Sixteen months after a judge ordered Alabama to end horrific conditions and abuse at the state’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, new information shows that, for some inmates, the suffering has got worse, says Women’s eNews. In December 2002, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson found that Tutwiler inmates were held in large dormitories, hundreds squashed together in unventilated rooms with nothing to do all day. More than 1,000 inmates occupied a facility originally built to house 364. The summer heat was stifling but there were not enough fans to cover all the dorms. Violence among inmates was common; health care was inadequate.
Thompson ordered the state to reduce overcrowding; last year, Alabama shipped 300 inmates to the South Louisiana Correctional Center, a private prison in Louisiana. Last week, The Birmingham News reported that Evangeline Parish District Attorney Brent Coreil would pursue criminal charges against an unspecified number of guards accused of improper sexual contact with the prisoners.
Also last week, Livingston County, Mich., settled a class-action lawsuit brought by 233 former inmates of the county jail for $355,000. They alleged, among other things, that male guards watched them take showers and use the toilet and denied them feminine hygiene products.
These cases suggest the rampant abuse that many of the 180,000 women in our nation’s prisons and jails risk every day, says Women’s eNews. The problem of male correctional officers sexually harassing, abusing, and raping female inmates permeates prisons and jails.
A 1997 survey of prisons in 40 states found that on average 41 percent of the correctional officers working with female inmates were men. Two-thirds of those guarding women in California were men; in Kansas, the figure was 72 percent. In the past, the role of male guards in women’s prisons was restricted to functions that limited actual physical contact. Anti-discrimination laws passed since the 1960s swept many of these restrictions away. Ironically, this was partly a result of lawsuits launched by female corrections officers to win the right to work in men’s prisons. States responded with “gender neutral” employment policies. But women often do not receive gender-neutral treatment.