Sexual misconduct and various forms of abuse and neglect of women inmates so pervade the U.S. correctional system that human rights violations are virtually a daily part of prison life, according to a comprehensive new report released by Amnesty International on March 4, 1999. “Not Part of My Sentence: Violations of the Human Rights of Women in Custody” details the abuses suffered by women prisoners in the United States. Part of Amnesty’s “Rights for All” campaign to expose and end human rights violations in the US, the report condemns the US for the grotesque and inhuman treatment many women prisoners are forced to endure and makes detailed recommendations on how to end the violations.
“Sexual abuse of women inmates is torture, plain and simple. Shackling and medical neglect of women inmates constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said. “These human rights violations must not stand.”
Despite the proliferation of women in U.S. penal institutions, the corrections system has failed to adjust to the gender-specific needs of the population. The report maintains that the climate of sexual abuse by prison guards is fueled by a lack of oversight and disciplinary action against sexual misconduct.
Some of the following issues are addressed in the report:
- Custodial oversight of women is largely assumed by male guards, contrary to international standards that call for female prisoners to be supervised only by female guards.
- Denial of medical care is widespread. Life-threatening illnesses go unchecked or without adequate treatment.
- Physical restraints including shackles are used on women inmates, including pregnant women during labor, presenting health risks to women inmates and their newborns.
- Racial minorities have been disproportionately affected. African American women are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than white women; and Hispanic women are four times more likely
- Women asylum seekers are often subjected to harsh treatment. While awaiting action on INS claims, they often languish facing the same human rights violations all women prisoners face.
Even in states that criminalize custodial sexual contact, law enforcement is lax.