Bureau of Prisons Neglects Female Inmates’ Needs: DOJ Watchdog

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Photo by Lwp Kommunikáció via Flickr

A report released by the Justice Department cites the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for not adequately addressing the needs of female inmates when it comes to trauma treatment, pregnancy programming, and hygiene. It says oversight of policies, including those regarding strip searches, are conducted remotely– with no onsite visits to ensure compliance.

The DOJ Office of Inspector General review, sparked by concerns from members of Congress and special interest groups, examined the BOP’s management of female inmates between 2012 and 2016–  and criticized the agency for only recently beginning to take steps to formalize oversight and compliance of a Female Offender Manual published in 2016. As of June, these efforts were still not fully implemented, according to the report; currently, any program reviews the agency does conduct are held entirely offsite.

The new manual served an update to the policy first created in 1997 on management of female inmates, and incorporated specific “gender-responsive language on how BOP should classify and designate female inmates; discipline female inmates; provide gender-responsive programming; and address birth control, pregnancy, child placement, and abortion. ”

Much of the 2016 manual focused on mandatory training for all staff in trauma-informed correctional care; however, the BOP did not require the same training for executives responsible for policy and decision-making, according to the report.

Research shows at least 90 percent of women and girls behind bars have experienced trauma prior to incarceration; the most prevalent kind being repeated sexual violence, followed by domestic violence, according to the report.

The Resolve program, offered at 14 of BOP’s 15 female institutions, provides targeted care for those with trauma-induced mental illness. The IG interviewed several participates who said it had been helpful in dealing with past events, and preparing for release.

But the program is understaffed to the extent that it only serves 3 percent of the female inmate population, according to the report; six institutions have intake waiting lists of over 150 women. Additionally, the program is only available in English. According to a warden and a chief psychologist at two institutions, the need for Spanish-language programming is dire. “There’s horrific history, but we just can’t get to them,” said the psychologist.

As of 2016, women made up 7 percent of incarcerated adults; the majority are held in either low or minimum security facilities. Management of these inmates falls under the Women and Special Populations Branch, which oversees numerous special populations.

The report also found the pregnancy program to be underutilized, in part due to social worker vacancies, and because staff weren’t aware of the eligibility criteria for the program. BOP institution staff were also unaware of Washington State’s Residential Parenting Program; and as a result, only 6 inmates participated between 2012 and 2016.

As a result of its findings, the IG made a list of ten recommendations to ensure that BOP practices are in line with policies adopted two years ago:

  1. Fully implement ongoing plans to create a permanent program review for the Female Offender Manual that includes in-person visits and an institution-specific rating.
  2. Determine the appropriate level of staffing that should be allocated to the Women and Special Populations Branch based on an analysis of its broad mission and responsibilities.
  3. Ensure that all officials who enter into National Executive Staff positions have taken appropriate, current training specific to the unique needs of female inmates and trauma-informed correctional care.
  4. Identify ways to expand the staffing of the Resolve program.
  5. Improve the communication of its pregnancy program availability and eligibility criteria to relevant staff and pregnant inmates to ensure consistent understanding across BOP institutions.
  6. Improve data tracking to allow it to more easily identify inmates who are aware of, interested in, eligible for, or participating in pregnancy programs, as well as to assess barriers to participation.
  7. Clarify guidance on the distribution of feminine hygiene products to ensure sufficient access to the amount of products inmates need free of charge.
  8. Improve the availability of female staff at locations in female institutions where inmate searches are common, through the establishment of genderspecific posts or other methods.
  9. Establish policy that determines how long sentenced inmates can be confined in a detention center, or ensures that the conditions of confinement and inmate programming at a detention center more closely approximate those of a non-detention center when sentenced inmates are housed there.
  10. Explore options to procure female Special Housing Unit space closer to Federal Correctional Institution Danbury.

The full report, Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Management of Its Female Inmate Population, can be viewed here.


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