Female Inmates Not Protected says Report

Tuesday, March 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – Many states fail to protect female inmates from sexual abuse, according to an Amnesty International report today that says some laws are so weak a prisoner can be held responsible for her attacker's behavior.

The human rights organization used its report to draw attention to problems affecting an increasing segment of the prison population.

"What we've shown here is that it's a systemic problem," not just a "few bad apples" in the correctional system, said William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

In its report, the group examined laws in each state and the District of Columbia that deal with charges of sexual misconduct by guards and other workers. It found that some states consider only certain types of sexual assault as criminal, while other states apply their laws to the actions of correction officers and not other prison employees like kitchen staff or medical workers.

Other laws specifically apply to state facilities, and not lower-level county jails, from where most cases of abuse are reported, the report found.

More than 1,000 cases of abuse were reported over the last three years, according to the organization. It believes hundreds more go unreported, mainly out of fear of retaliation.

"The mistreatment of prisoners in this society, even women prisoners, is treated less seriously because there is among some people a bias that people in prison deserve what they get," Schulz said.

Society should care because the women in prison are mothers to about 200,000 children under 18, he said. Many of those inmates were abused sexually early in their lives, and placing them in a system where they are continually abused limits their ability to "reintegrate themselves into society and serve as satisfactory mothers," Schulz said.

Amnesty International examined state laws and surveyed attorneys general and departments of correction to compile its reports. The group also searched media reports, interviewed activists and combed lawsuits.

The most widely publicized finding in the report concerns a South Carolina prison chief who was fired after two guards were charged with letting inmates have sex at the governor's residence.

Among other findings in the report:

• A sheriff's deputy in California was fired for letting female inmates out of their electronic shackles in exchange for sex.

• An inmate at a California prison received "an abusive pelvic exam" from the prison's doctor. When the woman asked to stop the exam, the doctor refused, saying, "No one told you to come to prison."

• A Massachusetts corrections officer was charged with two counts of providing gifts in exchange for sex.

Amnesty International urged state legislatures to toughen existing laws against sexual misconduct and encouraged the government to begin taking statistics on such crimes. It wants all sexual contact between inmates and correctional staff be considered abusive and criminalized under the law. It also seeks to prevent any inmate from being held criminally liable for sexual contact with guards.

The group's report also examined state laws dealing with pregnant inmates. It found that 18 states and the District of Columbia allow women to be restrained during labor. At least 33 states and the District allow restraints during the transport to a hospital.