No Humans Involved?

From Ms. Magazine:

Book NHI, or no humans involved, is police jargon for the morgue remains of women prostitutes and African Americans. It’s no accident that the phrase, which neatly expresses our society’s flippancy toward suffering borne by the socalled underclass, sports a hip acronym. Language can reveal the carelessness and cruelty of a culture that strips people of human rights, particularly when they are caught up in the criminal justice system.

Investigative reporter Silja Talvi focuses on the dehumanization of women behind bars in her new book, though she also tells of our nation’s dramatic expansion of its prison system, and the political opportunism, profiteering, rampant stereotypes and misguided policies that support that expansion. But given the stories of struggle and dignity culled from Talvi’s interviews with about 100 imprisoned girls and women, it’s hard to dismiss their humanity. Not uncommonly, these women receive brutal treatment along with their sentences: rape and prostitution rings administered by guards, life-threatening “health care,” overmedication (what some women refer to as “chemical handcuffs”) and confinement in “control” units — small, soundproof cubicles without natural air, sunlight, reading material or human contact — that leads to mental breakdowns. In the war on drugs, addicted pregnant women are incarcerated despite the lack of funding for rehabilitation programs, while inside some prisons mental-health counseling is turned over to untrained Christian fundamentalists. Talvi describes how our nation’s punitive political and social mandates, as well as our racial and class biases, have created a “penal democracy.”

More here.