As those who followed the 4 year long Statewide Harm
Reduction Coalition (SHaRC) effort to stop construction of the Chicopee
women's jail are aware, irrefutable, fact-based arguments in opposition to
further jail construction  went unheeded by Governor Romney.
During the time leading up to construction, and since then,
it has come to our attention that Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe has
been the source of 'information' based on faulty logic, with which he
appears to have persuaded elected officials and representatives of
organizations seeking reform. Merely reforming the criminal justice
system will only continue to support a government institution which
ruins the lives of the people it purports to protect, in this case,
the women, mothers and children who will be irreparably damaged by the
states 'justice' system. In the following position paper we will refute,
with fact, logic and common sense, the faulty claims of Hampden County
Sheriff Michael Ashe, and others.
For Justice and Peace,
WHY WOMEN ARE NOT BEST SERVED BY INCARCERATION
A Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition Position Paper
Regarding Overcrowding, Proximity to Family and Support, a Place of Their Own
Issues are important for feminists, both because individual women are being oppressed
by prison and, in a wider context, because the judicial/prison system exists to
support the larger power structure that oppresses us all."
3 main arguments put forth to support the construction of women-specific
jails (with the most recent scenario being in relation to the Chicopee
Issues of overcrowding;
Proximity to family and support; and
need to provide women with “a place of their own” to alleviate the
conditions they experience inside—which appears, given the solution
offered, to refer
only to harassment of women prisoners by male prisoners.
"The state women's facilities are so overcrowded and the women so far from home that
many women would prefer new construction to be closer to their
kids and out of a medium security state prison."
Simply put, the best way to address overcrowding is to depopulate the
jails, and the best way to address women being incarcerated too far from
home is not to incarcerate us in the first place.
The most effective management response to prison overcrowding is
to stop sending women to jail, who could and should remain in our
communities. This is commonly referred to as “alternatives to
incarceration”. According to Assistant Superintendent of the Hampden County
Correctional Center (HCCC), Kate DeCou (and others) ,
49.9% of the women sentenced at HCCC are appropriate for an intermediate
sentence (or, an “alternative”, in-community sentence). For example, it is
not unusual for there to be as many as 88 women sentenced at HCCC. Take away
49.9% and that leaves 44 women using bed space. We suddenly are not
Additionally, as assessments of the War on Drugs point to
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.
TO FAMILY AND SUPPORT
Department of Corrections female offender review panel is recommending that
women be returned to the counties to be closer to kids, attorneys and
Building a local jail will not solve problems for women and
children relating to infrequent visits. For example, it is said that the
proposed Chicopee women's jail will allow women to have visits with their
children and family members, due to its proximity to Springfield. This will
only be true for families who have sufficient funds and access to
transportation, since women incarcerated will be from all 4 counties in
Western Mass: Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire. Transportation
from Franklin and Berkshire Counties will be no easier than currently for
families of women incarcerated in either Ludlow or Framingham. Women may
lose their children to the Department of Social Services (DSS) due to
incarceration, and DSS isn't going to transport children to Chicopee any
more often than they already do to Ludlow or Framingham. We need to paint
the whole picture.
No matter how good or near family and support are, this will
ultimately do little to alleviate the permanent harms caused by
incarceration. Once incarcerated, women, and men, face obstacles to a
successful return to society, starting with a lack of rehabilitative
programs. And once they are out they are barred from assistance for housing,
education, and employment, all of which are essential in getting up on ones
feet. For many, Post Incarceration Syndrome is a debilitating reality.  Children experience trauma as well and the chance that they will enter
the justice system is more than six times higher than families of
non-incarcerated parents. 
OF THEIR OWN
the women's population better”
It wasn't so long ago, less than 2 years in fact, that the
Hampden County Sheriff's department was claiming overcrowded conditions as
the primary reason for the proposed new women's jail in Chicopee. This is no
longer the Sheriff's claim. In a newspaper article printed in the
Springfield Republican, on April 23, 2005, Sheriff Michael Ashe stated,
"It's not an issue of numbers. It's about men outnumbering women inmates 9
to 1. It's not a situation we should settle for." He adds, "Its not good
common sense. We are not building a new regional facility as a result of
overcrowding but to serve the women's population better."
Well Sheriff Ashe, we women will be best served by remaining in
our communities, and having what we need (and have a human right to.) We
need affordable housing, food, job opportunities, childcare, quality
education for our children (to prevent them from winding up in the criminal
justice system) and health care, including non-punitive, community-based
drug treatment opportunities.
The majority of offenses for which women are charged are crimes
of poverty and/or self-defense from impending domestic violence, often from
a male partner. Women mainly suffer from issues of drug addiction and trauma
(societal—including racism, sexism, classism, homophobia/trans-phobia,
able-ism, etc, as well as personal traumatic experiences from childhood). If
we truly wish to build healthy communities, we will demand investments to
provide people with basic human needs, rather than promoting punishment.
Yes, we agree, we must be close to our children in order to raise healthy
families, therefore, leave us in our communities.
"Shouldn't there be separate facilities for men and women?"
SHaRC finds the corrections community's 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. Women are in all the men's jails. Women have been
in the Ludlow jail for a decade. Now the sheriff says the women need to have
their own “independent, freestanding, autonomous” facility because of
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? On behalf of
all the women who passed through the Ludlow jail during the past 10 years
and those who are currently confined, we condemn the Hampden County
Sheriff's department for not taking action and for exploiting the publics
preference for fairness toward women. They have callously used the
deplorable conditions to justify their insupportable case for the Chicopee
Actions that should have been and must still been taken are as
"intermediate sanctions" as per Kate De Cou et al, 1996 (see above); fund
and implement the 1994 Truth In Sentencing Law;
excessive bails, which keep pre-trial detainees behind bars for periods that
rival sentences for convicted prisoners, and are yet another attack on the
effective community-based drug treatment outside jails and prisons for
people who want help with addiction; and
Strengthen community infrastructure in low-income areas: affordable housing,
family wage jobs, quality childcare, improved schools, parks, public
transportation, access to food and health care etc.
There would be no need for new jails or prisons now if these actions had
been taken when the conditions first came to light. The Chicopee women's
jail would be a community center and park space, for example, not a building
filled with cages for humans.
The Sheriffs department, the county and the state are
accountable to our community for the abuse women suffer at the hands of
staff and male prisoners. They allowed this abuse, when they could quite
easily have stopped it, and only now, under the guise of selling the public
on the merits of a new jail, have they begun to express concern.
The real crime is the one perpetrated by the county and state
for allowing women to suffer under these deplorable conditions, while
promoting the idea that fairness, in the world of Sheriff Ashe, means
locking them up in newer, "independent, freestanding, autonomous" cages.
Further, the absence of male prisoners, such as at MCI
Framingham, does not ensure women’s freedom from rape and abuse. Rape and
abuse at MCI Framingham has been well documented for many years. Indeed, in
1999, Amnesty International reported that MCI-Framingham was “plagues by
increasing levels of inappropriate sexual behavior by guards." 
OF THE STATUS QUO
allow them, how we prevent them
There is collective responsibility within
communities to speak out against systems and institutions that are treating
some people (poor people and people of color) with a different set of rules
and guidelines than is standard policy for others (economically privileged
people and white people). The war on drugs has created laws which
specifically target poor people and people of color in a majority of cases;
for example laws that mandate increased sentences for crack cocaine versus
powder cocaine. We cannot escape this obvious truth.
By taking us away from our communities and
dehumanizing us, the system breeds abuse and produces violence; locking us
away is a violent use of power. Violence has a tendency to 'trickle down'.
If members of the corrections "community" are serious about ending violence
toward prisoners, male or female, they would not encourage or allow guards
and other prisoners to engage in this violence.
There is something wrong when a country,
which is supposed to stand for freedom, has the highest incarceration rate
in the world. There was a time when public policies supported keeping people
out of jails and prisons by funding education and opportunity. Now resources
are instead misdirected toward jails and prisons. We need a future without
any new jails and prisons. We already have more than enough.
If we’re serious about addressing issues of
poverty and putting an end to violations of human rights, we will implement
recommendations with proven solutions such as increased availability of
family wage jobs, equal access to quality education, and affordable housing
for all. What's at issue here is the lack of political will to effectively
address social problems and the willingness to exploit the publics
insecurity and fear of criminally defined activity. Politicians can and do
win office on ‘tough on crime’ platforms. The appeal of using fear to
advance a political agenda is seductive; ultimately the long-term effect is
harmful to the broader community.
In addition, people leave prison more traumatized than when they
entered. Clearly, if rehabilitation were the goal, and a strong argument can
be made that current policy does not focus on rehabilitation, imprisonment
is not only unhelpful, but also actually harmful. 
And finally, once government builds a new
jail or prison, they don't usually shut the old one down. It has been
reported in a Western Massachusetts newspaper that the old men's jail in
Greenfield, where a new jail is under construction, is going to be
refurbished and used to jail women in Franklin County. The rationale for
funding the Greenfield jail construction project was due to the faulty lock
and key system. In case of a fire, many of the prisoners would likely
perish. This was an opportunity to not only reduce the number of prison beds
and depopulate the jail, but also to turn the tide on the use of
incarceration as the solution to all of our social problems.
Let’s not waste money to build new jails when we already know
how to solve the problems that put people into jail or prison. Redirect the
funds to provide for basic needs, which are, after all, human rights.
A cage is a cage is a cage. SHaRC does not support the caging
of members of our communities as a solution to social problems of poverty
and racism. We don't want nicer, cleaner cages. We want a better society,
with safe neighborhoods and more forgiving communities.
DOES SHaRC PROPOSE INSTEAD?
WITH, SHaRC PROPOSES:
and immediately we would release all low-level non-violent offenders, who
make up between
50% and 70% of the jail/prison population. Using a conservative estimate of
50%, in the case of the Ludlow jail alone, that would mean releasing 935 men
and 97 women from Ludlow jail. This would immediately create physical space
in which to create gender safety for all. Apply this to all county and
state lock ups and we will not need to build any more jails or prisons at
Release all wrongfully-convicted prisoners.
Release any person who is incarcerated due to falsified evidence or
Release any prisoner who is over 50, served 25 years or is
capable of returning to the community without re-offending.
QUALITY SCHOOLS—not jails.
HEALTH CARE—not jails.
MONEY FOR DRUG TREATMENT—not jails.
LIVING WAGE—not jails.
AFFORDABLE HIGHER EDUCATION—not
AN END TO CORI—not jails!
Furthermore, we demand that 70% of the Department and Houses of
Corrections budgets be reinvested in the communities most affected by the
failed “War on Drugs” and incarceration. These funds will be used
specifically to hire folks returning to the community from jail/prison and
to ex-offenders struggling to find employment. Employment opportunities
could include: parks and recreation, clean-up and development; school
refurbishment; as well as other community development needs as identified by
each community itself. These same communities need money for schools and
supplies, affordable housing and health care, job opportunities with a
living wage, and drug treatment on demand. We also propose and end to the CORI, which has been more harmful than good. We need to talk about real
solutions to help re-focus our thinking from the trap of proposing the
building of more jails and prisons as a solution to overcrowding, a lack of
'fairness" for women, and for keeping families closer together. We must
create truly safe and viable living conditions for all women and men within
PRISONS WITH JUSTICE!
Simply put, the best way to address
overcrowding is to depopulate the jails, replace them with social and
economic justice. The best way to address incarceration far from home is to
not incarcerate women in the first place. The best way to ensure women do
not suffer deplorable conditions like rape, torture and abuse on the inside
is to fund basic human needs in the community.
In every case the solution is to de-fund the jails and prisons,
replace them with justice, and fund the kind of support needed for all of us
to attain independent, freestanding, autonomous lives!
"Chicopee Women's Jail Fact Booklet," 2nd Edition, SHaRC,
Harvard Progressive Advocates Group:
"Sisters Inside: Prisons and Social Control," a
collective piece by staff, from Kinesis, published by the Vancouver Commission on the Status of Women, June 1987.
"Fundamental Fairness: Providing Intermediate Sanctions
for Women" by Susan Curran, Kate De Cou, et. al, 1999:
“Now is the optimum time to create new alliances and to expand supports
to help more women involved with the criminal justice system serve their
sentences in the community where they can work on their own
rehabilitation without jeopardizing their family connections.”
Federal Resource Center for Children of Prisoners, a
project of the Child Welfare League of America
"A World Apart: Women, Prison and Life Behind
Bars" by Christina Rathbone, 2005
"Post Incarceration Syndrome and Relapse by Terence T.