable deaths at the Dawson State Jail illustrate the problems. In the last year, reports have surfaced of three incarcerated women who have died from ostensibly preventable causes and a premature infant lived for only four days after being delivered without medical personnel.

          Please contact Holly Kirby
          at 512-499-8111
          or hkirby@grassrootsleadership.org

          For more information on Dawson State Jail see this blog post
          “Short-term sentences become death sentences at Dawson State Jail“

          Death at Dawson: Why Is Texas’ Worst State Jail Still Open?

          By Emily DePrang
          Published February 26, 2013

          Wendy King never saw a doctor.

          “Everybody in my family has some kind of uterine problem,” King told me. “My mom and three sisters have all had hysterectomies.” So when King started bleeding continuously while serving a one-year sentence at Dawson State Jail for a parole violation, she asked to see a doctor.

          “I bled for nine months,” she says. “I’m sorry, I know this is gross, but I’d step in those metal showers and you could hear blood clots fall out as big as my hand.”

          King says that at Dawson, prisoners must first fill out a form asking for medical care and wait five to eight days for it to be processed. “Then they schedule you for a doctor if they think you actually need to see a doctor,” she said. Getting an appointment can take another week.

          The physicians’ assistants who saw King didn’t think she needed to see a doctor. They also didn’t give her an exam. “They gave me antibiotics,” she says, “They said it was something going around, a venereal disease.” With a week’s worth of antibiotics and a menstrual pad, King was sent her back to her cell.

          King’s experience at the troubled Dawson State Jail, a privately run, 2,200-bed lockup for nonviolent offenders, isn’t unusual. Several inmates at the facility have complained of poor conditions and lack of access to medical care that, in a few cases, led to deaths. Dawson has come to exemplify the once unutterable, now bipartisan, cause of closing some Texas prisons.

          Yesterday, two advocacy groups, The Sentencing Project and Grassroots Leadership, released a report summarizing the case for closing Dawson—primarily that it could save the state $24 million a year. That’s not counting how much the state could make by selling the property on which Dawson sits, a riverside plot in downtown Dallas that the city has been clamoring to develop for years.

          Nearly every stakeholder wants Dawson closed, except, of course, for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which operates the jail; its contract is up for renewal in August. State lawmakers, including Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chair of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, want Dawson closed because Texas’ inmate population continues to drop and the state can save money by consolidating prisons. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union that represents prison guards, wants Dawson closed because chronic understaffing makes the facility an extremely stressful and dangerous workplace. Human-rights groups want Dawson closed because of documented, systemic failures in its health care services and the horrifying deaths of several inmates, allegedly due to medical negligence.

          Compared to the seven inmates who have died at Dawson since 2004, Wendy King was lucky.

          Back in her cell, she continued to bleed. “I lost so much blood, it’s amazing I could walk,” she says. Finally another inmate told a guard about King’s condition, and the guard escorted her down to the clinic personally. The physician’s assistants still didn’t allow King to see a doctor, nor, she says, did they give her an exam or run any tests. But they did give her two shots of Depo Provera within the space of a few weeks. Depo Provera is a powerful birth control hormone intended to be given only once every three months. The shots slowed King’s bleeding, and she lived with it for the next seven months, until her release in September 2011.

          King never saw a doctor at Dawson. Once she was released, she sought help and her condition turned out to be non-lethal: endometriosis and a retroverted uterus. Endometriosis happens when the uterine lining grows outside the uterus, and can cause heavy bleeding and scar tissue, sometimes enough to tilt, or retrovert, the uterus. Though the condition required surgery and rehab, it could have been worse. King’s sister died in October 2011, a month after King was released, of an aggressive uterine cancer.

          Unfortunately, King’s is among the least disturbing stories of medical horror at Dawson. In 2012, the Dallas news station CBS 11 ran a four-part exposé highlighting alleged medical negligence at the jail and detailing three cases:

          • In 2008, a 30-year-old woman named Ashleigh Parks died of pneumonia six weeks before her release date. Her family says she was denied medication until it was too late, a claim supported by letters from other inmates who knew Parks.

          Pamela Weatherby
          • In 2010, Pamela Weatherby, 45, died while serving a year for drug possession. The lawsuit filed by Weatherby’s family against CCA details how she was taken off her prescribed insulin injections and given cheaper oral insulin, resulting in diabetic comas. Repeatedly, Weatherby was medically stabilized elsewhere and returned to Dawson, where she would again be denied her insulin injections and suffer another coma. Weatherby arrived at Dawson in May. She was dead by July.

          An autopsy revealed that she died from diabetes complications.

          CBS 11 obtained internal documents from CCA showing that the chief of security reported that Dawson staff “didn’t follow proper procedures in that they did not call a medical professional” the night of Weatherby’s death and recommended termination of shift supervisors. But a week later, Senior Warden Raymond Byrd determined, “The actions by employees were consistent with TDCJ policy and procedure. No training needs have been identified at this time.”

          • Parks and Weatherby aren’t alive to tell their stories, but Autumn Miller is. Miller didn’t know she was a few weeks pregnant when she arrived at Dawson in January 2012 to serve a year for violating her probation. But by May, she knew something was wrong. She’d been missing periods and felt sick. A mother of three, Miller recognized pregnancy. Miller is still at Dawson, but her mother, Jean Burr, told Miller’s story to CBS 11 after seeing its coverage of Weatherby’s death. Burr says that in May, Autumn Miller requested a pap smear and pregnancy test but never got them. Three weeks later, she started bleeding and cramping, feeling pressure and pain. The staff brought her to the medical unit on a stretcher, and Burr says a doctor was on a video screen—Dawson is one of many facilities that use telemedicine to save money—but that an assistant told the doctor he wasn’t needed and turned off the screen. A guard suggested, “You probably need to go poo,” gave Miller a menstrual pad and locked her in a holding cell. “The pressure was so bad that she went to the toilet,” Burr told CBS 11. Then, “the baby came out and went into the toilet and started screaming.” The baby girl, named Gracie, was just 26 weeks along. She died four days later. Miller had a tubal ligation and was allowed to stay in the hospital until Gracie passed away in her arms. Half an hour later, Miller was shipped back to Dawson, where they placed her in solitary confinement for two days, because, they said, she was on “suicide watch.”

          • Shebaa Green, 50, suffered from diarrhea and difficulty breathing for three days before she was allowed to go to the medical unit at Dawson last August, according to records obtained by CBS 11. She lay there unexamined for three hours before anyone arrived to look at her. Seven hours later, a doctor called an ambulance as Green struggled for breath. She died the next day of complications due to pneumonia.

          CBS 11 reported that 15 women talked to the station about mistreatment they witnessed or experienced at Dawson; two said they had extremely high fevers and were left in segregation for days or weeks without ever seeing a doctor.

          Another, Lorraine Brown, said that, like Weatherby, she was diabetic and never received her insulin at set times. She also said she watched a woman have a stroke, become paralyzed, and be left for other inmates to bathe and care for.

          Other former inmates echo these stories on Topix.com, in an online forum about Dawson State Jail conditions, though the details of their stories haven’t been confirmed.

          But the case against Dawson’s medical care isn’t just anecdotal. A January 2012 audit of Dawson health services by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice found multiple systemic failures: noncompliance more than half the time in areas of preventative, gynecological, dental, HIV and elder care. They even failed the basics: conducting inspections, having enough first aid kits, providing medically appropriate diets to sick prisoners, and keeping adequate records.

          CCA has issued statements in response to the CBS 11 reports, saying that its “dedicated, professional corrections staff is firmly committed to the health and safety of the inmates entrusted to our care.” They point out that CCA is not the health care provider—the state contracts with the University of Texas Medical Branch for care—but in each case of alleged mistreatment, the problem was not bad treatment but a denial of access to treatment. CCA staff at Dawson, the ones whom Senior Warden Byrd said had no training needs, are the gatekeepers. CCA says it can’t comment on the Weatherby case because of the ongoing lawsuit, and “As for the other allegations, there are no complaints on record from those inmates about their access to quality health care.”

          Perhaps the most amazing part is that Dawson’s closure still isn’t a sure thing. Despite financial, practical and moral reasons for closing Dawson, the state may renew CCA’s contract for the facility in August. The simple reason is that CCA, the largest private prison company in the world, is a powerful lobbyist.

          Sen. Whitmire has been trying to close Dawson since 2008. In December, Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Morning News asked Whitmire about the chances of successfully closing Dawson this time.

          Whitmire laughed, paused for a long time, and then said, “Better than 50-50.”

          Tags: Ashleigh Parks, Autumn Miller, CCA, Dawson State Jail, John Whitmire, Pamela Weatherby, Shebaa Green, TDCJ

          Emily DePrang freelanced for The Texas Observer for ten years before joining the staff as a reporter. A former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review, her work has appeared in Black Book, FHM, and several publications that have since gone out of print. She has a bachelor's in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona. She is happy to be home.

          Death at Dawson: Why Is Texas’ Worst State Jail Still Open?


          Corpus Christi Police Mull Program To Treat Suspected Prostitutes Rather Than Jail Them

          By Steven Alford
          Posted December 9

          CORPUS CHRISTI — Police officers and health care providers soon will give prostitutes an option to get off the streets and find help.

          Instead of jail time, law enforcement plan to work with county health care officials and judges to provide social services and health screens for people accused of prostitution.

          Police Chief Floyd Simpson said the idea is modeled after a program he saw while working in Dallas, where police and medical staff set up mobile clinics in areas with the most prolific prostitution rates.

          Known prostitutes were screened for diseases and offered options to find a legitimate job, go back to school, or receive mental health care instead of jail time.

          "We're trying a different approach rather than just arresting them again and again," he said.

          Often prostitutes are repeat offenders, going through a revolving door of arrest, incarceration, counseling and release, he added.

          "We can't wait months for the system to kick in," Simpson said. "We have to try and help those who are trapped in this endless cycle."

          A police captain went to Dallas to visit with officers and learn about the program and what can be used in Corpus Christi.

          District Attorney Mark Skurka said he supports the diversion program.

          Skurka envisions the initiative will be similar to the county's drug or DWI courts, where first-time offenders are offered deferred prosecution if they're willing to participate in counseling, community service or other terms set by the court.

          "It's best to catch them early before it becomes a lifetime career," Skurka said.

          Corpus Christi police often hold undercover operations known as "Jane" stings. Officers attempt to purchase the services of a suspected prostitute and arrest them when they agree to the terms.

          The most recent sting was Oct. 17 on the city's Northside. In just three hours, undercover officers arrested eight women and a 17-year-old boy on suspicion of prostitution.

          Skurka said when he was a young assistant district attorney, authorities identified the 10 most active prostitutes in Corpus Christi and procured year or longer jail sentences in an effort to keep them off the streets.

          It worked, for a while.

          But with prostitution, often those arrested are homeless, helpless or being victimized and have few other options, Skurka said, making it a multifaceted problem.

          "There's got to be another way to approach the problem than just locking them up and throwing away the key," he added.

          Corpus Christi police mull program to treat suspected prostitutes rather than jail them

          Should a Woman Be Shackled While Giving Birth?
          Most States Think So

          California outlawed the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners during childbirth
          last month, but it's still legal in 33 states (KingRay/Flickr)

          By CRISTINA COSTANTINI (@xtinatini)
          Oct. 10 2012

          In 33 states across the country, pregnant inmates, including women being held exclusively for immigration-related offenses, can be shackled to their hospital beds during the birthing process.

          On September 28, that changed in California. Under a new law, jails will no longer be allowed to use "leg irons, waist chains and handcuffs behind the body" on women during labor, delivery or recovery.

          "Pregnant women are the most vulnerable and the least threatening in the prison system and should rarely, if ever, be restrained," Alicia M. Walters, a reproductive justice advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, wrote after the news.

          The state's decision is noteworthy in part because it highlights harsh prison conditions for pregnant mothers in the rest of the United States.

          While states like Illinois, Texas, Vermont and Colorado also have laws that discourage the practice of shackling female inmates during labor, most states still don't have such regulations on the books. Even in Illinois, where anti-shackling laws are in place, a class-action lawsuit filed by 80 female inmates earlier this year alleged that they were restrained while giving birth and recovering. The women were ultimately granted a $4.1 million settlement from Cook County Jail.

          While women's rights advocates want to see shackled childbirth abolished across the board, cases involving immigrant detainees are particularly controversial, since some detainees haven't committed any crime beyond being in the country without status, or crossing the border without authorization.

          In particular, jails in Maricopa County, Arizona, have garnered media attention in recent years for their treatment of undocumented pregnant women. Two of the highest profile cases of shackling occurred in the district overseen by the controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who calls himself "America's Toughest Sheriff."

          "It doesn't surprise me that these cases have gotten a lot of media attention. A lot of organizations are watching that county closely because of Sheriff Joe," the ACLU's Walters said. "There are a lot of really questionable practices out there, especially when it comes to women of color."

          Two mothers, Miriam Mendiola-Martinez and Alma Chacon, said that they faced cruel treatment when they gave birth as inmates at Maricopa jails. Both women, who were in jail for immigration-related offenses, say that they were shackled to their hospital beds with a leg restraint before and after they gave birth, without their husbands and in the presence of a prison guard. Chacon says that she was restrained even as she gave birth.

          Mothers in some jails are permitted ongoing access to their newborns in the days and months after they've given birth, but both Mendiola-Martinez and Chacon say they that was not the case for them. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office did not respond to a request for comment regarding their policy on mothers holding their newborns.

          Late last year, Miriam Mendiola-Martinez filed a federal suit against Arpaio, as well as as the officers, doctors and nurses involved in the 2009 incident. The case has not yet been resolved, but earlier this year a law was passed in Arizona prohibiting some of the harsher forms of shackling during labor.

          In the state of Arizona, pregnant inmates are still cuffed to their beds and wheelchairs by "soft restraints," according to John J. MacIntyre, deputy chief of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. "Soft restraints" signify the use of handcuffs and ankle cuffs with pregnant women, rather than leg irons or waist chains.

          All pregnant inmates, regardless of the severity of their offenses, are handcuffed to wheelchairs on their way to the hospital, and are restrained to hospital beds with an ankle bracelet and a "long chain," before and after they give birth, MacIntyre said. He says that Chacon's allegations that she was chained during her birth were untrue. The deputy chief insisted that these precautions are taken because inmates give birth in hospitals that are open to the public and not fortified against escapees in the same way jails and prisons are. He also noted that some inmates do indeed pose risk for escape, and still others, as individuals behind bars, may be violent or dangerous.

          But many advocates, including doctors and nurses, say that shackling women at any stage of their pregnancy is damaging to the health of the mothers and the health of their babies. The American Medical Association deemed the practice to be unsafe, "medically hazardous," and "barbaric," in a resolution from 2010.

          Malika Saar, an advocate who heads an anti-shackling coalition with The Rebecca Project for Human Rights, believes state law should also take into account the circumstances under which pregnant inmates were put behind bars.

          Federal prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) do not shackle pregnant inmates during the birthing process. However, if a woman goes into labor while placed on a so-called immigration "detainer," a period in which ICE asks local authorities to hold inmates for possible deportation, she will be subject to shackling policies of the local authorities, which vary state-by-state. For those jailed for immigration offenses, the treatment seems particularly extreme, Saar said.

          "These mothers are not prosecuted criminals, but simply mothers detained for lack of documentation," she said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

          Last year, comedian and immigration reform advocate Stephen Colbert drew attention to the practice of restraining undocumented pregnant women in a segment he called "Labor Chains." Colbert joked that if Americans are to resolve the immigration problem, they must look inside themselves and "scoop out any vestige of human kindness -- especially when it comes to pregnant women."

          Should a Woman Be Shackled While Giving Birth? Most States Think So

          Sept. 13

          Female Gets Execution Date

          Dallas-area woman's execution scheduled Jan. 29

          A woman on Texas death row for the stabbing and bludgeoning of a 71-year-old woman has received a Jan. 29 execution date.

          Kimberly McCarthy was sentenced to die for the July 1997 killing of retired college professor Dorothy Booth during a robbery at Booth's home in Lancaster, about 15 miles south of Dallas.

          The Dallas County District Attorney's office disclosed the date Wednesday.

          The 51-year-old McCarthy is 1 of 10 women sentenced to die in Texas but is the only one with a scheduled execution date. Since Texas resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982, only 3 of the 482 people put to death have been women.

          (source: Associated Press)

          Texas rethinks law making repeat prostitution a felony

          By Mike Ward
          Aug. 26, 2012

          Kathryn Griffin, left, started a program to help women who, like Beatrice Hall, right, want to get out of the
          'revolving door' of prostitution

          DAYTON — Busted 32 times in 17 years for prostitution in Austin and other places, Beatryce Hall's rap sheet reads like a frequent-flier ticket for Texas prisons: 11 times in 11 years.

          Many of those trips were courtesy of a 2001 Texas law that allowed prosecutors to charge prostitutes with a felony and send them to a state lockup after three misdemeanor prostitution convictions. The law was designed to clear up chronic problems with truck-stop and street hookers in Dallas.

          But now, with more than 350 prostitutes — most from Houston and Dallas — occupying bunks in the state prison system, and dozens more serving time for drug and theft charges related to the sex trade, questions are being raised about whether the enhanced criminal charge is a waste of money. For about one-fourth the cost, such nonviolent, low-level criminals could be rehabilitated in community-based programs aimed at curing their addictions to alcohol and drugs.

          At a time when state officials are looking to save money wherever they can and be smarter on crime, the issue is expected to be on the agenda when the Legislature convenes again in January — another example of Texas' push for additional treatment and rehabilitation programs that began five years ago and has helped drive a decline in the state's prison population.

          Prison Costs

          "I thought life was a big party," said Hall, 42, a mother of two daughters. "I started out dancing, got on drugs, went to the streets where I could make $300-400 a night. I wanted to, but couldn't get out of that cycle."

          With just more than two months left on her latest less-than-a-year sentence at Plane State Jail in Southeast Texas, Hall plans to get out and stay out — thanks to a prison program started last January to help prostitutes beat their old habits.

          State leaders say the program illustrates why prostitutes should never have been sentenced to prison in the first place. It costs $18,538 to house a convict in state prison for a year and about $15,500 in a lower-security state jail, according to Legislative Budget Board calculations. By contrast, a community-based program costs about $4,300 a year.

          "She's a perfect example of why these women should not be taking up expensive prison beds," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, who said that the 2001 felony prostitution law had broad support at the time and acknowledged that he voted for it.

          "It's nuts that we've got this many prostitutes in prison, people that we're not afraid of, but we're just mad at," he said. "By locking them up, we're not fixing the problem — we're just spending a lot of money incarcerating them, warehousing them, when we could be spending a lot less getting them treatment so they can get out and stay out of this business."

          Special Programs

          Kathryn Griffin-Townsend, 53, is a former prostitute and cocaine addict who leads the treatment program at Plane State Jail. She calls prostitution a "revolving door that can be stopped" and shares with participants how she did it. Her nonprofit, We've Been There Done That, has operated in Houston for more than a decade.

          Behind bars, her program is part of a larger treatment program called Path to Recovery, which includes women who are serving time for theft and other street crimes, as well as prostitution. Most have a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

          The programs use familiar tools: substance abuse treatment, group therapy, life skills coaching, help with job searches and places to live. Ex-offenders lead the groups.

          As government budgets continue to be tight, state and local leaders in Dallas and Houston are exploring special courts that could help shepherd prostitutes through recovery — as other courts now do for drug addicts, veterans and offenders with mental-health and domestic-violence issues.

          "If it's done right, it can save lives, save money and cut crime," said state District Judge Larry Gist of Beaumont, who established the first specialty court in Texas — a drug court — more than 20 years ago. "The cost-per-day to deal with low-level offenders in the community, rather than in a prison, is significant."

          Gist is also a member of the prison system's governing board, which oversees state jails.

          Texas Stands Alone

          Few other states imprison prostitutes as does Texas, which has a long history of locking higher percentages of its lawbreakers in state prisons than all but a few other states. The felony prostitution charge was enacted when the Legislature was still in the throes of its lock-em-up, three-strikes-and-you're-out fervor.

          Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist and recognized national expert on prostitution who heads the San Francisco-based Prostitution Research and Education organization, said Texas is the only state she knows of that makes prostitution a felony. "Jail is simply not the place for these women ... who have other issues," she said. "People look at them as drug addicts who were forced into the sex trade."

          Under the 2001 law, prostitutes and their customers can be sent to a state jail for up to two years on a fourth-degree felony — although no customers are currently doing time and probably have not, officials said.

          Gradually, philosophies changed and people began questioning whether sending women away to a prison is the best solution. Even some prison officials privately concede the law became just another — more expensive — revolving door.

          Without specialized treatment, women could cycle through prison several times — much as they do in county jails without programs.

          Hall was among those, as was Griffin-Townsend, who served time at the Plane State Jail several years ago.

          Hall's prison record shows eight of her 11 convictions were for felony prostitution. Two of her sentences — for drugs — were from Travis County, where she said she worked haunts such as Rundberg Lane, South Congress Avenue and North Lamar Boulevard.

          No prostitutes from Travis County are currently in a state lockup, and prison and Austin officials said they could not immediately determine whether they have used the enhancement in the past.

          Breaking The Cycle

          "(Prison) didn't do much except get me off the street," Hall said during an interview last week at Plane State Jail. "I've been through drug rehab and a lot of other programs. ... This one makes me feel like I can get out and stay out. (Kathryn) has been where I was. I can see how I can make it."

          During a group therapy session, one woman from Houston, who asked that her name not be used, shared a typical story: "I started stealing when I was in middle school. Then I stole from stores, forging checks, stealing identities. I prostituted for my husband. He was a dope man. I taught my kids how to sell dope, how to steal. Their dad's in prison, I'm in prison.

          "That's wrong. Now, I want to break the cycle of addiction in my family. I've got to change everything about me."

          Like other women in the program, both prostitutes and not, Hall said she wants to get out of the criminal justice system once and for all when she leaves in November. She plans to move in with her parents in a Houston suburb, and apply for refinery and factory jobs for which she has training.

          For Whitmire, Gist and other supporters of treatment programs, those words ring true. "These are mothers and daughters and grandmothers who have tolerated horrible lives on the street, and most of them want to change their lives," Whitmire said. "We should give them that opportunity. That's the best way to be tougher and smarter on crime."

          Contact Mike Ward at
Twitter: @statesmanmike

          Texas rethinks law making repeat prostitution a felony

          Drug Crime Sends First-Time Offender Grandmom To Prison For Life
          Houstonian, who has no secrets to trade, is doing more time than drug lords

          By Dane Schiller
          May 10, 2012

          "Put yourself in my shoes. When you are innocent, you are innocent," she said.
          Photo: Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle

          FORT WORTH - The U.S. government didn't offer a reward for the capture of Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo, nor did it accuse her of touching drugs, ordering killings, or getting rich off crime.

          But three years after a jury convicted her in a conspiracy to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine on tour buses from Mexico to Houston, the 56-year-old first-time offender is locked up for life - without parole.

          "It is ridiculous," said Castillo, who is a generation older than her cell mates, and is known as "grandma" at the prison here. "I am no one."

          Castillo claims she didn't know about the drug operation.
          Photo: Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle

          Convicted of being a manager in the conspiracy, she is serving a longer sentence than some of the hemisphere's most notorious crime bosses - men who had multimillion-dollar prices on their heads before their capture.

          The drug capos had something to trade: the secrets of criminal organizations.

          The biggest drug lords have pleaded guilty in exchange for more lenient sentences.

          Castillo said she has nothing to offer in a system rife with inconsistencies and behind-the-scenes scrambling that amounts to a judicial game of Let's Make A Deal.

          "Our criminal justice system is broke; it needs to be completely revamped," declared Terry Nelson, who was a federal agent for over 30 years and is on the executive board of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "They have the power, and if you don't play the game, they'll throw the book at you."

          Castillo said she was tricked into unknowingly helping transport drugs and money for a big trafficker in Mexico.
          Photo: Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle

          Castillo maintains her innocence, saying she was tricked into unknowingly helping transport drugs and money for a big trafficker in Mexico. But she refused to plead guilty and went to trial.

          In 2010, of 1,766 defendants prosecuted for federal drug offenses in the Southern District of Texas - a region that reaches from Houston to the border - 93.2 percent pleaded guilty rather than face trial, according to the U.S. government. Of the defendants who didn't plead not guilty, 10 defendants were acquitted at trial. Also, 82 saw their cases dismissed.

          The statistics are similar nationwide.

          The latest case in point came this week with the negotiated surrender of a Colombian drug boss Javier Calle Serna, whom the United States accuses of shipping at least 30 tons of cocaine.

          While how much time Calle will face is not known publicly, he likely studied other former players, including former Gulf Cartel lord Osiel Cardenas Guillen.

          Cardenas once led one of Mexico's most powerful syndicates and created the Zetas gang. He pleaded guilty in Houston and is to be released by 2025. He'll be 57.

          As the federal prison system has no parole, Castillo has no prospect of ever going home.

          "It is ridiculous," Castillo said of her sentence. "I am no one."
          Photo: Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle

          "Any reasonable person would look at this and say, 'God, are you kidding?' said attorney David Bires, who represented Castillo on an unsuccessful appeal. "It is not right."

          Castillo's elderly mother in Mexico has not been told she's serving life, and her toddler grandson thinks she's in the hospital when he comes to visit her in prison.

          Castillo is adamant about her innocence.

          "Put yourself in my shoes. When you are innocent, you are innocent," she said. "I don't say I am perfect. I am not … but I can guarantee you 100 percent that I am innocent of this."

          At the urging of her boyfriend, Martin Ovalle, Castillo became partners with a smooth-talking Mexican resident who said he wanted to set up a Houston-based bus company.

          But the buses were light on passengers and shuttled thousands of pounds of cocaine into the United States and millions of dollars back to Mexico. Her lawyers argued she was naive.

          Castillo claims she didn't know about the drug operation, but agents said she should have known something was wrong when quantities of money and drugs were repeatedly found on the coaches.

          "After hearing all the evidence as presented from both the government and defense in this case, the jury found her guilty … ," said Kenneth Magidson, chief prosecutor here.

          Former federal prosecutor Mark W. White III said if Castillo had something to share, she might have benefited from a sentence reduction for cooperating.

          "Information is a cooperating defendant's stock in trade," White said, "and if you don't have any, … the chances are you won't get a good deal."

          Castillo has faith that she'll somehow, some day, go free. Her daily routine doesn't vary: when she eats breakfast, when she works, when she exercises, and when she brushes her hair, which has gone from red-blond to black and gray. The gray gets respect in prison.

          Although a first offender, Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo faces spending the rest of her life in prison for drug trafficking.
          Photo: Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle

          "I will leave here one day with my head held high," she said. "I don't feel like a bug or a cockroach. I am a human being, with my feet firmly on the ground."


          Drug Crime Sends First-Time Offender Grandmom To Prison For Life

          Shedding Light On Kitchen Culture Behind Bars

          Associated Press
          February 1, 2012

          In this book cover image released by The Justice Institute,
          "From the Big House to Your House," a collection of 200 recipes
          by six Texas prison inmates, is shown.
          Photo: The Justice Institute/AP

          GATESVILLE, Texas (AP) — These women may not have an oven, refrigerator, stove, knife, or even the ability to boil water, but they do have plenty of time on their hands.

          Decades, in fact. And that, combined with a few (admittedly peculiar) ingredients and a desire to cook despite the odds has resulted in a rather unusual cookbook — "From The Big House to Your House," a collection of 200 recipes by six Texas prison inmates.

          The women all are serving at least 50 years at the Mountain View Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, all but one of them for murder. And a hankering for foods they enjoyed on the outside prompted them to get creative on the inside.

          For example, they've found that an empty potato chip bag works for cooking in a quart-size electric warming pot, their only source of heat for cooking. A plastic ID card — similar to a credit card — makes an acceptable cutting or chopping implement. And tuna and mackerel can be made into great-tasting nachos.

          "I know it sounds disgusting," said Celeste Johnson, 49, one of the authors. "But I love tuna nachos. And I've got so many people here converted to it."

          The book was produced with the help of Johnson's mother, who typed the recipes and submitted the manuscript on the women's behalf to The Justice Institute, a Seattle group that works with convicts who maintain their innocence. The group published the book and now sells it online.

          The book puts into print a long tradition of the joy of cooking behind bars, where generations of Martha Stewart wannabes have concocted legal and illegal brews and stews with a variety of success and failure.

          And inmate cooking is not confined to women's prisons. Former Texas corrections officer Jim Willett remembers his days working in a men's unit, walking through a cell block and getting whiffs of simmering foods.

          "You knew when there were certain foods cooking, just like being in your house," says Willett, now director of the Texas Prison Museum. "It would make you want to stop and join them, but that's not legal.

          "Something like a Frito pie they're certainly not going to get in the chow hall."

          The reality of prison cooking is a bit different from "GoodFellas," the 1990 movie that shows mobsters delicately slicing garlic with a razor blade as they prepare a gourmet Italian dinner for themselves while serving time. And it isn't always pretty.

          Inmates tend to be creative in the "kitchen." In the past, some have been known to fashion metal plates into skillets that get heated in toilets filled with burning toilet paper. Or to transform tooth paste tubes into spoons and turn fruit into prison "wine."

          In 2009, a Washington state prison inmate's attempt to warm sausages in his cell's stainless steel commode didn't work as hoped. Smoke from the prisoner's makeshift oven went through a sewer pipe vent and officials evacuated the lockup for what they feared was a fire. The inmate became known as the "toilet chef."

          More typical was the experience of Martha Stewart, the homemaking pro who was said to have dabbled in microwave cooking while locked up a few years ago in a federal prison in West Virginia while serving time for obstruction of justice and lying to the government.

          At least she had a microwave, which Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said is available to many federal inmates, though they are prohibited from cooking in their cells.

          The Texas women — who, in compliance with regulations prohibiting them from profiting from a business while behind bars, are donating proceeds from the book to their publisher — only have their "hot pot," a coffee pot-like instrument that warms water, but can't boil it (boiled liquid could become a weapon).

          Ingredients also are limited mostly to what can be purchased from the prison commissary. They can forget about real milk — they get powder — or real butter, as well as most individual seasonings. Garlic? They squeeze that from garlic vitamin tablets.

          "It looks kind of gross," Johnson says. "But it works. You'd be surprised."

          Looking for alternatives to meals served in the chow hall, the Texas women began pooling their commissary food purchases and wrote down their discoveries, such as rehydrating potato chips in their warming pot. The resulting mush became a "baked potato."

          "I don't know if we've been away too long, but it does taste like a real baked potato," says Johnson, who's been in prison for nine years and won't become eligible for parole from her life sentence until 2042.

          Prison historian Mitch Roth said cooking is a way for inmates to "access their former lives to a certain extent," and to humanize the often dehumanizing prison experience.

          Not every recipe the Texas women tried was a winner. Ceyma Bina, one of the co-authors who has served six years of a 50-year sentence for a slaying in Houston, winced as she described making ravioli from ramen noodles and salsa. And Johnson said rehydrated onion-flavored potato chips "turned like rubber."

          Bina and the others who worked on "From The Big House to Your House," say in the book's preface they were confident readers on the other side of the bars would "enjoy the liberty found in creating a home-felt comfort during unfortunate times."

          "It shows people how we survive in here," said Bina.

          Read more: Shedding light on kitchen culture behind bars

          To purchase online "From The Big House To Your House: Cooking in Prison" [Paperback] Cookbook go to > Amazon

          Jan. 17

          Woman's death sentence in slaying of couple reduced

          If Chelsea Richardson felt relief at her death sentence officially becoming a life sentence, she did not show it in court Tuesday.

          The 27-year-old did not visibly react when visiting Judge Steve Herod accepted the sentencing agreement reached by prosecutors and her defense attorney for the 2003 murders of Rick and Suzanna Wamsley of Mansfield.

          In a baggy yellow jail jumpsuit and dark-rimmed glasses, Richardson only spoke to acknowledge that she waived her right to appeal.

          The hearing was mostly formality. The state's highest criminal court overturned the death sentence for Richardson in November. She was condemned by a Tarrant County jury in 2005 for the deaths of her boyfriend's parents in Mansfield.

          The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the punishment phase of Richardson's trial was affected by misconduct by a former prosecutor who withheld evidence from the defense.

          Richardson and her boyfriend, Andrew Wamsley, were convicted of capital murder in separate trials.

          Authorities said Andrew Wamsley, Richardson and a friend, Susana Toledano, killed the couple so that Andrew Wamsley could inherit his parents' $1.56 million estate.

          Richardson was the only one to receive the death penalty.

          Under the new sentence, she must serve 40 years before she is eligible for parole, though she will get credit for time served.

          Relatives of Richardson and the Wamsleys attended Tuesday's hearing. Richardson's mother, Celia Richardson, said afterward that she still believed her daughter to be innocent.

          She said she felt that her daughter was being "swept under the carpet" after an error-filled police investigation and trial.

          "Totally screwed up," she said, describing her daughter's case.

          Rick and Suzanna Wamsley's family members released a statement through a district attorney's office spokeswoman.

          In the statement, they said they supported the plea bargain because the alternative would have meant returning to court for a new penalty phase, and reliving the painful details of the crime once again.

          Family members said they plan to "fight paroles" for all the criminals involved.

          "There is no such thing as closure for such a tragedy," the statement said. "Our family will be reminded of this horror each anniversary of Rick and Suzy's death, each holiday without them, all of the family celebrations without them."

          The hearing lasted about five minutes. After Herod pronounced the sentence, Richardson whispered something to her attorney, ran a hand through her long brown hair, adjusted her glasses and walked with a courtroom officer out the door.

          (source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


          Women work to end inmates' cycle of crime, violence

          Posted Dec. 18, 2011

          FORT WORTH -- Shirley Sanchez watched from her residence a year ago as a man in a yellow van blocked her daughter's car in the driveway and then repeatedly shot her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend.

          The shooter then crashed his van into a parked car and ran, until he was cornered behind an abandoned house and arrested.

          At his trial in September, witnesses testified that the shooter, David Jackson, 34, killed Latressa Campbell, 39, and Toby Lightfoot, 33, in a jealous rage over a relationship that had ended.

          "My granddaughter calls me every now and then and says that she is waiting for her mother to pick her up," Sanchez said. "I still have no idea what I should tell her."

          Now Sanchez is volunteering her time talking with groups of women about domestic violence.

          But she is doing so in conjunction with police and Texas Department of Criminal Justice parole division efforts to help ex-offenders stay out of prison.

          Another Fort Worth woman, Mary Little, is also working to help reduce recidivism, facilitating faith-based anti-drug seminars for ex-offenders under the umbrella of the "Most Excellent Way" program, usually at the behest of parole officials with the Criminal Justice Department. She, too, has a compelling personal reason for trying to help.

          From 2003 to 2006, an average of 5,000 former state inmates were released to Tarrant County, according to the Tarrant County Criminal Justice Community Plan for 2011. About 64 percent of Texas inmates released locally were rearrested within eight years, according to a recidivism rate study done in 2008, the report says.The statistics also show that recidivism in Tarrant County is increasing. The two women's work is among many initiatives to combat that.

          Sanchez, 59, tells groups that when a man tells a woman he will hurt her or her family, she should believe him.

          "There are so many women out there who are being abused and they are not even aware that they are being abused," Sanchez said. "This man told her several times that 'If I can't have you, no one will have you.'"

          Little, 51, was arrested in 1978 at age 17 in connection with slayings that occurred in Texas and California. Little said her 33-year-old then-boyfriend fatally wounded a massage parlor owner during a Fort Worth robbery and then fatally wounded a second man during a carjacking in Santa Barbara, Calif.

          "I was there," Little said. "I did not turn him in, and I didn't try to stop it.

          He committed suicide before they got a conviction on him. Once that happened, they turned around and rolled the whole case onto me."

          She spent 13 years in California prisons on a life sentence after convictions for first-degree murder and armed robbery. Charges against her in Texas were dropped.

          Little traced her rage to being unable to forgive her father for his repeated abuse when she was a child. Little said that she learned to drink beer while sitting on her father's lap and that she was a "blackout alcoholic by the age of 14."

          Little said it was easy to continue using speed and marijuana and to continue her two-pack-a-day cigarette habit while she was incarcerated.

          By early 1983, she was contemplating suicide when she gave God a 30-day ultimatum.

          While she always discounted the advice of friends who encouraged her to seek Jesus, she said she decided to try Christianity for 30 days. If it did not work, she said, a voice told her that she could always go through with her plans to kill herself.

          Little said God took 30 days to free her from self-persecution and another 30 to free her from drugs.

          She said she forgot about her suicide pact with God by the end of February 1983, and after a prayer meeting she returned to her cell and had her first night of uninterrupted sleep since her arrest.

          "I knew it was him," Little said.

          During a prayer meeting in March, Little said, she was thinking about how much her feet and back hurt when a cool breeze swept through the room. When she returned to her cell, Little said, it occurred to her that she had not wanted a cigarette or any other drug since the meeting started.

          Little said this happened the day she became free yet totally reliant on God.

          She talks with ex-cons about how their faith can also free them from slavery to alcohol and drugs.

          "I look at my life before God, and it was a mess," Little said.

          "If I surrender my will to God it becomes a life that is in control. That's total surrender and becoming God dependent. It's why I'm doing what I'm doing at the parole office. It's where I believe God wants me to be."

          Online: Tarrant County Criminal Justice Community Plan

          Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752
          Twitter: @stcrime

          Read more: Women work to end inmates' cycle of crime, violence

          SEPTEMBER 07, 2011

          Are handcuffs included in shackling ban for pregnant jail inmates?

          Last month the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Jail Project published a joint report titled "Implementation of Laws Regarding Treatment of Pregnant Women in Texas County Jails: A Review of the Shackling Ban and Pregnant Inmate Care Standards" (pdf).

          Says the introduction, "According to numbers reported by county jails to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), 554 pregnant inmates were held in jails on June 1, 2010, when this research was conducted. Of these, 175, or slightly over 30 percent, were housed in the six largest jails. Our report therefore gives a clear picture of treatment received by nearly a third of the pregnant jail inmates in Texas and identifies problems that may be present in the other 239 facilities under the purview of TCJS."

          Says the report, some jails, including Dallas, don't interpret the shackling ban to include handcuffs. Most others do, as do the groups authoring the report. (The relevant portion of the statute declares that “a municipal or county jail may not use restraints to control the movement of a pregnant woman in the custody of the jail at any time during which the woman is in labor or delivery or recovery from delivery.”)

          In addition, the authors found "widely varying standards for prenatal nutrition among jails," with Harris County, for example, allotting pregnant inmates 40% fewer calories than in El Paso. An appendix to the report (pdf) includes petitions for TCJS rulemaking to establish more rigorous standards of care for pregnant Texas jail inmates.

          As of July 1, according to another appendix, there were 509 pregnant women in Texas jails.



          New program gives prisoners chance to mother

          By ALLAN TURNER
          Houston Chronicle © 2010 The Associated Press
          July 10, 2010

          HOUSTON — Placid, sweet-natured, Heaven is a "little package of joy." Only 5 weeks old, she exudes classic infant charm. Dumpling cheeks dominate her face.

          A tuft of black hair crowns her tiny head. Her baby eyes glow with the wisdom of the ages.

          Kristy Winburne, Heaven's mother, notices such things. Doing a 6-month state jail stint for theft, she has time to notice such things.

          Winburne, 30, calls her situation "a blessing."

          Until April, her fate — and that of her baby — would have been much different. She would have given birth, the infant handed to a foster parent and Winburne again locked up to serve her time.

          Winburne and Heaven, though, are reveling in the life of BAMBI — the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Baby and Mother Bonding Initiative. Mandated by the 80th Texas Legislature, the program gives select state jail inmates the chance to live and bond with their newborns.

          Operated out of the Santa Maria Hostel, a northeast Houston facility for troubled women, the program offers young mothers life skills and substance abuse counseling, classes leading to a GED and a crash course in parenting. The idea, said Santa Maria CEO Kay Austin, is to give the baby a wholesome start and the mother an incentive to stay straight.

          "Our concern has been with the ability of the mother to form a bond with the baby, but that's not our only concern," Austin said. "The child — that's the big issue here. When you have a child with an attachment disorder, you've got people going through TDCJ again and again. We're trying to break that cycle."

          Becky Price, deputy director of TDCJ's rehabilitation programs division, said the state's program is patterned after a similar effort at a Fort Worth federal prison. At its core, the program, which is supported by the University of Texas Medical Branch and other organizations, strives to instill a sense of responsibility in women who previously acted irresponsibly.

          "This is the 'ah-ha' moment in terms of learning and accepting responsibility," said UTMB's BAMBI program manager Liz Moore. "It's a very positive time in a woman's life."

          A typical day, Moore said, starts early with a group session at which the women — six currently are in the program, two others have been released — set goals for the day. The women are required to compose a written plan for meeting short- and long-term goals. Except for brief periods, the care of the infants is in their hands.

          BAMBI participants typically have been convicted of crimes such as forgery, theft and minor drug offenses. As such, they are assessed sentences of two years or less and remanded to a state jail, Price said. In late February, the most recent month for which records are available, 65 of the state's 11,007 female prisoners were pregnant.

          Women guilty of violent crimes, sex offenses or arson are not eligible for BAMBI. Program coordinators generally choose women who are scheduled to be released within six months.

          "We give them as many resources as we can," Moore said. "They leave here with Medicaid, with WIC in place, with birth certificates applied for. We try to give them as much support as we can before they get out and try to figure it out for themselves."

          Despite its unsettling aspects, some inmate mothers find giving birth and interacting with their newborns in a prison setting provide a newfound clarity.

          "I realize there is a better life than crime and being in trouble," said convicted thief Desiree Wilson, 20, whose son, Aventae, is 2 months old. "Now, I have a baby and I'm loving it."

          Kortny Courtney, 32, discovered she was pregnant two weeks after she arrived at a state jail to serve one year on a drug rap.

          "I was scared to death," she said. "The thought of giving birth and being separated from the child was really weighing on me."

          Courtney, who is the mother of two girls, ages 9 and 14, was "extremely thrilled" when told she might be eligible for the BAMBI program. But even when things go well, prison is daunting.

          On March 26, more than a week before the program began, Courtney gave birth to a son, Dylan. In the brief birth-to-BAMBI interim, Dylan was placed with a caretaker. "Being without him was just torture," his mother said.

          Courtney, who plans upon release in August to work in a family business and study cosmetology, said the program has changed her worldview.

          "I have set better goals for myself. I don't have to do the same thing over and over again," she said.

          Like Courtney, Winburne, who had two children before entering prison, credited the program with changing the way she viewed life.

          "I think I have benefited from being here," she said. "I'm ready to get back out there, to take care of my kids."

          Heaven, who sleeps through the night except for brief wakeful interludes at 2 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., seemed blase as her mother emotionally described how she would do better when released.

          "Oh my God, she's her own little person," Winburne said of her new daughter. "She just looks like all of us. I look at her and I see all of us in here and that's really special. ... I think I'm going to cry."

          New program gives prisoners chance to mother


          Author: Sylvia Clute

          Note: After several years as a trial lawyer, Sylvia Clute became disillusioned with the legal system and began her search for a better way. She founded, led, and served as an advisor to numerous community and statewide initiatives. A pioneer in legal reform, she spearheaded changes in Virginia's laws relating to women and children. Her new book, Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality, is her first work of nonfiction. She lives with her family in Richmond, Va.

          You can find her online at: www.sylviaclute.com

          Editor's Note: This article is based on the author's new book, Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality, published by Hampton Roads.

          Our criminal justice system is based on a curious set of rules and a double moral standard. The state's burden of proving guilt is pitted against the accused's right to thwart such proof. The state claims to be the victim because its law has been broken, but if the accused lacks the resources of O. J. Simpson or Paris Hilton to defend himself, he feels victimized by the state, and too often is.

          What about repairing the harm done to the other victim, the person who was robbed or raped? The prosecutor's job is to win the case and punish the accused, not make the victim whole. This means the victim's role is reduced to that of a mere witness for the state in its battle to win by making the accused lose. For the accused to win, defense counsel must try to make the victim appear as untruthful as possible. Caught in the middle of the attorneys' battle to win and make their adversary lose, the victim often feels revictimized. If a plea agreement makes a trial unnecessary, this victim becomes irrelevant.

          Is this a good system for getting at the truth? About 130 death sentences have been commuted since 1973 because evidence later proved these people were innocent. Is the prosecutor's win more important than the truth about the guilt of the defendant? In many of these 130 cases, the answer was yes. Sam Millsap, a former Texas prosecutor, now speaks openly of having sent an innocent man to death by presenting weak evidence that later proved to be false. Does this deserve to be called justice?

          There is a better way, a form of justice that delivers fairness, mends broken relationships, and helps us get at the root causes of crime. There is, in fact, justice beyond vengeance.

          Becoming Our Own Jailers

          "Get tough on crime" has been a common mantra in the U.S. since the 1970's and, indeed, we have. We now have over 2.3 million people locked up on any given day, approximately the same number as China and Russia combined. More than one in every one hundred adults in America is presently in jail or prison. Nationally, our prison industrial complex is a $60 billion-a-year industry.

          This incarceration binge is destroying the fabric of our communities, some more than others. One in every 15 African American men lives in a prison or jail cell. If you are an African American male between the ages of 20 and 34, the ratio is one in nine. Hispanics are disproportionately affected as well. As of 2006, one in 36 Hispanic adults was behind bars.

          Over the last 30 years more acts have been classified as crimes, many prison sentences have become mandatory, as well as longer, and early release for good conduct has been all but eliminated. Some defense attorneys advise their clients to plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit, reasoning that a short sentence for a lesser crime is better than risking decades behind bars that would be mandated if convicted of a more serious offense.

          Few stop to think that, when the costs are added up, every year an inmate spends in jail or prison costs us about the equivalent of one teacher's salary.

          This choice between hiring teachers and locking people up hits our young people hard. Our tax dollars pay to incarcerate one in every 53 of Americans in their twenties. As more tax dollars are used for incarceration instead of supporting colleges and universities, tuition is rising so fast, fewer and fewer young people can afford to attend. Some officials even demand zero tolerance to deal with behavioral problems in our grade schools and high schools, giving our children an early taste of how readily our culture uses punishment to secure compliance.

          As life sentences and sentences that span decades are now common, the elderly experience it, as well. Although criminal activity generally decreases dramatically with age, between 1992 and 2001, the number of state and federal inmates aged fifty or older almost doubled. The cost of keeping an older prisoner locked up is around $70,000 a year or more--not one, but two, teacher's salaries.

          Before ever being judged guilty, many people held in jail (not prison) are awaiting trial. Those who can afford to post bail are generally released pending trial. Those who can't post bail remain locked up in what amounts to a modern debtor's prison. In 2006, more than 60 percent of those who spent time in jail were not convicted, a number that continues to grow.

          In this punitive world, prisons have taken up the slack for the state and county hospitals that released millions of mental patients between the 1950s and 1980s. Because the majority of people behind bars in the United States have some type of mental illness, our prisons and jails are our "new asylums."

          Not everyone in the system is locked up for a long time. When you add up all the people who go in and out, about ten million cycle through our jails and prisons every year. They bring the lessons they've learned, the diseases they've contracted, and the trauma they've experienced back to our communities.

          We have become a nation of jailers, not only of petty offenders and serious criminals, but also of ourselves.

          The increasing incarceration rate far exceeds increases in the rate of crime. During an interview with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear in 2008, he stated that in the last thirty years, his state's crime rate had increased about 3 percent, but its inmate population had increased by 600 percent.

          It's true, there are periods of escalating crime, and assuring the safety of our communities requires that some offenders--murderers, serial killers, psychopaths--be kept behind bars for long periods of time and perhaps for life.

          We have lost sight of the fact that these types of offenders are the exception.

          Two Models of Justice

          When we declare, "We want justice!" it is often coded language for a forceful attack, getting even, in which two wrongs are needed to make things right. It's a demand for vengeance and retribution.

          But remember in October 2006, when an Amish community in Pennsylvania captured our attention after a man murdered five of their young school girls and then killed himself? They didn't call for vengeance. Instead, they rushed to comfort the murderer's family and asked those of us outside their community to be forgiving. The power embodied in their compassion stunned the nation. Their defenselessness touched our hearts and brought honor upon their community. This is an example of another type of justice.

          When a breach in a relationship or the violation of community norms occurs, we often fail to recognize that we react in one of two distinct ways. On the one hand, our goal can be to punish the guilty. This punitive type of justice inflicts punishment and seeks the imposition of control to enforce compliance; its answer to harm is more harm.

          The other system of justice works according to an internal design that matches accountability with the harm or conflict being addressed. All participants treat one another with dignity and respect. All interested parties get to hear and be heard so all points of view are considered, enhancing the possibility of resolution and goodwill in their future relations. When forgiveness is achieved it is mutually beneficial, creating a future free of anyone's bondage.

          Compassion and loving kindness are at the heart of this form of justice, and the outcome is a benefit to all. I call this unitive justice.

          Ancient tradition and modern cultural norms have sanctioned both the punitive and the unitive approach to justice, giving us contradictory and confusing moral guidance. In one instance, we are told justice is found in proportional revenge: the old law of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. In the other, it is aligned with the ancient teaching we often call the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you, a moral compass found in some form in every major religion and culture. These conflicting moral codes reflect the two distinct forms of justice. We may not realize that they are mutually exclusive, but when you choose one, the other is not possible.

          Punitive Justice

          Because punitive justice is most often the norm in modern culture, we are inclined to accept this response without asking whether it produces a value-added product or not. This eye-for-an-eye model takes retribution, revenge, and vindication for granted because it is grounded in the belief that our safety lies in controlling or defeating those whom we fear. It considers none of punishment's collateral damage that occurs within the larger community.

          Punitive justice fails to address how the infliction of further harm or the deprivation of liberty translates into taking responsibility or how it rights the wrong it seeks to address, beyond getting even.

          Punitive justice relies on a double moral standard that permits us to project blame for our killing (in the case of capital punishment, for example), on those whom we kill. We say they are responsible for our harm, not us, because they are evil and deserve to die. We unburden ourselves of moral accountability by saying, "They make us do it." Thus, our killing is deemed moral, while we contend theirs is not.

          As is often the case, when both sides view the other as wrong-doers or evil, the killing becomes endless, while all claim self-righteous innocence. We fail to note that having two standards of morality--one for us and one for them--provides a flawed moral compass, even when matters of simple justice are at stake.

          The so-called justice in the punitive approach is seen to lie in its requirement that the harm we do be proportional to the harm done to us, i.e., the gouged eyes and teeth knocked out by our side must be approximately equal in measure to the gouged eyes and teeth knocked out by those deemed guilty. The scales of justice are an appropriate symbol for this system of proportional revenge. While this punitive form of justice requires a degree of restraint that definitely makes it superior to barbarism, we can do better.

          Unitive Justice

          Unitive justice is not an idealistic fantasy. As the old punitive system is imploding, unitive justice is taking root and growing. It is appearing in our institutions in the form of restorative justice in the criminal law system, in some social model programs designed for jails and prisons, in collaborative law now being used in the civil law system, in transformative mediation, in schools using restorative processes as the disciplinary policy, and in various circle processes being used in many settings, public and private.

          The defining characteristic of unitive justice is its inclusiveness. Its goals are healing, restoration, and reconciliation, an approach aimed at producing relationships that are harmonious, equitable, and peaceful. This is not a new approach. Among aboriginal people on the continents of North America, Australia, and Africa, there were some who long ago found ways to hold an offender accountable in ways that do not involve the harm, humiliation or deprivation that characterize punitive justice.

          When used in a specially designed system of conflict resolution that is guided by a trained facilitator, experience shows that unitive justice can achieve meaningful accountability to the victim and the community, and sometimes to forgiveness of the offender as well. We saw heartfelt examples of this during the Truth and Reconciliation Trials in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid.

          Being inclusive, unitive justice involves the participation of all who are affected in assessing the harm done and forging both a remedy and preventive measures, thus avoiding the separation that the us-versus-them system causes.

          Those harmed may include not only the primary victim, but also members of the victim's family, members of the offender's family, and the community at large.

          At the appropriate time and in a safe setting, the offender hears the victim and these other voices describe the harm from their perspectives. This furthers the offender's understanding and results in the moral learning that can motivate a desire to repair the harm and to be restored to the community.

          Unitive justice approaches the victim, the offender and the community as parts of a whole and no one is forced to lose. The victim feels heard and valued, as the offender is held accountable in ways that are meaningful and aid the victim's healing. The community is seen for what it is, the basic building block of a safe and secure nation.

          An example of a unitive justice approach in a jail setting is The Community Model in Corrections program in Emporia, Virginia. Following a well-planned set of activities that are consistent with unitive justice principles, such as respect, accountability, honesty, and integrity, the inmates in the program are largely responsible for helping one another recognize patterns in their lives and figuring out how to change them.

          The objectives of the community model program are achieved at a fraction of the cost of traditional clinical treatment. Most of the on-site supervision occurs during the launch of the model. This stands in stark contrast to how traditional programs are run, some of which may have a couple of full-time licensed professionals serving as few as a dozen inmates at each institution.

          On the average, a community model program costs approximately one-fourth the cost of a traditional treatment program or therapeutic community.

          A study of recidivism among those who complete community model programs shows that their recidivism rate in the three years after release is less than 10 percent.17 The track record for prisoners in traditional programs is dismal in comparison. A fifteen-state study found that, in only three years after release, more than two-thirds were rearrested.18 A recidivism rate of over 60 percent is the punitive justice norm.

          Unitive justice does not condone or ignore wrongdoing. It is not a world of relative values or slack morals where anything goes. On the contrary, unitive justice reduces or eliminates wrongdoing by creating and maintaining a culture in which wrongdoing by anyone is not accepted behavior. One moral standard applies to all.

          For example, in a prison in Virginia, when a guard ransacked an inmate's cell during an inspection, the guard was reprimanded. In the culture the warden established and carefully tended, the cells of inmates were seen as the inmates' homes and were to be treated accordingly. Inspections were to achieve their legitimate goal, not to violate the inmates' sense of security and self-respect that the warden was trying to instill. Misconduct among inmates in this particular prison were a rare occurrence.

          Being held to a common moral standard that applies to and benefits everyone motivates members of the community to measure up, accepting the standards of the environment they are living in as their new norm. When shared community values do not sanction hurting one another, and this standard is applied to everyone, the need to use punishment to deter violence, to maintain order and control, quickly diminishes.

          As confidence grows in the capacity of the community to provide for the safety of its citizens through peaceful means, trust develops. This facilitates reflection upon the whole system, including how the crime or breach arose and what can be done to avoid such breakdown in the future. Thus, only unitive justice has the power to restore balance and harmony among the victim, offender and local community, and at the same time, enable the root causes to surface and be dealt with.

          The punishment-and-revenge approach does not restore harmony and balance within the community, and the control needed to constantly enforce compliance wastes resources. In contrast, unitive justice supports fundamental, enduring change and costs relatively little. As the accused is not pitted against the might of the state, due process is simple. Rich or poor, unitive justice provides a level playing field. Liberty and justice for all may actually be within reach when justice beyond vengeance--unitive justice--becomes the norm.

          County settles lawsuit over woman's jail death

          May 11, 2010

          Harris County will pay $167,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging that jailers denied medical care to a woman who begged for treatment in the days before she died in 2008.

          The payment was one of three approved by Commissioners Court in closed session Tuesday to settle suits against the sheriff's office.

          Margarita Saavedra was in the county jail awaiting trial on drug charges when she died in January 2008. The suit by her family alleges that she spent her final days complaining of pain, breathing problems, fevers, nausea, voiding problems and an altered mental state.

          The county's defense was that as long as the jail nurse in charge of Saavedra's care exercised professional medical judgment, the prisoner's constitutional rights had not been violated.

          Saavedra died of a staph infection, according to the suit.

          Several months after Saavedra's death, U.S. Department of Justice inspectors visited Harris County jails. The department issued a report a year later that cited an “alarming” number of deaths in custody.


          County settles lawsuit over woman's jail death


          Pregnancy and Prisons: Women's Health and Rights Behind Bars

          October 24th, 2009
          By Juliana Rincón Parra

          Do all pregnant women deserve equal human rights, or do pregnant women in prison forfeit those rights?

          There are a few questions that come to mind regarding a pregnant woman's right to live and to raise her child when she has been convicted for some sort of crime:

          What is it like for them to be pregnant and have their child behind bars?

          Should they be a priority when there are other women outside of correctional facilities without medical assistance?

          Should maternity overrule any other legal conditions to ensure a pregnant woman's human rights?

          USA: women in labor no longer to be shackled.

          Could you imagine a woman giving childbirth with her hands in handcuffs and her feet shackled to the bedposts? Malika Saada Saar, founder and executive director of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, tells us about this practice which still happens in the United States of America, where pregnant women serving time have been routinely shackled during labor and childbirth as a common practice in some correctional facilities, even though it is dangerous for the health of both mother and child. Following is a video interview included in the same article written for RH Reality Check, an online community on sexual and reproductive health and rights which does information and analysis for reproductive health:

          What happens to an inmate's baby after childbirth?

          Different countries have different regulations regarding children in prisons. For example, in Argentina, according to Ajintem, an information portal for migration information, a law was passed last year specifying that pregnant women, women with children younger than 5 and those with handicapped children would benefit from spending their prison term at home under house arrest. This law would benefit not only the mother, who in prison wouldn't receive suitable health care during her pregnancy, but also the child, who would either be raised in an unsafe environment deprived of freedom with deficient health controls and food, or be raised away from the mother, causing another series of problems. However, the message is for magistrates to follow the spirit of the law and grant this permission to those women not involved in violent crimes, to ensure that the rest of the civilian population doesn't see pregnancy as a get out of jail free card.

          In the Canary Islands, according to the Prisiones y Penas blog, which writes about the issues surrounding jails and prisons, women are allowed to keep their children of up to 3 years of age with them in their cells, but in the company of other inmates, which isn't the best environment. Thus, pregnant women or women with children under 3 are told upon entry to the prison that it isn't good for the child to grow up behind bars, and options are given for them to send the child off to family members. This is also the case in Peru and Russia.

          In the US, there are only two correctional facilities which allow for this, in New York and in Nebraska, as told by renowned photographer Jane Evelyn Atwood in her 3 part photo documentary for Amnesty International, called Too Much Time, where she visited dozens of prisons all over the world to record and document the lives of inmates.

          Why does the US correctional system not generally allow women with babies to keep them? Atwood explains that due to the hostage situation, it is not allowed. In the Prison Photography Blog they address this claim:

          Children are excluded from all but a couple of US prisons. The security threat is cited as the reason: a child inside a prison is a constant vulnerable life and constant hostage target. The claim seems a little bogus when penal systems of other countries are brought into consideration.

          The Atwood documentary in the Amnesty International site features both a section on the process of giving birth in shackless as told in Vanessa's Baby and another on prison systems and motherhood, with photographs of the women while the photographer reads an essay on her experiences visiting the prisons and taking the pictures.

          Pregnancy as a bargaining tool?

          Why are rights for pregnant women in prison so controversial? In Russia Today, a Russian broadcasting channel, the subject is mentioned when discussing children born and raised in the Russian correctional system:

          Skeptics think some mothers deliberately get pregnant simply to ease life in prison. Hospital leave, then lots of scheduled time with your child – it is all better than sitting in a stone cell, they claim.

          And there are women for whom it seems that pregnancy is the only way to escape a sentence, as was the case back in June, when a British woman incarcerated and sentenced to death in Laos due to drug smuggling got pregnant in prison and escaped being executed, since the Laos government would not execute a pregnant woman. The claims made according to the Daily Express, a British newspaper, are that she got artificially inseminated “to secure a more lenient term”.

          In their words: Women tell of their children and prison life

          Geraldin Rodríguez, an Argentinean spending time in an Ecuadorian jail due to drug trafficking tells Marcos Brugiati, a writer who contributes with the art related online publication Plastica- Argentina, the story about acting and performing in jail, getting pregnant in prison and having her child. She was allowed to keep her baby with her, but decided that the child needed to grow up free:

          I decided he should leave to live, I was afraid he would suffer the same traumas I have today. After a year my brother took him away and is caring for him along with his wife.

          Juvinete is in a Spanish prison, and was pregnant when she was incarcerated for drug trafficking. She tells her story to regional Spanish newspaper NorteCastilla. Three years after giving birth to her baby in prison, her child had to leave her side, and was sent to a foster family. Juvinete sees her daughter every 15 days and every two months she gets a 2 week leave to spend time with her. However, things don't seem to be looking up: there is a chance Juvinete will be deported to her natal Brazil, and she fears for the consequences this change would have on her child. She does have advice for any woman who decide to get pregnant while in jail:

          I try to convince them not to get pregnant while inside because seeing a child deprived of their freedom is very hard, it's irresponsible. They don't have to pay for our mistakes.

          In Woman and Prison, a website dedicated to visibilizing women's experiences in the correctional system, inmate Kebby Warner speaks of her own pregnancy while doing time in a US prison, and how she was treated during her pregnancy, labor and afterwards, when her child was taken away from her. Here is an excerpt where she writes about the birthing process:

          During the labor, no one is allowed in the delivery room. My family didn't even know I was in labor or had her until after I left the hospital. During the three days some of the guards stayed in the room, but most of the time, when the nurses asked them to sit outside the door, they complied. I have heard horror stories of women being chained to the delivery bed. I am so grateful as to have not experienced this. Most of the nurses treated me as a human instead of a prisoner.

          You can read more testimonies about growing up with a parent in prison and the different effects incarcerating women may have on their children in Women and Prison.

          So what do you think?

          With pregnant women around the world not receiving health care of any sort, should additional efforts be made to benefit women who are in prison?

          Is there a difference between mothers serving terms in correctional facilities and those outside?

          Should they be treated differently?

          Pregnancy and Prisons: Women's Health and Rights Behind Bars

          October 14, 2009


          One Protection for Prisoners

          The practice of keeping female prisoners in shackles while they give birth is barbaric. But it remains legal in more than 40 states, and advocates of prisoners’ rights say it is all too common. A federal appeals court has now found that the shackling of an Arkansas inmate may have violated the Constitution — but the margin was uncomfortably close.

          Shawanna Nelson, a nonviolent offender, was 29 years old and six months pregnant when she arrived in Arkansas’s McPherson Unit prison in 2003. When she went into labor, she was taken to a civilian hospital. Although there was no reason to consider her a flight risk, her legs were shackled to a wheelchair, and then, while she went through labor, to the sides of a hospital bed.

          Ms. Nelson testified that the shackles prevented her from moving her legs, stretching or changing positions during the most painful part of her labor. She offered evidence that the shackling had caused a permanent hip injury, torn stomach muscles, an umbilical hernia that required an operation and extreme mental anguish.

          In a suit against prison officials, Ms. Nelson charged that her Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment had been violated. She won an early ruling from the trial court, but a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected her suit. Now the full appeals court has reversed that decision, ruling, with a 6-to-5 vote, that a jury could find that Ms. Nelson’s shackling was unconstitutional. The court relied in part on a 2002 Supreme Court holding that Alabama’s practice of tying prisoners to a hitching post violated the Eighth Amendment.

          The ruling should help persuade other courts and state legislatures that the shackling of pregnant prisoners is unconstitutional. Several states have already made the practice illegal under certain circumstances — including New York, which did so this year.

          Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s prison project, called the circuit court’s ruling “thrilling,” given how conservative the federal courts have been on prison issues. It is clearly an important victory. Sadly, it is also a sign of how low the bar has been set for the humane treatment of prisoners.

          One Protection for Prisoners


          Protecting Mother and Child

          Published: August 21, 2009

          Obstetricians and other medical professionals have long called for an end to the barbaric and medically risky practice of shackling pregnant prisoners — by their legs, wrists and even around their abdomens — during labor. The Federal Bureau of Prisons ended routine shackling last year and limited the use of restraints to instances in which the women were at clear risk of harming themselves, their infants or others.

          Five states and the New York City corrections system have adopted similar policies. Even so, a bill that would end shackling in New York’s state prisons and county jails that sailed through the Legislature seemed in danger of being vetoed because of strong opposition from corrections officials. Aides say that Gov. David Paterson has now decided to sign this important bill.

          Critics argued that the legislation was unnecessary, because the state prison system had limited the use of shackling nearly a decade ago. But accounts by present and former inmates suggest that the guidelines have too often been ignored by the officers who transport women to and from the hospital.

          The claim that women doubled over in pain and about to give birth pose a serious danger seems especially far-fetched. The Rebecca Project for Human Rights, the Washington-based group that is campaigning to end these policies nationally, says that states with anti-shackling laws report no documented cases of women in labor attempting escape or trying to hurt someone.

          Governor Paterson’s staff has problems with a minor provision of the bill that deals with how pregnant women are transported to the hospital. But those issues can be addressed in regulations or in supplementary legislation. What’s important is that New York embrace a humane, medically sound and safe policy.

          Protecting Mother and Child

          A version of this article appeared in print on August 22, 2009, on page A16 of the New York edition.


          Childbirth in Chains

          Published: July 20, 2009

          The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called several years ago for an end to the barbaric and medically hazardous practice of shackling female prisoners during labor.

          In addition to further frightening these vulnerable women, the practice of chaining their legs, wrists and even their abdomens makes treatment and delivery more difficult and places mother and child at greater risk of harm.

          The Federal Bureau of Prisons must have had these facts in mind last fall when the bureau ended the routine use of restraints for women in labor and limited shackling to cases in which a woman presents a danger to herself, the baby or the staff. Five states have similar policies. New York would become the sixth — if Gov. David Paterson signs an antishackling bill that sailed through the Legislature this spring.

          The bill has caused a debate about how many pregnant women are actually shackled in New York. But recent interviews of female inmates by the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit group that monitors prison conditions, suggests that the practice may be more common than corrections officials know. In any case, the bill would put an end to it, by establishing clear guidelines that carry the authority of law.

          Modeled on federal prison policy and laws in other states, the New York bill would prohibit women from being shackled while being taken to the hospital for a delivery. A woman could be cuffed by one wrist in cases in which she presented a danger to herself, hospital staff or corrections workers. But it seems highly unlikely that a woman doubled over in labor pains would be able to attempt an escape or overcome corrections officers.

          Governor Paterson, whose staff members have recently been quibbling with technicalities in the bill, should make it clear whether he thinks the measure needs minor changes or clarifications. Otherwise, he should sign the bill into law and bring New York into line with the federal government and the other states that have wisely acted to protect pregnant inmates and their children during labor.

          Childbirth in Chains

          July 15, 2009

          New report on prison nurseries

          Via Corrections.com:

          The Women’s Prison Association (WPA) has released the first-ever national report on prison nursery programs. The report examines the expansion of prison nursery programs across the U.S. These programs allow incarcerated women to keep their newborns with them in prison for a finite period of time. The report also looks at community-based residential parenting programs, which allow women to serve criminal justice sentences with their infants in a non-prison setting.

          The report finds that the number of prison-based nursery programs is growing, but that such programs are still relatively rare. Though every state has seen a dramatic rise in its women’s prison population over the past three decades, only nine states have prison nursery programs in operation or under development. Of the nine prison nursery programs existing or in development, four were created within the last five years. ...

          The report (pdf), Mothers, Infants and Imprisonment: A National Look at Prison Nurseries and Community–Based Alternatives, is available online at www.wpaonline.org.

          Texas was not listed as one of the states with prison nurseries (which were California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia). Does anybody know what happens here with incarcerated mothers and young babies? It's a question I've never thought to ask. Texas passed legislation this year limiting authority to shackle pregnant inmates during labor, but I don't know what happens with the babies after they're born.

          MORE: A quick search of TDCJ's website on the topic revealed this story from the Galveston Daily News about the birthing center for pregnant mothers at TDCJ's Carole Young medical unit in Texas City:

          The minimum-security unit has helped female offenders with medical needs since 1996. It serves both state jail and Texas Department of Criminal Justice offenders. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston provides the medical care. ...

          Between 80 and 100 of the patients at any time are pregnant; inmates assigned to the facility because of its obstetrical clinic typically make up the largest patient group.

          After delivery, new mothers on the unit who have permission from the warden participate in the Love Me Tender baby-bonding program, in which they can see their babies not only during scheduled weekend visitation hours, but also for any two-hour period weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

          The babies are not housed at the unit, but state Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston has filed a bill, HB 1770, which, if passed [ed note: it failed], would provide housing for infants up to 1-year-old.

          After one year, Simpson noted, another Texas Department of Criminal Justice program allows extended visitation with children up to 16 years old, so inmates “roll from one program right into another.”

          Though this tells me about where pregnant inmates give birth and visitation policies for infants and young mothers, it doesn't provide a clear picture of what exactly happens to young infants after they're born in Texas prisons. Perhaps readers have more information on the subject.

          Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

          Labels: TDCJ

          Prison Nursery Programs a Growing Trend in Women’s Prisons

          By Women's Prison Association
          Published: 07/13/2009

          Many Mothers and Babies Could Also Succeed in Community-Based Programs

          The Women’s Prison Association (WPA) has released the first-ever national report on prison nursery programs. The report examines the expansion of prison nursery programs across the U.S. These programs allow incarcerated women to keep their newborns with them in prison for a finite period of time. The report also looks at community-based residential parenting programs, which allow women to serve criminal justice sentences with their infants in a non-prison setting.

          The report finds that the number of prison-based nursery programs is growing, but that such programs are still relatively rare. Though every state has seen a dramatic rise in its women’s prison population over the past three decades, only nine states have prison nursery programs in operation or under development. Of the nine prison nursery programs existing or in development, four were created within the last five years.

          Chandra Villanueva, Policy Associate at WPA and author of the report commented, “Prison nursery programs keep mothers and infants together during the critical first months of infant development, and the research shows that these programs produce lower rates of recidivism among participating mothers.

          As we recognize the benefits of prison nursery programs, we must also increase our investment in community-based alternatives, which allow for maternal/child bonding and enable women to address the issues that brought them into the criminal justice system in the first place.”

          Research highlighted in the report indicates that these programs benefit mothers and children. Dr. Mary Byrne, Professor at Columbia University commented, “Prison nurseries offer needed services to a population of women and infants who might otherwise be overlooked. However, additional community prevention programs, alternatives to incarceration, and seamless follow-up programs are needed.” Dr. Byrne is the author of the first longitudinal study of maternal and child outcomes for prison nursery participants; her study is featured in the WPA report.

          The report profiles existing and soon-to-open prison nursery programs in nine states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia, and also looks at community-based residential parenting programs in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Vermont. In addition, residential parenting programs operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and West Virginia are discussed.

          Many women parenting their infants in prison nurseries could be doing so in the community instead, the report asserts. The profile of women in prison nurseries is nearly identical to that of participants in community-based programs. Women in both types of programs are serving relatively short sentences for non-violent offenses, and will continue primary caretaking responsibility for their child(ren) upon release. Further, most women in prison nursery programs present little risk to public safety.

          Tina Reynolds, a former participant in a prison nursery program in New York, and the founder of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH), underscored this finding: “While I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the first months of my son's life with him while serving my sentence in prison, it was not without sadness felt for my other son who was in foster care.

          I often questioned if the time I spent in prison wouldn’t have been better spent learning about myself and my children in community-based family treatment.”

          Between 1977 and 2007, the number of women in prison in the United States increased by 832 percent. According to data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in 2004 four percent of women in state prisons and three percent of women in federal prisons were pregnant at the time of admittance.

          In 1999, BJS reported that six percent of women in local jails were pregnant at the time of admittance. As the number of women in prison has skyrocketed over the past 30 years, states have had to consider what it means to lock up women, many of whom are pregnant or parenting.

          Dr. Angela M. Tomlin, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, reflected on the nursery program at the Indiana Women’s Prison, saying, “One of the most important things we can do for a baby is to support her to have a strong and healthy relationship with her parents.

          Once a baby feels safe in a relationship, everything else—from cognitive skills, to school readiness, to positive mental health later in life—grows from that foundation. For mothers, a strong attachment to her baby may reduce the likelihood of recidivism. The prison nursery is an investment in the future, one mother and baby at a time.”

          The report, Mothers, Infants and Imprisonment: A National Look at Prison Nurseries and Community–Based Alternatives, is available online at www.wpaonline.org.


          In labor and in shackles:

          For too long many civil rights organizations received reports of pregnant inmates being shackled while in labor.

          That won't be the case under HB 3653, which allows for shackling of jail inmates while in labor but only if the prisoner is deemed an escape risk or a security concern.

          Its companion bill, HB 3654, also established other basic standards for pregnant women in jail.

          My concern: all inmates may be "deemed an escape risk" and nothing may really change.

          Reported By: John S./TPNS Member

          Female felons train Rockwall nonprofit's canines for use by wounded vets

          June 1, 2009
          The Dallas Morning News

          Lori Stevens has an ambitious goal: to match service dogs with female felons in need of redemption, as well as with American heroes.

          Stevens, a Rockwall dog trainer, runs Patriot Paws, a nonprofit that finds good dogs and places them with female prison inmates for socialization and basic training. The dogs are then paired with returning military vets with wounds of body and soul.

          The dogs go to service members like Brian Field, a disabled soldier who relies on prosthetic legs to walk. Recently, Field had a 10-day get-acquainted session with Tex, an 18-month-old black Lab who will be his constant companion.

          "Until I actually met the pup, I didn't realize exactly how much it can do," Field said.

          Stevens relies on donations to run her service and recently landed a matching grant that gives her $2 for every dollar she raises. But that runs out in September. Petco furnishes food for the puppies training in prisons, but there is never enough funding, Stevens said. "The hardest part is asking for money," she said.

          Awkward stages

          Field, 35, was 17 years into his Army career in June 2007 when he stepped on a booby trap in an Iraqi courtyard, losing both legs. While he was undergoing therapy, he learned about Patriot Paws.

          Tex can open doors, retrieve dropped items and position Field's wheelchair where he can get into it from a bed or a chair. With Tex, crowds know to give Field the space he needs to help maintain his balance when walking.

          "It's going to be really good," said Field, who received Tex from the nonprofit earlier this month for no cost. "I can feel it."

          Patriot Paws is at an awkward stage of development, Stevens says – it's too small to hire paid staff, but it's too big to rely only on volunteers.

          Once, a fan from Kentucky who saw Stevens on TV rode his motorcycle to the prison in Gatesville and presented her with $3,000 in donations he had drummed up along the way.

          But that's not how it usually goes. Too often, people who hear about Patriot Paws call offering their dogs, but the agency is not a rescue operation. And most dogs won't do for service work.

          "If you start with 100 dogs, you'll be lucky if 25 make it," Stevens said.

          Training starts early

          Stevens, who grew up in Garland, volunteered with nonprofits and joined professional associations to learn how to train dogs.

          She gets carefully selected dogs from her contacts among breeders and shelters. She insists on pure-bred, AKC-registered dogs so she knows what she's getting. They are usually Labs because they are smart, eager to learn and friendly, she says.

          Training starts when a dog is six to 18 months old, and the goal is to place the dog with its partner by the time it is 3 years old. The average working life of a service dog is eight to 10 years, although there are exceptions, like Beau.

          Beau, a 14-year-old black Lab and a veteran of network television, is graying at the muzzle and semi-retired now. But he can still open doors, pick up coins dropped on the floor and all the other things that service dogs do.

          "We let him train the puppies," Stevens said. "He never knows he's working. He always thinks he's playing."

          A chance to give back

          In the three years since Stevens founded Patriot Paws, she has placed nine service dogs with veterans. Seven came out of her prison-based program, and another 15 are training with inmates now.

          Melodye Nelson, assistant warden of the Crain Unit in Gatesville, has been part of Patriot Paws since its inception in November 2007.

          Female inmates write to her to ask to be in the program and must pass background checks that include disciplinary records.

          Dogs in training live with the prisoners round-the-clock, and the inmates are responsible for keeping their area clean.

          The inmate-trainers are serving sentences of up to 20 years for convictions that include drug possession, repeat DWIs and robbery.

          The prisoners bond with the dogs and treasure the notion of doing something useful with their time.

          "There are a lot of tears when these dogs leave," Nelson said. "The inmates feel like they are giving back."

          Female felons train Rockwall nonprofit's canines for use by wounded vets

          Female prisoners in Gatesville train dogs to work with disabled vets, others

          By Regina Dennis
          Tribune-Herald staff writer
          May 19, 2009

          GATESVILLE — Mike McHale will travel with his wife to the grocery store, but he’s not getting out of the truck to shop with her.

          McHale, 51, is paralyzed from the waist down and has to use a wheelchair to get around. In 2006, he fell from a 25-foot ladder, an accident that broke his back in half and shattered his spine.

          “I didn’t want to get out, because I didn’t want to be noticed (in my wheelchair),” McHale said.

          But now he has some extra help. On Monday, McHale was given Cappuccino, a service dog trained by female offenders in the Patriot Paws program in state prisons in Gatesville. The 18-month-old golden Labrador graduated Monday as the first dog to complete the prison’s training program since its inception in 2008.

          “As soon as I laid eyes on him, I knew he was the one,” McHale said. “Cap and I bonded from the first time we met, and I was lucky enough to get him.”

          Patriot Paws, a nonprofit program based in Rockwall, Texas, teaches prisoners to train and socialize service dogs to help disabled veterans and citizens. The prison currently is training 18 service dogs between its Crain and Murray units.

          Tears flowed down the faces of the dozen female inmates from the Crain unit as each recalled her time training Cappuccino. They described the young pup as intelligent, energetic, playful and mischievous.

          “When he was being taught the command to fetch the wheelchair, he would go get it, but he had this big production to retrieve it,” said offender Jean Johnson, who has participated as a trainer since the Patriot Paws program began. “He’d take it and run in a circle, round and round and round real fast, then stop and bring the chair. Every time.”

          The training program lasts 18 to 24 months, and the dogs stay with the women around the clock, even sleeping in the inmates’ dormitory. Each prisoner spends up to eight weeks with one dog — practicing commands and socialization from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. each day — before rotating to another dog.

          Crain Unit Warden Melodye Nelson said seeing Cappuccino leave is a bittersweet moment for the women in the unit — the dog became like family.

          “We love Cappuccino like he’s ours, but seeing him with Mike, it just warms our hearts to know we played part in Cappuccino’s success and in giving Mike a little bit of independence,” Nelson said. “And for the women, it helps them gain a skill that they can use when they are released and give a little bit extra back with their time.”

          The dogs learn 35 basic commands, such as making a bed, retrieving food from a refrigerator or pantry, picking up dropped items and putting dirty dishes into a sink or dishwasher. McHale, who was able to spend some time with Cappuccino at his Ruston, La., home in March, already has taught Cappuccino an extra “essential” command.

          “The command for a bottle of water is ‘bottle,’ and the command for a soda is ‘Coke.’ Well, I taught him ‘beer’ to get me a beer out of the refrigerator, so he knows that one, too,” McHale said, laughing. “He really is the best dog I could have.”

          About 80 percent of the dogs in the Patriot Paws program are matched to disabled veterans. After the ceremony Monday, three veterans were invited to meet nine dogs who are ready to be matched with companions. Those men will spend the next 10 days in Gatesville to bond with the dogs they are paired with.

          “We always say it’s the dog that chooses the companion, because the two have to bond, and the dog has to have a chemistry with the owner in order for the match to work,” Nelson said.

          A large black Lab named Tex took fondly to Brian Field, 35, a 17-year Army veteran. Field lost both his legs in 2006 when he stepped on a mine while fighting in Baghdad, Iraq. He uses two prosthetic legs to walk but admits that he still faces difficulty handling day-to-day tasks.

          “I have to have my family and my wife help me out with basic things I can’t do for myself, and that’s not their job, so there’s some strain with that already,” said Field, who now lives in San Antonio. “I’m hoping that a service dog will help take the place of that so that I can be independent and not put so much on my family.”

          McHale said Cappuccino already has had a great impact on his life and said he is fortunate to receive the dog.

          “I’m just so grateful for what these ladies here have done, because Cap has truly changed my life,” McHale said.


          Female prisoners in Gatesville train dogs

          Born behind bars; It takes coordinated effort to deliver babies behind bars

          By Logan G. Carver
          May 17, 2009

          After a Lubbock County jury sentenced Gloria Ramirez to prison for child neglect earlier this month, the pregnant 28-year-old mother of nine will be behind bars for the delivery of her 10th child.

          Hundreds of jailed mothers deliver babies in Texas each year, bringing together multiple agencies, including correctional facilities, Child Protective Services and hospital staffs, to ensure the health of mother and infant, and the safety of patients and staff.

          Mothers in jail typically get the same care as any other expecting mother, but the level of mother/child interaction after delivery varies.

          If possible, the newborn is placed with a family member, but if the mother has a history with CPS, the infant might be placed in foster care.

          Although deliveries by jailed mothers require a lot of cooperation, it's common enough that doctors are used to the process, said Dr. Vernon Farthing, vice president of medical staff affairs at University Medical Center.

          "I can't think of a time we haven't had one or more women in the county jail who were pregnant," Farthing said. "So it's routine."

          Lubbock County Jail

          Ramirez is due to deliver her 10th child June 4, and her attorney, Ted Hogan, said she is too close to delivery for authorities to move her from the county jail to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

          "I was told there was no way they were going to try to transport Gloria because she is too close," Hogan said.

          A possible roadside delivery somewhere between Lubbock and Texas City is too risky for the mother and child, he added.

          Lubbock County mothers sentenced to prison who are not that far along will usually be transferred from the county jail to TDCJ.

          "If that paperwork gets complete and they're ready for transfer, we'll transfer them," said Kelly Rowe, chief deputy with the Lubbock County Sheriff's Office.

          Pregnant mothers in the Lubbock County Jail are given special consideration, while still remaining in general population, Rowe said.

          In some instances, mothers will be kept separate, but most of the time they are with the other female inmates.

          They do receive scheduled prenatal visits, special diets with more calories and additional supplements, Rowe said.

          When it is time to deliver they are taken to UMC.

          "They deliver just like any patient would out there," Hogan said. The care is the same, but the inmates are kept separate from other patients at the hospital, Farthing said.

          Hospital policy requires inmates be restrained depending on their level of custody, and there are protocols in place to make sure the regular patients are safe and secure, he added.

          Texas Department of Criminal Justice

          Every year, approximately 250 pregnant prison inmates deliver babies at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, according to a UTMB slide show.

          These women are kept separate from the general female population during their pregnancy in the Carole S. Young Medical Facility, a dorm-style housing unit where inmates have access to prenatal care, said Michelle Lyons, communications director for TDCJ.

          The facility is in Texas City, about 15 minutes from UTMB in Galveston, where all expecting Texas prison inmates deliver.

          The structure can sometimes be beneficial for mothers during their pregnancy because they do not have access to the drugs and alcohol that might tempt them on the outside, Hogan said.

          TDCJ mothers now have the opportunity to bond with their babies as part of the "Love Me Tender" program, Lyons said.

          The program is for mothers who do not have a CPS history and are not in prison because of charges involving injury to a child, said Jennifer Zirkle, interim nursing director at UTMB.

          Mothers meet with their infants for a minimum of two hours each day until they are discharged from the hospital and returned to the Carole Young Facility, Zirkle said.

          Moms can change diapers and spend time with the newborns, and hospital staff takes photographs of the mothers and children for the family.

          "It works out very well," Zirkle said. "It's a positive thing."

          What happens to the children

          Child Protective Services works with the Lubbock County Jail to make sure the child is handed off to someone, Rowe said.

          CPS workers try to place the child with a family member first, said Greg Cunningham, a CPS spokesman. If they are unable to do that, foster care becomes an option.

          In cases without CPS history, the mother still has custody of the child and parental rights, so she is able to delegate to a grandparent, father or someone else and the jail can help facilitate that, Cunningham said.

          But CPS often ends up having to find placements because of the mother's past.

          "Quite a few of the women who end up in jail have a CPS history," Cunningham said.

          Mothers who give birth while in the county jail do not get the bonding time that TDCJ mothers receive.

          "When the doctor says it's time to be discharged from the hospital, they're headed straight back to jail," Rowe said.

          The mothers will not receive special visits or concessions from the county when they return to jail, Hogan said.

          "They just don't have the ability and the capacity," he said. "The jail doesn't allow contact visits. If they do it for one person, they have to do it for everybody."

          It's a similar situation once a mother at the UTMB facility returns to prison, Zirkle said.

          When the mother is discharged, either a family member or guardian designated by CPS will pick up the child from the hospital and the mother goes back behind bars.

          To comment on this story:
          logan.carver@lubbockonline.com 766-8704
          walt.nett@lubbockonline.com 766-8706

          Born behind bars

          Discussion on Women in Prison


          The number of women in prison has tripled within the past two decades. Join investigative journalist and author Silja J.A. Talvi, and Books Through Bars co-founder and author of the new book, Resistance Behind Bars, Victoria Law, for a discussion on some of the reasons for this increase, as well as conditions inside prisons.

          Silja J.A. Talvi is a multiple award-winning investigative journalist, essayist, and author of Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U..S. Prison System (Seal/Perseus 2007). Her work has appeared in nearly a dozen book anthologies, including Prison Profiteers (New Press, 2008), and in over 75 publications nationwide. Talvi is also a PLN board member, and founder of the non-profit Women Behind Bars Project (www.womenbehindbars.org).

          Victoria Law is a writer, mother, and photographer. Since 2002, she has worked with women incarcerated nationwide to produce Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison. Her new book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, is the culmination of eight years of research, writing and listening to the stories of women incarcerated nationwide.

          Discussion will be held on
          May 14, 2009 at 5:30 p.m.
          at University Branch of the Seattle Public Library,
          5009 Roosevely Way NE,
          Seattle, WA.

          This event is sponsored by Books to Prisoners, a Seattle-based, all-volunteer, non-profit group that sends free books to prisoners in the U.S.

          Books To Prisoners

          Op-Ed Columnist

          Girls on Our Streets

          Published: May 6, 2009

          Jasmine Caldwell was 14 and selling sex on the streets when an opportunity arose to escape her pimp: an undercover policeman picked her up.

          The cop could have rescued her from the pimp, who ran a string of 13 girls and took every cent they earned. If the cop had taken Jasmine to a shelter, she could have resumed her education and tried to put her life back in order.

          Instead, the policeman showed her his handcuffs and threatened to send her to prison. Terrified, she cried and pleaded not to be jailed. Then, she said, he offered to release her in exchange for sex.

          Afterward, the policeman returned her to the street. Then her pimp beat her up for failing to collect any money.

          “That happens a lot,” said Jasmine, who is now 21. “The cops sometimes just want to blackmail you into having sex.”

          I’ve often reported on sex trafficking in other countries, and that has made me curious about the situation here in the United States. Prostitution in America isn’t as brutal as it is in, say, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia and Malaysia (where young girls are routinely kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by brothel owners, occasionally even killed). But the scene on American streets is still appalling — and it continues largely because neither the authorities nor society as a whole show much interest in 14-year-old girls pimped on the streets.

          Americans tend to think of forced prostitution as the plight of Mexican or Asian women trafficked into the United States and locked up in brothels. Such trafficking is indeed a problem, but the far greater scandal and the worst violence involves American teenage girls.

          If a middle-class white girl goes missing, radio stations broadcast amber alerts, and cable TV fills the air with “missing beauty” updates. But 13-year-old black or Latina girls from poor neighborhoods vanish all the time, and the pimps are among the few people who show any interest.

          These domestic girls are often runaways or those called “throwaways” by social workers: teenagers who fight with their parents and are then kicked out of the home. These girls tend to be much younger than the women trafficked from abroad and, as best I can tell, are more likely to be controlled by force.

          Pimps are not the business partners they purport to be. They typically take every penny the girls earn. They work the girls seven nights a week. They sometimes tattoo their girls the way ranchers brand their cattle, and they back up their business model with fists and threats.

          “If you don’t earn enough money, you get beat,” said Jasmine, an African-American who has turned her life around with the help of Covenant House, an organization that works with children on the street. “If you say something you’re not supposed to, you get beat. If you stay too long with a customer, you get beat. And if you try to leave the pimp, you get beat.”

          The business model of pimping is remarkably similar whether in Atlanta or Calcutta: take vulnerable, disposable girls whom nobody cares about, use a mix of “friendship,” humiliation, beatings, narcotics and threats to break the girls and induce 100 percent compliance, and then rent out their body parts.

          It’s not solely violence that keeps the girls working for their pimps. Jasmine fled an abusive home at age 13, and she said she — like most girls — stayed with the pimp mostly because of his emotional manipulation. “I thought he loved me, so I wanted to be around him,” she said.

          That’s common. Girls who are starved of self-esteem finally meet a man who showers them with gifts, drugs and dollops of affection. That, and a lack of alternatives, keeps them working for him — and if that isn’t enough, he shoves a gun in the girl’s mouth and threatens to kill her.

          Solutions are complicated and involve broader efforts to overcome urban poverty, including improving schools and attempting to shore up the family structure. But a first step is to stop treating these teenagers as criminals and focusing instead on arresting the pimps and the customers — and the corrupt cops.

          “The problem isn’t the girls in the streets; it’s the men in the pews,” notes Stephanie Davis, who has worked with Mayor Shirley Franklin to help coordinate a campaign to get teenage prostitutes off the streets.

          Two amiable teenage prostitutes, working without a pimp for the “fast money,” told me that there will always be women and girls selling sex voluntarily. They’re probably right. But we can significantly reduce the number of 14-year-old girls who are terrorized by pimps and raped by many men seven nights a week. That’s doable, if it’s a national priority, if we’re willing to create the equivalent of a nationwide amber alert.

          Girls on Our Streets

          A powerful tale of institutional racism in Texas

          By Steven Rea
          The Philadelphia Inquirer

          LOS ANGELES — A torn-from-the- headlines tale of institutional racism and injustice in the Lone Star State of not-so-long- ago, American Violet might not be subtle, but it's certainly powerful.

          Based on the true story of a young African American who was arrested and charged with selling drugs - and who risked her job, family, and physical safety by defiantly maintaining her innocence - director Tim Disney's film will provoke gut-churning feelings of shock and disbelief. And that's the idea.

          The magnetic Nicole Beharie stars as Dee Roberts, a 24-year-old single mother of four girls, living in public housing in the small Texas town of Melody. One day the police come to the diner where she works, handcuff her, and take her to jail. Dee thinks she's been nabbed for outstanding parking tickets - she owes thousands.

          But by the time charges are read, it's clear that's not the issue: She has been named by a police informer for dealing drugs.

          Encouraged by her public defender and her mother to take a plea bargain - even though she's not guilty - Dee stands firm, incurring the wrath of the district attorney (Michael O'Keefe). He has a history of ordering up raids of housing projects occupied almost entirely by blacks.

          Enter David Cohen (Tim Blake Nelson), an ACLU attorney, who recruits Sam Conroy (Will Patton), a local lawyer and former assistant D.A., to join him on the defense team. It's not just about Dee, it's about racial profiling and a legal system that, according to Cohen, resulted in a prison population where 90 percent of the inmates were there on plea bargains. The cases never went to trial.

          Patton and Nelson - the hard-bitten Texan and the idealistic "Jewish Yankee" - make a good team, joined by Malcolm Barrett as a young (and black) ACLU litigator. O'Keefe is positively evil as the racist lawman, and Alfre Woodard shines as Dee's mother - a pragmatist, and pessimist, who can't believe her daughter is risking everything for the sake of a cause.

          Set during the 2000 presidential election and its messy aftermath, American Violet frequently cuts to TV reports of the Bush-Gore legal battle - suggesting, perhaps, another case of rigged justice involving a Texan.

          Whether or not that issue is relevant to the story at hand, American Violet makes its points with force and conviction.

          CLOSE TO HOME: Women are hidden in state prison crisis

          Published: April 14, 2009

          We are facing a correctional crisis in California [applies to Texas as well] that is unparalleled in other states.

          With prisons at or above 200 percent of capacity and federal court intervention imminent, a hidden aspect of corrections is the plight of incarcerated women.

          Relative to men, the number of women in state prison may seem small.

          But, at more than 11,000, female prisoners are a growing and significant population, currently the largest in any state. Additionally, there are almost as many women locked up in county jails. The net result is more than 22,000 women in custody.

          Not only are women prisoners hidden, their pathways to prison are often neglected and not addressed. Additionally, women have different reasons for being in prison than men, different histories of abuse and addiction, different family roles and relationships, different health concerns and different motivations to change.

          A vast majority of women in prison (68 percent) are incarcerated for property or drug crimes rather than crimes against persons. When women are prosecuted, they have less to bargain with because they are often less engaged and on the periphery of the criminal activity. But they have much to lose physically, mentally and financially.

          Incarcerated women are poor, disproportionately African American and Latina and mothers of children under the age of 18. And women prisoners are more likely than men to have had the responsibility of caring for their children prior to their arrest. As a result, their greatest loss may be the loss of their children.

          Most women in prison have histories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

          Their patterns of drug use often stem from trauma and untreated mental health issues. They tend to be unskilled and have sporadic work histories in low-wage jobs.

          Women’s health issues call for different treatment in prison.

          Women’s relationships, especially with their children, are often key to their desire to improve their lives. But a mother’s imprisonment can have a long lasting and negative affect on her children.

          As described in a 2004 Little Hoover Commission report, a significant number of women prisoners do not represent a serious threat to public safety. The commission recommended a greater reliance on community corrections for women rather than remote prisons.

          Housing women in community settings that are rich in services and nearer their families is considered key to reducing their recycling in and out of prison.

          This approach can also keep families together.

          Helping women maintain links to their families and communities is simply smarter and more efficient than keeping them locked in costly high-security institutions.

          Of course, there are other options, including sending fewer women to prison in the first place. If we expanded drug courts, we could reduce the women’s prison population by a third over time.

          For women who are in prison, we could make meaningful strides toward breaking the cycle of neglect and abuse by addressing the significant circumstances faced by those we incarcerate. Services in prison should include medical and mental health care, counseling, education and job training, drug treatment and parenting on a scale that can make a true difference.

          None of this is possible without acknowledging that the women we lock up are human beings. They are our mothers, daughters, sisters, relatives, and friends, and if they are hidden and not addressed in prison reform efforts, we risk the perpetuation of women’s imprisonment for generations to come.

          Barbara Bloom, a Petaluma resident, is a professor or criminology and criminal justice at Sonoma State University and has served on the Governor’s Rehabilitation Strike Team. She organized a program called “Interrupted Life: Incarcerated Mothers in the United States,” which includes an exhibit that runs through April 28 at the university library art gallery.

          CLOSE TO HOME: Women are hidden in state prison crisis

          March 25, 2009

          Shackling, counting pregnant inmates

          On its website, the Texas Jail Project is promoting two bills related to jail health care for pregnant women:

          • HB 3653: BANS the shackling of incarcerated women in labor and delivery (with some necessary exceptions for safety).

          • HB 3654: requires county jails to plan their MEDICAL CARE of pregnant women and also requires them to COUNT how many pregnant women they have incarcerated.

          Hard to imagine a postpartum shackling prohibition would be necessary - much less during "labor and delivery" - but apparently both the Texas Jail Project and the ACLU of Texas have received complaints about the practice from inmates and their families. TJP in particular has been gathering stories from incarcerated, expectant Moms since last year.

          Further confirming the practice, Diana Claitor from TJP forwards this example of shackling pregnant women from the Dallas County Jail in the form of a letter from a nurse practitioner complaining about the practice last year.

          Posted by; Gritsforbreakfast

          Labels: County jails, Health, restraints

          Chaplain Banned from Cameron County Jail for Criticizing Injustice

          Posted on March 13, 2009
          By Nick Braune

          The South Texas Civil Rights Project sent out a press release this week on a lawsuit filed against Cameron County. The suit contends that the county has retaliated against Gail Hanson, a minister and former volunteer chaplain at the county jail, after she spoke publicly about the conditions women prisoners face at the jail.

          The suit contends that her free speech rights have been violated.

          Hanson, through her church, became an official volunteer chaplain in 2000, and had visited with and prayed with prisoners weekly up until February of 2008, but her visits were stopped after she made the public comments about the jail and criticized the sheriff.

          “Preventing someone from volunteering their time to help rehabilitate prisoners because she was critical of the County is outrageous,” said Mrs. Hanson’s attorney, Scott Medlock, quoted in the press release.

          Medlock is Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Prisoners’ Rights Program. “Mrs. Hanson should be commended for her dedication to ministering to the women held in the jail, not punished for speaking the truth about what she saw behind prison bars,” he said.

          The press release explains that in February 2008, “Mrs. Hanson criticized conditions in the jail at a candidate forum in advance of the Democratic Party primary. Prisoners told her they were denied sanitary napkins, forced to sleep on the floor, given adulterated food with hair and gnats in it, and held for long periods of time without being brought to court for trial.”

          The suit is not asking for money but for the simple restoration of Hanson’s access to the jail so she can continue her ministerial visits.

          These complaints against the Brownsville facility are not the first. There have been many complaints over the recent years about the county jail there. The press release quotes Hanson, “I just want to make sure these women’s voices are heard. I never thought the County would prevent me from praying with them for speaking about what I saw in the jail.”

          I contacted Corinna Spencer-Scheurich from the Texas Civil Rights Project for a quick comment.

          Braune: I read a previous article on the Texas Jail Project website, and it sounds to me that the Cameron County Jail is improperly run and is a stressful place for women to be held, particularly stressful for the pre-trial detainees. Do you think what your client has said publicly has hit some nerve? And do you think they revoked her privilege to visit the women in the jail as a message to others to be quiet too?

          Spencer-Scheurich: Clearly what Gail Hanson said hit a nerve. And, it is also clear that banning her from the jail was calculated to chill free speech on the issue of jail conditions. One of the purposes of the 1st Amendment is to protect exactly what Mrs. Hanson did -- speaking out about injustice that she witnessed or heard about first hand. While there is reason to believe that things have gotten better in the jail lately, protecting Mrs. Hanson's right to talk about the conditions is almost as important as improving the conditions themselves. Otherwise, the women in the jail would have no one to advocate for them, no one to tell their stories. What kind of society would we be if we isolated these women to the point that they suffer atrocities without us knowing?

          Chaplain Banned from Cameron County Jail for Criticizing Injustice

          Women in Prison: Where Doe We Draw the Line?

          By Nancy R. Lockhart, M.J. and Jamie Scott
          March 3rd, 2009

          Minorities are being incarcerated at increasingly alarming rates in the United States; however, female minority incarcerations have spiked, in recent times. Within this heart-wrenching escalation lies wrongful convictions – yet another addition to the Prison Industrial Complex. While researching avenues of freedom for two wrongfully convicted women in Mississippi, Jamie and Gladys Scott, I’ve come across many alarming statistics of female minority incarcerations within the Prison Industrial Complex. Through my years of research, I’ve realized that Jamie and Gladys are not the only women suffering at the hands of America’s Prison Industrial Complex.

          In a column titled, “Perversion of Justice: Gulag America,” Rudy Amanda, an investigative journalist, states that “female incarceration rates jumped 64% from 1995 to 2006.” Stunning! This only makes one imagine the percentages of wrongful convictions within this population. My years of research with the wrongful conviction of The Scott Sisters, led to reviewing transcripts of their trial and has been a life-changing event for me, as well as, others.

          In 1994, Jamie and Gladys Scott were wrongfully convicted in the state of Mississippi. A corrupt sheriff used coercion, threats, and harassment to convict the Scott Sisters of armed robbery. This case is an intriguing one, with transcripts stating that perhaps 9, 10, or 11 dollars was stolen. It’s important to note that no one was murdered or injured, in the alleged robbery. One of the state’s witnesses, a 14 year old, testified that he did not have an attorney present when signing a statement prepared by the sheriff; he also testified that he did not read the statement.

          The prosecution argued that on the night of December 24, 1993, Gladys and Jamie Scott, along with two minors and one young adult male planned and conducted the armed robbery. The prosecution also argued that the sisters were the masterminds behind this robbery. These facts were argued and substantiated with conflicting witness testimony and continuous leading questions - all allowed by the Trial Court. On direct examination it became apparent that the alleged victims failed to link the Scott Sisters to the commission of the robbery.

          Jamie and Gladys Scott have served 14 years of double-life sentences, thus far, for a robbery they did not commit. That’s Double Life Each! The Scott sisters, with no prior convictions before their sentencing, now wallow in the belly of the Prison Industrial Complex.

          The emotional strain this burden has placed upon their family is immeasurable. Their children, grandchildren, and mother have been forced to wade in the waters of financial-hardship. Their father, though a strong man, passed away, following the illegal incarceration of his two beautiful daughters.

          From The Diary of Jamie Scott

          My name is Jamie Scott and I do understand there are many people out there that don’t understand a lot about prison and what someone goes through in a situation such as this. Please don’t get me wrong; IF you commit a crime, then you should be punished.

          In the state of Mississippi, the crime chart is just crazy. I have met so many women here, whose husbands were beating the living mess out of them and these ladies had legal action against their husbands, but as soon as she tries to stop him from killing her and she takes his life, she comes to prison. But keep in mind: they still do not receive two life sentences. Men are here for brutal raping of children and women, but yet they don’t have double life.

          When I entered prison at the tender age of 22, I felt like my world was coming apart and life was not worth living. There were no more secrets and I had to strip naked in front of everyone, including men, because they thought it was funny. I was made to spread my buttocks and the officer looked. If I had a gun, I would have ended my life right then. In October of 1994, I was placed in a 12 x 12 cell to be under solitary confinement. I was let out of solitary in April 1995 and went to a unit filled with 100 females.

          One bad part about this entire situation is the women I have encountered. I met this woman who told me she was driving down the highway and her baby would not stop crying, so she stopped and threw her child over the bridge. Guess what, she left me here. She has gone home. So many have killed their own children, but none have received the amount of time my sister and I have received. I have never been one to judge someone and that is why so many come to me and share their thoughts. I must admit, sometimes I get so angry when it involves a child. I get angry with the Mississippi judicial system because here my sister and I sit with double life and this person took an innocent child’s life.

          In the midst of all the hurt I have endured, nothing could prepare me for the times I went on funeral detail. My sister and I had to go to the funerals of our grandfather, grandmother, father and sister, who died on my birthday, shackled like dogs.

          When I think of the word “strongest,” I think of my mother. She is 4 feet 9 inches tall, and has the strength of Job in the Bible. I know it is only God keeping her alive. She had to bury her long time friend and soul mate of 30 years, and then she buried her oldest daughter… Yet, at times, Gladys and I feel dead to her because we are not there. Our mother has raised our children and is now raising our grandchildren.

          One thing I do not have is hate in my heart concerning anyone who played a roll in Gladys and me being here. After reading our transcript over and over, I have come to realize that the Patrick men were really trying to help us, but to also save themselves during trial. That is why they said they never wrote the statements and that the statements were written out for them. They were trying to tell the jury that these statements were written out before we were arrested. Then, they tried to tell them how they were threatened, but it did not work. I am not bitter or angry with them. If I were to see them now, I would hug them and tell them I love them. They were just young victims, as well. They got played by the system, just as we did.

          For all that don’t know, slavery in Mississippi has changed names. It is still very much active and alive in Mississippi. Its’ new name is called, the LAW! So, if there is anyone out there that thinks this cannot happen to their child or family, think about Gladys and Jamie Scott. We were not criminals nor were we drug addicts. I worked everyday. I have a right to be bitter, angry, mad as hell at the United States of America, but I choose not to because I know a higher power and Gladys and I WILL walk the streets again.

          For more on the case of Jamie and Gladys Scott, please visit:
          Free the Scott Sisters
          Free Jamie-Gladys petition

          Nancy Lockhart, is a Legal Analyst and community organizer, living in South Carolina. She has worked tirelessly - for no pay - on the case of two Black females illegally charged and sentenced to double life. She can be reached at: TheWrongfulConviction@gmail.com.
          Read other articles by Nancy R. Lockhart, M.J., or visit Nancy R. Lockhart, M.J.'s website: Wrongful Conviction Broadcast

          Women in Prison: Where Doe We Draw the Line?

          Film takes up cause of Mexican woman imprisoned in Texas

          January 22, 2009

          Rosa Jimenez, a 26-year-old Mexican woman currently serving a 99-year sentence in a Texas prison, might not have committed a crime, according to Lucía Bajá, 34, the Mexican director of the documentary “Mi Vida Dentro (My Life Inside).”

          The film takes aim at the United States criminal-justice system and its treatment of Mexican undocumented female migrants. It is told through the case of Jimenez, who crossed illegally into the United States when she was 17 years old. Clearly on the side of the defendant, who was convicted in 2005, the film combines the words of Jimenez, her defense lawyers and the prosecution to lay out what ends up a chilling depiction.

          “Mi Vida Dentro” debuted in Mexico last week in cinemas across the capital, and is the first feature-length film from Bajá, who is a graduate of CUEC, the cinema program of the Autonomous National University of Mexico. It’s also the first Mexican documentary to be distributed by Ambulante, the film festival created by two of Mexico’s most bankable stars, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, in 2006.

          Bajá says that the film was an attempt to broaden the discussion about immigration in Mexico and the U.S. -- a discussion she feels focuses on border crossings, the deaths of migrants en route, and Mexican men sitting on death row.

          “I felt that it was necessary to talk about the women who cross over, and also what it’s like for a Mexican woman to be in a prison in the U.S.," Bajá said. “They lose contact with their families and many [of their families in Mexico] will never be able to get a visa to visit their daughters in prison.”

          During the filming of the documentary, the young filmmaker saw what she calls the “double incarceration” of Mexican female migrants in U.S. prisons, caused by a lack of knowledge of the language and culture as well as isolation from their families.

          “When women are in that maximum security prison they are only allowed one five-minute phone call every six months,” Bajá said.

          The case against Jimenez stems from the death of 2-year-old Brian Gutierrez, who died while she was caring for him one afternoon in 1999. The young boy choked on a wad of paper towels.

          Jimenez says the first sign that something was wrong came when the child approached her in the kitchen of her small apartment in Austin, Texas, his hands around his neck and his face red, suffocating.

          The prosecution lawyer in the case, Alison Wetzel, on the other hand, argues that the boy’s death was a homicide and accused Jimenez of “holding him down” and stuffing the paper towels into his mouth.

          Bajá’s account of events after the boy's death is compelling and, from material presented in the documentary, viewers are drawn to share her conclusion: Jimenez is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit.

          Some of the most damning footage is that of Texas forensic specialists and a police detective testifying in court during Jimenez’s trial. All report that there was no physical trauma to the dead boy’s face or neck that would have been there had Jimenez tried to stuff his mouth with paper towels. But when asked their opinion by the prosecution, all three say that they think the death of the boy was no accident and that Jimenez was responsible.

          “Mi Vida Dentro” is activism through film in the same vein as movies such as "Bajo Juarez," released last year in Mexico. It follows, therefore, that the film is subjective. For example, the prosecutor is given no on-air time (the director said that Wetzel failed to return the many calls she made to her office requesting an interview).

          Although the mother and other members of Brian Gutierrez’s family appear on film in court, and express doubts about the conviction of Jimenez, they are not featured in any one-on-one interviews.

          Bajá explains: “The mother was very upset because of the loss of her child. I didn't want to go up to her to ask her more questions.”

          The dead boy’s uncle makes a statement to the court after Jimenez has been found guilty. He apologizes to Jimenez and adds that he has his doubts about the verdict.

          “I felt that that testimony in some way summarized what he felt about Rosa,” Bajá said.

          The film includes numerous interviews with the defendant, her husband, mother and defense lawyers.

          The director’s camera style might be jarring for some, and the lens often moves from one character to another in the same take, swinging around searching for its subject before settling.

          Regardless, the documentary has wowed critics. It was voted the best documentary at the Morelia International Film Festival here in Mexico in 2007, and was an official selection at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival last year (see the film’s websites for a full list of accolades).

          But prizes weren’t at the top of Bajá’s objectives when she started working on the film back in the year 2000.

          She says that besides seeking to raise awareness of Rosa Jimenez’s case in the United States and Mexico, she had another goal.

          “I also want to inform the people here in Mexico who head north … that there are complicated and hard situations that happen to Mexicans over there when they confront a language, culture and law system that they don't know.

          “Really, living in the U.S is very hard for people who don't speak the language.”

          At the time of this interview, Bajá was yet to secure a U.S distribution deal for “Mi Vida Dentro”.

          -- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

          Film takes up cause of Mexican woman imprisoned in Texas


          Prison Babies

          Columbia University researcher first to study life of mothers and babies behind bars

          By Leslie Flowers
          November 17, 2008

          Nurse researcher Mary Byrne, CPNP, PhD, FAAN, says the incarcerated women and their babies she has studied behind bars at the Bedford and Taconic correctional facilities during the past eight years are imprinted in her mind.

          "Many of the children are now 7 or 8 years old. I think about them often. They have affected me, as has the entire prison system," she says.

          Byrne is the first researcher outside the New York correctional system to study incarcerated women and their babies living in a prison nursery. Her research began in 2000 at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and Taconic Correctional Facility, maximum- and medium-security women's prisons, respectively, about an hour's drive north of Manhattan. Prior to Byrne's research, no one had formally studied the impact of the prison nursery on an infant's development.

          Byrne says so far her data shows that "the [co-habitation] of inmate mothers [and] their newborns can provide a positive environment that supports parenting and child development. However, the implications of our research show that mothers need supportive resources." These include treatment for depression, enhancement of self-esteem, and a sense of self as parent, as well as parenting guidance, she says.

          Bedford Hills has the longest-running prison nursery in the country, since 1901. Women who are pregnant when they are incarcerated and have no serious disciplinary problems in prison may keep their babies with them for up to one year after birth, and sometimes longer, if parole is pending. The goal of the prison nursery is for mother and child to develop a secure attachment, which encourages healthy social, physical, and emotional development, Byrne says.

          Becoming Parents

          The typical day for a nursery mom at Bedford Correctional Facility is to wake up at 6 a.m., have breakfast, clean her room, and prepare baby for day care. By 9:30 a.m. mothers have dropped their babies off at infant day care — staffed by civilians and long-term inmates who have been trained as caregivers — and attend vocational, educational, and anti-crime-related programs. They join their babies at lunch and then return them to day care, as they attend an afternoon educational program. They pick their babies up at 4:30 p.m. and are responsible for their care for the rest of the evening. Recreation, college courses, and classes on domestic violence or 12-step meetings are offered, and the mothers often trade babysitting for attendance.

          New York's Department of Correctional Services and those in other states are particularly interested in how the prison nursery affects the mother's recidivism.

          "The Department of Correctional Services welcomed Dr. Byrne's research because we believe in the nursery program and felt reliable data from a recognized researcher would help document the program's effectiveness and success," said spokesman Erik Kriss.

          "The mothers who participated in Dr. Byrne's study enjoyed their work with her and her research assistants and perceived the process as an intervention on their own behalf. They were more attentive to their children and their own parenting as a result."

          Research Culture Clash

          In spite of her prolific prisoner data collection, Byrne says conducting a prison research study is a culture clash between the punitive, restrictive environment of the corrections system and the open inquiry environment that is needed for health research, as noted in the July/August 2005 issue of the Journal of Professional Nursing.

          In the 1970s, the U.S. government enacted strict guidelines to protect prisoners who had been coerced into and abused by health research. Byrne's strategies for overcoming obstacles to prison research by healthcare providers included gaining the participatory input of inmates, acquiring knowledge of criminal justice and specific prison systems, strict compliance with security regulations, and repeated dialogue with the administrators and employees who would be affected by the research taking place at the prison.

          Now conducting an expanded study, funded by a $1.6 million National Institutes of Health grant, Byrne is assessing the developmental skills of the children who lived in Bedford's and Taconic's prison nurseries until they entered grade school, comparing the children's and mothers' status to norms of the general healthy population.

          Byrne, who also holds a master's degree in public health, is the Stone Foundation and Elise D. Fish Professor in Clinical Health Care for the Underserved at Columbia University, NYC. As a pediatric NP, ethnographer, professor, and researcher, her career has focused on helping stressed childrearing families.

          With funding from Columbia University, the New York State Department of Health, and later NIH, Byrne and her team of doctoral students, family nurse practitioners, and child development consultants assessed maternal-infant attachment, parent-child interaction, parenting competency, and child development in 97 women and 100 children, including two sets of twins. They followed the mothers and children during their stay in the prison nursery and one year after the children were introduced to civilian life. On average, children lived in the nursery 7.5 months and left with their mothers when paroled. Others were sent to live with family members or to foster homes while their mothers finished their sentences.

          Byrne's team visited the prison moms and babies weekly, then conducted phone or mail follow-up through the first year of reentry.

          They provided mothers with ongoing support during reentry, answered questions, and provided anticipatory guidance about child care as problems arose.

          "These services are much needed but rarely provided to families for successful reentry," Byrne says.

          Byrne's research found —

          The mothers were at high risk for developing insecure infant attachment because of their backgrounds, including abuse and drug addiction. However, 71% of the infants who stayed with their mothers for 12 months demonstrated secure attachment.

          At all stages, the infants met developmental mental and motor milestones within prison.

          Social and emotional screening in toddlerhood showed high scores for potential problems but also high scores for competencies.

          When the mothers were released on parole, there were no new convictions, but a 10% short-term return to jail for parole violations.

          According to Byrne, many of the mothers said of their prison nursery experience, "I've been a mother before, but this is the first time I've been a parent."

          Leslie Flowers is a freelance writer.

          To comment, e-mail; editorNY@nursingspectrum.com.

          Prison Babies

          SEPTEMBER 9, 2008

          Women’s Prisons – A Global State of Crisis

          LYS ANZIA - Women News Network - WNN

          “The strategy used in women’s prisons now is one of humiliation rather than rehabilitation,” said Jane Evelyn Atwood in her 2007 Amnesty International video documentary, “Too Much Time.” For nine years, Atwood photographed and documented the conditions for women in 40 women’s prisons worldwide including the US, Europe and Eastern Europe.

          In numerous locations around the world the plight of women in prison is going unheeded.

          Conditions of improper touching by persons of authority, sanctioned sexual harassment, unnecessary strip searches, lack of proper medical attention or proper food exists in numerous global prison locations. In addition to this, psychological coercion and/or threats of sexual assault by persons in authority create a constant, unending and intense universal pressure on many incarcerated women.

          “Women in prisons all around the world are at risk of rape, sexual assault and torture,” said a recent June 2008, Quaker UN Office - Human Rights and Refugees Publications report.

          In some of the most grueling prisons in the world, women in Afghanistan are commonly punished for “moral crimes.” These crimes of morality are considered crimes against the dignity of the family.

          Many of the crimes include adultery, running away from a husband after abuse, having a relationship without being married or refusal to marry. Women who have made public charges of rape have also been known to have been placed in detention at the same time only one wing away from their assailant. Elopement with someone else not chosen by the family after a dowry has been paid is another legal reason for arrest.

          The unheated women’s section in the crumbling penal facility known as Pul-e-Charkhi, in the capital city of Kabul, was a place where women were often denied their most common basic needs. Known for its extreme torture and 1970s war atrocities, women and their children whe were housed at Pul-e-Charkhi were kept together in crowded unlit, often unsanitary rooms. Medical treatment and proper nutrition was almost non-existent. Conditions of severe hardship in the prison, including sexual assault with fear of reprisal, has caused numerous women loss of all personal dignity. In many instances the extreme conditions at Pul-e-Charkhi encouraged numerous suicide attempts among women prisoners.

          In April 2008, women prisoners were moved from Pul-e-Charkhi to a new facility in Kabul. Even though the walls are new, the women are still only given one hour of sunlight each day. Continuing administrative denials in the mismanagement of Afghanistan prisons points to a need for vast improvement.

          The desire to direct prisons to approve and manage facilities that exist strictly “for punishment only” crushes any future hope for programs that might focus on rehabilitation.

          Afghan women prisoners, suffering from extreme poverty and lack of education, are trapped along with their children inside Afghanistan’s system of criminal jurisprudence. Without fair and equal representation, or any legal recourse to their needs, women flounder as they stay locked up for years under charges that would not stand up one day in most legal courts systems around the world.

          In Pakistan, “The number of women in prison at any moment…soared from as few as 70 in 1980 to as many as 4,500 in 1990,” said Human Rights Watch in a 1999 report. Women in Pakistan are charged under the “Hudood Ordinances,” ordinances enacted in Pakistan in 1979 after General Zia-ul-Haq brought a decade of military rule to the country.

          Under the current Pakistan Penal Code, women can be charged for a variety of crimes relating to extra-marital sex, or “zina.” Misrepresentations of rape crimes under the laws of zina have caused women in prison in Pakistan to be charged for numerous crimes they have not instigated or caused.

          Many women in prison in Pakistan who have alleged they have been raped have been charged themselves under “Tazir” law if the rape cannot be prosecuted. Punishment under Tazir law can include incarceration up to twenty-five years, a fine and 20 lashes with a whip. Human Rights Watch, along with many women’s rights activist groups inside Pakistan have been appealing for years for these Hudood Ordinances to be repealed and replaced with just and fair legislation.

          In the US and Canada, many African American, Native American and Aboriginal Canadian women are often severely marginalized as they are disproportionally jailed. “Suicide rates among women (prisoners) are more than twice as high as in the general Canadian population,” said a 2004 report from CAEFS – Canadian Associations of Elizabeth Fry Societies. Native American women, too, have a higher than average rate of suicide in penal institutions as a result of racism and ethnic isolation.

          According to the US Dept of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, “African American women (with an incarceration rate of 205 per 100,000) are more than three times as likely as Latinas (60 per 100,000) and six times more likely than white women (34 per 100,000) to face imprisonment.”

          Dangers of violence against women inside prison is a matter of grave concern for most women prisoners in the US. A century old story of violence and beating in the State of New York paved a path that is still being endured by many imprisoned US women.

          In January 1825, Rachel Welsh arrived at the Auburn Correctional Facility in New York State (US). One year after her arrival and six weeks later after delivering her baby inside the prison she was dead.

          On investigation, it was discovered that Rachel had received intense whippings and beatings. Beatings she received while incarcerated.

          Even with this evidence of abuse, state commissioners at the time determined the result of her death was not connected to these beatings.

          “Women are the fastest growing prison population world wide and this is not accidental,” said Kim Pate, at the July 2005, Melbourne, Australia conference - “Is Prison Obsolete?”. The global acceleration in the imprisonment of women is proof that women are at increasing risks of incarceration. With this comes increasing risks for abuse, neglect and sexual assault while in prison.

          As the US leads the world in the building and management of prisons, it also leads the world in the largest number of national crimes per capita. On June 30, 2007 criminals in the US have reached a record number of 2.3 million. The numbers for women prisoners are also startling. According to the Institute on Women and Criminal Justice (2006), the number of women in US prisons has risen 757%, from 1977 to 2005. The December 6, 2005 statistic for women prisoners by the US Bureau of Justice is 104,848 incarcerated women nationally.

          US women who are charged with violent crimes, including murder and attempted murder, have many times landed in prison after violently fighting back from years of unbearable domestic rape and/or psychological abuse. The cycle of abuse does not always end against these women inside prison facilities.

          A recent Aug 26, 2008 report, by the US Deptartment of Justice Review Panel on Prison Rape, gathered statistics from public hearings held in Spring of 2007, outlining that, “Rapes in prisons can be reduced if the prison staff adopts a zero tolerance attitude toward such crimes and developed a system that identified and protected inmates who could be potential victims.”

          Ongoing injustice in the US prison system often only offers out-worn policies with little protection.

          Impartial prison rape investigations which are completely fair and unbiased are very rare today in most global women’s prisons.

          In May 2006, a politically motivated law enforcement operation in Atenco, Mexico resulted in the detainment of 47 women in Mexico’s Santiaguito State Prison. On the way to the prison (a trip that should have taken two hours but instead took six), 26 of the 47 women arrested later made charges that they were placed under extreme sexual torture, intimidation and rape.

          “In the case of women from San Salvador Atenco, the fact that more than 3,500 police officers participated, and that the women had their faces covered during their detentions and attacks, makes it extremely difficult to identify those individuals responsible,” said Amnesty International in an August 2006 report made before UN CEDAW.

          “From our point of view, the detained women affected in the police operation were victimized in multiple ways, not only because of the conditions in which the police intervention was carried out, but also because of the sexual abuse and violence they experienced while in police custody, solely because they were women,” continued Amnesty International’s report.

          Today, the charges of sexual torment against the women detainees of Atenco are in legislative limbo. A number of police, directly involved with the case, have either had their charges dropped or greatly decreased.

          “Life in prison is difficult physically as well as morally: you have to work hard, even too hard, so that sometimes there is no time even for simple things like bathing and laundering. But you simply must hold on. The main thing is not to let yourself go, not to lose interest and the will to live, otherwise you are overcome with a wave of prison indifference, not caring where, when and how you live, solely concerned about petty matters such as whether you have tea and smokes, only looking to the end of each day,” said author, Liudmila Alpern, on the Orlov Penal Colony in Russia in 2001.

          Known as a stop-off for the Soviet NKVD/KGB deportation of Estonian prisoners on trains to Siberian gulags in the 1940s, and a place where prisoners were routinely and gruesomely tortured, many Estonia prisons are still in a vast state of disrepair and decay. “Prison conditions remained poor,” said the US Department of State on Estonia in 2007.

          The first modern prison to be rebuilt in Estonia in 2002, Tartu Prison, houses women who are in remand, awaiting trial, for what can be up to one year. Instances of children, under the age of three, staying with their mothers inside the prison has been documented.

          In spite of its new building, Tartu prison policies have far to go.

          A 2006 report on conditions at Tartu Prison by the Quaker Council for European Affairs states, “Remand prisoners are entitled to one shower a week. They have to pay for toiletries (toilet paper, shampoo, soap, sanitary towels) themselves. The adult prisoner that we spoke to said that she found it difficult to afford these things. . . Remand prisoners have no direct contact with NGOs and cannot go to the church services at Tartu. However, prisoners can arrange to speak with the chaplain if they want to.”

          Even with efforts for prison reform in Estonia, all adult women remand prisoners in Tartu Prison have no access to work or education.

          Women are still only allowed to enter areas away from their cells, for one hour a day. Some prisoners try to deal with the 23 hours of cell lock-up by staying asleep day after day. Sleeping this way in surroundings of incarceration can and does lead to severe depression and can result in attempts of suicide.

          “A person may be held in pre-trial detention for 2 months; this may be extended up to a total of 9 months by a court order. Occasional violations of these norms are the result of a poorly trained police force which is being reorganized,” states a 2008 report on the protection of human rights by the Estonia Institute.

          A universal trend of excessive hardship and lack of advocacy exists with women trapped inside the Tartu Prison in Estonia. Penal institutions in Canada, Austrailia, Russia, Mexico, Bolivia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States also have great needs for programs that will bring improvements for women prisoners. Women are too often left juggling harsh and unrelenting conditions in prison. Left without voice or power, without legal advocates, without opportunity or education.

          Women’s Prisons

          ARTICLE – SEPTEMBER 5, 2008

          Mothers in Prison
          Another Crumbling Brick in the Family’s Foundation


          Driving into the large, nearly empty prison parking lot, a young boy is roused by his grandfather, after they had risen before dawn to make the four-and-a-half-hour drive.

          Walking into the gray brick building, the two begin over an hour of processing, paper work and searches.

          “Do you have anything in your hair?” a prison guard states firmly, his eyes sizing them up.

          “Please pull out your pockets and turn around,” the guard orders. The grandfather complies and finally the boy, too, after some coaxing. They are then directed through a metal detector.

          The young boy tensely walks through the detector, not relaxing until he is through; a few visits ago he had set it off with his belt buckle.

          Next, the grandfather and boy are guided through a series of large metal doors. They soon find themselves in a small room, with tables that have board games, and the whir of vending machines lining the wall.

          They wait.

          Finally, a guard leads an inmate in who is wearing an orange jumpsuit. The boy’s face explodes with joy. He leaps up and hugs the inmate around the waist.

          “Mommy!” he cries.

          Lasting Scars

          The above scenario is a reality for many of the nearly two million U.S. children estimated to have a parent in prison.

          Since mandatory sentencing began in the mid-1980s, the United States prison system has seen a dramatic upswing in incarceration rates.

          This includes an increase in the number of women, who now constitute the fastest growing segment of the prison population. Between 1995 and 2006, the Correctional Association of New York reported that “the number of women inmates in state and federal prisons nationwide increased by 64 percent.”

          Many of these law-breaking females are not only offenders, they are mothers, and most often it is their children who pay the highest price for their incarceration. Unlike fathers, it is estimated that 70% of women prisoners are primary caregivers.

          Although children of incarcerated mothers are still able to cope—and overcome—the challenges set before them, there is always some residual emotional damage. Most experts agree that crime, even when not perpetrated on or by children, can leave lasting scars on a child’s life.

          Of course, this is not the ideal way to rear a child—and having a mother in prison is an extreme, but very real, example of the high hurdles faced by many families in this age.

          What are the effects on the development of children whose mothers enter the prison system—both now and long-term?

          How does a mother’s role change after imprisonment—and how does this event upset the balance of the family system?

          How could one hope to successfully rear a child in such a situation?

          Silent Casualties

          Called “crime’s invisible victims,” children whose mothers are sent to prison can range anywhere in age, from several weeks to 18 years old.

          Even children as young as 14 months old may have vivid memories of visiting their mother in jail, or live out their childhood in the foster care system—without their birth mother at all.

          Unlike those who grow up in a traditional nuclear family setting, these children may have no fond memories of baking cookies with their mothers or taking family vacations with her.

          Instead, “quality time” is spent talking to their mothers through bulletproof glass or watching as guards lead her into a metal cell.

          The following are excerpts from two letters written by children of incarcerated women, taken from Women And Prison Org., detailing the effects of the situation in their own words.

          A 12-year-old boy described his feelings during his mother’s prison term: “The worst part of my mom being gone was that I didn’t have anybody to talk to who really knew me. I stayed with my grandmother.

          It was hard for her to understand what was happening with me.

          “I did not get to visit my mom. Not having my mom in my life was very hard. I had no one to help me go through my problems. Me and my mom were very close before and now I had no one to talk to. I could talk to my grandma somewhat but not personally. My sister tried to help, but she missed our mother too.”

          “It made me feel pretty bad. I was mad at my mom for a while because I was afraid she would come out and then go right back again.”

          Another child, whose mother was in prison for six months, wrote, “I got to visit my mom every week when she was gone to jail. My dad took us. It was hard because I wanted to touch her but she was on the other side of a glass wall. The visits weren’t too long, we only had a certain amount of time before they told us it was time to leave.

          When the visit was over, I wanted to stay with her for a long time. I thought about it all day. I didn’t cry but I felt really bad. It stayed with me for a while after I went.

          “I didn’t tell my friends where my mom was, I told them she moved away. I could talk to my grandmother and my dad about it, but it was hard for them too. I missed my mom a lot, I missed watching movies with her, bike riding with her and I missed telling jokes.”

          Children of incarcerated mothers grow up with the stigma of knowing that their mother’s “home” is a place that society considers disgraceful. And instead of feeling proud to have a positive example to emulate, the child feels ashamed and rejected, angry and confused— alone in a world that has difficulty understanding their situation.

          Often, these children cannot understand why their mother would want to be away from them.

          Similar to children of divorced parents, they often reason that it is somehow their fault she no longer wants to take care of them, even when told otherwise.

          The effects on children of imprisoned mothers do not end even when their mothers are released. According to statistics, such children are six times more likely to end up in prison when one or both parents have been incarcerated. Thus, along with imprisoned mothers, children become figuratively “locked” behind the metal bars of the U.S. prison system, thrown into a cycle that is hard to stop—whose ripples extend far beyond just the crime committed.

          Effects of Imprisonment

          When a mother is arrested, an estimated 90% of children are sent to live with
          (1) their maternal grandparents,
          (2) paternal grandparents or
          (3) their father.
          The last 10% are taken care of by friends of the mother.

          Amazingly, children are more likely to be sent to live with their grandfather before their own father! This means that hundreds of thousands—approximately 1.9 million children across the country—live without both their father and mother.

          According to the Correctional Association of New York’s most recent statistics, “as of June 2006, 203,100 women were in state or federal prisons or local jails, just under 10% of the total U.S. prison and jail population”—more than two million. In New York alone, as of January 2008, “2,821 women were incarcerated in New York’s prisons— about 4.5% of the state’s total prison population of 62,577.”

          In addition, these statistics reveal the following:

          “More than 65 percent of women in state prisons and 55 percent of men in state prisons report being parents of children under 18.”

          “About 64 percent of mothers in state prisons lived with their children before prison, compared to 44 percent of men.”

          “About 40 percent of women in state prisons were employed full-time prior to their arrest, compared with 60 percent of men.”

          “Nearly 30 percent were receiving public assistance before arrest, compared to 8 percent of men.

          About 37 percent had incomes of less than $600 per month prior to arrest, compared to 28 percent of men.”

          Sabine Ferran Gerhardt, Assistant Professor at the University of Akron for Early Childhood Development, who runs a program through the local jail system that enables incarcerated mothers to interact with their children once a week, said, “…all children are at risk if a parent has been incarcerated.”

          “These are not the environments that children usually witness their moms being a part of,” she said. “Mom usually isn’t hanging out with such a diverse group of people. Mom isn’t usually asking somebody’s permission to do certain things. Mom isn’t usually sharing a room, or even bunk beds, literally, with somebody she hasn’t normally done that with.”

          Instead of preparing bag lunches, picking their child up after soccer practice, and being there to teach and guide their little boy or girl, mothers are removed for months, years or even decades—missing out on their child’s developmental years altogether.

          Ms. Gerhardt said one of the hardest things for children to see is the disempowerment of their mothers, who are no longer viewed as an authority figure in their child’s life.

          When parents are disempowered, she said, children lose the sense of authority that their parent once maintained and the ability to trust in them to take care of them.

          “It ruins a child’s sense of well-being and security that their parents are not in charge,” she said.

          That consistency, Ms. Gerhardt said, is vital to a child’s mental development.

          “Children need to know what to expect,” she said. “They need boundaries. They need to know what’s coming, because in general they just don’t know what’s coming. As adults, we don’t tend to explain to them how things are going to happen or when they are going to happen… And so they are pretty much living their lives constantly on edge.”

          This often carries into adulthood.

          In prisons, Ms. Gerhardt said, there is a disconnect when children see their mothers because it is “public parenting.” Mothers are less likely to be open with their children, and sometimes cannot hug or hold them at all. This builds a sense of rejection in a child, who does not understand why he or she is being rejected. Often, she said, children who feel their world spinning out of control search for something they can control: drugs, alcohol and their eating patterns (which can lead to anorexia or bulimia).

          Additionally, children of incarcerated parents are more likely to lash out at authority figures—especially police—in the future, whom they hold responsible for taking away their mothers.

          Not surprisingly, Ms. Gerhardt said, this has caused the family system to careen toward disaster. Instead of the parent taking care of the child, the child now feels obligated to take care of the parent. Instead of worrying if the weather will be nice enough to play outside, children of incarcerated parents worry about what their mothers will eat and where they will sleep.

          “The entire communication pattern between mother and child is upset,” she said, stating later, “When that relationship starts to get strained, the entire family crumbles.”

          But are mothers and fathers at fault? Who is to blame for their inability to parent and be good examples for their children?

          Although Ms. Gerhardt maintains that, while all parents have the capability to make mistakes, part of the problem is that most often the parents have not been properly instructed on how to care for children in advance.

          “Parents are never trained to be parents,” she said. “They just fall into that role, sometimes by choice, sometimes by accident…Unlike any other job where we give you training, where we give you an apprenticeship essentially, where we have a monitor there to help you through it…we’re flying solo through that process.”

          Often lacking in parenting is the principle of cause and effect.

          In fact, many go through their entire lives not realizing this law applies to every situation they experience. The decisions of parents (the causes) can greatly affect and shape their children’s future.

          Parents who commit a crime cause a shockwave of effects. They are put in prison and parted from their children. Their families are torn apart, often making grandparents fill the role of mother and father.

          Children must deal with the emotional effects from their parent’s decisions, often falling into crime and into the same cycle as their parents.

          When these children grow and have families of their own, what will be taught?

          But the effects do not stop there. They surge outward, affecting neighborhoods, cities, societies and entire nations. With each family— the building blocks of nations—torn apart, the fabric of society continues to shred.

          And with each decision of parents, good or bad, the one most affected is their children.

          The Family Pulled Apart

          There is an oft-quoted proverb about parenting that states, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).

          But how are parents to know what “way he should go,” even in optimum conditions, if they are not taught?

          Often, new parents are left to “figure things out,” with society believing that parenting is something that can be done by instinct.

          Also, from the examples above, even if the parents in prison did have a stable home life during their own childhood, one only has to look at the offenses they committed that landed them in prison to see that they were not raising their children in an environment conducive to a proper upbringing: aggravated assault with a weapon, possession of narcotics, felony theft, first degree murder.

          Even if these parents did turn around their lives, where should they turn for answers?

          For many this may seem to be a sad situation that cannot, does not, apply to them. They may “feel” for those in such situations and then go about their day. And, while this is a narrow example of how situations such as this have the capability to destroy individual lives and entire families, it is not as uncommon as it once was.

          More than ever, the family unit is beset on every side by problems of every sort. This push-the-envelope-at-all-costs age in which we live threatens to tear children’s lives and futures to pieces. How can parents arm themselves against such odds?

          Society does not help! In a time with more books on the topic then ever before, families and their relationships fall apart—it is often looked upon as “merely part of life.”

          While most cannot see how deep-seated their problems are—the state of children with parents in prisons is, tragically, only one of the many scenarios threatening every family.

          Psychologists, religionists and experts of every sort cannot figure this out, or even to whom to ask the questions. They simply do not know where to begin. Book upon book is written, with every slant, every angle—and yet, problems continue to mount.

          The answers come from the same place as the proverb mentioned before— the Bible—God’s instruction manual for mankind.

          No one teaches how to properly rear children, and no one is offering firm answers. Are we to believe that God would say there is a way to rear children and leave us in the dark as to how?

          NO! Not only does God’s Word tell parents to “train up your child in the way he should go,” it details how this is to be done. Contained in its pages is a road map for parents who are prepared to admit they do not naturally know how to perform their parenting duties.

          Readers are urged to read the book Train Your Children God’s Way, posted at thercg.org.

          It does not offer the opinions or conjecture of the author; rather, it explains in detail why families are failing and reveals—through Scripture—how one should raise children to lead happy, productive lives—with purpose!

          Mothers in Prison

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