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Announcement :: Human Rights
Why Building Women's Jails in Every County is a Bad Idea
08 Mar 2006
Prisoner panel recommendations are socially, fiscally irresponsible. Community Coalition opposes new jails; demands housing, healthcare and human rights

On International Women's Day, Wednesday March 8th, in the House Members Lounge, 10:30AM. To counter the panel's anti-woman, anti-human rights assumptions, members and allies of the Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC) were on hand to distribute copies of its recently released paper “Why Women Are Not Best Served By Incarceration” ( The Female Offender Review Panel, Governors Commission on Corrections Reform (GCCR) presented to the public it's findings and offered it's recommendations for women trapped by poverty, racism and the criminal justice system.
In a scathing critique of mass incarceration as a solution to social problems, the SHaRC paper refutes arguments put forth by legislators, prison bureaucrats and reformers, that ever more jails are necessary. It offers a deeper analysis and more comprehensive solutions for public health and safety issues, suggesting that true public safety will only come when resources are allocated, and policies implemented, that provide for basic human rights.

“What we have found is that policy makers and prison reformers really think new jails are the way to go. Underlying this is the belief that incarceration works and that to win office one must be 'tough on crime'. This isn't even smart on crime. When all the factors are accounted for--the direct harm caused to the individuals and families, the inefficacy of coercion, and the per year cost rising to $60 or $65,000 for the new jails, it doesn't make sense. The arguments being used to lobby for these budget busters—overcrowding, the expressed concern for women to be near family, and the abuse allowed toward women in prison—just don't hold water. What SHaRC offers are proven solutions that are far more cost effective, get women, and men, back in their communities and home with their kids, and stop us from violating human rights”, states Out Now organizer and SHaRC member Holly Richardson. Funding to provide for community needs will come from the savings realized by a moratorium on jail and prison expansion.

Speaking about the Governor's Panel report, Susan Mortimer, Community Church of Boston and SHaRC member states, “It is dismaying, in that it is a rehash of many other studies contracted for over years. It is self serving, unimaginative and uninspired. The voices of former prisoners and the grassroots community are not reflected. While the Panel may have consulted with some prisoners, if the choice is county jail or state prison, then of course the women will choose county jail. We think we have a better plan.” Arise organizer Iris Wallace adds, “How about offering the in-community alternatives that were recommended by Governor's Panelist Kate De Cou back in 1996? Women will make better strides having the support we need in our communities and homes, and our kids will be much better off. What we need are basic things that everyone has a right to, such as homes, medical care, education, an end to the CORI and quality job opportunities.”

The SHaRC paper cites racist and failed Drug War policy as the primary contributor to overcrowding. “ assessments of the War on Drugs point to failure, release to in-community sentences with drug treatment options, of low level, non-violent offenders--as many as 70% of all federal, state and local prisoners, male and female, will further reduce overcrowding. This would immediately free space in which to create gender safety for all and provide room for programs for women.”

Hampden County Sheriff Michael J. Ashe, who did not comment last week on the recent death of a woman in his custody, also receives deserved criticism. “SHaRC finds the [... ] current argument for separation of men and women by building more jails and prisons to be disingenuous and self serving. The reality is that women have been in the men's jails for decades.... Now the sheriff says the women need to have their own “independent, freestanding, autonomous” facility because of deplorable conditions. SHaRC would like to know, since the Hampden County Sheriff's Department allowed for the abuse of women for a decade at the Ludlow jail; why was nothing done during that time to bring it to a halt?”

SHaRC's position offers a clear antidote to ineffective criminal justice policies.

Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition and Jail/Prison Moratorium Endorsers:

American Civil Liberties Union – Massachusetts (Moratorium Endorser) . American Friends Service Committee - National . American Friends Service Committee - NE Region . American Friends Service Committee - Western MA . Felix Arroyo, Boston City Council . ARISE for Social Justice . BAGLY . Center for Popular Economics . Chuck Turner, Boston City Council . Citizens for Participation in Political Action . Community Change, Inc. – Boston . Community Church of Boston . Connecticut River Valley Green-Rainbow Party . Criminal Justice Institute, Harvard School of Law (Moratorium Endorser) . Critical Resistance . Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts . Efficacy . Freedom Center . Grammas for Ganja . Holyoke Girls, Inc. . Jericho – Boston . Peter Kocot, 1st Hampshire District Rep. (Moratorium Endorser) . Mass. Welfare Rights Union . Out Now . Paloma House . Prison Book Program – Quincy . Prison Book Project – Western MA . Root 9 Collective . Springfield Catholic Workers . STEPServices . Survivors Inc. . Through Barbed Wire . Tom Mooney Local Socialist Party USA . UAW Local 2322 . Western Massachusetts International Action Center/Troops Out Now . Women's International League for Peace and Freedom - Boston

Contact: Holly Richardson
Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC)
(413) 348-8234
See also:

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Re: Why Building Women's Jails in Every County is a Bad Idea
08 Mar 2006
Do what you will with this information

Women Behind Bars: Issues Confronting Incarcerated Women Symposium

Presented By: The New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement

Registration is free

Register at:

Where: Radisson Hotel 200 Stuart Street, Boston, Massachusetts

When: March 30, 2006 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Luncheon: Maggiano’s Little Italy (4 Columbus Avenue, Boston): Price: $20.00

Featured speakers:

Christina Rathbone (keynote), author of A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars

Kathleen Dennehy, Massachusetts Commissioner of Correction

Andrea Cabral, Suffolk County Sheriff

Lynn Bissonnette, Superintendent, MCI-Framingham

Hon. Margaret S. Fearey, Middlesex Juvenile Court

Hon. Peter C. DiGangi, Probate & Family Court

And many more!!

Questions about this item? Please contact Jennifer Bernstein by email at nesljournal (at) or by phone at (617) 422-7328.
Black women & self-defense: A look back at the Joann Little case
11 Mar 2006
Black women & self-defense
A look back at the Joann Little case
By Minnie Bruce Pratt
Published Mar 9, 2006 8:20 PM

The most basic demand of women’s liberation is the right of every woman to decide the destiny of her own life and body. This includes the right to defend herself against rape and the right to decide whether or not she will bear children.


Joann Little, right, at protest in
Richmond, Va., in June 1975.
WW photo

Today in the U.S. there is an all-out attack on these rights led by a political right-wing in the service of ruling class interests. A South Dakota bill signed into law on March 6 that outlaws abortion in the state, even for victims of rape and incest, is the latest blow.

But one little-known struggle waged in the U.S. South gives us an historic lesson in how a fightback for women can be waged under the most difficult circumstances—and how a communist party can play a key role in advancing women’s liberation in the context of national liberation and working-class struggle.

Boston, March 1978.
WW photo

Double oppression

In August 1975, Joann Little, a 20-year-old African American woman, fled her jail cell in Beaufort, N.C., after killing the white deputy sheriff who had attempted to rape her. Little used the jailer’s ice-pick weapon against him in her desperate struggle to resist. When Little surrendered to auth orities, citing self-defense, she was arrested and put on trial for murder.

The historic campaign that saved Little from execution or life in prison was the first successful U.S. struggle to assert the right of African-American women to self-defense against white rapists.


Wade County courthouse, Raleigh, N.C.,
July 1975.
WW photo: G. Dunkel

Only once before in the U.S. had a national struggle been waged for this right in the case of a specific woman. It started in 1944 in Alabama, after Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old African-American woman, was abducted by six white men, gang-raped and grievously injured. Local Com munist Party organizers in Birming ham launched a campaign to bring the assai lants to trial. Committees in her support were set up in 43 states, with eminent mem bers such as African American historian W.E.B. Du Bois, educator Charlotte Hawkins Brown and poet Countee Cullen, as well as white Southern anti-racist writer Lillian Smith. (Earl Conrad and Eugene Gordon, “Equal Justice under the Law,” 1946)

The struggle to prosecute Taylor’s rapists was ultimately unsuccessful. But it was courageously waged in a still-segregated South, where the police, the elected officials, and representatives of the judicial system were all white and all part of an edifice of state power first erected during slavery for the super-exploitation and oppression of African-American people by a white slave-owning class.

This was the system still in place in rural North Carolina on the night Joann Little defended herself. Though legal segregation in the South had been challenged and defeated through mass struggle, white supremacy remained the order of state rule in much of the region.

Therefore, African American women still experienced crushing double oppression in full force. Slave owners had not just held African-American women as property and exploited their labor as workers. The owners had used the women’s ability to reproduce as a source of profit, forcing them to bear children and then selling their children into slavery.

As a Workers World editorial on Joann Little’s struggle stated: “Southern slave holders considered rape one of the rights of ownership, and that attitude prevails in the minds of white racists today. All Joann Little did was to protect her body and her life. She is not a criminal. The crime is that she is being tried at all.” (WW, June 11, 1975)

The national and international context in 1975 was very dif ferent from that during the 1940s struggle for Recy Taylor. The Vietnam ese people, led by communists, were on the verge of victory against the U.S. imperialist war. Both women’s liberation and lesbian and gay liberation were in full bloom as movements, with 1975 designated as the first International Women’s Year by the UN.

In an era of high unemployment, 60,000 marched in Washington for “Jobs for All.” Native nations, including the Meno minee in Wisconsin and the Seneca in Buffalo, were waging an intense struggle for land rights. Prisoners throughout the U.S. were organizing against repression, including the Atmore-Holman Bro thers in Alabama. One rebellion took place in the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women shortly after Little was released on bail. Women there battled club-wielding guards who attacked them as they protested the “atrocious conditions” in the prison sweatshop laundries. (Workers World, June 27, 1985)

‘My life is in the hands of the people’

The Prisoner Solidarity Committee (PSC), a mass unit of Workers World Party, played a key role in winning Joann Little’s freedom. It was led by the Norfolk, Va., branch of WWP, which helped to esta blish the Joann Little Defense Committee.

The PSC organized rallies, marches, vigils, leafleting and petitioning in Little’s defense nationwide in cities including Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleve land, Detroit, Durham, N.C., Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Rochester, N.Y., and New York City. A huge community forum in Wash ing ton, D.C., connected the struggle of Little and the Wilmington (N.C.) Ten, nine Black men and one white woman who had been arrested for self-defense against attacks by armed Ku Klux Klan members and local police. (Workers World, June 6, 1975)

In Philadelphia, WWP’s youth arm, Youth Against War and Fascism (YAWF), collected 2,000 signatures on a petition demanding an immediate end to Little’s prosecution and supporting “the right of women and prisoners to defend themselves against sexual attacks and physical abuse.”

At a Richmond, Va., march, the Gay Cau cus of YAWF carried a banner: “Gay people demand: Free Joann Little! Free all political prisoners!” Joan Butler, a founding member of Richmond YAWF, said, “Speak ing as a white woman, I know that the rape laws are not for my protection. They are an instrument of the ruling class designed to intimidate and terrorize the Black community.” (Workers World, July 11, 1975)

The Winston-Salem, N.C., branch of the Black Panther Party was staunch in its defense of Little and in connecting the issue of self-defense to international strug gles. Political Affairs Director Larry Little said: “It’s Richard Nixon who should be in jail for the murder of the Vietnamese people.”

A moving statement of support came from Prisoners Against Rape, a group with a membership of prisoners and ex-prisoners convicted of rape, and women active in feminist groups. They said: “[We know] that rape serves to perpetuate male dominance, female submission and stereotype myths, which force women to comply with existing social, political, and sexist institutions.... Unite to give power to oppres sed people! Down with sexism! Free sister Jo ann Little!” (Workers World, Jan. 10, 1975)

After the Center for Constitutional Rights documented “overwhelming racial prejudice and presumption of guilt in a 23-county area in Eastern North Carolina,” Little’s trial was moved to Raleigh, the capital. One of the prosecutors for the state had previously defended the Ku Klux Klan.

But Little herself said, “My life is not in the hands of the court. My life is in the hands of the people.” Over a thousand people demonstrated during the trial outside the courthouse. And on Aug. 22, 1975, the people prevailed as a jury declared Joann Little “Not guilty!” Little’s defense lawyer, Karen Galloway, said, “Because of the issues in this case of racism and sexism, we knew we had to take Joann’s case to the people and the people freed her....” (Workers World, Aug. 22, 1975)

Monica Moorehead, a leader of Nor folk’s Prisoners Solidarity Committee in 1975 and now a member of WWP’s Secre tariat, says that the struggle to free Joann Little has relevance for women’s liberation today: “One of the most important lessons of the Joann Little case that is applicable now is that extending working class solidarity to the most oppressed is not an act of charity but holds the key to building an effective fightback movement to liberate our entire class from all forms of bigotry and exploitation by the bosses. Every leaf let, every slogan and every demonstration not only demanded that the murder charges be dropped against our heroic sister Joann, but also that the walls of the prisons be torn down. Because, just as they were then, prisons still remain concentration camps for the poor and oppressed. It is important to politically generalize every individual crime against humanity under capitalism, whether it’s Joann Little or the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners.”

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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Re: Why Building Women's Jails in Every County is a Bad Idea
24 Apr 2006
Good work men ! good luck!
04 Jun 2006
Cool!.. Nice work...
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