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Naked Holding Cells and Debtor’s Prison: The Latest Injustices For Women in the Prison System

Naked Holding Cells and Debtor’s Prison: The Latest Injustices For Women in the Prison System

Does being poor mean being arrested? Does being arrested mean losing the right to basic dignity? These are the questions being asked this week as two astounding news stories surrounding our prison system come to light.

Prison has long been the place where petty, non-violent drug criminals are gathered, where those who need mental illness services are arrested and languish, where those seeking better lives but who make bad decisions are given extended sentences, and where women are sexually or physically assaulted at the drop of a hat. Many of these crimes — and these punishments — are disproportionately affecting women.

Now, we are moving further towards putting people in jail simply for being poor. We may not officially have debtor’s prisons yet, but every day we are getting a step closer. This week, the Associated Press reports that a Pennsylvania mother serving a two day jail sentence has died while still in prison. Her crime? Her children hadn’t always gone to school, and she had been fined $2000 in courts costs related to that fact.

This isn’t a rare occurrence, either, according to the news report. “More than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone —  two-thirds of them women — over truancy fines since 2000,” says the AP. The minimal fines grow over the years as mothers fail to be able to pay them, eventually snowballing into massive amounts that simply can’t be overcome for these women. In the case of the woman who died in prison, her paperwork showed, “a laundry list of court fees for one case alone: $8 for a ‘judicial computer project’, $60 for Berks County constables; $10 for postage. And she had been cited dozens of times over the years,” according to the AP.

There is a complete loss of human dignity that comes with the idea of jailing a woman over an inability to pay fines, much less fines composed in part out of what appears to be an attempt to punish her for not properly parenting her children. Loss of dignity in the prison system is becoming par for the course, however, and is even occurring the moment a woman steps into the building.

A woman in Kentucky is suing Floyd County Jail after officers allegedly stripped her naked and left her in a holding cell for hours. Tabitha Gentry is accusing the prison guards of stealing her clothing and pepper spraying her when she complained. She was then “paraded” through the jail naked to have her eyes washed out, then spent another five hours back in the holding cell while she waited for a prison jumpsuit.

“Now this is a woman, who under our system of law, is innocent until proven guilty. She’s charged and she’s charged with a misdemeanor crime that’s not a violent crime,” Laura Landenwich, Gentry’s attorney, told local news.

The jail’s response? This was completely standard procedure and they did nothing unusual. The sad thing is, that is probably true. Footage from the prison security cameras show that another person in the holding cell with Gentry was also naked, making it likely that this strip and leave naked for hours policy is one that the jail believes is just part of their every day operations.

Women have been seeing their rights and their dignity stripped away daily as it becomes harder to find a living wage job, to access birth control to prevent pregnancy, to get equal pay for our work, to be able to support and raise our families, especially when times get rough, and especially to get help when we do fall on hard times and end up in a cycle of poverty. Now, not only are we being housed in prisons for more and more petty crimes, but we are being stripped literally, no longer just figuratively.

Rich or poor, male or female, we have a right to basic dignity and we can no longer be content to look aside as it is stripped away.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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150 comments

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12:59PM PDT on Sep 23, 2014

It is sad that this woman died in prison. But as with all too many articles shown on CARE2 we are not given the FACTS of the case. The article is so badly written that it leaves the reader having to make wild, uninformed guesses about almost everything.
Did this woman die of natural causes ?? Did she have a deadly disease ?? Was she attacked by another inmate ?? Was she beaten to death by a prison warder ?? Did she choke on a fish bone ??
The ONLY FACTS we know from this valueless scribble, is that
1. The woman is dead.
2. She had broken the law many times by not ensuring that her child attended school.
3. That she had received MULTIPLE warnings about the child's truancy.

Nobody needs to pay fines or end up in prison for their child truanting. It is the PARENTS RESPONSIBILITY to ensure that their child reaches and enters the school safely, after which it is the school authorities responsibility to ensure the child stays there safely to complete the days lessons.
There is more to being a parent than just producing children. Parents need to start taking their PARENTAL responsibilities seriously and if they do, they cannot get into legal bother with the education and legal authorities.

11:40AM PDT on Sep 23, 2014

Helga G, Why do you think being AGEIST, SEXIST and RACIST - Quote "old white men" - might help to further either your or anyone else's cause.

2:02PM PDT on Sep 19, 2014

A woman gets all the blame. Where is the father who died,deserted or was divorced by the mother? Was the women disabled? What's the excuse for a woman being given a death sentence for truancy?

1:58PM PDT on Sep 19, 2014

We have become an evil society led by a mean dirty little bunch of old white men and some of their bitter wives who are so out of touch with people who Don't have an elevator for their cars,that we the little people (also known as "the takers" ) are not only useless but invisible. We are flies. An annoyance.They can whip us,beat us,starve us,strip us,jail us,shoot us with our arms raised in the air, or armed with Skittles,and call it JUSTICE. This is not America.We are back in the 19th century without the sense of gentile behavior.

1:31PM PDT on Sep 19, 2014

No person deserves this treatment.

9:20AM PDT on Sep 16, 2014

This disgusting, amoral,and reprehensible! This seems like a blatant civil rights violation of poor people and especially poor women! I hope more and more people step forward and sue these idiots. They deserve to be fired and the county/state should be sued. That crap law about fining parents for their kids truancy is stupid and needs to be repealed!

8:21AM PDT on Sep 15, 2014

horrible

5:12AM PDT on Sep 6, 2014

It's sad what our society has become!

10:40AM PDT on Sep 3, 2014

"Tabitha Gentry is accusing the prison guards of stealing her clothing and pepper spraying her when she complained. She was then “paraded” through the jail naked to have her eyes washed out, then spent another five hours back in the holding cell while she waited for a prison jumpsuit."

+++++++++++++++++ People should be fired for this and she has a wonderful basis for a lawsuit! Can you even IMAGINE the humiliation she underwent?

4:34AM PDT on Jul 4, 2014

evil

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