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Articles by Victoria Law

Imagine Pleading Guilty Because You Can’t Afford to Call Your Lawyer

by Victoria Law, Truthout

Imagine paying $20.12 for a 15-minute phone call. That’s how much a call from the Jennings Adult Correctional Facility in Missouri costs.

In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set rate caps on interstate calls from jails, prisons and detention facilities. Now, interstate debit or ...

Imagine Pleading Guilty Because You Can’t Afford to Call Your Lawyer

By Victoria Law, Truthout

Imagine paying $20.12 for a 15-minute phone call. That’s how much a call from the Jennings Adult Correctional Facility in Missouri costs.

In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set price caps on interstate calls from jails, prisons and detention facilities. Now, interstate calls can ...

Double Punishment: After Prison, Moms Face Legal Battles to Reunite With Kids

by Victoria LawTruthout | Report

This story is the first in a new Truthout series, Severed Ties: The Human Toll of Prisons. This series will dive deeply into the impact of incarceration on families, loved ones and communities, demonstrating how the United States' incarceration of more than 2 million ...

Trans People in Prison Fight Barriers to Changing Their Legal Names and Gender Markers

by Victoria Law, Truthout

During her 30 years in California's prison system, Cookie Bivens has seen numerous trans women attempt to change their name and gender marker while incarcerated. Not a single woman ever succeeded.

In California, people seeking to legally change their name or gender marker must file an application with the county court and pay a filing fee of nearly $500. (A person earning less than $2,127 per month can file for a fee waiver.) Once the paperwork is filed, the court sets a hearing date within six to 12 weeks. If the court receives no objections to the proposed name and gender marker change, the petition is granted.

Incarcerated trans people face an extra hurdle: obtaining approval from the prison's superintendent and other administrators. Without that approval, they cannot begin the court process. Watching other trans women have their requests denied again and again, Bivens decided to not even try, and to focus instead on getting parole.

Bivens has been out of prison for six months and is only now beginning the process of legally changing her name and gender marker. At the same time, she wants to be sure that other trans people ...

"The System Abuses Us by Locking Us Up Forever": Aging Survivors Behind Bars

By Victoria Law, Truthout

On October 6, 2016, 15-year-old Bresha Meadows will appear in an Ohio family court for the death of her abusive father. Meadows had spent a lifetime watching her father hit, kick, shove and control her mother. If her mother tried to leave, her father often threatened ...

Aging, Sick and Incarcerated: The Need for Compassionate Release

By Victoria Law, Truthout.org

Mary Ziman already had debilitating fibromyalgia and, unable to work, was on permanent disability. Then she was arrested and sentenced to 27 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine, charges she says stemmed from fabrications by a woman with ...

Formerly Incarcerated Moms Fight for Reforms to Save Families

By Victoria Law, Yes! Magazine

Diana waited at the bus stop for her children to arrive from school one afternoon 20 years ago. She had planned a party to celebrate her daughter’s sixth birthday.

The party, however, never happened. Diana’s four kids never came home.

After calling the school ...

Reproductive Health Care in Women’s Prisons “Painful” and “Traumatic”

By Victoria Law, Truthout

It was Kim Dadou’s second day at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. As part of the prison’s intake process, she was brought to the prison’s medical unit for a gynecological exam and pap smear.

“We were brought down three or five at a time ...

Pregnant Behind Bars

Pregnant Behind Bars

The shameful lack of prenatal care in U.S. prisons and jails 

by Victoria Law

Reprinted with permission from In These Times magazine http://inthesetimes.com/article/18410/u.s.-prisons-are-threatening-the-lives-of-pregnant-mothers-and-newborns.

At 5 a.m. on June 12, 2012, lying on a mat in a locked jail cell, without a doctor, Nicole Guerrero gave birth.

Guerrero was eight-and-a half months pregnant when she arrived 10 days earlier at Texas’ Wichita County Jail. The medical malpractice lawsuit Guerrero has filed—against the county, the jail’s healthcare contractor, Correctional Healthcare Management, and one of the jail’s nurses, LaDonna Anderson—claims she began experiencing lower back pain, cramps, heavy vaginal discharge and bleeding on June 11. The nurse on duty told her there was no cause for concern until she had bled through two sanitary napkins. Several painful hours later, Guerrero pushed the medical emergency button in her cell.

At 3:30 a.m., more than four hours later, Guerrero was finally taken to the nurse’s station. Guerrero says she showed Anderson her used sanitary pads filled with blood and fluids, but was not examined. Instead, she was taken to a one-person holding cell with no toilet, sink or emergency call button ...

A Mother Who Just Wanted to Know When Her Son Would Eat

by Victoria Law, Waging Nonviolence 

The temperature in Corona, Calif., can soar above 100 degrees in the summer, sometimes climbing as high as 110. For Dolores Canales and others locked into their cells 22 hours a day in the Administrative Segregation Unit at the California Institution for Women, the extreme heat was aggravated by the extreme lack of privacy.

“The cells get extremely hot in the summer, so you have to take your clothes off [to stay cool],” she recounted.

But the unit was circular, and the guard stationed in the center was able to see into any cell with the turn of his head. “You can’t cover the window on the door, so you’re always exposed to the guards, who are mostly men.”

Canales spent nine months in segregation at the California Institute for Women in 1999. “There, I had a window. The guards would take me out to the yard every day. I’d get to go out to the yard with other people,” she told me in 2013, while I was working on an article for The Nation.

Still, being in isolation took its toll. “There’s an anxiety that overcomes you in the middle of ...