Women in prison face many problems; some resulting from their lives prior to imprisonment, others resulting from their imprisonment itself. Women in prison have experienced victimization, unstable family life, school and work failure, and substance abuse and mental health problems. Social factors that marginalize their participation in mainstream society and contribute to the rising number of women in prison include poverty, minority group member, single motherhood, and homelessness.
While in U.S. prisons, women, like prisoners throughout the world, face specific pains and deprivations arising directly from their imprisonment. Criminologists have argued that the prison system is ill-equipped to deal with these problems and that theses issues are better managed outside the punitive environment of the prison (Owen and Bloom; Owen). Without attention to these issues, women are often released from prison unprepared to manage their preexisting problems as well as those created by their imprisonment. There are several critical problems faced by women in prison; most are unmet in the prison environment.Separation from children and significant others.
Most women in prision is mothers and some are women having children under the age of eighteen. Mothers in prison face problems in keeping relationships with their children because of the distance between them. Emotional reactions such as anger, anxiety, depression, and aggression have been found in the children of incarcerated mothers. While most children of imprisoned mothers live with relative, just a few of these children may be placed in the child welfare system. These conditions compound the problem of mothers keeping contact with their children.
Over half of the women in prision say they dont recieve vists or phone calls from their children. 4-9 percent of women come to prison pregnant. Women who give birth while incarcerated are rarely allowed to spend time with their child after birth. Bedford Hills, a women’s prison in New York, is the only program in the U.S.
that allows women to keep their newborns with them in a special prison program. Most correctional systems do not take into account the importance of the mother-child relationship. Some states, such as New York and California, have begun innovative programs to address these problems. One of those innovations are providing special visiting areas for mothers and children.Lack of substance abuse treatmentAlthough women offenders are very likely to have an extensive history of drug and alcohol use, a small percentage of women receive any treatment within the justice system. There are limited treatment for pregnant, mentally ill, and violent women offenders, and a lack of appropriate treatment and vocational training limit the effectiveness of the few programs that exist.
These findings are supported by a study released by the National Center on Addition and Substance Abuse. The report found that women substance abusers are affected by intense emotional distress, psychosomatic symptoms, and low self-esteem than male inmates.Physical and mental health care In addition to requiring basic health care, women offenders often have specific health needs related to their risky sexual and drug-using behavior prior to imprisonment. Women in prison are also at risk for infectious diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, and hepatitis B and C infections. Pregnancy and reproductive health needs are another neglected area of health care.
Problems of the women who are pregnant include lack of prenatal and postnatal care, education regarding childbirth and parenting, or no preparation for the mother’s separation from the infant after delivery. The impact of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse found in the experience of women offenders also creates a significant need for counseling and therapy. This abuse has implications for their emotional and physical well-being and may be tied to drug-abusing and offending behaviors.Vocation and educational programsIn addition to insufficient substance abuse and mental health services, educational and vocational programs are also in short supply. In general, women across the country lack training needed to obtain jobs that pay a living wage. Many vocational programs for female inmates emphasize traditional roles for women and work.Sexual abuseThe patterns of sexual abuse in the early days of women’s imprisonment continue in the contemporary era. Human Rights Watch examined this serious problem in their review of sexual abuse in selected U.
S. prisons. The damage of the abuse itself is compounded by four specific issues: 1.the inability to escape one’s abuser , 2.
ineffectual or nonexistent investigative procedures, 3. lack of employee accountability (criminally or administratively, and lastely little or no public concern. The report bluntly states that the “findings indicate that being a woman in U.
S. state prisons can be a terrifying experience” Lack of Proper SanitationThe most common complaint across female inmate prisons was lack of space and hygiene. Only about half the prisons provided free hot water, and a few provided cleaning products for free.
Inmates in Guatemala and Zambia don’t receive free hygiene products from the prison, not even soap. These women described the trauma of trying to keep themselves clean and maintain their hygiene during menstruation. Also, after giving birth women have to return to prision within a day sometimes within hours. The lack of proper medical care and hygiene materials during this time is dangerous to the mother’s health.
The prisions that do keep mothers and children together, mothers express their guilt, helplessness and fear. They cannot keep their children fed on the rations of food provided to them, especially in prisons that don’t give children their own food. That results in women making the hardest decision in their life, which is having to make the decision to give their children up for adoption.
Human Rights watch “The situation for women in U.S. state prisons is intolerable,” said Dorothy Q.
Thomas, director of the Human Rights Watch Women’s Rights Project and an author of the report. “Male officers are sexually abusing female prisoners while the state and federal governments largely look the other way. It doesn’t take a lot of resources to remedy this problem, just the political will to put a stop to it.” Human Rights Watch calls on all states to enforce prison rules that define and prohibit all forms of sexual misconduct, including sexual intercourse and touching, inappropriate visual surveillance, and verbal degradation and harassment. They further call on states to make all sexual contact by officers with prisoners a crime and to ensure that correctional employees who engage in such misconduct are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. At least half of all female prisoners have experienced some form of sexual abuse prior to incarceration.One of the main factors contributing to sexual misconduct in U.S.
state prisons is that they are in violation of international norms, allows male officers to serve in positions that involve constant physical contact with female prisoners. The increased number of women in U.S.
state prisons are more often than not being guarded by men. Male officers vaginally, anally, and orally rape and sexually assault and abuse female prisoners. They use mandatory pat-frisks to grope women’s breasts, butt and vaginal areas, view them inappropriately while undress, and engage in constant verbal harassment.
In some cases, women have been impregnated as a result of sexual misconduct and some of these prisoners have faced additional abuse in the form of inappropriate segregation, denial of adequate health care, and pressure to seek an abortion.In committing such gross misconduct, male officers have abused their nearly absolute power over female prisoners to force them to have sex, either through actual or threatened physical violence or through the provision or, by implication, threat to deny goods and privileges. In other cases, male officers have offered or provided goods and privileges to female prisoners as a form of reward for engaging in sexual relations or have violated their most basic professional duty and engaged in sexual contact with female prisoners absent the use or threat of force or any material exchange.
Correctional systems routinely refuse to acknowledge this problem and often only do so when class actions suits are lodged against them. Most departments of corrections have failed to establish credible internal grievance, investigatory and disciplinary procedures that do not expose women prisoners to retaliation or punishment and guarantee that abusive officers are appropriately punished. Few state legislatures have established independent monitors to oversee the prison systems, leaving most departments of corrections to investigate themselves. That dosen’t mean much because sometimes cameras are not being watched and some places there are not cameras. State police are not consistently informed of suspected sexual misconduct and even when they are, such cases are rarely prosecuted. The neglect of sexual misconduct by U.S. officials has reached the highest levels of the government.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has the power both to prosecute correctional officials who violate federal civil rights and to investigate and institute civil actions against a state facility that is engaging in a pattern or practice of subjecting prisoners to “egregious or flagrant” conditions. Unfortunately, while the DOJ has investigated some women’s facilities for sexual misconduct, it is falling far short of its obligations to protect against this abuse. Although, the DOJ regularly receives complaints of custodial sexual misconduct, the department maintains no system for recording such complaints, or does it monitor the number of complaints concerning any particular institution or type of abuse. The U.S.
stated that the problem of custodial sexual misconduct in U.S. state prisons for women is “addressed through staff training and through criminal statutes prohibiting such activity.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Human Rights Watch calls on the United States publicly to acknowledge the custodial sexual misconduct that pervades its state prison facilities for women and makes the following recommendations urging the federal government and its constituent states to take meaningful steps to prevent, investigate, punish and ultimately eliminate this major problem. Discussions To improve the situation will require awareness, thought and action at all levels of the policy-making chain such as: politicians, prison management, health advocates and prison staff. The following things should be considered:First, the imprisonment of women should be considered only when all other alternatives are unavailable or unsuitable. This is even more important for pregnant women and women with young children.
Its importance becomes very clear when the personal and social costs of imprisonment of women are considered, in the context of their pathways to crime and their roles in their social life, their family and community .To prevent imprisonment in the first place, community-based services need to be strengthened and more widely used, especially for substance use, sexual and reproductive health and mental health, these should also provide proper care on release from prison. Evidence concerning community-based residential parenting programmes has led to the recommendation that, whenever possible, custodial parents and pregnant women within the criminal justice system should be housed in community settings.Second, important gaps remain in staff training. The acts of criminal behaviour in women and the long lasting effects of histories of violence and abuse should be known and understood by those providing supervision and care for women prisoners. All staff working with women prisoners should have followed gender-sensitivity training to raise awareness of and improve response to these gender-related issues.