Another woman dies in an American prison

February 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

The death of a pregnant woman in prison in Indianapolis is worryingly reminiscent of a post on this blog back in October about appalling conditions for women with children in prison.

 The 27-year-old inmate at Liberty Hall prison, Amber Redden, was serving an 18-month sentence for theft when she died suddenly. Her mother has since been very vocal about the need for an investigation into her daughter’s death, saying she never had a seizure before, and that she wasn’t taken care of when she became ill.

Whatever faults may or may not be found in this case, unlike many women, Redden was lucky enough to be in a jail intended for incarcerating mothers and pregnant women – a much better place to be than most American prisons, which have no policy or plan for dealing with pregnant women in prison. Most women with children in prison are non-violent, first time offenders, and in a recent “grading” of prisons, 21 states in America received failing grades for their treatment of incarcerated mothers.

And what of the children? This six-year-old child has a mother and a grandmother in prison – sentenced to nine years – for trying to steal a purse. So many cases are like this, where the women are not violent repeat offenders. In north America this Christmas, a new high was set for children with parents in prison – and African Americans are more affected than any other group. In taking the mothers away – who are in most cases single mothers and the sole carer of the child – the child is placed in an equally vulnerable position and without family support. The conditions are set for the cycle to continue.

This minimum security prison allows women to keep their children with them – and amazingly, has a re-offending rate of zero. The state average is more than 50%. Can there be a more compelling argument for changing and improving the system?

The best way to tackle women in prison is to target the root causes – poverty, vulnerability, mental illness. Instead, help with housing, employment, getting women back on their feet can improve more lives than just hers, can reduce pressure on the prison system, and can avoid tragedies like this, where lives end up being lost over minor offences.

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