The population of women in prison has increased dramatically since the 1980s, a growth outpacing that of men, yet “many prison policies and facilities are not designed for women or tailored to their specific needs” and “incarcerated women report extremely high rates, and much higher rates than men, of histories of physical, sexual, and mental trauma,” according to a report released Wednesday by the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
Up to now, “there have been few national-level studies of the civil rights issues incarcerated women experience,” claimed the report, entitled “Women in Prison: Seeking Justice Behind Bars.”
The Commission studied such issues as a deprivation of women’s medical needs that “may violate the constitutional requirement to provide adequate medical care for all prisoners”; implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA); and the sufficiency of programs to meet women’s needs after release.
The Commission also examined disparities in discipline practices for women in prison compared with men, and the impacts of incarcerated women being placed far from home or having their parental rights terminated.
The study concluded that many existing policies were adopted from men’s prison institutions “without evaluating their application to women’s prison institutions.”
Women are clearly not receiving the legal protections that they are entitled to. “Notwithstanding federal statutory legal protections such as the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), aimed at protecting incarcerated people, many incarcerated women continue to experience physical and psychological safety harms while incarcerated and insufficient
satisfaction of their constitutional rights.”
1.) Classification systems that are not calibrated for gender-specific characteristics have been shown to classify incarcerated women at higher security requirement levels than necessary for the safety and security of prisons.
2.) Women classified at higher security levels may receive fewer vocational and educational, community placement, and reentry opportunities than they would have received had they been classified at lower security levels.
3.) Many incarcerated women are placed at facilities far from their families, limiting visitation opportunities. Many prison policies do not prioritize family visits, such as by permitting extremely limited family visitation hours that often do not reflect distances visiting family must travel.
4.) Some prisons provide adequate healthcare specific to women, such as gynecological and prenatal care, while others do not. The high rates at which incarcerated women report past trauma results in the need for mental health care and treatment while incarcerated.
5.) Sexual abuse and rape remain prevalent against women in prison. Incarcerated women who report sexual assault have experienced retaliation by their institutions and prison personnel in violation of the law.
In a letter accompanying the report addressed to President Trump, the chair of the U.S. Commission on Human Rights, Catherine E. Lhamon, said the commission called on the Department of Justice to continue to litigate enforcement of the civil rights of incarcerated women in states that violate these mandates and the rights of incarcerated women.
“Prison officials should adopt validated assessment tools, currently available, to avoid inaccurately classifying incarcerated women to a higher security level than appropriate,” said the report.
“Prison officials should give strong preference to placing incarcerated women in as close proximity as possible with location of their family, provide free video and lowcost phone services to incarcerated persons, and not ban in-person visits for non-safety reasons.”
Read the full report here