By ERWIN FREED
On May 8, CT Bail Fund called a rally outside of York Correctional Institute, a women’s prison in Niantic, Conn. Eleven other groups were listed as co-sponsors on the events facebook page and around 40 people showed up in solidarity. The rally was called in conjunction with the Bail Fund’s successful effort to collect enough money to release 30 women from York in time for Mothers’ Day.
Speakers included formerly incarcerated women, many of whom served time at York, the only women’s correctional facility in Connecticut. Conditions in the institute are horrible; it was repeatedly called a “hellhole.” Guards are notorious for sexually assaulting inmates, showing the women “dick pics,” forcing them to show their breasts, and worse. One speaker blamed correctional officers for multiple womens’ deaths behind the prison’s walls, saying, “when I was in [York], women died because of the medical neglect of the COs” especially due to detoxing.
Nicole Kennedy, who was released on May 7 thanks to the Bail Fund, described how when she first arrived at the prison, she and a group of other women were kept in a single room for seven days for “medical lockup.” She was arrested on a three-year-old warrant and worries that the state will revoke her bond. Another woman spoke about how she was forced to give birth shackled to the hospital bed, a practice that was recently made illegal in the state but surely remains in the arsenal of tools of torture for COs.
Protesters took a moment of silence for women who have died behind York’s walls. We also were told the story of “Jane Doe,” a young transgender woman who was put in solitary confinement at York for three months in 2014, despite being 16 years old at the time and never having been convicted or even charged with a crime.
The extreme terror of U.S. prisons and police serves to maintain class dominance for capitalists in a lot of different ways. As Elizabeth Hinton argues in her recent book, “From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime,” modern-day mass incarceration is rooted in the “Great Society” social programs of the LBJ era. Even at their most “radical,” American capitalists tied up things like community centers, jobs programs, and public housing projects with an increasing police presence in Black and working-class communities. Community centers were forced to increase “community engagement” with the police. The biggest “job programs” of them all were created by the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965 and the war in Vietnam, and police were stationed in the new, segregated, projects at all hours of the day.
At the protest, a speaker revealed that York has been illegally allowing ICE agents into the facility, where they question incarcerated women without identifying themselves as ICE. The practice is similar to undercover ICE agents’ illegally picking up undocumented people at the federal courthouse in Hartford.
One of the fastest growing sections of the prison-industrial complex has been immigrant detention centers, where families are often separated and people are held in deplorable conditions for months without trial. Virtually all detained undocumented people are effectively refugees from the violence of U.S. imperialism.
A large number of the women in York, and incarcerated people in general, are in prison simply because they are too poor to afford bail. Over one-third of these women at York should be presumed innocent. Many women are victims of sexual and domestic abuse and are incarcerated for defending themselves from their abusers.
The name Marissa Alexander was mentioned among others. Marissa was sentenced to 20 years after shooting off a warning shot when her abusive ex-husband threatened to kill her. This was in Florida, a state with stand-your-ground gun laws. She ended up spending three years behind bars.
Today, mass incarceration is an industry with revenues of well over $65 billion. At any given moment, more than 2 million people, disproportionately working-class people of color and LGBTQ+ folks, are behind bars. The protesters who gathered outside York on May 8 called for the immediate release of all the women in the facility, including those with life sentences.