On Sunday, May 13, approximately 1,000 women and girls will spend their Mother’s Day in York Correctional Institute, Connecticut’s prison for women. Of these people, over 300 will have no criminal conviction. They will spend Mother’s Day in jail just because they cannot afford to pay bail. Disproportionately, these women are black, brown, poor, and disabled. Many are first criminalized for acts of survival and self-defense. Most of them are mothers and caretakers, whose children endure the costs of their hardship.
The conditions inside York Correctional are notoriously inhumane, with rampant medical neglect and sexual violence. Incarcerated women are regularly deprived hygiene products, legal phone calls, visitors, and medical care. Pregnant women are often shackled during childbirth. In February, one woman was forced to give birth in her cell, her cellmate delivering the baby.
In particular, immigrant women endure the combined trauma and violence of state and federal government. Inside York, ICE agents have a history of misrepresenting themselves to interrogate immigrant women. Recently, York staff delayed the bail-outs of two women so ICE agents could arrive and detain them. While the number of Connecticut women and girls in federal immigration jail is unknown, media reports indicate that immigration arrests of women increased 35 percent in the first four months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. Since December 2017, ICE has detained 506 pregnant women, and a few days ago, ICE formally rescinded their policy of trying to release pregnant women from jail.
Between May 2014 and July 2016, at least 1,016 reports of sexual abuse were filed by people in immigration detention: an average of more than one per day. Of all these complaints, the Office of the Investigator General investigated only 24 —2.4 percent of the total.
It is no exaggeration that the state of Connecticut and the federal government are torturing incarcerated women and girls. The UN Convention Against Torture defines “torture” as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as… punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed… when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official…”
The abuses in York meet these criteria. This is a human rights emergency in our own state.
This is why as a mother, activist, and formerly incarcerated woman, I am proud to be taking part in Connecticut’s first-ever Mother’s Day Bail-Out, a campaign to free women and girls from pretrial and immigration jail in time for Mother’s Day. This campaign is being led by a coalition of racial justice, feminist, and prison abolitionist organizations from across the state, in solidarity with activist groups nationwide, all of whom are freeing women and girls from wealth-based caging.
While our efforts are building on a long history of abolitionist organizing, this is the first campaign of its kind in Connecticut — and our success depends on caring people (like you!) supporting the effort.
The general public is invited to attend our launch event on Saturday, April 7, 4:30 p.m., at the Bregamos Community Theatre in New Haven (491 Blatchley Ave). There, you can hear stories from formerly incarcerated women and girls and get involved in the campaign.
Most of all, I urge you to heed the words of Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from our own.”
We are living in a revolutionary moment, in which perpetrators of violence against women are finally being held accountable. But too often, transgender people, immigrant women, sex workers, and incarcerated women — those who endure the worst state violence — are excluded from the #MeToo narrative. This Mother’s Day, we have an opportunity to stand with marginalized women. Join me in taking action against the incarceration of our moms, sisters, and daughters.
Beatrice Codianni is Executive Director of the Sex Workers and Allies Network / New Haven.