Bonding Through Bars: The health and human rights of incarcerated women

Published on rabble.ca, by SAMANTHA SARRA, May 6, 2013.

… From May 5-10, The Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC is hosting Bonding Through Bars, an international roundtable bringing together delegates from five continents to explore the health and human rights of incarcerated women and their children. The state of Canada’s prison, legal and child welfare system will be at the forefront of this international dialogue aimed at initiating change towards more equitable laws, policies and programs.  

“It’s extremely important to know that more then two-thirds of the women in Canadian prisons are mothers and the majority of them are the sole providers for their children who are directly impacted when they are incarcerated,” says Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

While there is a dearth of national research on this topic in Canada, studies in the U.S. have shown that when a man goes to jail, 90 per cent of the time his children end up in the care of a family member, contrasted with when a woman is incarcerated only 10 per cent of the time do her children end up in the care of family … //

… Korchinski was incarcerated at a time when the mother and baby program was running at Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge, B.C. “When I walked out of those gates I didn’t have anything to look forward to except to go back to my old life, because I didn’t have my kids. It is devastating not to know where your child is.”

After her release, Korchinski was reunited with her children, the younger of whom had been told she was dead. Today is she a proud grandmother, filmmaker and author who works to advocate for others through Women in2 Healing, a community-based research project.

“I get calls from women who are terrified inside. They are pregnant and worried about what will happen. No one wants to deliver a baby and then four hours later have to leave your child and be back in jail. It’s sadism. The conditions are inhumane, being in labour while you are handcuffed and shackled. There was one woman who was told her r

Korchinski dedicates herself to helping other women behind bars, adding, “Yes, politicians can dictate what happens in prison, but if the public knew what goes on, things would change. We don’t have to run things the way we are.”

Granger-Brown agrees, “Decisions are made by those who have social power, and fear is often what drives policy creation. I want to see value placed on the people who have lived experience; creating programing and settings where people can do the healing work they need to do.”

The mother and baby program at Alouette ran successfully from 2005-2008. It was cancelled abruptly and it’s closing was protested by many including Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s representative for Children and Youth who highlighted a baby’s right to the enormous health benefits associated with breastfeeding and strong maternal attachment. Granger-Brown worked as a recreational therapist at Alouette and resigned after the new warden announced the closure of the program, “I could not watch as they pulled apart everything that we knew was helpful.”

There is currently a case before the B.C. Supreme Court, Inglis v. British Columbia (Minister of Public Safety), 2012 BCSC 1023, which seeks to establish that both mothers and infants have constitutional rights to remain together during the incarceration of the mothers in the provincial corrections system.

The hurt of mother and child being separated is one understood universally. “My experience with incarcerated mothers and their children has been stories of pain, suffering and rejection,” explains Mary Kamau, who works in prison ministry and is Head of Nursing at the Presbyterian University of East Africa.

Kamau has travelled from Kenya to attend Bonding Through Bars, which will seek to find solutions by pulling at the roots of inequities that undermine the health of generations.  “There is a great need to change the current scenario in which the stigma attached to imprisoned mothers is highly traumatizing, especially to the children who most of the time are innocent and find themselves the victims of circumstances. Something needs to be done, and the time is now.”
(full long time).

(Samantha Sarra is a journalist and activist and one of the co-principal investigators for Bonding Through Bars. There will be a free panel discussion open to the public on Wednesday May 8th, at 8pm at 5350 Baillie Street in Vancouver).

Links:

Bonding Through Bars Roundtable, May 5-10, 2013: purpose, contact;

CREATING CHOICES: THE REPORT OF THE TASK FORCE ON FEDERALLY SENTENCED WOMEN;

Women in2 Healing;

Too many First Nations women ending up in jail, on rabble.ca, by REDEYE COLLECTIVE, October 21, 2012 ;

Women raise their voices beyond the bars: Women’s music in prison, on rabble.ca, by STARK RAVEN MEDIA COLLECTIVE, LEAH ABRAMSON, August 9, 2011;

The Stark Raven Media Collective:

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