Prison conditions


"Not Part of My Sentence": Violations of the Human Rights of Women in Custody

This is one of a series of reports being issued by Amnesty International as part of a worldwide campaign against human rights abuses in the USA. For an abridged version of this report, please see: United States of America: "Not Part of My Sentence" -Violations of the Human Rights of Women In Custody, AI Index AMR 51/19/99. An overview of the human rights concerns that are the focus of the campaign is provided in Amnesty International's report United States of America: Rights for All, AI Index: AMR 51/35/98.

The focus of the report is women who have been accused or convicted of breaking criminal laws. Amnesty International is releasing a separate report on the detention of asylum seekers in the USA, which includes cases of women who seek asylum.

The incarceration of girls in the USA was examined in Amnesty International's report, Betraying the Young, AI Index: AMR 51/57/98, published in November 1998.

Amnesty International acknowledges the considerable assistance it received from many people including incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women; lawyers and other people advocating on behalf of incarcerated women; researchers; and federal and state government officials in the USA.

In November 1998 Amnesty International delegates visited Valley State Prison for Women in California where they interviewed staff and prisoners and were provided with documents. Amnesty International's delegates were Dr Silvia Casale, a prison consultant and UK member of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and two staff members of Amnesty International's International Secretariat. Amnesty International was given access to all parts of the prison and was allowed to interview individual prisoners in private, as well as talk freely to inmates and staff during their tour. Amnesty International greatly appreciates the assistance it received in arranging and undertaking the visit from officers of the California Department of Corrections in Sacramento and at the prison.


"That was not part of my sentence, to ... perform oral sex with the officers."

New York prisoner Tanya Ross, November 1998 [Interview on Dateline NBC television, November 1, 1998, National Broadcasting Co Ltd.]

This report describes violations of the human rights of women incarcerated in prisons and jails [ Most "prisons" are state and federal facilities for people sentenced to imprisonment for longer than a year. "Jails" are local government (county and city) facilities mainly holding people who are in custody before they are tried or who have been sentenced to imprisonment for less than a year.] in the United States of America. The rights are set out in a number of agreements that have been adopted by an overwhelming majority of countries.

Many of the violations described in this report, such as sexual abuse committed by prison guards, are also prohibited by laws of the USA. However, as the report shows, a female prisoner may find it extraordinarily difficult to stop unlawful conduct or to have a perpetrator brought to justice. She may have good reason to fear that if she complains she will be victimised again or that investigators will not believe her word in the face of denial by a guard.

Other violations reflect a significant difference between the rights of women set out in international standards and federal and state laws in the USA. For example, international standards provide that female prisoners should be supervised only by female guards. In contrast, under laws of the USA, a male guard may watch over a woman, even when she is dressing or showering or using the toilet. He may touch every part of her body when he searches for contraband.

International standards restrict the use of restraints to situations where they are necessary to prevent escape or to prevent prisoners from injuring themselves or others or from damaging property. In the USA restraints are used as a matter of course. A woman who is in labour or seriously ill, even dying, may be taken to a hospital in handcuffs and chained by her leg to the bed.

Under international standards, it is considered inhumane to punish prisoners by placing them in isolation for a prolonged period in conditions of reduced sensory stimulation. In the USA, several states have prison units where women are held in such conditions.

The laws of the United States proclaim the equality of men and women. However the United States Senate has declined to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a treaty that has been ratified by most governments.

Amnesty International calls on federal, state and local governments and authorities to take urgent action to ensure that the laws, regulations, policies and practices for which they are responsible rigorously conform to international standards and respect the human rights of women deprived of their liberty.


1.    International Standards

"Unless the human rights of women, as defined by international human rights instruments, are fully recognized and effectively protected, applied, implemented and enforced in national law as well as in national practice...they will exist in name only."

Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted at Fourth World Conference on Women, 1995 [ Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, UN document A/CONF.177/20, 17 October 1995, paragraph 228.].

During the last 50 years, the international community has adopted a number of standards and mechanisms to protect the human rights of individuals in relation to the governments within whose jurisdictions they reside. The standards are based on the precept that human rights are universal and an international responsibility, not simply an internal one. International human rights standards articulate the criteria against which the conduct of the authorities of any nation, including the USA, should be measured.

The USA made a significant contribution to the development of the international standards and mechanisms of human rights protection. However, it has declined to ratify key human rights treaties, has reserved the right not to implement important provisions of treaties that it has ratified and has refused to permit people within the USA to bring complaints about alleged violations of their human rights to international monitoring bodies [See Amnesty International, United States of America: Rights for All, AI Index: AMR 51/35/98, chapter 7.].

In December 1998, President Clinton ordered government agencies to promote monitoring and implementation of federal and state government obligations under international human rights treaties, to conduct an annual review of the reservations the US has made to the treaties it has ratified and other measures to advance implementation of international human rights treaties [ Executive Order 13107, 10 December 1998.]. Amnesty International hopes that the President's initiative will bring about greater acceptance of and conformity with international standards by the USA.

The following paragraphs describe a number of international treaties and other instruments that enshrine rights that are particularly important to people who are accused or convicted of breaking the criminal law, including people who are deprived of their liberty.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

The ICCPR is the principal international treaty setting out fundamental civil and political rights for everybody. One hundred and forty nations have ratified the treaty, that is, have agreed to be legally bound by its provisions which include:

*    the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 7)

*    the right of any detained person to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person (Article 10)

*    the right to privacy without arbitrary interference (Article 17).
Governments are required to ensure to every person the rights recognized in the treaty without distinction of any kind, such as sex and race (Article 2). The ICCPR also recognizes that all people are equal before the law and are entitled to equal and effective protection against discrimination on grounds such as sex and race (Article 26). The prohibition of discrimination in the ICCPR and the right to privacy includes a prohibition of discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation [Human Rights Committee decision in Toonen v Australia, UN Doc:CCPR/C/50/D/488/1992, views adopted 31 March 1994.].

The USA became a party to the ICCPR in 1992 but it reserved the right to refrain from implementing certain provisions or to restrict their application. For example, the US government stated that the United States considered itself to be bound by the prohibition of "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment" in Article 7 of the ICCPR only to the extent that Article 7 referred to "the cruel and unusual treatment or punishment prohibited by... the Constitution of the United States." The US government did so because the reference to "degrading treatment or punishment" in Article 7 of the ICCPR might cover treatment that would not be prohibited by the US Constitution [See Report of the US State Department appended in "Message to the US Senate from the President," transmitting the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, May 20 1988, treaty Document 100-20, page 15.]. It was not willing to prohibit conduct that was not already prohibited by US law. The Human Rights Committee, a body of experts established by the ICCPR who provide authoritative guidance on the interpretation of its provisions and monitor governments' implementation, has stated that it considers the US reservation to Article 7 "incompatible with the object and purpose of the Covenant." [ UN Doc CCPR/C/79/Add.50, para 14. Several countries have objected to the US reservation to Article 7 because they consider that it is incompatible with the object and purpose of the ICCPR. Under international law, an incompatible reservation is not valid and the relevant treaty provision is still considered binding: Article 19(c) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. The Human Rights Committee has not determined whether the US reservation is invalid, though it has said that "a State may not reserve the right... to subject persons to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." General Comment No.24 (52), General comment on issues relating to reservations made upon ratification or accession to the Covenant or the Optional Protocols thereto, or in relation to declarations under article 41 of the Covenant, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.6, 2 November 1994.].

Under a treaty called the (first) Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Committee may consider complaints by individuals that a government which is a party to the Protocol violated rights guaranteed by the ICCPR. Individuals can ask the Committee to consider such complaints only if they have exhausted all remedies available within their country. Ninety two governments have agreed to be parties to the Protocol. The US has not done so.

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture)

The Convention against Torture requires governments to prohibit and punish torture in law and in practice. Governments must investigate whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe that an act of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has been committed, and must bring those responsible to justice. Under the treaty, rape of a woman in custody by a correctional officer is considered to be torture [ In a report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, then United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Kooijmans noted that "since it was clear that rape or other forms of sexual assault against women in detention were a particularly ignominious violation of the inherent dignity and the right to physical integrity of the human being, they accordingly constituted an act of torture." UN Commission on Human Rights, UN Doc E/CN.4/1992/SR.21, 21 February 1992, paragraph 35. The International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has considered that rape in armed conflict is an act of torture, referring to a report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on "Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Systematic Rape, Sexual Slavery and Slavery-like Practices during Armed Conflict." Prosecutor v Delacic et al, Case No. IT-96-21-T, paragraph 493.].

The USA ratified the treaty in 1994. As with respect to the ICCPR, the government made a reservation stating that it considered itself obligated to prevent "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" only insofar as the term meant the cruel, unusual or inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the US Constitution. The US was due to report in 1995 on its implementation of the treaty requirements to the Committee against Torture, which monitors implementation of the Convention. As of January 1999 it had not done so.

The treaty has a provision (article 22) under which governments may make a declaration recognizing the competence of the Committee against Torture to consider complaints by individuals that their rights under the treaty have been violated. At January 1999, 38 had made such a declaration. The USA has not done so.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

In relation to women, the most striking instance of US resistance to international human rights commitments is its failure to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The US government signed the treaty in 1980, shortly after it was adopted by the United Nations. Signature is a procedure that formally expresses a country's willingness to become a party that is obliged to implement a treaty's provisions. By signing, a government binds itself not to do anything that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty, pending the decision whether to ratify it. Ratification is the procedure that makes a treaty binding and makes the government subject to international scrutiny of its implementation of the treaty's obligations. One hundred and sixty-one countries have ratified CEDAW.

Under US law, the Senate must agree in order for a treaty to be ratified and this has not occurred, despite support for ratification from the President and many members of Congress and the public. The President has indicated that ratification of CEDAW is his administration's "next legislative priority" and has urged "rapid action" by the Senate
[ Statement by Ambassador Betty King, US representative on the United Nations Economic and Social Council, on Agenda Item 110(D), "Comprehensive Implementation and Follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action," in the Third Committee, 2 November, 1998, US Mission to the United Nations Press Release.].

CEDAW includes a number of rights and freedoms that are of particular importance to incarcerated women, including the right not to be subjected to gender-based violence. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the body of experts that monitors implementation of the treaty and provides guidance as to its interpretation, has stated that "the definition of discrimination includes gender-based violence, that is, violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately."[ General Recommendation 19, Violence Against Women, HRI\GEN\1Rev.1 at 84 (1994).] CEDAW also enshrines the right to health care services.

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

CERD obliges governments that have ratified it to eradicate racial discrimination in all areas of public life [ "Racial" discrimination includes discrimination based on colour, descent or national or ethnic identity (Article 1).]. The USA ratified the treaty in 1994. The treaty requires governments to periodically report on their implementation of its provisions. At the time of writing (February 1999), the USA has not submitted reports that were due in November 1995 and November 1997. Articles 2-7 establish substantive obligations on governments; the US has made reservations on five of these six Articles (2, 3, 4, 5 and 7). Under Article 14, a country may make a declaration to permit individuals to complain that they have been a victim of a violation of a treaty right to the treaty monitoring body, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The US has not made such a declaration.

Regional human rights treaties

The USA's reluctance to support international human rights protection mechanisms is most marked in the inter-American system. The USA has been a leading member of the Organization of American States (OAS) since the charter of the OAS was adopted in 1948 but has refused to recognize any regional human rights treaties. These include the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence against Women, which has been ratified by 27 of the 35 member states of the OAS. The USA has signed but has not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights which was adopted by the OAS in 1969 and has been ratified by 24 states, of which 16 have also accepted the jurisdiction Inter-American Court of Human Rights to interpret and apply the Convention.

Other international standards

Many human rights requirements relating to incarcerated people are contained in standards which have been adopted by the international community, but which are not in the form of treaties. Although these standards do not technically have the legal power of treaties, they have the moral force of having been negotiated by governments, and of having been adopted by political bodies such as the UN General Assembly, usually by consensus. The USA played a major part in drawing up the standards and agreed that they should be adopted. However, it has not ensured that a number of the provisions are implemented by jails and prisons in the US.

One of the standards is the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Standard Minimum Rules), which contain provisions specifically relating to women. For example, Rule 53 (2) provides that no male member of the staff may enter the part of the institution set aside for women unless accompanied by a woman officer; Rule 53(3) provides that women prisoners should be attended and supervised only by women officers. Courts in the US, including the US Supreme Court, have referred to the Standard Minimum Rules for guidance in specific cases to determine whether prisons have violated the US Constitution's prohibition on the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment [ For example Estelle v Gamble, 429 US 97 (1976); LaReau v Manson, (1980) 507 F Supp 1177.].

Another standard, the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (Body of Principles) contains an authoritative set of internationally recognized minimum standards on how detainees and prisoners should be treated. They include a requirement that incarcerated people should be given medical care and treatment free of charge (Principle 24).

Recommendations relating to international commitments

The USA's reluctance to fully accept international human rights treaties and standards denies women in the USA rights and protections which many other governments around the world have agreed to recognize. Amnesty International recommends that the USA should:

*    ratify without reservations the human rights treaties that it has not yet ratified and in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women and the American Convention on Human Rights;

*    withdraw its reservations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;

*    give people in the USA recourse to international human rights protection mechanisms;

*    submit to the international monitoring bodies the USA's overdue reports on its implementation of the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

2.    US Laws and Standards

The United States of America is a federal political system with national, state and local governments. States are primarily responsible for criminal justice legislation and are the main operators of prisons, which generally hold people sentenced to terms of imprisonment longer than a year. Local governments within states generally operate jails that detain people before they are tried or when they have been sentenced to imprisonment for periods of less than a year. The federal government operates custodial facilities for people who are accused or convicted of violating federal laws. It also provides funds to states, local government and other bodies for a wide variety of criminal justice purposes.

Federal and state constitutions and laws specify a range of rights for people held in jails and prison. The laws and practices of the federal, state and local governments and their agencies must comply with the federal constitution, as interpreted by the courts. As mentioned previously, the US Constitution (in a provision known as the Eighth Amendment) prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment. The US Supreme Court and lower courts have interpreted the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and other provisions of the US Constitution as guaranteeing people in prisons and jails a range of rights in matters such as physical safety, medical care, access to the courts, and procedural safeguards in disciplinary hearings. There are also state laws that protect the rights of inmates because such laws are applicable to everyone (such as laws against assault) or apply to inmates specifically (such as laws prohibiting sexual relations between correctional staff and inmates). In many matters, such as the use of restraints, the supervision of women prisoners and the separation of children from adults, US law provides a lower level of protection than international standards for people deprived of their liberty. The US Constitution does, however, prohibit sex discrimination by states (and their agencies), which has provided the basis for some successful legal action on behalf of women in prisons and jails.

Apart from decisions of the US Supreme Court, there is not a national body of law governing the treatment of people in jails and prisons. Several national non-governmental organizations have developed detailed standards for the treatment of accused and convicted people in custody. These standards are not legally binding though courts occasionally take them into account in determining legal requirements. Two of these organizations, the American Correctional Association (ACA) and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC), use the standards as the basis for assessing and monitoring facilities that wish to be accredited with these organizations. Generally, facilities can choose whether or not to seek accreditation although some facilities become accredited or adopt standards because they are required to do so by state authorities [Only a minority of facilities are accredited. About 60% of prisons are accredited by the ACA and 25% by the NCCHC; 4% of jails are accredited by the ACA and 7% by the NCCHC.].

III PROFILE OF WOMEN IN PRISONS AND JAILS [ Sources for statistics in this section, unless otherwise noted: D Galliard and A Beck, Prison & Jail Inmates at Midyear 1997, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, US Department of Justice, Washington DC, 1998; C Mumola and A Beck, Prisoners in 1996, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, US Department of Justice, Washington DC, 1997.]

1.    Overview

*    On 30 June 1997, there were about 138,000 women in jails and prisons in the USA, more than three times as many as the number of women incarcerated in 1985;
*    For over a decade, the rate at which women are being incarcerated has been increasing at a far faster rate than the rate of increase of incarceration of men;
*    Women are in prisons and jails for mainly non-violent crimes and have far less violent criminal histories than incarcerated men;
*    The main type of crime that has resulted in the incarceration of women in recent years is violation of laws prohibiting the possession or sale of specified drugs;
*    Compared with their number in the general population, black and Hispanic women form a disproportionately large segment of incarcerated women;
*    More than 80,000 women in prisons and jails are mothers of children under 18; they have about 200,000 children aged under 18.

The rapidly growing number of incarcerated women

About 78,000 women, who have generally been sentenced to imprisonment for more than a year, are in federal and state government prisons. They make up 6.4 per cent of the prison population of the USA.

County and city jails hold around 60,000 women. They are mainly awaiting trial or have been sentenced to relatively short terms of imprisonment [ There are smaller numbers held for other reasons e.g. sentenced women awaiting transfer to prison or who are held in jails because there is no room in state prisons ; women detained pending the determination of an application for asylum.]. They constitute about 10 per cent of the jail population in the USA.

The number of women incarcerated in prisons and jails in the USA is approximately 10 times more than the number of women incarcerated in Western European countries, whose combined female population is about the same size as that of the USA [In 1996-97, there were about 13,500 pre-trial and convicted women in prison in the countries of Spain (3974), France (2165), Italy (2098), Germany (2768), England (2299) and Scotland (202). The female population of these countries was about 150 million. The female population of the USA in 1990, the last census year, was 127 million. Sources of data: demographic data for Europe: Europe Statistical Survey which gives the most recent census data - 1981 for Spain, Italy and the UK, 1990 for France and 1995 for Germany; prisoner data for Europe is for 1 September 1996, except for Spain, from: Penological Information Bulletin, No. 21, December 1998, published by the Council of Europe, Table 2 (Prison Population on 1 September 1996: Demographic Structure), page 67; Spanish prisoner data is for 1997, provided to Amnesty International by Ministerio del Interior, January 1999.].

For more than a decade, the rate of increase in the number of women incarcerated in jails and prisons in the USA has consistently exceeded the rate of increase in the number of men being incarcerated in the US. Between 1985 and 1996:

*    the female prison population increased by an average of 11.2 percent per year compared with 7.9 percent for men;
*    the female jail population grew by an average of 9.9 percent each year, and that of men by 6.4 percent.

Women's crimes [Arrest data is derived from US Department of Justice, Source book of Criminal Justice Statistics 1997, Table 4.8. Murder data is from J Fox and M Zawitz, "Homicide trends in the US," US Department of Justice, Washington DC, 1999.]

"Women tend to commit survival crimes to earn money, feed a drug-dependent life, and escape brutalizing physical conditions and relationships." [ B Owen, In the Mix - Struggle and Survival in a Women's Prison, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York, 1998, 11.]

Women are far less likely than men to be charged with or incarcerated for a violent crime. Women comprise over half the US population but in 1996 women comprised only 15 percent of people arrested for the most serious violent crimes (such as murder, rape and robbery) and 20 percent of people arrested for less serious assaults. Women in jail are half as likely as men to have had prior violent criminal records (17 percent of women compared with 36 percent of men). Men are 9 times more likely than women to commit murder. In October 1998, there were 45 women and 3474 men on death row.

Women are also a relatively small proportion of people who are charged with most other criminal offences. In 1996, they constituted 28 percent of people arrested for property crimes and and 17 percent of people arrested for laws relating to illegal drugs. Women were a majority (60%) of those arrested for only one type of crime, "prostitution and commercialized vice."

Women in the US are incarcerated for predominantly non-violent offences. [ Sources - [ State data: D. Gilliard and A. Beck, "Prisoners in 1997", Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington DC, 1998; federal data provided to Amnesty International by Bureau of Justice Statistics.].

In 1996-97, the proportion of women who were incarcerated for violent crimes in jails and in state and federal prisons was about half the rate of men who were incarcerated for violent crimes. In jails, 15% of women compared with 28% of men were in custody for violent crimes. In state prisons, 28% of women and 49% of men were convicted of violent crimes; in federal prisons 6% of women and 12% of men were convicted of violent crimes [ Data for federal prisoners is for 1997, from Source book of Criminal Justice Statistics 1997, Table 6.51, page 505 and excludes prisoners housed for authorities other than the Federal Bureau of Prisons, such as the District of Columbia.].

Women are far more likely than men to attack people they know than strangers. According to a 1991 national prison survey, nearly two thirds of the women in prison for a violent crime had victimized a relative, an "intimate" (spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend), or someone else they knew. In comparison, half the men had victimized strangers [ T Snell, Women in Prison - Survey of State Prison Inmates - 1991, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington DC, 1994. The survey also reported that almost one third of the women in prison for homicide had killed an intimate - husband, ex-husband or boyfriend; a fifth (21%) had killed strangers. It did not give comparable data for men who had killed.]. Studies of women who have committed crimes of violence indicate that often they have acted in response to abuse that they have suffered [ For example, Tracy Huling found that 59% of women in New York committed to prison in 1986 for killing someone close to them were being abused at the time of the crime: T Huling, Breaking the Silence, Correctional Association of New York, New York, 1991, cited in J Pollock, Counselling Women in Prison, Sage Publications, California, 1998, 15. In a study of California female prisoners, 10% reported that they had been incarcerated for a crime involving the use of a weapon to protect themselves or their children; 27.9% indicated past use of a weapon to protect themselves or their children: B Owen and B Bloom, Profiling the Needs of California's Female Prisoners - a Needs Assessment, National Institute of Corrections, 1995.].

As described below, the dramatic increase in the number of women in jails and prisons is due, in large part, to a massive rise in the number of women incarcerated for violating drug laws.

Racial and ethnic minorities

One of the most striking characteristics of incarcerated women is that the proportion who are of racial and ethnic minority background greatly exceeds their representation in the general population. The rate of imprisonment of black women is more than eight times the rate of imprisonment of white women; the rate of imprisonment of Hispanic women is nearly four times the rate of imprisonment of white women.

The rate of increase of imprisonment of black and Hispanic women has slightly exceeded the rate of increase of imprisonment of white women throughout this decade [ From 1990-96, the number of imprisoned white females increased by 67%, black females by 72% and Hispanic females by 71%: D Gilliard and J Beck,"Prisoners in 1997," Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, US Department of Justice, Washington DC, August 1998.].


National and state surveys consistently find that a majority of incarcerated women have relatively low levels of education and vocational skills and are not in the paid workforce:

*    a national survey of prisoners found that more than half of the women (53%) were unemployed at the time of their arrest, far more than the men (32%) [ T Snell, Women in Prison: Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991, Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Justice Department, Washington DC, 1994.];

*    a survey of prisoners in New York State reported a similar situation: 54 percent of women and 26 percent of men reported themselves as being unemployed at the time of their arrest [Female Offenders: 1995-1996, State of New York, Department of Correctional Services, Albany, New York, 1997.];

*    in a survey of prisoners in California, half the respondents reported that they had never worked and a larger number had not worked in the year prior to being imprisoned. The most commonly cited reason for not working was substance abuse problems [ B Owen, In the Mix: Struggle and Survival in a Women's Prison, State University of New York Press, New York, 1998, 61.].

2.    Mothers behind bars

The use of imprisonment for certain categories of offenders, such as pregnant women or mothers with infants or small children, should be restricted and a special effort made to avoid the extended use of imprisonment as a sanction for these categories.
Recommendation of the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders [ Report of the 8th UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders, UN Doc. A/Conf.144/28, rev1 (91.IV.2),Res 1(a),5(c),1990.].

"I think families should understand that if you screw up, you lose your kids." Representative Susan Gerard, Arizona legislator, 1998 [ Cited in K Bland, "Parenting Programs Few at Arizona Prisons," The Arizona Republic, 15 November 1998.].

As stated above, there are estimated to be more than 80,000 mothers among the women in prison and jail. They have approximately 200,000 children aged under 18 [ There is no national data. This estimate is based on various surveys of the number of women who have children aged under 18 and how many children they have. The method of calculation was suggested by D Johnston, "Effects of Parental Incarceration," in K Gabel and D Johnston eds, Children of Incarcerated Parents, Lexington Books, New York, 1995.]. Surveys indicate that the great majority of imprisoned women with children under 18 lived with their children before they were imprisoned [ The only national survey of women in prison reported that 67% of female inmates had children aged under 18, and 72% lived with their children prior to their imprisonment. A similar proportion of male inmates had children aged under 18 (64%) but only 53% lived with them. When they were imprisoned, only a quarter of women left their children in the care of the children's father; 90% of male inmates left their children in the care of the children's mother: T Snell, "Women in Prison: Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991," Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Justice Department, Washington DC, 1994.].

All states have laws permitting the termination of parental rights of parents who are incarcerated [ In some states the laws specifically refer to parents who are incarcerated; in others the termination of the rights of incarcerated parents occurs under general laws relating to, for example, adoption. See P Gently, "Procedural Due Process Rights of Incarcerated Parents in Termination of Parental Rights Proceedings: a Fifty State Analysis," Journal of Family Law, volume 30, number 4, 1991-92.]. Women's prisons are often located in rural areas far from the cities in which the majority of inmates lived, making it difficult to maintain contact with their children and jeopardising the prospects of successful reunification. A national study found that more than half of the children of women prisoners did not visit their mothers while they were in prison
[ B Bloom and D Steinhart, Why Punish the Children? A Reappraisal of the Children of Incarcerated Mothers in America, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, San Francisco, 1993, cited in B Bloom, M Chesney Lind and B Owen, Women in California: Hidden Victims of the War on Drugs, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, San Francisco, 1994, 6.]. Over 60 percent of the children who did not visit lived more than 100 miles (160 kilometres) from the prison where their mother was incarcerated. Many of the children of incarcerated women are placed in foster care, "where the inability of imprisoned mothers to meet court-mandated family reunification requirements for contact and visitation with their children can result in termination of the mother's parental rights."[ B Bloom, M Chesney Lind and B Owen, Women in California: Hidden Victims of the War on Drugs, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, San Francisco, 1994, 6.].

In 1950, thirteen states had laws allowing mothers in prison to keep their infants with them. Over the next two decades a number of states repealed their laws; even some states that had such laws did not establish the programs required to put into practice what the laws permitted [ B Bloom, "Public Policy and the Children of Incarcerated Parents," in K Gabel and D Johnston eds, Children of Incarcerated Parents, Lexington Books, New York, 1995.]. Fewer than half of the states offer community based facilities that allow mothers to live with their children while serving all or a portion of their sentence or part of their parole immediately after release [J Pollock, "Parenting Programs in Women's Prisons," unpublished study for Open Society Institute, Center on Crime, Communities and Culture, 1999. Pollock surveyed all states in 1998. Of the 40 that responded, 14 reported that they had community facilities for mothers and children: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.].

Many women enter jail and prison pregnant. In 1997-98, more than 2,200 pregnant women were imprisoned and more than 1,300 babies were born in prisons ["Inmate Health Care, Part II", Corrections Compendium, Volume 23, Number 11, November 1998, 11. The number is based on information provided by 35 state correctional systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, some of which provided only approximate data. The other states did not respond to the survey at all or did not have information about pregnancies and births. Amnesty International is not aware of data on the number of women who gave birth while in jail.]. In at least 40 states, babies are taken from their imprisoned mothers almost immediately after birth or at the time the mother is discharged from hospital ["Inmate Health Care, Part II", Corrections Compendium, November 1998. Alaska, Colorado, Washington DC, Oklahoma, Utah and West Virginia did not respond to the survey. In a similar survey in 1997, Washington DC, Utah and West Virginia reported that they did not allow newborns to stay with mothers; the other states that did not respond in 1998 did not respond in 1997: "Inmate Health Care, Part II," Corrections Compendium, November 1997.]. The exceptional states are:

*    California: the Community Prison Mother Program has six community facilities where an eligible pregnant woman is housed and may remain with her infant from the time of birth until the end of incarceration; the Program has 94 places - in 1997, 436 pregnant women were incarcerated in California state prisons and 381 babies were born to state female prisoners;
*    Illinois: qualified inmates may be housed in a residential program for up to 24 months; there are 15 places available in the program - in 1997, 120 pregnant women were incarcerated in Illinois state prisons and 51 babies were born to state female prisoners;
*    New York: a woman may keep her baby for up to 12 months;
*    Nebraska: a woman may keep her baby for up to 18 months.
*    South Dakota: a woman may keep her baby for up to 30 days.
The federal Bureau of Prisons MINT ("Mothers and Infants Together") program allows low-risk women to participate in "Community Corrections Center" programs while pregnant. A woman is placed in the community-based program before delivery and remains for three months with the baby after delivery.

The impact of incarceration on families as a whole and on the individual family members, particularly parents who are primary caretakers and their children, is at the very least disruptive and commonly traumatic [ See, for example, studies cited in K Gabel and D Johnston eds, Children of Incarcerated Parents, Lexington Books, New York, 1995.]. Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women interviewed by Amnesty International in the course of research for this report described the enforced separation from their infants, particularly shortly after giving birth, as the most difficult experience of their imprisonment. In 1993, the US House of Representatives summarized the findings of research on the harm of separation and the benefits of maintaining family ties as follows:

*    Separation of children from their primary caretaker-parents can cause harm to children's psychological well-being and hinder their growth and development;
*    many infants who are born shortly before or while their mothers are incarcerated are quickly separated from their mothers, preventing the parent-child bonding that is crucial to developing a sense of security and trust in children;
*    maintaining close relationships with their children provides a powerful incentive for prisoners to participate in and successfully benefit from rehabilitative programs; and
*    maintaining strong family ties during imprisonment decreases recidivism [ Title XLI - Family Unity Demonstration Project, forming part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1993, HR 3355.].
The preceding summary of research was incorporated in legislation allowing the establishment of projects to promote the maintenance of family ties between incarcerated parents and their children. The legislation was passed in 1994, specifying that nearly $20 million could be spent on the projects in the period 1996-2000 and requiring an evaluation of their effectiveness. Since the law was enacted, Congress has failed to appropriate any money to implement the legislation.

Projects that facilitate the maintenance of ties between parents who are incarcerated (or face the possibility of incarceration) and their families are consistent with the international standards that Amnesty International urges US federal and state governments and their authorities to respect [ In particular (a) the rehabilitation of offenders is an essential aim of the penitentiary system -Article 10, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and (b) promotion of the best interests of the child - a general principle of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which the US has signed but not ratified.].


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