Posts Tagged ‘ prison ’

Hate Crime Legislation: Why it doesn’t protect us

Scotland has recently enacted a new hate crime law dealing with crimes motivated by disablism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Whilst some community groups are praising this move as progressive, I’m not so sure.

First of all, let us look at what hate crime legislation actually does. If a crime is seen to be motivated by prejudice, the perpetrator of that crime gets a tougher sentence than if the crime is not judged to be motivated by a named phobia or prejudice. This effectively is criminalising not the action in itself, which would be criminalised anyway, but the perpetrator for what they were thinking at the time. This is essentially thoughtcrime. It shouldn’t make a difference what a killer is thinking at the time of a murder, it is still murder.

I think it is necessary to discuss why exactly ‘hate crime’ happens. Interpersonal violence happens, not because there aren’t enough laws, but because prejudice and bigotry is endemic in our society. Tackling discrimination is something that needs to be proactive, not reactive, if it has any chance of succeeding. At the moment, however, our government is doing precious little to proactively challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, whilst actively discriminating against these groups. Hate crime legislation such as this is rarely something useful, but rather a cynical attempt to appear to be ‘doing something’ on the issue of discrimination.

The state is setting itself up to be seen as the only protector of our communities and the only mechanism in which justice can be achieved; when in effect it is actually one of our biggest oppressors. The institutional discrimination our communities face in prison, in the lack of provision for victims of domestic abuse and same sex rape or even with the NHS ban on gay and bi men giving blood is the real face of our the states attitude towards our community. If the state set itself up as the instrument of justice in our communities, it can justify smashing any autonomous groups organising their own attempt at community justice.

Furthermore, due to the institutional bigotry in our policing, marginalised groups like LGBT, BME and disabled people are over-represented in prisons, and often face institutional discrimination whilst in prison. Putting people convicted of hate crimes in prison for longer than they otherwise would be, where they can continue to target the same groups in a harsh environment is not a positive thing. It is not in our interest as a community to entrust our protection to the state.

It is sad that well meaning liberals support legislation such as this, which is fundamentally disempowering to our communities. It is sad that we are trusting an institution to oppress us when that institution is our biggest oppressor.

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Life on the inside: queer prisoners

Life in prison is hard. Separated from family and friends, prisoners spend a lot of time doing nothing but staring at the walls of their cell for a potentially long time, in harsh conditions. Most people I know can’t really imagine being incarcerated. Yet, the government itself thinks at least 33% of our population to deserve incarceration*, so it is very much a potential reality for a lot of people. But what is life like inside for LGBT prisoners?

Prisons are traditionally seen as a place to put the ‘bad people’; however practically speaking, prisons are a tool of the government to place people with difficult social problems (problematic drug users, etc.) out of sight, and thus out of mind, so the government doesn’t have to make any effort in sorting out the root causes of these problems. As a result, prisons are often places where racism, homophobia, sexism and other social ills abound, as social groups hit out at each other as a way of working through their dissatisfaction with their situation. For this reason, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are endemic in prisons.

This homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is perpetuated by the Home Office and the managers of prisons themselves. The Offender Policy and Rights Unit, the group which sets policy for ‘good practice’ in prisons, ignores this blatant discrimination within the system and has yet to produce any guidance on LGBT issues within prisons, or any guidance on how best to deal with the needs of LGBT prisoners. This is evident in some of the policies of UK prisons, where most trans prisoners are placed not by their current gender identity, but by their birth gender, and where LGBT prisoners are often placed in Vulnerable Prisoner Units (VPU’s) as a matter of course. VPU’s are a place where prisoners deemed vulnerable from attack in normal prisons, such as ex-gang members, or paedophiles, are usually kept to keep them separate from those who may do them harm. The existence of Vulnerable Prisoner units often doesn’t ameliorate the discrimination prisoners experience and their existence definitely should not provide a meaningful excuse for tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within the wider prison.

If all the inmates in prisons were as pretty as these, I would probably be more enthusiastic about committing crimes

Life inside for LGBT prisoners can be tough, with LGBT prisoners often being the targets of verbal, physical and sexual assaults. Indeed, Human Rights Watch report that “sex slavery is common in prisons”, and LGBT people are more likely to be targeted – their non-normative sexuality or gender identity being presumed as ‘consent’ by their perpetrators. HIV rates on the inside are 15 times that of the outside world, and Hepatitis 20 times greater. Prison management often do not provide condoms to prisons; some prisons have a limited supply of condoms/dams that would effectively require a prisoner to ‘come out’ to staff to access. As such, all prisoners engaging in sexual activities, consensual or not, are put at risk.

When you look at it, it seems surprising that Stonewall, the LGB Equality Lobby, would award the HM Prisons service an award for equality and diversity, but, they did do just that. GALIPS, the LGBT Prison staff association won an award in 2008 and is on Stonewalls ‘Diversity Champions’ list.** This underpins the blind-sightedness of lobbying groups such as Stonewall, who clamour to praise an organisation for their LGBT rights record when that same organisation is at worst actively oppressing some of the vulnerable LGBT people, or at best deeply complicit in their oppression.

Jokes about "dropping the soap" may be funny, but represent a reality for some queer prisoners

However, its not all bad for LGBT prisoners, there are some organisations doing work to try and improve their situation. The most notable and progressive being the Bent Bars Project, an active but under-resourced collective of activists who aim to campaign and show solidarity with LGBTQ prisoners by  sharing resources, providing mutual support and drawing public attention to the struggles of queer and trans people behind bars. They also have a really amazing pen-pal scheme, which currently has about 600 people waiting to be fixed up with a pen pal on the outside. They are desperately in need of your support. Find out more about how to get involved here:

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Testimony from Yarl’s Wood.

Today I am fasting in solidarity with the 84 women from Yarls Wood detention centre who are hunger-striking over poor conditions. Below is the testimony of one of the women – Majirola Daniels – who came to Britain in 1987. What is remarkable is that she has been in the country longer than I have been alive, but suffers this treatment simply because she doesnt have the right papers. This is a disgrace.

Mojirola Daniels – Speaks Out

Full summary of the treatment I received at Yarl’s Wood Centre

I am one of the ladies on hunger strike at Yarl’s wood centre. On Monday 8th February 2010 around 11.45am GMT time, some group of women stood at the centre of a hall in the centre. We were protesting about the condition at the centre and the length of time we spend in here. An officer approached the group and informed us that an immigration official would like to see us all to discuss the issues we have raised.

The officer told us to follow him down the corridor to the immigration office. We proceed down to the end of the corridor. When we got to the very end, the officer asked that we should go inside the office 4 ladies at a time. They allowed 4 women to enter and told us that they will let 4 more in when those 4 inside gets out. One of the manager of the center (a lady manager called Viv Moore) came form the long corridor and asked us if we wanted to go back to our rooms. We told her we were just waiting to see the immigration. She said we are just wasting our time and that nothing is going to be achieved from our protest. She then asked the officers in the room to come with her and as soon as they got to the door, the last officer locked the door on us. They all stayed outside watching us through the door window.

We were singing and chanting for about one and a half hour since we have been locked up, some of the ladies went to the door and asked to go to the toilet. The officers including the manager Viv Moore told us that we are not allowed to leave where we are. Some of the ladies started getting sick and collapsing on the floor. There was one asthma lady, one sickle cell lady and two others who were choking on the floor. We were all hyperventilating and sweating. There was no door or window open and we were all complaining of lack of air. Around 2.00pm, some Chinese girls asked the officers to go to the toilet and they were told that no one is allowed to get out. The Chinese bend down at the corner and pee on the floor. Few minutes later others copied them and wee on the ground. The officers were all watching and still refused to open the door. Some people decided to call he emergency service for the ladies having breathing difficulty. The police and ambulance were asked for and they called us back to tell us they are outside of the center but are not allowed entry.

About an hour after the police called us back, some ladies realised that the window was only closed not locked. They opened the window and got out into the compound. Other ladies went through the window and joined them. More were trying to get out through the window but the officers had seen what was happening and had gone round the compound to meet them. They were carrying police guard shield and wearing heavy jacket. They crushed the ladies who were trying to get out with the guard shield and pushed them to the ground. Some women were crushed to the ground and beaten up. Two ladies were physically injured and bleeding. The windows were protected with the guard shield and the officers holding on to the guard shield. We were all hysterical and upset and were begging the officers not to hurt the women outside. The officers laughed at us as more officers joined them and formed a line to force the women outside in one small corner.

Some women needed to change their sanitary towel cause they were on their period but they had to throw bloodied towel next to where we were standing. We were all exhausted and demoralized by 5.00pm and we had no choice but to sit on the soiled floor. There was no chair or anything to lean on. There was a helicopter hovering above outside by this time but the women outside were not allowed to move from where they were being crushed. Some officers came outside to offer the officers chips and hot drinks. They were replaced by new officers every hour. Every next hour, new sets of officers comes to replace them from their position. The women locked up and the 19 women outside were not offered any food or drink. There was no heat in the small place where we were locked and we had to stand in the cold snow without sock and jacket and the officers will not allow them to have jacket. We tried to get them jackets and jumpers through the windows and the officers smashed the window on one of the ladies fingers. Her middle finger was damaged and her fingernail came off. There was blood everywhere and he officers still refused her medical treatment. We were not moved from where we have been detained until 7.30pm.

We were told to come out in pairs and we were searched with around a dozen officers watching us. We were offered food and medication after the search and then lead to our wings. We were about 70 which consist many Nigerians, Chinese, Jamaicans, Zimbabweans and some nationals I don’t remember. I have been traumatised and victimised because of this experience. I can never believe this can happen in the UK and I am still in shock.

Please publish and pass this story to who ever is interested.

You can use the personal information that I supply below.

Mojirola Daniels
Aged 45
Came to UK – December 1987
3 British children.

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the war on drugs is a war on women!

Ok, everyone here knows i have issues with prohibition of drugs; drug prohibition drives the lucrative market underground, into the hands of violent criminals and away from accountable organisations. Since the first UN Drug Convention in 1961, which was annexed into UK law, and then formed into the 1971 Misuse of drugs act, drug use has risen by 300%, and use of more dangerous drugs like heroin has risen by 1000%. The UK government spend £19 billion on drug motivated crime that is an unnecessary symptom of prohibition. (Transforms statistics). Indeed, prohibition of drugs maximises the harm they have on our society, by putting them in the hands of unregulated, unnaccountable dealers peddling substances of unknown purity, to anyone who they can persuade to take them.

At the NUS LGBT conference, I made a speech on drug law reform comparing the prohibition of drugs to the prohibition of that stalwart of feminism, abortion. Both have similar consequences, by putting the practice underground, it causes people to accept more dangerous services in desperation, and users of those services face similar outcasting from their communities, and often find themselves disenfranchised for making a decision about what to do with their own bodies. After making this speech, I was called ‘appalling’ by another delegate for making this comparison.

This got me thinking, how else does the prohibition of drugs oppress women?

Firstly, one of the more obvious effects of drug prohibition on women, the forcing of them into sex work. In 1999, the number of women prostitutes numbered 80,000, this number is estmated to be much higher now. 95% *of those women have a problematic drugs habit, 78% of them are heroin addicts and the number of crack addicts among prostitutes are growing fast. (Home office figures). Im sure you all know, prostitution is dangerous work. More than half of UK women in prostitution have been raped and/or seriously sexually assaulted. At least three quarters have been physically assaulted. 68% of women in prostitution meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the same range as torture victims and combat veterans undergoing treatment (Ramsey et al 1993). The mortality rate for women in prostitution in London suffer is 12 times the national average (Home Office 2004a). The most tragic thing here is that the problem of women entering prostitution to feed a drug habit is a symptom of our governments prohibition laws, and thus completely unnecessary. In a system of substance control and regulation, quality controlled heroin/other hard drugs could be prescribed to addicts, making the need to engage in sex work to pay dealers go away. Not only would this benefit the women involved, but a Swiss study of 1300 heroin addicts, showed that prescribing heroin to addicts caused crimes in the test areas to drop by 60 per cent since it began in 1994 (Swiss Federal Office of Public Health).

A quick glance of Home Office figures show that 25.3% of white women and 51.3% of black and minority ethic women are in prison because of non-violent drug offences (dont get me started on why the drug war is racist!). According to the Ministry of Justice, the latest figures (from 2 days ago, no less)show that 4299 females/women are staying at her majesty’s pleasure. According to ‘Women in Prison’, one of the biggest complants by women prisoners is the way the prison system is structured; women are often sent to large prisons away from their families.And, in the words of one woman: ” Many women are thrown out of prison without anywhere to live, with no job, only £46 in their pocket and no real means of survival. If they put you in a hostel and you are an addict, it is usually full of drugs and alcohol, so you have no chance of going straight. There is little or no support for you outside, so the government has just thrown all the money it cost to put you in prison down a hole, as those who are repeat offenders have little chance of surviving outside”.

Having a stance of prohibition causes people to be afraid of asking for help if they need it, because of fear of legal consequences for doing so. This affects women disproportionately, as often they are primary care givers to children and other relatives and often dont ask for help for fear of having them removed from them. 12-step programmes like Narcotics Anonymous don’t usually take any figures on gender, but basic observational evidence suggest that women are massively underepresented in NA, and, to a lesser extent in Alcoholics Anonymous – probably due to alcohols more legal, and therfore more ‘acceptable’ status, as well as it being a less harmful drug than heroin and crack in most cases – . This in turn affects their chances of recovery (already so low with only 1 in 10 staying clean for 5 years or more for addicts entering the programme), as women need to talk openly about the context of their problematic drug use, often in the presence of other women as that context is so often gender based. Without a decent network of other women addicts to draw support from, the chances of recovery can be very low indeed.

The UK drug treatment scene is currently geared up for an outdated idea that most problematic drug users are heroin using men, which has lead to a national shortage of female/women drug workers, women only rehab centres, women only open prisons, and other services. At the moment, the government is considering a £1 million investment into furthuring these services, which is way too little.

One of the reasons why women who have a problematic drug use issue dont ‘pop-up’ on the radar as often as they statisitcally should, is that they often have to engage in another, less obvious, type of sex work to feed their habit. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women (especially younger, prettier women) end up with dealer boyfriends, and with having a regular supply, dont enter the realm of ‘officialdom’ in terms of stats for accessing services. However, just like 1950’s men holding the pursestrings from their housewives, these dealers can often control when, where, and what type of drugs these women take, and how often they take them. Now, as you can probably imagine, dealers arent necessarily the nicest of people and there are a surprising amount of stories of dealers coercing women into having sex with them in return for their next fix. Taking drugs out of the hands of dealers by controling and regulating the market would stop these women being exploited.

When it comes to taking drugs, women have always been seen to be cautious and men as reckless, and so drug using is more acceptable for men in this male dominated culture. Male establishment still divides women into good girls and bad girls, and drug-using women are always the latter. Women often have more to loose as a result of taking drugs (and the drug war) and have a higher rate of being disowned from their families than drug using men.

So, in short, not only does the system of prohibition force women needlessly into dangerous prostitution, but our societies patriarchal bias means that women face discrimination every step of the way, having a higher chance of disownment, having a rougher time in prison, and, when they get out, not being able to access the services they need to stay (or indeed, get) clean. I think its time that the problem of drug prohibition is placed squarely on the feminist agenda, and i think its time for a real feminist campaign against the oppression of women, against patriarchal bias, and against prohibition.

*This figure is disputed by the English collective of Prostitutes. Other studies has placed the figure between 7o- and 98%. Anyhow, the figure is high.