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Prisons

Abortion is the new protection racket.

Three states among the 28 that will ban or restrict abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned — Arizona, Florida, West Virginia — have specifically vowed to “Protect Life in the Womb at 15-Weeks Gestation.”

If elected, Michigan Republican gubernatorial hopeful Garrett Soldano wants to “protect” the DNA of fetuses by banning abortion.
It is my sincere hope that, in addition to the criminal bill passed this session, this civil liability bill will provide strong, additional protection of the life of unborn children in Oklahoma,” said Wendi Stearman, the Republican state representative who sponsored the bill that defines fertilization as the start of life — one that would be the most restrictive in the country when Gov. Kevin Stitt soon signs it as partial fulfillment of his promise to make Oklahoma the most anti-abortion state in the country.

Even Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito got into the protection game. In his leaked draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Alito wrote that “Roe [v. Wade]’s central holding” was “that a state may not constitutionally protect fetal life before ‘viability.’” He and four other justices want states to protect fetal life at all stages.

One need look no further than prisons and jails to see that the purpose of regulating reproductive rights isn’t to protect anyone but rather to frustrate a woman’s will.

Because women have no choice inside them, prisons and jails would be the perfect place to execute consistent reproductive guidelines; after all, prison is a place devoid of choice. Reproductive rules should be clear in these places because the authorities who make them have absolute control. Policy is much easier to implement when few — maybe none — can effectively challenge it.
But correctional reproductive practices are entirely inconsistent.

Only 21 states have codified anything regarding an inmate’s access to abortion. In the remaining 29, it’s overly generous to describe situations as administrators’ “case-by-case” decisions. Essentially, prisons and jails can make it up as they go.

And that’s exactly what they do. A pioneering study, published online last year by the Guttmacher Institute and Johns Hopkins University, of 22 state prison systems, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and six local jails — places that house 57 percent of incarcerated women — found 11 states that explicitly allow abortion for incarcerated persons in the first and second trimesters and three that don’t allow it at all.

But it’s not clear that the states that say they allow choice and freedom mean it. The abortion rate was 1.4 percent for prisons and 18 percent for jails, the latter being much closer to the national rate of 20 percent.

Their lower abortion rates doesn’t mean that prisons are more restrictive than jails. Jails and prisons aren’t the same facilities; in 44 states, defendants are detained in jails while sentenced inmates live in prisons. It would make sense that women who enter custody pregnant and choose an abortion would make that choice in the earlier part of their incarceration.

The Guttmacher/Johns Hopkins study may be groundbreaking but it has limited utility. Examination of these statistics provide no insight into whether incarcerated women wanted and chose the pregnancy results they live with. And there’s reason to doubt that they do.

Last year a Nebraska prisoner sued for access to abortion services after she was denied transport to a local clinic. But for the ACLU jumping in and filing suit to secure an emergency order, administrators’ decisions might have been final. It was just the most recent example of a woman’s choice being intentionally obstructed; it’s happened in other states like New Jersey, Virginia, and Alabama.

But prisons aren’t so invested in women having babies; what prison administrators want is control. From 2003 to 2014, the California Department of Correction of Rehabilitation sterilized 1400 women prisoners without their informed consent. A documentary released in 2020 titled Belly of the Beast shed more light on this atrocity.

It appears that women who expressed a desire for future childbearing were targeted for these illegal procedures. A doctor asked then-inmate Kelli Dillon if she wanted children in the future and she answered in the affirmative. The doctor then proceeded to perform a hysterectomy on Dillon, telling her both that she could have children in the future and that cancer necessitated his extreme surgical decision. Neither of the doctor’s statements were true. It stands to reason that if Dillon had forsworn children her reproductive organs might have remained intact.

This isn’t some extension of the right to life movement infiltrating correctional spaces. Ann Hose’s case is proof that carceral systems seek to impede a woman’s choice even if she wants to keep a pregnancy. A nurse in a Hawaii prison injected inmate Hose with depo provera, a contraceptive injection, without her agreement. Hose wanted to maintain the pregnancy; she asked to call her husband to discuss her decision but wasn’t allowed.

We know about all of these cases because they made their way to media outlets after someone filed suit over the decisions forced on the plaintiff women. Scores of untold stories await, tales of women who want to give birth being denied that right and women who want to terminate their pregnancies being prevented from doing so.

Those cases will be hard to suss out. In 2015, a woman confined at the Lauderdale County, Alabama Detention Center sued for access to an abortion clinic with lawyers from the ACLU representing her. Before the case was resolved, the woman agreed to carry the child to term and filed an affidavit averring that no one had coerced her to change her mind, but even the woman’s own counsel recognized the immense pressure that jail officials can apply to disabuse an inmate of her choice.

Once advocates and attorneys get involved, the problematic management of women’s reproductive freedom tends to subside. But that’s because courts have consistently held that incarcerated women do, in fact, have an unfettered right to abortion while Roe’s ruling remains in place. Without that right, a woman like the Alabama inmate might not get the assistance she needs to file in court.

Even if the precedent established in Roe v. Wade stayed intact, one national rule on reproductive rights in carceral settings would be almost impossible to develop, as the Tenth Amendment gives power over both public safety — which means policing and corrections — and health policy — such as reproductive rights — to the states.

In the absence of a single sensible, overarching practice, the best way to predict how a correctional facility will react to a pregnant inmate is to ask the incarcerated woman what she wants. Prison administrators will then oppose her choice — no matter what it is.
Decisions made for inmates reveal the truth about anti-choice laws outside of prisons and jails; they’ve never been shields wielded with protective intent, but swords used to separate women from their freedom.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside the facility. She wrote a“Prison Diaries" column for The New Haven Independent and a blog that earned several professional awards. She recently won a reporting fellowship from the Education Writers of America. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.

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Casey White, left, and Vicky White

Photos by Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office and US Marshall's Service

Each day, updates reveal even more about the 11 day jailbreak involving Lauderdale County, Alabama Assistant Director of Corrections Vicky White and her incarcerated lover, Casey White. But today, after a short chase in Evansville, Indiana on May 9, Casey White is back in custody and Vicky White is deceased, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

This saga isn’t an escape story. It’s a rape story. And it’s far from over.

Even if Casey White consented to sexual contact with Vicky White in the Lauderdale County, Alabama Detention Center, those dalliances are statutory sexual assault under the Prison Rape Elimination Act or PREA, a federal law enacted in 2003 to impose zero tolerance policies in correctional settings when it came to sexual violence.

While no one has publicly detailed the physical connection between the two while Casey was incarcerated at the jail, the sheriff’s office knows that Vicky White perused sex toys and purchased lingerie at Sugar and Spice Adult Novelties in Florence, Alabama before driving her ward out of custody -- and that Casey White referred to her as his wife when they were caught by federal marshals. Even without a formal wedding ceremony, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the two partook in the activities of a common law marriage.

If Vicky and Casey’s only sexual connection happened on the road to Evansville, it’s still rape. Even escapees have Eighth Amendment rights, or at least so the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held more than 20 years ago. PREA is grounded in the Eighth Amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment. In 1994, in the case of Farmer v. United States, the Supreme Court of the United States found that deliberate indifference to the risk of sexual violence posed to an inmate makes his confinement unconstitutional.

As long as Casey White enjoyed Eighth Amendment protections and Vicky White was employed by Lauderdale County — which she was until May 4, 2022 — intimate contact between them was a criminal act for her, but not for him. Of course, she had long since decided to leave her law-abiding life behind.

The Alabama courts have dissected the state’s escape statutes before. In 1984, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals held that the crime of escape from custody entailed a willful and deliberate choice to leave custody. How those statutes will intersect with PREA is the next inquiry since the federal law eradicated the legal concepts of consent and choice when it comes to romantic or sexual relationships between staff and inmates.

The statutory stripping of inmates of the capacity to consent to sexual activity entails a lack of capacity to agree to go along with whatever activities make that sex possible. If Casey White lacked the power to consent to sexual activity by virtue of being incarcerated, then he also lacked the power to refuse the orders that would place him in a position where Vicky White would have private access to him. That’s the law.

Experts think a PREA defense is possible. Anthony Gangi, former corrections officer/supervisor and author of Correctional Manipulation and host of the YouTube show “Tier Talk” doesn’t discount it: ... because of her position, he's not the one that violated policy. She did and technically would this even be considered escape because he didn't break through any walls? He didn't, you know, climb any fences, you know, he was literally driven out by a staff member.”

The attorney who represented White on the charges for which he’s currently sentenced, Limestone County, Alabama lawyer Dale Bryant, says he doesn’t think his client’s posture in the April 29 video of his exit from the jail suggests he was a willing participant.
The planning of this escape was far too thorough and too far-thinking, and that is not Casey's MO," Bryant told Alabama Live.

Carol Moore, White’s mother, says he couldn’t have pulled this off. “I know that Casey wasn’t the mastermind of anything. She was the brains — we know that for sure,” Moore told the Daily Mail newspaper.

Even the head sheriff in the office that applied for the arrest warrant charging White with escape in the first degree said: “Casey White didn’t escape from the facility; he was basically just let out."

It’s not clear whether Casey has a new attorney yet or not. An email request for an interview to the attorney who represents White in the capital murder case, Jamy Poss, went unanswered.

Whomever White’s attorney may be, he or she will need to dispatch this escape charge quickly. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has held, repeatedly, that escape from custody implies a consciousness of guilt of unresolved charges. Casey White stands accused of capital murder; his life depends on this argument.

Such a defense will require not just more investigation but also closer scrutiny of what we already know Vicky White did. She broke more than just the rule on having two staff members accompany Casey White outside of the jail.

She reportedly asked another staff member to prepare Casey for transport but it’s not clear whether this included the strip search or not; an inqurity sent to the Lauderdale County Detention Center’s public information officer to ascertain this fact remains unanswered. PREA prohibits cross-gender viewing, disallowing female guards from seeing naked male inmates.

Yet Lauderdale County Detention Center transportation policy — updated in 2021 to handle the risk posed by detainees like Casey White — requires that the transporting officer search the people they take out of the jail. If a guard can’t search an inmate, then they can’t or at least shouldn’t be transporting them.


There’s a reason for this, according to Gangi. “When you're handing over an inmate, you're responsible for an inmate, so you're responsible for the strip when you take the inmate. And then usually when you drop off the inmate, the receiving agency or the receiving individual, that responsibility will be dropped. But if I'm picking up the inmate, he's my inmate, I got to do the strip before I put him in my vehicle because it's my responsibility. I can't trust someone else's words. And [Vicky White] would not be in a position to [search Casey White]. That would be a PREA violation."

Vicky may have refused to search Casey to dodge that particular PREA violation, but she erred in not bringing along with them the deputy who actually watched Casey White bend, squat, and cough.

Inevitably, this investigation will pose questions to Casey White about whether he said or did something to his captor, complained to anyone, that Vicky White was doing things to him against his will, including taking him out of the jail where he was ordered to live.
But those questions misunderstand the power imbalance that required a law like PREA in the first place. He was the inmate and she the guard. He had no authority and questioning hers puts him in further jeopardy. Any inmate who’s been subject to an illegal order knows that bind; there’s nothing he could have done, really, without risking more harm.

That still leaves much of the general public wondering which direction this White-on-White crime goes. As a corrections insider, Gangi thinks Casey manipulated Vicky. Judging by comments on news reports, people aren’t united on who’s zooming who down in Lauderdale County. Some think it was Casey but others draw hard lines around Vicky’s authority as a guard, citing her power -- the same power that caused Congress to outlaw the type of relationship that motivated this entire mess.

It’s hard to swallow but the PREA predators are often women; in certain studies, they’re the majority of the perps. Twelve years ago, 62 percent of the claims of sexual abuse by staff were levied against female guards.

The crime that needs the most attention in the case of Alabama v. Casey Cole White is Vicky White’s. If she committed rape, then he didn’t really escape.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.