September 18, 2019 1:20 am
On July 31, 2018, Diana Sanchez gave birth alone in her cell in the Denver County Jail. Despite having notified the deputies and nurses at least eight times that she was in labor, and screaming out in pain, no one even called an ambulance. Instead, a call was placed for a non-emergency van to transport her to the hospital once all the jail’s new bookings were processed for the day.
Diana endured more than five hours of labor in her cell. When her water broke, the jail staff simply slipped a single thin absorbent pad under her cell door. With no other options, Diana spread out the pad on her cot and struggled to get one leg free of her pants before she delivered the baby herself, just feet from the toilet. Throughout the course of her labor, three deputies and two nurses watched on and off without ever intervening. When Diana was finally taken to the hospital after delivering her son, doctors told her she could have bled to death.
Diana’s story recently resurfaced in the news due to a lawsuit she filed against the city and county of Denver, Denver Health Medical Center, and several individuals. Intense media scrutiny forced Denver County Jail to add a policy “to ensure that pregnant inmates who are in any stage of labor are now transported immediately to the hospital.” However, the Sheriff Department cleared all its deputies of wrongdoing in Sanchez’ case. According to a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, their own internal investigation concluded that deputies “took the appropriate actions under the circumstances and followed the relevant policies and procedures.”
In other words, they do not believe that Sanchez, in the midst of birthing, required anything more than a pad slipped under the door. While this admission is horrifying, it is an adequate representation of how the U.S. justice system views inmates under its care. Diana’s experience, though shocking, is not isolated. Similar cases can be found in jails and prisons across the country.
A report from In These Times details a number of horrific accounts from women who suffered miscarriages while incarcerated.
Bridgette Gibbs who, “despite telling staff of her history of miscarriages,” received no medical attention during two months of pregnancy at the Westchester County, NY, jail. Without a single prior exam, Gibbs went into labor early in her second trimester. Before being taken to the hospital, Gibbs was strip-searched and shackled at the hands, waist and ankles. She gave birth to twins handcuffed to the bed, and was still handcuffed hours later when she learned that her premature newborns had died. The hospital told her that the early labor was the result of a “treatable infection.”
The report revealed that another incarcerated young woman began experiencing extreme pain and knew something was seriously wrong with her pregnancy. Despite her pleas, the jail doctor did not take her seriously. The woman eventually was taken to the emergency room, where it was discovered her fetus had died previously, and she had to deliver it. Women’s reproductive health is systematically neglected in prisons across the country.
It is no secret that quality prenatal care and skilled medical care during childbirth are critical. The U.S. ranks 46th in the world for maternal mortality rates, and the stats are even worse for poor women and women of color. If a woman cannot afford or access prenatal care, her risk of pregnancy-related death jumps to 3-4 times the normal rate. In prison, where even basic healthcare is virtually nonexistent, quality and consistent prenatal care can be extremely difficult to access. Incarcerated women also commonly suffer from poor quality diets and high-stress conditions including invasive strip searches and prolonged solitary confinement–conditions that put pregnant women and their babies at increased risk.
Reproductive health care in prisons is becoming increasingly important as the prison population, and population of incarcerated women, continues to explode. The number of women in prisons has increased nearly tenfold in the past 40 years, and currently outpaces the growth of men in the prison system. Today, the United States is home to only 4 percent of the world’s women, but holds nearly 30 percent of the world’s female prisoners. Nonetheless, the justice system is paying virtually no attention to the special needs of incarcerated pregnant women. There is no data on how many pregnant women are incarcerated in the country and no database tasked with systematically tracking their care. While prisons are constitutionally mandated to provide adequate health care, the federal government has set zero mandatory standards or reporting requirements and maintains no oversight over the care of prisoners.
This systematic neglect of pregnant prisoners is a matter of health equity. Incarcerated pregnant women are at a juncture where racism, misogyny, reproductive justice, and mass incarceration converge. The racist U.S. criminal legal system incarcerates Black women at twice the rate of white women. Nearly half of the women incarcerated in the United States are in local or county jails, and of that number, 60 percent, or some 72,000 women, have not been convicted of a crime but are waiting to stand trial. The main reason for having to await trial inside a jail is being unable to afford bail. Uncounted in these figures are the thousands more women detained without conviction by ICE, who are also being horribly mistreated.
Their immense suffering is a clear sign that this system is bankrupt. While policy changes are urgently needed to improve the welfare of these women and their babies right now, policy reforms can only go so far. The reality is that prisons under capitalism can never be just institutions.
Sanchez’ own story is evidence of this reality. She ended up in prison pregnant on a parole violation for an earlier conviction of identity fraud when she cashed a check made out to her sister. She suffered deeply and was caught in a negligent brutal system for the crime of being poor, really.
We need a new system–a socialist system–in which women, children, and all people have access to free and quality healthcare. A socialist system would have entirely different institutions oriented towards rehabilitation and restorative justice. Under this system, Diana Sanchez wouldn’t have been in prison in the first place. She was there for violating probation, which she was on for writing a bad check. Regardless of her actions, as a human being she would have access to quality health care, and any person who tried to deny it–like the sick cops inside the Denver County Jail–would be the ones facing prosecution.
July 16, 2019 1:34 am
On July 6, the FBI and NYPD Crimes Against Children Task Force once again arrested billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein at Teterboro airport in New Jersey. Epstein was indicted on federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, stemming from accusations dating to 2002-2005. The scandal has since brought down Trump’s Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, who helped hide Epstein’s crimes more than ten years ago in his role as U.S. Attorney in Florida.
Police simultaneously raided his $77 million New York City townhouse and found thousands of pornographic images of children.
Epstein’s crimes go back as far back as the 1990s−and possibly even further. On July 9, yet another victim− Maria Farmer− spoke out against Epstein in an affidavit in a New York federal court. She stated she was sexually assaulted, and her then-15-year-old sister molested by Epstein and his accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, in 1996.
In 2005, a 14-year old girl and her parents claimed that the billionaire molested her at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida. Reports suggest Epstein’s victim count is in the hundreds.
Epstein created a vile network for himself and his depraved, wealthy associates to sexually traffic and exploit children. Girls were selected from middle and high schools near Palm Beach−but also in other locations, such as Manhattan, New Mexico and in the Caribbean.
The 2007 FBI’s 53-paged federal indictment that was drafted but never filed charging Epstein with sex crimes could have put him in federal prison for life. It didn’t.
Instead Epstein was assigned, per his request, to a private wing of the palm Beach county prison. He was even allowed to hire his own personal security team. During his brief 13 month sentence, he didn’t spend much time in his cell either−he was granted the privilege to leave for 12 hours a day, six days a week to conduct business at his Palm Beach office. After 13 months serving a cozy sentence, Epstein was released in 2009.
This is especially astonishing since Florida is one of the strictest states when it comes to sex offender laws.
Alexander Acosta, then a U.S. attorney in Florida, worked tirelessly to conceal Epstein’s indictment from the press and to secure him a sweetheart deal−a non-prosecution agreement that was sealed to hide the full range of Epstein’s crimes. The deal secured for Epstein was a guilty plea to only two prostitution charges in state court− which is absurd since the victims were children unable to give their consent.
Furthermore, Epstein’s four accomplices identified in his indictment were granted immunity thanks to Acosta’s agreement. Despite Acosta’s denial at a recent news conference of lenient treatment, e-mails from Acosta’s office reveal his eagerness to hide the indictment from the press. Acosta gave Epstein this sweetheart deal without even notifying the 36 victims identified in a federal investigation. In February, a federal judge ruled that omission was a violation of the law.
Acosta, before his own downfall, not only refused to apologize to Epstein’s victims but blamed them. At the same press conference, the now former U.S. Labor Secretary blamed Epstein’s light sentencing on the victims for not coming forward sooner. Responding to a reporter’s question of what Acosta would say to the victims, he said hollowly,
“The message is you need to come forward. I heard this morning that another victim came forward and made horrendous, horrendous allegations, allegations that should never happen to any woman, much less a young girl. And as victims come forward, these cases can be brought and they can be brought by the federal government, they can be brought by state attorneys, and they will be brought.”
Acosta’s cover-up was not simply a favor for a billionaire, but a move to protect the powerful statesmen and members of the ruling class who might be implicated in an open trial of Epstein for his crimes.
Epstein has extensive political and corporate connections to a myriad of bipartisan and ultra-rich figures – including President Donald Trump, who said of Epstein in 2002 “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy … He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it—Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Epstein also has ties to former Democratic President Bill Clinton, U.K.’s Prince Andrew and numerous other elites including CEOs, bankers, and important media conglomerates. Epstein’s vast web of elite connections enabled the billionaire pedophile to carry out his sex crimes against children for decades.
The victims have been perpetually mistreated. The impact of covering up Epstein’s crimes to protect his powerful enablers is a true miscarriage of justice that amplifies the trauma of Epstein’s many victims−many of whom are now in their 20s and 30s. There have already been reports about some of the victims being incarcerated, going homeless and even overdosing.
Many of the girls came from disadvantaged and poverty-stricken backgrounds; some of the girls had been in foster care, experienced homelessness or been runaways.
A Miami Herald piece by Julie K. Brown stated,
“Most of the girls came from disadvantaged families, single-parent homes or foster care. Some had experienced troubles that belied their ages: They had parents and friends who committed suicide; mothers abused by husbands and boyfriends; fathers who molested and beat them. One girl had watched her stepfather strangle her 8-year-old stepbrother, according to court records obtained by the Herald. Many of the girls were one step away from homelessness.”
The Epstein case exposes the control that the ruling billionaire class holds in society and the moral bankruptcy of capitalism—as well as a reminder that the U.S. justice system exists to serve the rich and powerful at the cost of silencing women and girls who have been victimized by powerful, wealthy men. For working people and the disadvantaged, the American justice system does not afford the same leniency that Epstein received. Indeed, working class people are too often thrown into jail for longer sentences for even lesser crimes−especially crimes of poverty and survival. A justice system balanced in favor of the rich, lacking accountability for most crimes against women but entirely for the wealthy, is not an aberration but an embedded feature of the capitalist system. Epstein used his status to put young girls in a vulnerable position with no fear of the legal consequences.
Epstein’s crimes—which occurred decades before the #MeToo movement—highlight the importance of that movement today. Epstein’s new charges are a result of not only the recent allegations but also the emergence of this new movement. The #MeToo movement has since empowered women and young girls to speak out and organize against the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault−and demand accountability for the bosses, landlords and other rich and powerful men preying on women and girls. Under capitalism and the patriarchy, sexual assault and rape are endemic because powerful men are encouraged to perceive women as property. The capitalist system is innately a violent, misogynistic one which feeds off women’s oppression. Sexual assault and rape are systemic problems embedded in this system because these are the means used to sustain women’s oppression. Solving these systemic problems of sexual assault and rape can only be done by changing the system itself. Working class women are standing up to this innately sexist system and fighting for a socialist one in which equality is one of its main foundations.
The right wing campaign to overturn Roe v Wade has reached a critical moment. Having successfully restricted access to abortion, reactionary forces are preparing legal challenges to Roe V Wade itself, banking on a rightward turn in the courts. The history of the struggle for reproductive rights, and for reproductive justice in this country is rich and instructive for the current period. Breaking the Chains Vol 4 No. 2, entitled “Not a Moral Issue,” articulates a Marxist understanding of reproductive rights and a socialist feminist perspective toward building the movement needed to defend Roe v Wade and expand the struggle for women’s liberation.
This issue includes:
The right wing campaign against reproductive rights
Racism and Reproductive Rights
Reproductive rights under socialism
A Marxist analysis of women’s oppression and reproductive rights
An interview with YellowHammer Fund exec dir. Amanda Reyes