The facts on women in prison

Pubdate: Tue, 01 Feb 2000Source: Summit Free Press (CO)
Copyright: 2000 Summit Free Press, Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
Address: PO Box 8386, Breckenridge, CO 80424
Author: Doug Malkan


Statistics for 1999 indicate that one in three women and one in five men sentenced to prison were convicted of a non-violent drug offense.


January 29, 2000 Web posted at: 11:51 p.m. EST (0451 GMT)

From Correspondent Frank Buckley

NEW YORK (CNN) — The number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate for men since 1980 and imprisonment of women for drug offenses has played a major role in this upsurge, says a study issued by The Sentencing Report, a prison reform organization in Washington DC.

The study also says there are now nearly seven times as many women in state and federal prisons as in 1980.

The number of women prisoners rose from 12,300 in 1980 to 82,000 in 1997, a rise of 573 percent, the group says. Drug offenses were cited as accounting for 49 percent of the rise in women in state prisons from 1986 to 1996, compared with 32 percent of the increase for men.

The number of women imprisoned for drug offenses rose by 888 percent from 1986 to 1996, in contrast to a rise of 129 percent for all non-drug offenses, The Sentencing Project says.

The Project found that drug offenses accounted for 91 percent of the increase in women sentenced to prison in New York from 1986 to 1995, 55 percent in California and 26 percent in Minnesota.

The Sentencing Project found that two-thirds of women in prison have children who are younger than 18. Many of the women were single parents.

General Accounting Office

The General Accounting Office is the investigative arm of Congress. GAO exists to support the Congress in meeting its Constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and accountability of the federal government for the American people. GAO examines the use of public funds, evaluates federal programs and activities, and provides analyses, options, recommendations, and other assistance to help the Congress make effective oversight, policy, and funding decisions. In this context, GAO works to continuously improve the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of the federal government through financial audits, program reviews and evaluations, analyses, legal opinions, investigations, and other services. GAO’s activities are designed to ensure the executive branch’s accountability to the Congress under the Constitution and the government’s accountability to the American people. GAO is dedicated to good government through its commitment to the values of accountability, integrity, and reliability.

GAO — Women In Prison: Issues and Challenges Confronting U.S. Correctional Systems

Growth in female inmate population: Since 1980, the number of female inmates under the jurisdiction of federal and state correctional authorities increased more than 500 percent-from about 13,400 in 1980 to about 84,400 at calendar year-end 1998, with the preponderance in state facilities. As figure 1 shows, the increase has been steady during this period. In fact, the number of female inmates in federal and state prisons increased each year since 1980. The growth in both the female and male inmate prison populations since 1980 can be traced in part to changes in sentencing laws that are intended to get tough on crime, particularly on drug offenders (e.g., mandatory minimum sentences and repeat offender provisions).

While far smaller in total than the total male inmate population, the female inmate population is growing at a faster rate. For example, from 1990 to calendar year-end 1998, the annual rate of growth for the female inmate population averaged 8.5 percent, versus an average annual increase of 6.6 percent for male inmates. Also, from 1990 to 1997 (the most recently available data), imprisonment rates for both female and male inmates showed similar but widespread disparities by race and Hispanic origin. For example, in 1997, black females were more than twice as likely as Hispanic females and eight times more likely than white females to be in prison. (See app. II.)

While far smaller in total than the male inmate population, female inmates have become a larger part of the total prison population. For example, in 1998, women prisoners accounted for 6.5 percent of all prisoners nationwide, up from 5.7 percent in 1990 and 4.1 percent in 1980. Also, from 1990 to 1997 (the most recently available data), female and male incarceration rates showed similar but widespread racial and ethnic disparities. For example, in 1997, black non-Hispanic females (with an incarceration rate of 200 per 100,000) were more than twice as likely as Hispanic females (87 per 100,000) and eight times more likely than white non-Hispanic females (25 per 100,000) to be in prison. These differences among white, black, and Hispanic females were consistent across all age groups.

The growth in the female inmate prison population can be traced in part to changes in sentencing laws that are intended to get tough on crime, particularly on drug offenders (e.g., mandatory minimum sentences and repeat offender provisions). For example, during the 1990s, drug offenders accounted for the largest source of total growth among female inmates. More specifically, from 1990 to 1997 (the most recently available data), the number of female inmates serving time for drug offenses nearly doubled, while the number of male inmates serving time for drug offenses increased by 48 percent. The number of female and male inmates serving time for violent offenses, however, increased at about the same pace (up 68 percent for women and 64 percent for men).

GAO – [GGD-99-104] Women in Prison: Sexual Misconduct by Correctional Staff

As of April 1999, the federal government, 41 states, and the District of Columbia had passed laws criminalizing some types of staff sexual misconduct in prisons. However, GAO’s work in the four jurisdictions found that sexual misconduct persists.

Between 1995 and 1998, female inmates in the three largest jurisdictions GAO studied made 506 allegations of staff sexual misconduct; 92 of them were sustained, generally resulting in staff firings or resignations. But the full extent of sexual misconduct is unknown because two of the three jurisdictions did not provide data on all types of allegations.

Officials in the four jurisdictions cited a lack of evidence as the primary reason why more allegations were not sustained. Generally, none of the four jurisdictions GAO studied had readily available, comprehensive data or reports on the number, the nature, and the outcome of staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct allegations. The absence of such systematic information makes it difficult for lawmakers, corrections management, and others to effectively address the problem.

1995 to 1998. BOP provided us with summary information for the 14 cases that resulted in prosecutions with convictions during this period.The summary information shows that the allegations involved male staff at seven different BOP facilities and included having sex with an inmate, having sex in exchange for money, sexual abuse, and forced sexual assault (i.e., rape).

BOP provided the following sentencing information for the 14 cases: * Seven convictions resulted in sentences of incarceration ranging from 3 to 232 months. * Six convictions resulted in sentences of probation ranging from 12 to 60 months, of which, 1 conviction also included home confinement. * One conviction resulted in a sentence of 3 months home confinement. In addition to incarceration, probation, and home confinement, 10 of the 14 sentences included fines or restitution ranging from $25 to $5,000. Other sentencing provisions included community service and supervised release.

In one of the cases settled, BOP agreed to pay three women $500,000 to end a lawsuit in which the women claimed they had been beaten, raped, and sold by guards for sex with male inmates.

According to California Department of Corrections officials, the department was involved in two civil lawsuits related to staff sexual misconduct during 1995 to 1998. In one case, settled in 1996, the department agreed to pay the plaintiff and her attorneys $73,000 to end a lawsuit that alleged forced sexual intercourse, among other things. The other lawsuit-alleging sexual harassment, assault, improper touching, and lewd sexual remarks-was still pending at the time of our review.

The District of Columbia Department of Corrections has had long-standing problems involving allegations of sexual misconduct by correctional staff. For example, in October 1993, female inmates filed suit in federal district court, alleging various violations of constitutional rights, including an allegation that the Department of Corrections failed to protect them against sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape by guards.17 A result of this lawsuit was that, in December 1994, the Department of Corrections 17Women Prisoners of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections v. District of Columbia, Staff Sexual Misconduct in Female Prisons B-282772 was required by court order to develop a policy, provide staff and inmates with training, and take other appropriate steps to prevent and remedy staff sexual misconduct.

AMNESTY International: 1999 report on the USA

In August the un Special Rapporteur on violence against women visited prisons and immigration detention facilities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia, California and Minnesota. The state authorities refused her entry to three Michigan prisons where it was alleged that female inmates had been sexually abused by guards.

There were allegations of sexual abuse of women prisoners in states including California, Michigan and New York. There were allegations that prison staff in Michigan had threatened or harassed inmates and staff who reported complaints. In March a federal court agreed to pay three women us$500,000 to settle a lawsuit in which they claimed that they had been beaten, raped and sold for sex to male inmates by guards at the Federal Detention Center in Pleasanton, California.

Amnesty International: Torture and abuse of prisoners: from “USA: Rights for all”

Physical and sexual violence are endemic in many prisons and jails

In 1997, the Department of Justice sued the states of Michegan and Arizona for failing to protect women from sexual misconduct, including sexual assaults and “prurient viewing during dressing, showering and use of toilet facilities.

In some institutions, rape and sexual abuse have persisted because inmates fear retaliation and feel too vulnerable to complain. Also of concern is the fact that staff of the opposite sex are allowed to undertake searches involving body contact and to be present where inmates are naked.

It is common practice for prisoners and detainees to be shackled during transportation – whether or not they pose any threat. Pregnant women, for example, are usually held in some for of mechanical restraint while being trasported and sometimes while in hospital.

Annette Romo, a young pregnant woman in a Maricopa jail, pleaded in vain with staff for medical help when she began bleeding in 1997. She eventually fell unconscious and was rushed to hospital. Her baby died.