Thursday, September 13, 2007

No New Jails!

The new Chicopee jail for women (official name: Western Mass Women's Correctional Center) had its Grand Opening today, with 200 public officials attending Sheriff Ashe's big bash.

On my lunch hour I ran over to a second, satirical demonstration of about 30 people "celebrating" the jail's new opening.

"Free Housing! Free Health Care! Sorry, no childcare."
"We want a jail in our community, too! How do we get one for Longmeadow? For Sixteen Acres?"

We held signs saying "Feminists for Cages" and "Out of the Homes and Into the Lock-up." We gave away keychain souvenirs with little stuffed orange jumpsuits dangling from them. We had balloons and a cake and offered some to the police stationed across the street to make sure we behaved.

The "celebration" was sponsored by the Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC), which includes the groups present: Out Now, the Freedom Center, Arise and the Community Church of Boston. We also had students from Smith College and a number of formerly incarcerated women.

"I know that guy!" one of those women said about one of the law enforcement officials standing across the street. "He used to wake us up on purpose in the middle of the night."

In reality, of course, there was little to celebrate. The jail cost $26 million to build and will cost $13 million a year to maintain. Do I think incarcerated women will be "happier" in Chicopee than they are in their current cramped quarters at the men's jail in Ludlow? Of course. One huge benefit is that busses run by the new jail regularly, so it will be easier for women to keep in touch with their families.

But should they be there in the first place?

Even the Sheriff will admit that most of the women sentenced to serve their time there will be in for prostitution and drug-related offenses.

All of them would be better served by getting in the community the best of what they will be getting in jail-- be it job training, counseling, drug treatment or education. And it would certainly cost a lot less money.

We are so on the wrong track in our thinking about how to live in a safe community. I will be writing more about this.
Photos by Liz Bewsee

No comments: