Archive for Humane Exposures

10 Depressing Facts About Women In Prison

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The reality of women’s prison’s is more frightening than Orange is the New Black, from abuse by guards, to losing children to giving birth while shackled to the bed.

1. The First Women’s Prisons

Women’s prisons are a relatively new concept. In the past, the rare female inmate was usually housed in a separate part of a men’s facility. The first federal prison for women was in Alderson, West Virginia, where it opened in1927. There was nonexistent security, and inmates were put to work with clerical, cooking and farming duties instead of being locked in cells 23 hours a day. Most of these women were not black widow murderesses, but girls who had fallen into drugs or alcohol during the Prohibition era.

2. The Exploding Incarceration Rate

The U.S. incarceration rate is something of an international joke–higher than that of any other nation in the world, including totalitarian regimes like Russia and China. Even among these astronomical numbers, the fastest-growing population of prisoners in the United States are women.

Women’s prisons didn’t even exist 140 years ago, but today there are over a million women in the criminal justice system. Between 1980 and 2006, the population of women in prison jumped 800 percent. The situation is even more grim for minorities, who comprise two–thirds of all incarcerated women. Tragically, most women behind bars have been convicted of nonviolent crimes like drug possession or prostitution, and even violent offenders have heartbreaking stories. For example, up to 90 percent of women convicted of murdering a man were abused by that man.

3. Giving Birth

In 30 US states, women can be shackled down while giving birth, a step that has been condemned by the ACLU and various health organizations. Amnesty International has called this a violation of human rights. Binding a woman during labor presents a host of unique problems for the mother, the child and the physician.

4. Displacing Families

Many women behind bars were primary caregivers for their children. When they are locked up, they are left with few options. The lucky kids can be placed with relatives, but more often, they are sent to foster care. Many of these kids are lost to their mothers forever. The 1997 federal Adoption and Safe Families Act requires states to terminate parental rights to children who spent at least 15 of 22 consecutive months in the foster care system, freeing them up for adoption. The median minimum sentence for incarcerated women is 36 months. Unfortunately, women’s facilities are often located so far away from home that it can be difficult or impossible for families to visit. Isolation from their loved ones usually harms prisoners’ attitudes or reintegration with society.

5. Death Row

Fewer than two percent of those on death row are women. In the last 200 years, the only woman sentenced to death for a lesser crime than murder was Ethel Rosenberg, who was questionably convicted of treason for providing the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.

6. Healthcare

Prisons are woefully unprepared to attend to the unique health problems women face. Routine gynecological care and mammograms are often unavailable, so women behind bars frequently succumb to diseases like cervical cancer, which can be successfully treated in its earliest stages if detected by Pap smear.

There is a much greater incidence of substance abuse problems and communicable diseases like HIV and hepatitis C among women in prison than men, often due to a history of trading sex for drugs. Women are more susceptible to a number of chronic conditions such as varicose veins, constipation, anemia, urinary tract infections and migraines. They also outstrip incarcerated men in mental health issues, often from being the victims of lifelong abuse. Unfortunately, the vast majority of incarcerated women fall well below the poverty line, so even before they were imprisoned, they had little to no access to healthcare.

7. Assault and Abuse by Guards

Ideally the guards and support staff at women’s prisons would all be female. Unfortunately, approximately 40 percent of them in US women’s prisons are male. In some states, that number is even higher. So abuses like beatings and rape are terrifyingly common.

The most infamous institution is the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama. An investigation found that for decades more than one-third of its guards have had sex with inmates, often in exchange for basic commodities like cigarettes and toiletries. Although there are indications that Tutwiler is improving, it still is listed among the worst prisons in America. The federal government has stated that the circumstances there are so bad as to be unconstitutional.


The first two seasons of the outstanding Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black were a runaway success, and it been renewed for a third season. The story is based on the real life experiences of well-educated middle-class woman Piper Kerman who spent 13 months behind bars, starting in 2004, for laundering money for a West African drug kingpin. Her best-selling memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison was adapted into the Netflix series to great critical acclaim. One of the many compliments the show has garnered is that it features well-developed characters rather than the stereotypical criminals who often fill such portrayals of the prison system. Among them is a transgender woman named Sophia Burset, who is played by transgender actress Laverne Cox. Today Kernan is a frequent public speaker and nonprofit activist, serving on the board of the Women’s Prison Association.

9. Babes Behind Bars Exploitation Films

Before Orange Is the New Black, movies about women in prison were more along the lines of soft-core porn and often featured themes of lesbianism, nudity and cat-fighting. While such films hit their stride in the late 1960s, they date back to the release of 1931’s Ladies of the Big House. The genre, called “women in prison” or “WiP,” is popular in several countries, including Italy and China. Several cinema guides dedicated to the genre are available. Today, in the age of hardcore pornography, the WiP genre remains prolific.

10. Women’s Prisons Around the World

While women’s prisons in the Western world are very bad, the conditions of such facilities elsewhere are completely deplorable. South Africa has some of the worst women’s prisons on the planet, described by a former inspector as “shockingly inhumane.” Former prisoners have described scenes in which dozens of people are crammed into a cell with just one shower, sink and toilet, leading to outbreaks of violence that guards are unwilling or unable to control.

Even in Greece conditions can be nasty. At Thiva Women’s Prison north of Athens, vaginal and rectal canal searches are frequent, and those who refuse to submit to this demeaning procedure are put into solitary confinement and plied with laxatives until it can be determined they aren’t concealing anything. Although Greek prisons claim that such practices have been discontinued, they continue to be seen by visiting monitors from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture.




Cleveland Lowers Chronic Homelessness by 73% With its 8-Year “Housing First” Program


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Eight years after starting its work to end long-term homelessness in Cuyahoga County, the Housing First initiative is taking another step closer to its goal. The coalition of more than 40 private and public organizations just opened an $11 million building with 65 furnished and subsidized studio apartments. The four-story complex, Buckeye Square, is the ninth opened by Housing First.

With the expected opening next year of a 10th building, Housing First will be more than halfway to its goal of building 1,271 units for chronically homeless individuals.

Those units have yielded direct results, said Jennifer Eppich, Enterprise Community Partners senior program director in Cleveland:

We have seen a 73% reduction in chronic homelessness in Cuyahoga County as a result of our collaborative effort, and less than 2%  return to homelessness.

All of the new residents, like those in the other Housing First buildings, had been classified as “chronically homeless,” a group that makes up about 20% of the overall homeless population. That means they have had a year or longer of homelessness, and all have at least one disabling condition.

Mark McDermott, Ohio market leader for Enterprise Community Partners, the national nonprofit leading the Housing First Initiative, said:

It’s permanent housing, not transitional. Our model is based on giving those members of the community a permanent place to live, where they can work to solve other issues. Housing gives residents security and stability to combat other issues and get back on their feet.

Support for residents includes on-site social services, common laundry facilities, a computer lab and a 24-hour staffed front desk.

Enterprise leads the Housing First Initiative by assembling financial support, getting the backing of local leaders and providing technical help.

Buckeye Square was funded mainly through the use of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, the country’s main tool for creating and preserving affordable housing.  Additional financing included HOME funds, the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program and the local Continuum of Care. Enterprise also provided a predevelopment loan of $572,600.


Congress Needs to Wake Up, Fund and Reauthorize the Federal Juvenile Justice Act

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

After seven straight years of near inaction by Congress, and a drastic decline in funding since 2002, the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquncy Prevention Act (JJDPA) desperately needs to be reauthorizerd and effectively funded. The JJDPA is the single most  important piece of federal legislation affecting youth in juvenile  justice systems across the country. It is the primary vehicle through which the U.S. government sets standards for state and local  juvenile justice systems, and it provides direct funding for states, research, training and technical assistance and evaluation.

Since the  original enactment of the JJDPA in September 1974, its periodic reauthorizations have been very contentious, as the Act’s opponents have sought to  weaken its protections for youth, reduce prevention resources and  encourage the transfer of youth to the adult criminal justice system.

Despite a decline in juvenile offenses over the past decade, the population of youth confined in pre-trial secure detention has steadily  grown. On an average day, more than 27,000 youngsters are estimated to reside in locked detention centers — a number that has grown 72 percent since the early 1990s. Moreover, jursidictions continue to imprison youth in spite of research demonstrating that  juvenile detention has critical, long-lasting consequences for court-involved juveniles. Projects such as the 22-year-old Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation work to demonstrate that communities can safely reduce  their reliance on secure detention of young people.

In 1974, when the JJDPA was enacted, an estimated 500,000 kids were housed in adult jails and prisons each year, very often for status or very minor offenses – and subject to everything from verbal abuse to physical and sexual assault.

Locking up youngsters whose actions would not be considered offenses at the age of majority, such as skipping school, running away, breaking curfew and possession or use of alcohol, unnecessarily exposes them to the negative influences and social stigmatization of incarceration. These young people – who  frequently are girls – often have unmet mental health or education needs and are better served by the appropriate human services agency, rather than the justice system.

Without JJDPA there would be no national acknowledgement of disparate treatment of youth of color in the system. This, despite the fact that we know youth of color are much more likely than white youth to be arrested, detained, and incarcerated for similar offenses.

Without JJDPA there would be no Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). OJJDP has accomplished much, and lately it has worked to prevent gang involvement, girls’ delinquency and underage drinking. It assists victims of child abduction and commercial sexual exploitation. OJJDP also supports mentoring, tribal youth programs and services, AMBER Alert and community- and faith-based initiatives.

The Act created this office to help states enact system change, and without it no federal funding for the states would be available to advance juvenile justice reforms. The only federal agency focused on juvenile justice would not exist. There would be no federal technical assistance, federal research and evaluation or national standards.

Fortunately, leaders in the juvenile and criminal justice field recognized the need for national leadership and worked with Congress and the Ford Administration in 1974 to pass the bipartisan law we have today. Tens of thousands fewer children are being held in adult jails, status offenders are far less likely to end up in secure detention, states are working to address racial and ethnic disparities in their systems and there is some – though declining – federal support for all these efforts.

If the JJDPA is implemented for another five years, it will embrace the recommendations in the National Academy of Sciences report “Reforming Juvenile Justice,” the Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence and the Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign. No youth will be in an adult jail or prison anywhere in the United States. No runaways or truants will be locked up. Racial and ethnic disparities will decline. A vibrant and robust OJJDP wll engage with directly impacted youth, their parents and families, led by a formerly incarcerated youth. Robust funding will be provided to states and localities to reduce detention, end the use of the training school approach and create a rich array of community-based alternatives to incarceration and other supports for youth.

There should really be no dispute over the many social advantages from reauthorizing and robustly funding JJDPA.

Nebraska is Successfully Transitioning from Incarceration of Non-violent Juveniles to Treatment

Until recently, Nebraska juveniles who committed offenses were being tossed en masse into confinement, even though a large portion of the youths could be helped through alternative treatment at far lower costs.

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Especially disturbing was the situation at the juvenile center for boys at Kearney, where nonviolent youths were housed in a huge common area with violent youths, and the assault rate on staff personnel exceeded that of the state correctional system.

Staff turnover was high both at the Kearney center and the one for girls at Geneva. Conditions at the two centers were impeding the system’s ability to provide rehabilitation, which was the reason for establishing the two facilities.

The good news, witnesses explained to the state legislature in 2012, is that sensible reform is possible. It has worked effectively in Douglas County and various other states. A shift toward treatment in Texas, for example, allowed that state to cut $117 million from its juvenile justice budget and close three detention centers. Savings of $45 million were returned to county governments to provide community services.

The cost differences between treatment and confinement are great. It costs around $260 a day to house a young person at the Kearney center, compared with around $65 for treatment at a group home, lawmakers learned. A pilot project in Douglas County emphasizing treatment kept 83 percent of juvenile offenders in their homes over nearly a four-year period, and three-fourths completed probation successfully.

Given these facts, the Nebraska Legislature and Gov. Dave Heineman adopted major changes, assigning the Office of Probation Administration authority to handle juvenile justice cases. The state is now two months into that reform effort.

Passage of Legislative Bill 561 moved all supervision of delinquent juveniles from the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration. Along with that  came $14.5 million to be spent on new services for youth along with a grant program to aid counties focusing on the developing of front-end services for youth. The changes are intended to decrease the dependency on juvenile detention center stays, place more emphasis on rehabilitation, increase family engagement and provide more services at the community level.

Even at this early stage, the number of youths imprisoned at the two juvenile centers has declined: 92 boys now at Kearney compared with 135 a year ago, and 52 girls at Geneva, down from 66 a year ago.

Just over 80 percent of juveniles supervised by probation are being helped at home, up from 40 percent a year ago, when the state’s Department of Health and Human Services was handling the cases.

However, the state faces challenges. Sometimes complications arise when parents of probation youth refuse to cooperate. Another challenge is when the state HHS has to handle juvenile cases involving youths with severe mental health needs or developmental disabilities.

Some problems can be addressed through changes in procedure, state statute and/or budget appropriations. More state funding will be required to start or increase local treatment services. This is also true for reimbursing county governments for their costs involved in juvenile justice matters, such as transportation. State lawmakers will need to examine the options on information-sharing to ensure that juvenile probation cases are properly monitored and analyzed.

In addition, the Nebraska Crime Commission has added two new positions to oversee the Community Based Aid funding and Diversion services statewide. Community Based Aid replaced has increased funding to $5 million.

Change of this magnitude can be difficult, but the state’s system stakeholders  have been working collaboratively to provide training, interpretation, development of services and most importantly seamless transition of services for youth and their families.

An editorial in the Omaha World-Herald declared:

Putting Nebraska’s juvenile justice system on a new path was a sound decision. With appropriate follow-up, this reform should bring significant benefits to the youths and the state.

Strong writing, subject and cast make England’s “Bad Girls” compelling television

By Alan Waldman | Reprinted from The Rag Blog | September 1, 2014

[In his weekly Ragblog column (, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

I am very interested in the topic of female incarceration, and I write a blog article about it every third week at Human Exposures. I loved both seasons of Netflix’s powerful women-in-prison drama Orange is the New Black, and a dozen or so years ago I watched and enjoyed the first riveting season of the dramatic British TV series, Bad Girls. Here’s the first part of an episode (and from it you can access the remaining parts).

In Britain, Bad Girls was very popular, running for eight seasons and 107 episodes, from 1999 to 2006. It is set in the fictional Larkhall women’s prison and features a mix of gritty and light storylines. Simone Lahbib, Debra Stephenson, Claire King, and Lara Cazalet star in this shockingly honest British series where the new inmates must quickly learn how to survive in a brutal and often deadly environment.

Waldman’s film and TV treasures you may have missed

Bad Girls deals with much controversial subject matter. In the first season a pregnant prisoner miscarries in her cell, another is viciously strip-searched by fellow inmates for concealed drugs and a third commits suicide due to being bullied.

One story arc revolves around the developing romantic relationship between a prisoner serving a life sentence for the murder of a policeman who attempted to rape her girlfriend and the previously engaged female Wing Governor. Other storylines include the pregnancy of a young drug addict, the appeal of wrongly-imprisoned woman (frequently referred to as “posh bitch” by other characters) and the illicit relationship between the male senior officer and the resident bully and drug dealer, serving life for murder.

The first season’s 10 episodes are on Netflix. Bad Girls won 10 major awards and garnered seven other nominations. These include seven National Television Award Most Popular Drama nominations and two wins, four TV Quick Best Loved Drama Awards, two Most Popular Actress noms for Debra Stephenson, and acting award wins for Stephenson, Claire King (twice), and Jack Ellis.

At, 92.6% viewers polled gave the series thumbs-up, 44.8%rated it a perfect 10, and it was very strong with all demos, particularly females and most particularly with females 45 and older. The first episodes of seasons two and three drew more than 9.4 million viewers in a relatively small country.

Simone Lahbib

Simone Lahbib

It was created by Maureen Chadwick (who wrote 24 episodes and won a TV Quick Best New Drama Award for Waterloo Road), Ann McManus (penned 23 episodes and co-created Waterloo Road) and Eileen Gallagher (won an OBE honor for services to broadcasting). The series had 23 writers over its eight seasons.

The cast was headed by Victoria Alcock (Call the Midwife, Eastenders, The House of Eliott) and Kika Mirylees (Jonathan Creek, Eastenders, and Lovejoy). Wonderfully evil is sexy Debra Stephenson (Playing the Field, MI-5, and Coronation Street).

Jack Ellis, who won a best actor award for playing a mean, randy guard, has 55 other credits, including Prime Suspect, Inspector Morse, and Coronation Street. Simone Lahbib took over the female lead in the wonderful crime series Wire in the Blood and also appeared in the equally wonderful Philomena and Downton Abbey. And I greatly enjoyed Lara Cazalet as the adulterous barrister in New Street Law.

A musical comedy adaptation of Bad Girls, based on the characters and storylines of the first season, ran in London’s West End in 2007. In 2006 it was announced that FX would bring an American version of Bad Girls to U.S. screens, but its original pilot script was scrapped over the show’s “really gritty and unpleasant” feel. An NBC version was also mentioned in the trade press. But now HBO’s version of Bad Girls is being developed with creative input from Six Feet Under writer Alan Ball, and it is supposedly due to bow this year. The DVD has been released in at least 19 countries, including Montenegro, Georgia, Finland, and New Zealand.

Although I loved and heartily recommend Orange is the New Black, I found my one season of Bad Girls even grittier and more dramatic.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman's articles on The Rag Blog.]

Campaign to End Veteran Homelessness is Making Good Progress

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The number of homeless veterans dropped below 50,000 last year, in the fourth consecutive year of decreases since White House officials refocused efforts on getting that population into stable housing. Data from HUD’s annual point-in-time count of homeless Americans — conducted each January — showed 49,933 veterans living on the street in 2014. That’s down 13.8% (almost 8,000 individuals) since the 2013 count and 33.3% lower (almost 25,000 vets) since 2010.

Michelle Obama, HUD and the VA recently challenged mayors to commit to ending Veteran homelessness in their cities by 2015. So far, more than 95 mayors and governors in 46 states have accepted.

HUD Secretary Julián Castro said:

In just a few years, we have made incredible progress reducing homelessness among veterans, but we have more work to do.

However, the latest numbers also show the difficulty of completely ending the
problem. Despite focused efforts and increased funding for veterans assistance
projects, officials need to double their progress from the past five years
in order to reach that 2015 goal.

Housing advocates have praised HUD, VA and the Interagency Council on Homelessness for their efforts working with outside groups in recent years, noting that federal voucher programs and the “housing first” approach have helped quickly move veterans off the streets and into stable shelter. The VA Supportive Housing voucher program alone has served more than 74,000 veterans since 2008, providing direct funding to community groups which can assist individuals with immediate needs.

The White House just announced a new partnership with TriWest Healthcare Alliance to connect women veterans facing homelessness to employment and benefits services. Pilot programs will launch later this year in Seattle, Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Honolulu. About 8 percent of the homeless veteran population (roughly 4,000) are women veterans who often face extra challenges in affording housing due to child care issues, dealing with the psychological effects of sexual trauma and gaps in health care offerings.

The VA is currently taking steps to aid homeless female Veterans. These include the:

SSVF awards grants to private nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives who will provide supportive services to very low income Veterans and their families residing in or transitioning to permanent housing. The grantees will provide a range of supportive services designed to promote housing stability. SSVF grants are released throughout the year.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) partner to provide permanent, supportive housing and treatment services for homeless Veterans.  To date, HUD has allocated more than 74,000 Housing Choice vouchers across the country, which allows Veterans and their families to live in market rate rental housing while VA provides case management services. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the local public housing authority on behalf of the participating Veteran. The Veteran then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program. The case management services facilitate the attainment of the Veteran’s recovery goals. The HUD-VASH Program is for the most vulnerable Veterans, and provides special services for women Veterans, those recently returning from combat zones, and Veterans with disabilities.

The Grant and Per Diem Program funds community-based agencies providing transitional housing or service centers for homeless Veterans. Through the program, each year (as funding is available) VA offers grants that may fund up to 65 percent of the project for the construction, acquisition, or renovation of facilities or to purchase van(s) to provide outreach and services to homeless Veterans.

Women Veterans Health Care Program – Since 1988, the Women Veterans Health Care program has provided focused care for women Veterans in a safe environment that aims to raise the standard of women’s health care. It focuses on primary care, reproductive health, and other health issues unique to women. Women Veterans need not worry about their specific health issues not being accommodated by VA.

VA Mental Health for Women Veterans – VA recognizes that women Veterans experience their military service in different ways than men and also deal with unique mental health conditions. Because of this, VA provides specialized services to help women work through conditions such as PTSD or Military Sexual Trauma.

Latin American Women Prisoners Pay a Heavy Price for Transporting Drugs


Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

As growing numbers of women (up from 40,000 in 2006 to 74,000 in 2011) suffer in Latin American jails on drug-trafficking charges, their role in organized crime is under examination, as are the prison system that crowds and mistreats them and the patriarchal society that systematically fails them.

According to an October 2013 paper by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), most female prisoners are incarcerated because of drug-related crimes – usually trafficking. In Brazil, 60 percent of women prisoners are in jail for trafficking. In Ecuador, only 18.5 percent of female prisoners were in prison for drug offences in 1982, but that figure now stands at 80 percent. The same upward trend is evident in most Latin American countries, where an average of 70 percent of incarcerated women are doing time for drug-related offences.

Why so many women are being held and tried on drug-trafficking charges, as well as what are the devastating impacts of their incarceration on them, their families and broader society, were discussed at a panel discussion at the UN in New York earlier this month, where drug policy experts spoke about the need for both drug policy and prison reform.

So many of the women serving time or waiting to be sentenced were incarcerated for carrying or “muling” drugs. These women, who tend to be uneducated and poor, are usually “on the lowest rungs of the crime ladder”, according to the briefing report.

The poorly paid “mules” carry drugs in their luggage, strapped to their bodies or swallowed in capsules. Usually several of them are put onto international flights so that even if some are caught, others will get through.

According to the researchers:

Many of these women seemed unaware of the risks involved when drawn into the trade by their partners or families, who would tell them: ‘Just carry this. Nothing will happen; everything will be all right.’

Corina Giacomello, panelist and author of the IDPC briefing paper, Women, Drug Offenses and Penitentiary Systems in Latin America, said analyzing the plight of these women was an opportunity to confront three intersecting problems: gender issues, drug policy and prison policy:

We don’t usually see the connections between these issues, but these women are like a mirror; they’re an intersection of all these things.

Once these women are inside, the exploitation and abuse continue. Most of the women lack the knowledge or money to access lawyers and so may spend years awaiting trial.  According to a January 2014 report by the Organization of American States, most women jailed on drug offences are awaiting trial as prisoners.

They are usually separated from their children – or housed together with them in abysmal conditions. Latin America’s prisons are already infamous for overcrowding, inhumane conditions, violence and lack of any rehabilitation programs. Added to this is the sexual exploitation of women who are repeatedly raped by prison guards and other inmates. “Prison is a masculine space built by men for men,” said Giacomello, adding that the penal system is ill-equipped to cope with the rapidly growing numbers of female prisoners who may be pregnant, nursing or mothers of small children.

When women are sentenced, they tend to get stigmatized, and when they start their sentences they are often abandoned; they don’t get visited. These unfortunate women can spend months without seeing their children. This leads to all kinds of health and mental health problems. The OAS reported, “In addition to the potential breakdown of their families, abandonment by their parents and loss of property, incarcerated women face disproportionate levels of social stigmatization.”

Leonel Briozzo, Uruguay’s vice minister of public health,  told the panel that prisons were places where people could learn more about illegal activity rather than rehabilitate themselves:

We have to understand that jails are not the correct places for people to stop using drugs. Real transformation needs to take place.

Among the recommendations are initiating more campaigns to make women more aware of the risks of trafficking drugs, as well as applying the UN’s Bangkok Rules to cater more effectively for the needs of women in the prison system.

Giacomello said:

For too long drug policy has stayed in a kind of ivory tower, divorced from human rights or gender policy. We need to make drug policy penetrable from a human rights perspective.


War on Children: Thanks to Media, One in Every Three US School Kids Will be Arrested by 23

According to Nell Bernstein’s new book, Burning Down2014.8.12.BookCover.Main[1] the House,  66,332 young people currently are confined in juvenile facilities, two-thirds of them in long-term placement. Her book focuses on the criminalization of American young people, from the mid-80s when the trend first exploded, to the present day when the United States incarcerates more of its kids than any other industrialized nation.

Bernstein argues that juvenile facilities wouldn’t be able to stay open if it weren’t for a massive, media-induced misconception of youth violence. Beginning in the mid-1980s, stories of youth criminalization ran rampant through US newswires. A 1996 study conducted by the Berkeley Media Studies Group  found that more than half of local news stories about young people at the time focused on violence.

The number of incarcerated children has decreased greatly since that study came out – 41% since the rate of juvenile incarceration hit its peak in 1995 – and the common misconception now is that the issue of youth confinement has been dealt with, but the stench of garbage reporting from decades past still lingers. Certain kids (read “black,” “brown,” “homeless,” “drug addicted,” “LGBT”) are still violent outliers who most people and many media believe belong behind bars. If this narrative isn’t corrected, there’s no reason why things won’t get worse instead of better.

Bernstein writes:

As things stand, the recent drop in juvenile incarceration looks more like a stock market correction than a revolution: the current number of youth in confinement is almost identical to that in the mid-1980s, right before that era’s pendulum swing swept thousands more youth behind bars.

“Racism drives the juvenile justice system at every level, from legislation to policing to sentencing to conditions of confinement and enforcement to parole.

Police arrest nearly 2 million juveniles every year, and Black teenagers are arrested at five times the rate of white teenagers, Latino teenagers two to three times more often than white teenagers.

The myth that young people are imprisoned almost exclusively for violent crimes bolsters the argument that children of color deserve to be ripped from their communities and placed in detention centers. Actually, while juvenile violent crime has decreased over the past 15 years, locking up kids for minor offenses has become much more prevalent, thanks to longer sentencing, three-strikes laws, electronic monitoring, drug testing and other harsh tactics of the criminal justice system.

In 2010, only one-in-four incarcerated youngsters were charged for violent crimes, while 40% were doing time for low-level offenses like drug possession, violation of probation and public-order offenses. This category of child offenders also includes those charged with crimes that only kids can be charged for, like alcohol possession and truancy.

The statistic Bernstein believes should outrage every person in this country: African-American youth with no prior convictions are 48 times more likely than white youth with similar histories to be incarcerated for drug offenses! Given that incarcerating a child is the best predictor of whether he or she will be imprisoned as an adult, such facilities are not only complicit in institutional racism, but they use the bodies of children to perpetuate it. You’ve got to break more than a few good eggs to keep the prison-industrial complex fed.

Bernstein’s book is also hard-hitting and heartbreaking in its exploration of child abuse within juvenile facilities. In 2010, The Department of Justice’s Review Panel on Prison Rape found that 12% of juvenile inmates had been sexually abused at least once while in prison – and that rate of sexual abuse is higher in juvenile facilities than in adult prisons. The vast majority of girls in juvenile detention – 73% – have a history of physical and sexual violence before they disappear behind the prison walls.

Solitary confinement is widely used in juvenile facilities nationwide, although it sometimes goes by other names like “protective custody” and “reflection cottages.” Incredibly, stripping children naked and hog-tying them before throwing them in administrative segregation is still practiced in some places. Also is not uncommon for a child to be administered psychotropic drugs, often to deal with mental maladies that tend to arise when a young mind spends days, weeks or months in complete isolation.

Bernstein truly believes in the abolition of juvenile facilities, exhorting us:

Raze the buildings, free the children and begin anew!

Bernstein also has harsh words for so-called “treatment-based models” such as Red Wing in Minnesota and OH Close Youth Correctional Facility in California. Althiugh undeniably nicer than the average juvenile facility, these treatment centers still use solitary confinement frequently and are still in fact prisons, despite throwing the word “boutique” around with some abandon. Bernstein instead advocates for a combination of therapeutic methods in which kids either work with their families and therapists at their own home or in their therapist’s office or are placed with trained foster families for a period of up to nine months.

This Year H.U.D. and V.A. Will Give 10,000 More Housing Vouchers to Homeless Vets

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) just awarded $7 million to 24 local public housing agencies across the country to help nearly 1,000 homeless Veterans find permanent housing. This supportive housing assistance is provided through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program which combines rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by VA.

Later in 2014, HUD anticipates awarding approximately 10,000 new HUD-VASH vouchers to build upon significant progress toward ending veteran homelessness.  Since 2008, more than 59,000 HUD-VASH vouchers have been awarded, and 43,371 formerly homeless veterans are currently in homes of their own.  These vouchers offer rental assistance and support services.

Veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program rent privately owned housing and usually contribute no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent.  The VA offers eligible homeless veterans clinical and supportive services through its medical centers across the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico.

Carolyn M. Clancy, MD, Interim Under Secretary for Health, said:

VA, HUD and our federal, state and local partners should take pride in the progress made to reduce Veterans’ homelessness by 24 percent since 2010, but so long as there remains a Veteran that lives on our streets, we have more work to do. These HUD-VASH vouchers are a vital tool in our effort to provide our Veterans with the earned care and benefits that help them live productive, meaningful lives.

HUD-VASH is a key part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to end veteran homelessness by 2015.  Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness serves as a roadmap for how the federal government will work with state and local communities to confront the root causes of homelessness, especially among former servicemen and women.

Recently Michelle Obama, VA and HUD created a Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness by 2015, using federal, local and non-profit resources, and so far 180 mayors and several governors have accepted the challenge. The use of tools like HUD-VASH vouchers are central to reaching that goal.

In the HUD-VASH program, VA Medical Centers work closely with homeless veterans before referring them to local housing agencies for these vouchers. Decisions are based on a variety of factors, most importantly the duration of the homelessness and the need for longer term, more intensive support in obtaining and maintaining permanent housing.

Once a HUD-VASH voucher is issued, a veteran has up-to 120 days to use the voucher to lease a unit, after which, unless the the veteran is granted an extension, he or she loses the voucher, and it is offered to the next eligible applicant. Local housing agencies should not require veterans to demonstrate sobriety or “housing readiness” as a condition for receiving a voucher. Nor should vets have to meet a minimum income requirement.

All agencies involved in the housing placement process should work collaboratively to streamline the HUD-VASH enrollment and lease-up process. Housing-placement boot camps, organized by 100K Homes, are full-day events during which members from each agency work together to construct a game board that represent each step of the housing-placement process.   Agencies then use the game board to streamline their placement process while still meeting their documentation and other requirements.

To facilitate rapid lease-up, veterans often need assistance paying the security deposit and other move-in costs.  The HUD-VASH subsidy, by statute, cannot help with these expenses, but some communities have successfully established other sources of funding to help veterans pay for moving and related expenses.  To cover moving costs, HUD-VASH programs can access local HUD funding through the Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions Grant programs or VA funding from Supportive Services for Veterans Families grants. Some communities have also partnered with local banks and businesses to develop programs where veterans can receive loans to pay for moving-related expenses.

Feminist Therapy Improves Well-being of Incarcerated Women

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

A study of feminist therapy and incarcerated women advised that feminist psychotherapy is essential to the well-being of women of marginalized women, especially incarcerated women. Although some feminist principles have been applied to programming for women in prison, major feminist inroads have yet to be made into correctional systems.

Study author Susan Marcus-Mendoza writes:

We need to work towards a fully feminist paradigm of corrections that empowers incarcerated women and transforms women’s correctional facilities into rehabilitative environments.

Women in prison are among the most marginalized members of our society. Their lives behind bars are not within their control. Every hour of their day is scheduled for them, and access to everything inside and outside of the prison is strictly regulated. Such important aspects of life as food, medical care, reading materials, psychological treatment, exercise, educational opportunities and family contact are dictated by the prison policies and staff. Most of them are trauma survivors and victims of violent crimes who come from economically deprived, oppressive backgrounds.

Studies have shown abuse rates among female inmates as high as 85%, and therefore these women are likely to experience Complex Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Additionally, most women in prison have been victims of one or more types of violence both as children and adults. One study found higher reported rates of homelessness, abuse, living in foster care or other agencies, having parents with substance abuse problems, having family members in prison and receiving public aid, as well as lower rates of living with both parents and being employed prior to incarceration.


A study by Kinsler and Saxon summed up the problem thusly:

We are incarcerating people who cope with their own prior abuse through three common pathways: depression, anger and violence, and substance abuse. In many ways, we are incarcerating last generation’s abuse survivors, rather than treating them.

Our corrections system is more focused on punishment and containment than treatment and rehabilitation, even though women’s prisons are full of those in serious need of treatment.

What is currently required is a gender-responsive model, which involves creating an environment and offering programs that reflect an understanding of incarcerated women’s lives and recognizes women’s unique pathways to crime. Such social and cultural factors as race, socio-economic status, gender disparities and ethnicity are taken into account in developing interventions for abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, and other issues pertinent to incarcerated women. The emphasis in these interventions is on self-efficacy and skill-building.

Feminist therapy is informed by feminist political philosophies and analysis and grounded in multicultural scholarship on the psychology of women and gender, which leads therapist and client toward strategies and solutions advancing feminist resistance, transformation and social change in daily personal life, and in relationships with the social, emotional and political environments.

Feminist therapy is a subversive project that promotes growth and healing for women in distress. Working together, therapist and client strive to undermine oppressive patriarchal structures that serve as sources of distress and hinder women’s growth. This is accomplished by analyzing gender, power, and social locations/multiple identities as strategies for comprehending how and why a person feels distress or behaves in dysfunctional ways.

Feminist therapists in prisons must focus on issues of power and oppression, empowering women to take responsibility for their choices, as well as helping incarcerated women to deal with the oppressive setting of the prison, and to see the patriarchal structure of society. Feminist therapists in prisons must also make sure that they assist women in dealing with such issues as racism and homophobia, as experienced both inside and outside the prison. On an institutional and societal level, feminist therapists should actively question and work to change policies and practices that support oppression. They can do this by educating the prison staff about the issues faced by women in prison and advocating for feminist therapeutic interventions that are both effective and non-punitive. Therapists can advocate for development and implementation of gender-specific programming, and the hiring of women of color and  bilingual therapists and correctional staff.

Marcus-Mendoza concludes:

I believe that feminist therapy in women’s prisons is a crucial undertaking, and that feminist therapists should and can play a central role in transforming women’s prisons. I believe feminist therapists also need to do advocacy inside and outside of the prison to change policy and laws. The feminist therapist, should therefore not only work in the therapy room but should examine every aspect of the prison experience and work with staff and administration to bring about positive transformation. This feminist therapist is an advocate and an activist, giving voice to the oppressed women who may be punished for speaking for themselves.