Monthly Archives: January 2012

Decarcerate PA: Fighting the School-to-Prison-to-Exploited-Labor Pipeline

On October 12th, Decarcerate PA led a rally against the expansion of prisons in Montgomery County.  Protesters marched from the Occupy Philadelphia encampment to the Philadelphia offices of Hill International, which was recently contracted to construct new prisons in Montgomery County.

According to the Decarcerate Pennsylvania website:

The Graterfordexpansion will double the current size of the prison at a projected cost of $400 million. In addition to adding more beds, the proposed new prison will include a new 100 bed death row and a unit for women prisoners.  The two new Graterford prisons are part of a $685 million plan to expand prisons across the state.

In 2011, the Center for Research on Globalization reported that the 1.8 million people imprisoned in the United States represented “the highest per capita incarceration rate in the history of the world” – and those numbers haven’t gotten any smaller.  The United States, home to only five percent of the world’s population, houses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. Pennsylvania alone spends close to $2M per year – roughly 7% of the yearly state budget – on prisons – yet our elected officials insist that we just don’t have the money to fund public schools.

In its factsheet on the well-documented phenomenon of the school-to-prison pipeline, the ACLU writes:

For most students, the pipeline begins with inadequate resources in public schools. Overcrowded classrooms, a lack of qualified teachers, and insufficient funding for “extras” such as counselors, special education services, and even textbooks, lock students into second-rate educational environments. This failure to meet educational needs increases disengagement and dropouts, increasing the risk of later court­involvement.

If it’s that obvious, then why don’t we simply, as Decarcerate PA sloganizes, “Fund Schools Not Prisons”?  Why do we continue to prioritize the imprisonment and correction of overwhelmingly nonviolent drug offenders over the education of our children? 

At first glance, this policy doesn’t seem to be in anybody’s interest. But upon closer inspection, the rapid expansion of prisons does benefit some.

For instance, it can benefit politicians to have prisons in their jurisdictions. Prisoners are counted as being registered in the district where the prison is located, which inflates the official population of those districts, giving some rural areas more districts, and thus more votes and more power; this is known as prison-based gerrymandering. 

Primarily, though, the fast-growing prison system benefits corporations, who use the incarcerated as a source of cheap labor.

The 1.8 million people we’re paying to incarcerate? They are being exploited (often forced or otherwise coerced) to perform tasks for corporate profit including wrapping software for Microsoft, making lingerie for Victoria’s Secret and taking airline reservations over the phone during flight attendants’ strikes.  Inmates in Louisiana debone chickens for four cents an hour. In Oregon, they make electronic menu boards for McDonalds. In many cases, these inmates are threatened with solitary confinement if they refuse to work for corporate gain.  This partnership between prisons and private industry allows corporations to pay workers less than two dollars an hour, without having to outsource.

The rapid growth of the United States prison population benefits the corporations that can save money and increase their profit margins by “insourcing,” so to speak, low-paying manufacture jobs to inmates who don’t present such inconveniences as needing health insurance or the possibility of missing work for a family emergency. The same system harms not only the incarcerated individuals and their families and communities, but the non-incarcerated, low-skilled workers who need those jobs. It also robs the government of the tax revenue that would be generated if the unemployed workers whose jobs were given to prisoners – and the prisoners themselves, most of whom are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses – were able to work for a living wage and pay income taxes. By spending money on prisons instead of schools and infrastructure, the United States government is investing its resources in an area that promises little to no return, at the expense of creating jobs for workers who would pay back those costs in tax revenue.

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Filed under Economic Justice, Education, Incarceration, Prison Industry

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Time to Treat Trans Patients Right

This month, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a set of recommendations by committee opinion, urging reproductive health care providers to improve their treatment of transgender people.

These new guidelines encourage ob-gyns to do the following: ask patients about their gender open-endedly on their patient intake forms rather than requiring they check “male” or “female,” to post LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies visibly in their offices, and train staff to handle transgender patients professionally and with compassion.  ACOG says that physicians must be prepared to offer gender-nonconforming patients the same basic preventive services as their cisgendered patients (those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth), such as STD testing and cancer screenings.

This is a huge, much-needed victory in LGBT health and wellness. In October 2010, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released the results of the largest survey of transgender people on healthcare discrimination to date, and the results were dismal. Not only are trans people at elevated risk for most of our nation’s worst health problems, but according to the report:

  • Respondents reported more than four times the national average of HIV infection, 2.64 percent in our sample compared to 0.6 percent in the general population, with rates for transgender women at 3.76 percent, and with those who are unemployed (4.67 percent) or who have engaged in sex work (15.32 percent) even higher.
  • Over a quarter of the respondents reported misusing drugs or alcohol specifically to cope with the discrimination they faced due to their gender identity or expression.
  • A staggering 41 percent of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6 percent of the general population.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 (19 percent) reported being refused care outright because they were transgender or gender non-conforming.
  • Survey participants reported very high levels of postponing medical care when sick or injured due to discrimination and disrespect (28 percent).
  • Harassment: 28 percent of respondents were subjected to harassment in medical settings.
  • Significant lack of provider knowledge: 50 percent of the sample reported having to teach their medical providers about transgender care.  (see Source)

Reproductive healthcare is often stressful for transgender patients even when they aren’t treated disrespectfully by their providers, because many transgender people experience gender dysphoria, a feeling of extreme discomfort and anxiety with their assigned genders. Gender dysphoria is what many trans people refer to when they talk about feeling “trapped in the wrong body,” and it frequently includes strong feelings of disgust about their sexual anatomy.

A transgendered man with strong feelings of revulsion and anxiety about the parts of his body that are still “female” would find receiving care for something like an ovarian cyst upsetting under the best of circumstances. The last thing this man should have to worry about is whether he’ll have to argue with health practitioners who insist despite his protests that they’re going to make every effort possible to preserve his ovaries because he “might want to be a mother someday.”

Hopefully the new recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists will make that kind of transgender healthcare horror story a thing of the past – or at least a glaring anomaly. No one should have to receive health care in a hostile environment, and we commend ACOG for recognizing that ignorance and disrespect from providers is a serious and attention-worthy barrier to healthcare access.

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, Health Care, LGBT, Sex Discrimination, Sexual orientation

Pennsylvania Restricts Access to Food Stamps in Tough Economic Times

Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare (DPW) under the Corbett Administration plans to implement an asset-based eligibility test by May 2012 that will restrict the number of Pennsylvanians eligible to receive assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is more commonly known as food stamps.  Once the asset test is implemented, families must have less than $2,000 in savings and other assets, and households with seniors must have less than $3,250 in assets, to qualify for food stamps.  Houses, retirement benefits, and a single car would be exempt, but any additional vehicle worth more than $4,650 would not.  DPW’s decision to join a minority of states by shifting to an asset test is an example of how DPW’s stereotypical, inaccurate views of the poor lead to selfish, short-sighted policies that will harm Pennsylvania.

The DPW’s rationale for this change is that it will reduce waste, fraud, and abuse, but the facts do not support this argument.  Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians could lose their food stamps with no benefit for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers from this misguided and ill-conceived policy: Pennsylvania already has among the lowest SNAP fraud rates in the country and Pennsylvania will not save a single penny of state money by implementing this change because it will deprive Pennsylvania of federal SNAP dollars and raise administrative costs.  The change will also hurt Pennsylvania’s economy by reducing the economic activity that SNAP generates through community spending.  Furthermore, the asset limit applied in the test—$2,000 for most households and $3,250 for seniors—is outdated, having been originally proposed almost three decades ago, when families could afford more with less money.  The asset test also sends the wrong message by penalizing and discouraging savings, thereby harming hardworking and frugal lower income individuals, including the working poor, individuals who have been laid off recently, and seniors.

Denying food stamps to people who need it exacerbates the effects of poverty, which already disproportionately impacts women, who are more likely than men to face barriers to gainful employment due to discrimination, pregnancy, caretaking responsibilities, and the effects of domestic and sexual violence.  Lower income individuals and families lack access to nutritious food: poorer neighborhoods have fewer supermarkets than wealthier neighborhoods, and nutritious food is generally more expensive than less nutritious food.   This lack of access to nutritious food results in poorer health, including malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other health conditions.

For the long term health of Pennsylvania’s citizens and its economy, DPW should think twice about limiting the poor’s access to nutritious food.  Urge Governor Corbett to stop efforts to implement this short-sighted, harmful asset test for SNAP.  The change will negatively affect the lives of real people for whom food stamps make the difference between having a nutritious meal and going hungry or resorting to unhealthy but less expensive food options.  The result for Pennsylvania could be an increase in the number of individuals who go hungry and who are more likely to suffer life-long health consequences.

To learn more about Pennsylvania’s proposal to institute a harmful asset test for SNAP benefits, check out the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.  To learn more about the impact of poverty on women’s health, stay tuned for the Women’s Law Project’s forthcoming report, Through the Lens of Equality: Gender Bias, Health, and a New Vision for Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Economic Justice, Government, Welfare, Working poor

What We’re Reading: 2011 was a Banner Year for LGBT Rights

Many online publications have been calling attention to the huge gains advocates have made towards equality for LGBT people this year. While we must recognize that we still have awhile to go to reach equality for all United States citizens, it is important to also celebrate our victories. Below we have compiled a list of some of our favorite stories. Please add your own favorite LGBT victory from 2011 in comments.

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Filed under LGBT, Marriage Equality, Sexual orientation, What We're Reading

Monica Henry: Women and Girls Still Bear Brunt of Domestic Violence

Recently, Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett wrote a guest post for WeNews which cited Mary Straus’s research findings that women and men tend to instigate violence in roughly an equal number of domestic violence instances.  Monica Henry, who holds a master’s degree in gender and peace building and has served as a domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and elder abuse victim advocate for the Quileute Tribe since 2006, wrote a response to Rivers and Barnett’s article, finding flaws in Straus’s research methods and emphasizing that the kinds of violence women and men usually instigate do not equate.

Rivers and Barnett stated that “surveys of U.S. households have found rates of wife-to-husband violence “remarkably similar” to those of husband-to-wife violence.  And an early cross-cultural survey did not find that men were significantly more aggressive than women.”  However, Henry takes issue with the data they cite, noting several critiques of studies showing similar rates of violence committed by women and men that Jack C. Straton, Ph.D. noted in his article “The Myth of the ‘Battered Husband Syndrome.’”

Straton, in critiquing studies Straus co-authored in 1980, said that researchers used a “set of questions that cannot discriminate between intent and effect.  This so called Conflict Tactics Scale (or CTS) equates a woman pushing a man in self-defense to a man pushing a woman down the stairs.”  The studies also “excluded incidents of violence that occur after separation and divorce, yet these account for 75.9 percent of spouse-on-spouse assaults, with a male perpetrator 93.3 percent of the time, according to the U.S. Department of Justice,” and did “not include sexual assault as a category although more women are raped by their husbands than beaten only.  Adjusting Straus’ own statistics to include this reality makes the ratio of male to female spousal violence more than 16 to one.”  Numerous other critiques of the study can be found within Straton’s article.  Henry also notes that “[t]he survey’s finding is also based on claims of innocence by friends and family members on behalf of the accused. [However,] [t]here have been several cases where the accused admits to committing domestic violence or sexual assault and family and friends continue to deny it simply because they can’t handle the thought that their loved one could commit such an act.”

While Rivers and Barnett noted that women usually suffer more severe injuries than men in instances of domestic violence, Henry gives more detail to illustrate the severity of the disparity.  She states that “[a]fter analyzing the results of the U.S. National Crime Surveys, Straton writes that ‘sociologist Martin Schwartz concluded that 92 percent of those seeking medical care from a private physician for injuries received in a spousal assault are women.  That same study shows that one man is hospitalized for injuries received in a spousal assault for every 46 women hospitalized.’”  Henry ends her article by stating that “I am very aware that there are male victims of domestic abuse and I strongly believe that we need to provide them with support…I am also aware that people sometimes make false accusations.  But neither of these facts should be used to minimize the degree to which girls and women take the brunt of household violence.”

To learn about efforts to end domestic violence in the U.S. and what you can do to help in the effort, visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence website.  You can learn about what the Women’s Law Project has done to “improve system responses to violence against women” here.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Family Violence, Violence Against Women

Declining Rate of Reproductive Health Services Among Young Women

Data from the National Survey of Family Growth polls show an 8% decline in reproductive health services among young women from 2002 to 2008. Low-income women were shown to be the least likely to have obtained reproductive health services. Researchers identified several factors which may have contributed to this decrease. Among those factors identified were: “the decline in public sector clinics serving economically disadvantaged women; increasing unemployment and the corresponding lack of health insurance; updated gynecological health screening guidelines that require fewer Pap tests; and legislation that has increased mandatory parental participation in adolescent sexual and reproductive health care.”

The authors of the study postulated that their findings might reflect “‘changing social, economic, and political contexts in which reproductive services were needed…over the last decade’” but added that “new provisions for care under healthcare reform may bring some of those women back into care.” Shortly after healthcare reform was passed, the Guttmacher Institute released a news brief which summarizes some of expansions of reproductive healthcare services that healthcare reform will bring. It notes that “a provision expanding eligibility to all Americans with a family income below 133% of the federal poverty level will allow 16 million more Americans to join Medicaid by 2019 than would otherwise be the case.” The Medicaid expansion will allow more Americans access to the program’s guarantee of family planning services without cost sharing. Additionally, healthcare reform will allow those who are currently uninsured with incomes above 133% of the federal poverty line to purchase private insurance through the new health care exchanges, most of which will provide a similar package of reproductive healthcare to what Medicaid offers.

Given the risky behaviors among young people reported by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, it is evident that supporting the implementation of healthcare reform as well as other efforts to make reproductive healthcare services more widely available is incredibly important. The Campaign’s data showed that among the young people polled, “nearly half of those who are in a sexual relationship either don’t use contraception at all or use it inconsistently, and almost 20% of all respondents predict that they’ll have unprotected sex within the next three months.” The result of this risky behavior is that “Seven in 10 pregnancies in the 18-to-29 age group are unintended, and men and women in their 20s have among the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections of any age group, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.”

If you are interested in learning more about this issue, the National Survey of Family Growth study is available online, published by the American Journal of Public Health. 

To learn more about the Women’s Law Project’s work on women’s health, including on the implementation of Healthcare Reform and on reproductive health, visit our website, and stay tuned for our forthcoming publication, Through the Lens of Equality: Discrimination, Health, and a New Vision for Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Contraception, Family Planning, Health Care, Health insurance, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Sexually Transmitted Disease, Women's health