Tag Archive: Vikki Law

Against Carceral Feminism

From Jacobin / By Victoria Law

Relying on state violence to curb domestic violence only ends up harming the most marginalized women.

Cherie Williams, a thirty-five-year-old African-American woman in the Bronx, just wanted to protect herself from her abusive boyfriend. So she called the cops. But although New York requires police to make an arrest when responding to domestic violence calls, the officers did not leave their car. When Williams demanded their badge numbers, the police handcuffed her, drove her to a deserted parking lot, and beat her, breaking her nose, spleen, and jaw. They then left her on the ground.

“They told me if they saw me on the street, that they would kill me,” Williams later testified.

The year was 1999. It was a half-decade after the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which deployed more police and introduced more punitive sentencing in an attempt to reduce domestic violence. Many of the feminists who had lobbied for the passage of VAWA remained silent about Williams and countless other women whose 911 calls resulted in more violence. Often white, well-heeled feminists, their legislative accomplishment did little to stem violence against less affluent, more marginalized women like Williams.

This carceral variant of feminism continues to be the predominant form. While its adherents would likely reject the descriptor, carceral feminism describes an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women.

This stance does not acknowledge that police are often purveyors of violence and that prisons are always sites of violence. Carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity, and immigration status leave certain women more vulnerable to violence and that greater criminalization often places these same women at risk of state violence. (more…)

Time to Speak Up: Women’s Prison Resistance in Alabama

tutwilerBy Victoria Law

Both incarcerated women and the U.S. Department of Justice agree: The Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala., is a hellish place. In a 36-page letter that the DOJ issued to the Alabama State Governor Robert Brentley in January, the agency declared, “The State of Alabama violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution by failing to protect women prisoners at Tutwiler from harm due to sexual abuse and harassment from correctional staff.”

Federal investigators found that, for nearly two decades, staff members at Tutwiler have sexually assaulted women and compelled them into sex to obtain necessities, such as feminine hygiene products and laundry service. Women who report sexual abuse are placed in solitary confinement, where they are given lie detector tests and are frequently threatened by other staff.

But while the DOJ’s letter — and conditions in Tutwiler — made headlines, less attention has been paid to the activism and organizing by women inside Alabama’s prisons. During the department’s investigation, for example, it received 233 letters from women currently incarcerated at Tutwiler detailing a host of concerns about the sexual abuse they’ve either personally experienced or witnessed. This figure does not include the letters that women have been sending to the Department of Justice and other government entities for years before the investigation was launched. When incarcerated, sending testimony letters is a potentially dangerous action. Women risked prison staff opening their letters and reading their complaints — and retaliating against them. Two hundred thirty-three women decided to take that risk. (more…)

A Year After Mass Hunger Strike in California Prisons, What’s Changed?

hungerstrikeFrom Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

On July 8, 2013, 30,000 California prisoners launched what became a 60-day mass hunger strike. One year later, however, Luis Esquivel is still sitting in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in solitary confinement in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. “Right now, my uncle is in his cell with no windows,” said his niece, Maribel Herrera. “It’s like sitting in a bathroom – your sink is there, your toilet is there, your bed is there. And you’re just sitting there. I can only think about that for so long because it hurts.”

Herrera’s uncle has been in solitary confinement for 15 years. “I hadn’t seen my uncle since I was a child,” said Herrera. “I can’t even remember hugging him.” When she visited him in 2012, her first-ever visit to Pelican Bay, more than 850 miles away from her family’s home in San Diego, hers was the first visit Esquivel had received in seven years. (more…)

On the Way to Solitary, Women in Massachusetts Jail Get Strip Searched and Videotaped

WMRWCCAerial1WebBy Victoria Law / From Solitary Watch

“When women are moved to the Segregation Unit for mental health or disciplinary reasons, they are strip searched. With four or more officers present, the inmate must: take off all her clothes, lift her breasts and, if large, her stomach, turn around, bend over, spread her buttocks with her hands and cough, and stand up and face the wall. If the woman is menstruating, she must remove her tampon or pad and hand it to a guard. An officer with a video camera stands a few feet away and records the entire strip search. This officer is almost always male.”

This is a description of what has happened when women are taken to solitary confinement at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center (WCC) in Chicopee. The procedure has been followed not only for women being sent to isolation for violating jail rules but also women who are being placed on suicide watch or who have requested protective custody. Since September 15, 2008, on approximately 274 occasions, a male corrections officer recorded the strip search with a handheld video camera; 178 women were affected by this practice.

In 2009, Debra Baggett wrote a letter to the law office of Howard Friedman about this practice. The office, which has been involved in a number of cases involving prisoner rights and strip searches, investigated Baggett’s complaints. “We found that the jail had a written policy allowing male guards to videotape the strip searches,” stated David Milton, the attorney representing the women. When the jail refused to change its policy, Baggett and a group of other women held at the jail filed suit. (more…)