Abuse of Women in Custody in the United States

A report by Amnesty International, Abuse of Women in Custody - Sexual Misconduct and Shackling of Pregnant Women, reveals that many states have a poor record of providing women inmates with fundamental protections against sexual abuse and that many allow -- or even require -- the shackling of women during pregnancy and labor. On this Web site, the findings of Abuse of Women in Custody are presented state by state, and the section will be updated regularly for use as an activist tool.


Some Facts about Incarcerated Women

Female inmates comprise about 6% of all inmates, yet they are the fastest growing segment of the total prison population. The yearly growth rate for female incarceration is 1.5 times higher than the rate for men. Women now make up a greater percentage of today's prison population than ever before.

With the advent of mandatory sentencing laws in the mid-eighties, the female prison population has exploded throughout the country. Nationwide the female prison population grew by 592% from 12, 279 in 1977 to 85, 031 in 2001. In l986 in California the female inmate population was 3, 564. Today the population numbers approximately 11,000. This constitutes a statewide increase of approximately 340 %. According to the California Department of Corrections, every prison in the state is operating at 190% capacity today, at a cost of $30, 929 per inmate.

More women are incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses than for any other crime. In California 78 % of women are incarcerated for non-violent crimes which are usually drug related. Despite the fact that drug addiction is one of the primary causes of female incarceration, there are very few drug treatment options available to incarcerated women in this state. The California Institution for Women and Valley State Prison for Women each offers a substance abuse program that provides treatment to approximately 50 women at a time. Criteria for entering the program is very narrowly drawn, and often excludes the women who have the greatest need for treatment.

The majority of women in prison are mothers, and they are usually the primary caretakers of the children. The huge increase in female incarceration has significant impact on children and families. An incarcerated woman is at risk of losing her children to the foster care system, and many of the women eventually lose their parental rights altogether. The legal process usually commences while the women are in county jail where there is no legal assistance available and notification of court proceedings is unreliable at best. The separation from family, and the risk of losing their children, is one of the most devastation consequences of female incarceration.

A 1995 study of women in the California prison system found that 71% had experienced ongoing physical abuse prior to the age of 18, and 62% reported ongoing physical abuse after the age of 18. 41% of the women reported sexual abuse prior to the age of 18 and 41% reported sexual abuse after the age of 18. (Barbara Bloom, Barbara Owen, Profiling the Needs of California's Female Prisoners) Despite these numbers the Department of Corrections does not offer counseling programs for victims of sexual abuse. The only program for victims of physical abuse is the inmate activity group, Convicted Women Against Abuse (CWAA) where the women try to help themselves and each other to deal with their abuse.


As of October 1, 2003 there were 161, 917 people incarcerated in the State of California at an average cost $26, 125 per person per year. It is currently estimated that the Department of Corrections will overspend its budget this year by $544 million dollars which is largely due to pay increases, overtime, and other benefits granted to the prison guards union (CCFPOA) by former Governor Gray Davis.

Eight percent of incarcerated persons are female whose incarceration costs are slightly higher those of men due to greater medical needs. Several thousand women are currently serving life sentences, mostly for convictions involving domestic violence or passive participation in crimes committed by men. The recidivism rate for female lifers is LESS THAN 1%.

Women who have been sentenced to life terms simply do not re-offend. Nevertheless, Governor Davis bowed to the pressures of CCPOA and refused to approve parole for all but 3 battered women during his term Since his election, Governor Schwartzenegger has released 3 people but refused to parole 5 others.

Due to the draconian increases in sentencing, and the refusal to parole lifers the prison population has aged dramatically with attendant increases in illness and health care costs. For example, Helen Loheac is 81 years old and has served nearly 13 years for a conspiracy case in which no one was killed or injured in any way. Helen is transported to Riverside General Medical Center 3 times each week for kidney dialysis. It has cost the state approximately $750,000.00 for her treatment thus far. The BPT is currently investigating her case for possible clemency but the case is currently "on the back burner" due to case load pressures.

CCWF has a population of 435 lifers, 66 of whom are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). CIW has about 290 lifers, 23 of whom are LWOPS. 65 lifers at CIW are 55 years of age or older, the oldest being 81. This population tends to be chronically ill and expensive to care for, but the real cost is the salaries of prison guards, and the padding of transportation costs. Attendant costs that run in the millions, but don't appear in the CDC budget are the medical malpractice settlements that amount to millions of dollars per year due to the poor medical care.

The following suggestions would drastically reduce prison spending and pose no threat to
public safety.
Release all battered women as required by law
Release all women who are aged and/or chronically ill
Amend PC 1170(e) to permit the immediate release of inmates who are terminally ill
Uphold all parole recommendations of the Board of Prison Terms
Provide drug treatment rather than incarceration

Prison Time Takes Priority over College Education

November 19, 2003

Most of us know someone that has gone to prison or someone that might be headed in that direction.

A study conducted by CNN found that, at the end of 2001, one in every 37 adults had been imprisioned at some point in their life. Each inmate costs the state $28,000 to $35,000 annually, according to Sue North, chief of staff for state Sen. John Vasconcellos, a member of the Senate committee that oversees prisons.

It tends to be quite a fine to society. California alone spent 25 billion dollars in housing such convicts. This, compared to the $9.7 billion allotted to higher education, is quite a chunk of our budget. This is the same budget that is in a deficit.

What is wrong with the United States when we as a country have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the prisoners?

Last year 6.5 million people were involved in the California corrections system in one way or another. That is a scary number but what is even scarier is to look at what exactly this means for 6.5 million families that were effected by this lock up.

It is without debate that the majority of these families are lower class, unemployed or minority families.

The large majority of these prisoners are men. 1 in 4 black males is said to be have been arrested. This leaves single mothers, even poorer families, and more strain on our welfare, unemployment and prison systems.

With the growing numbers of ex-prisoners means more people in society have difficulty finding jobs because they have felony convictions. If you were an employer and given the choice between an ex-con or a non-ex-con, who would you choose?

The current slight recession makes it hard enough to find a job. If you don’t work, you are left with few options other than crime.

We have made it so that ex-felons cannot even vote. We are overlooking a large part of society when we deny these people a constitution given right.

Since these are mainly poor and minorities it is very easy to look pass them. Especially when our judicial system is run by rich white men.

The chunk of individuals who are effected most by the law can’t even vote on it.

You can give a man 15 years in prison because he comes home and sees his wife cheating on him and kills her.

The penalty of the crime almost assuredly didn’t deter him. He was heated and out of his mind when he killed them both. We will have to pay up to $525,000 to house him for his term.

Would it hurt if we only put him in for five years?

When he gets out I would bet money on him never committing the same crime again.

There needs to be a societal reform. The present trend with laws like three strikes is to lock people up and throw away the key. We are definitely locking them up but we are paying for it.

Throwing away the key is costing us three times as much as what is allotted to higher education. Locking up everyone for even longer means that children go without parents and wives without husbands. We need to correct people instead of warehousing them.

The number of people sent to prison for the first time tripled from 1974 to 2001 as sentences got tougher, especially for drug offenses. There are more ex-prisoners as well, the result of longer life expectancies and a larger U.S. population.

Looking at the bigger picture… Schools Not Jails! (http://www.studentsforjustice.net/article07.html)· The California prison budget this year will increase by $16 million

· From 1852 to 1984 (132 years) California built 12 prisons

· From 1984 to 1998 (14 years) California opened 21 new prisons

· From 1988 to 1998 (10 years) California built 1 CSU and 1 UC campus.

The report concludes that California’s higher education systems face many challenges over the next several years, chief among them being increasing enrollment pressures.

The Post-secondary Education Commission recently updated its 1999 enrollment projections and now estimates that nearly 442,000 new students will enroll in the community colleges, State University, and University of California between 2002 and 2010. Published by The California Postsecondary Education Commission.

Our problem remains with a state congressional branch that is afraid to commit political suicide by going “soft” on criminals. The only way that we can possibly change is to have a change of heart.

It might be a possibilty that criminals are criminal for other reasons than making unwise decisions. Going “soft” on criminals is nothing more than trying to help other human beings.

Should we lock up Taylor and throw away the key?

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