News Law and Policy

California’s Proposed Budget Upholds ‘Racist, Sexist, Classist’ Policy

Tina Vasquez

California is one of 15 states with rules that penalize low-income families for having children.

California sexual and reproductive health organizations were dismayed to find that Gov. Jerry Brown’s $170.7 billion budget proposal includes the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule, which advocates say penalizes children and pushes poor families deeper into poverty.

Myra Duran, policy manager at California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), told Rewire the rule is racist, sexist, and classist.

The MFG rule is an element of CalWORKs, California’s version of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program that provides cash support to low-income expectant and recent mothers. The MFG rule was included in 1994 with the goal of coercing poor mothers, primarily women of color, into having fewer children by barring families who are already receiving CalWORKs assistance from obtaining $122 in additional support for any new child they may have.

In other words, the amount a family receives in assistance remains unchanged if they have additional children.

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California is one of 15 states with rules, also known as “family caps,” that penalize low-income families for having children. Family caps were designed to discourage low-income mothers from having children, as Slate reported last year. The caps had another purpose: combating the myth of the “welfare queen,” welfare recipient mothers who have additional children in order to receive more aid.

Duran said CLRJ began doing budget work because the recession in California has had an outsized impact on communities of color and Latinas in particular, who are often their families’ caretakers and coordinators for obtaining services.

Working to repeal the MFG rule has meant using the California budget as a crucial point for advocacy.

“The budget is a great way to convey our values as a state,” Duran said. “The budget is also a great way to see where your state is at when it comes to valuing people of color and especially women of color, and the state of California does not value women of color. We [CLRJ] strongly believe this [the MFG rule] is a form of population control; it’s a form of eugenics. It’s really harmful for a state policy to say, ‘You can’t have any more children unless you meet these exemptions.’ That’s telling poor women, most of whom are women of color who are on CalWORKs, that the state has the power to control their childbearing decisions.”

Studies confirm family caps don’t achieve their intended goal of deterring childbearing among poor women and girls. Evidence also shows that policies like California’s MFG rule cause lasting harm to children. In California, SB 23, an attempt to repeal the MFG rule, is under consideration in the Democratic-controlled assembly. The bill is the third attempt to rescind the law.

When it comes to family caps, California finds itself in the company of multiple states that are the worst for reproductive rights, including Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, among others.

“It’s very interesting to see California in this lineup because as a state, we are part of national discussions on policies when it comes to reproductive health and rights. There’s an assumption that in California, we’re leaders. We’re doing proactive work, we recently passed a proactive abortion bill—that’s where the energy lies when people talk about California, but it’s not reality for many,” Duran said.

“Proactive, progressive policies don’t trickle down to our families and communities,” Duran continued. “We see this with health care, we see this with access to abortion, and we see this with the family cap rule. We talk a lot about autonomy when it comes to family formation, but in California because of this policy, poor women of color do not have bodily autonomy.”

The only exceptions to the MFG rule are rape, incest, and the failure of certain long-acting contraceptives, but only when the contraceptive used was an intrauterine device (IUD), Norplant (which has been off the market in the United States since 1992), or if either parent is sterilized.

This means mothers must share private information about their contraceptive usage with the government and parents on CalWORKs are forced to select contraceptives based on potential future CalWORKs eligibility, as the ACLU reported. Failing to disclose sensitive information about rape or contraceptive use results in children being excluded from the basic needs grant.

“One in four children in California lives in poverty. This, one of the country’s richest states. What does that say about where our interests are?” Duran said. “This [policy] demonizes poor women of color. Rape and incest survivors must prove, on paper, what happened to them if they want additional aid for their children. That also means placing them in front of police officers. These systems are not to the benefit of people in communities of color and forcing them to go through this is wrong and harmful.”

News Human Rights

What’s Driving Women’s Skyrocketing Incarceration Rates?

Michelle D. Anderson

Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.

Local court and law enforcement systems in small counties throughout the United States are increasingly using jails to warehouse underserved Black and Latina women.

The Vera Institute of Justice, a national policy and research organization, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge initiative, released a study last week showing that the number of women in jails based in communities with 250,000 residents or fewer in 2014 had grown 31-fold since 1970, when most county jails lacked a single woman resident.

By comparison, the number of women in jails nationwide had jumped 14-fold since 1970. Historically, jails were designed to hold people not yet convicted of a crime or people serving terms of one year or less, but they are increasingly housing poor women who can’t afford bail.

Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.

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Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform,” calls attention to jail incarceration rates for women in small counties, where rates increased from 79 per 100,000 women to 140 per 100,000 women, compared to large counties, where rates dropped from 76 to 71 per 100,000 women.

The near 50-page report further highlights that families of color, who are already disproportionately affected by economic injustice, poor access to health care, and lack of access to affordable housing, were most negatively affected by the epidemic.

An overwhelming percentage of women in jail, the study showed, were more likely to be survivors of violence and trauma, and have alarming rates of mental illness and substance use problems.

“Overlooked” concluded that jails should be used a last resort to manage women deemed dangerous to others or considered a flight risk.

Elizabeth Swavola, a co-author of “Overlooked” and a senior program associate at the Vera Institute, told Rewire that smaller regions tend to lack resources to address underlying societal factors that often lead women into the jail system.

County officials often draft budgets mainly dedicated to running local jails and law enforcement and can’t or don’t allocate funds for behavioral, employment, and educational programs that could strengthen underserved women and their families.

“Smaller counties become dependent on the jail to deal with the issues,” Swavola said, adding that current trends among women deserves far more inquiry than it has received.

Fred Patrick, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute, said in “Overlooked” that the study underscored the need for more data that could contribute to “evidence-based analysis and policymaking.”

“Overlooked” relies on several studies and reports, including a previous Vera Institute study on jail misuse, FBI statistics, and Rewire’s investigation on incarcerated women, which examined addiction, parental rights, and reproductive issues.

“Overlooked” authors highlight the “unique” challenges and disadvantages women face in jails.

Women-specific issues include strained access to menstrual hygiene products, abortion care, and contraceptive care, postpartum separation, and shackling, which can harm the pregnant person and fetus by applying “dangerous levels of pressure, and restriction of circulation and fetal movement.”

And while women are more likely to fare better in pre-trail proceedings and receive low bail amounts, the study authors said they are more likely to leave the jail system in worse condition because they are more economically disadvantaged.

The report noted that 60 percent of women housed in jails lacked full-time employment prior to their arrest compared to 40 percent of men. Nearly half of all single Black and Latina women have zero or negative net wealth, “Overlooked” authors said.

This means that costs associated with their arrest and release—such as nonrefundable fees charged by bail bond companies and electronic monitoring fees incurred by women released on pretrial supervision—coupled with cash bail, can devastate women and their families, trapping them in jail or even leading them back to correctional institutions following their release.

For example, the authors noted that 36 percent of women detained in a pretrial unit in Massachusetts in 2012 were there because they could not afford bail amounts of less than $500.

The “Overlooked” report highlighted that women in jails are more likely to be mothers, usually leading single-parent households and ultimately facing serious threats to their parental rights.

“That stress affects the entire family and community,” Swavola said.

Citing a Corrections Today study focused on Cook County, Illinois, the authors said incarcerated women with children in foster care were less likely to be reunited with their children than non-incarcerated women with children in foster care.

The sexual abuse and mental health issues faced by women in jails often contribute to further trauma, the authors noted, because women are subjected to body searches and supervision from male prison employees.

“Their experience hurts their prospects of recovering from that,” Swavola said.

And the way survivors might respond to perceived sexual threats—by fighting or attempting to escape—can lead to punishment, especially when jail leaders cannot detect or properly respond to trauma, Swavola and her peers said.

The authors recommend jurisdictions develop gender-responsive policies and other solutions that can help keep women out of jails.

In New York City, police take people arrested for certain non-felony offenses to a precinct, where they receive a desk appearance ticket, or DAT, along with instructions “to appear in court at a later date rather than remaining in custody.”

Andrea James, founder of Families for Justice As Healing and a leader within the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, said in an interview with Rewire that solutions must go beyond allowing women to escape police custody and return home to communities that are often fragmented, unhealthy, and dangerous.

Underserved women, James said, need access to healing, transformative environments. She cited as an example the Brookview House, which helps women overcome addiction, untreated trauma, and homelessness.

James, who has advocated against the criminalization of drug use and prostitution, as well as the injustices faced by those in poverty, said the problem of jail misuse could benefit from the insight of real experts on the issue: women and girls who have been incarcerated.

These women and youth, she said, could help researchers better understand the “experiences that brought them to the bunk.”

News Human Rights

Migrants in Border Patrol Facilities Endure ‘Inhumane,’ ‘Unconstitutional’ Treatment

Tina Vasquez

These processing centers have been found to be unsuitable for overnight detention, as they do not have beds. The centers “are extremely cold, frequently overcrowded, and routinely lack adequate food, water, and medical care," according to a 2015 report from the American Immigration Council.

An Arizona district court on Thursday released photos of Border Patrol processing centers that show the “inhumane and unconstitutional” treatment of migrants in these facilities.

The release comes after a months-long legal battle between Border Patrol and the National Immigration Law Center, the American Immigration Council, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona.

The images were taken from security footage and are exhibits in an ongoing lawsuit against the agency. Taken within eight Arizona facilities, spanning Nogales, Douglas, Naco, Casa Grande, and Tucson, it is one of the rare instances Border Patrol has been forced to share images from its holding cells.

Known as as hieleras–or iceboxes–by migrants because of their frigid temperature, those detained in the holding cells are given nothing to stay warm but “Mylar blankets,” which are easily torn, foil-like sheets. In one photo, a mother changes her baby’s diaper on top of Mylar sheets on the concrete floor, surrounded by garbage. In another image taken from the processing center in Tucson, migrants are wrapped in Mylar sheets huddled together on the concrete floor. The cell is so crowded that there is no room to move.

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These processing centers have been found to be unsuitable for overnight detention, as they do not have beds. The centers “are extremely cold, frequently overcrowded, and routinely lack adequate food, water, and medical care,” according to a 2015 report from the American Immigration Council.

The facilities are intended to temporarily detain immigrants while their criminal records are checked, their fingerprints are taken, and the next step in their case is determined. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Border Patrol’s parent agency, has no statutes or regulations governing short-term facilities.

CBP has internal guidance regarding standards, specifications, and the operation of its facilities, including setting limits on the maximum length of time that a person should be held in a holding cell.

A 2008 CBP memorandum revealed that “a detainee should not be held for more than 12 hours” and should be moved “promptly.” A new American Immigration Council study, released in conjunction with the security footage photos, found that migrants are routinely kept overnight in poor conditions.

Using government data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the American Immigration Council found that Border Patrol regularly uses these facilities to detain people for prolonged periods.

“Over 80 percent of people detained by the Border Patrol in its Tucson Sector are held for over 24 hours, meaning that men, women and children are forced to sleep on concrete floors and hard benches in holding cells that lack beds and are not equipped for sleeping,” the organization reported.

Analyzing data on almost 327,000 immigrations from September 2014 to August 2015, the study reports that in the southwest Border Patrol sectors, 67 percent of detained immigrants were held in Border Patrol facilities for 24 hours or more. Almost 30 percent were held for 48 hours or more and 14 percent for 72 hours or more.

The American Immigration Council said the facilities’ conditions violate CBP’s policies and are alleged to violate the U.S. Constitution. Migrants endure freezing temperatures and are forced to sit and sleep on cold, concrete floors. According to CBP guidelines, those detained should be provided with snacks and meals, be given access to potable drinking water, should have access to bathrooms and toilet items, and be given necessary medical attention.

Agents must make “reasonable efforts” to provide a shower for detainees held for more than 72 hours and ensure detention cells are regularly cleaned and sanitized.

Evidence and testimonies gathered by the American Immigration Council found that migrants receive little or no food or clean drinking water. One of the images released Thursday shows a man drinking directly from a lone plastic gallon of water, presumably the only source of water for all those detained in the cell. The organization also reports that migrants are forced to stay in “overcrowded and unsanitary holding cells without basic hygiene items; denied adequate medical screening or care; denied communication with family members, legal counsel, or consulates; and coerced into signing deportation papers.”

The American Immigration Council’s findings add to accusations of inhumane treatment, abuse, and constitutional violations made by Border Patrol against migrants, including the abuse of children and significantly high rates of sexual misconduct. It remains unknown if Border Patrol will change its practices concerning the inhumane treatment of migrants in its custody.

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