Friday, March 05, 1999

Sexual Abuse Of Women on Prison Called an Epidemic

Sexual Abuse Of Women on Prison Called an Epidemic

Pamela J Appea, Washington Bureau.
Chicago Tribune.
Chicago, Ill.: Mar 5, 1999. pg. 5
Full Text (395 words)

Stepping up its attack on human-rights violations in this country, Amnesty International charged Thursday that widespread sexual abuse of female inmates is "virtually a fact of life" in U.S. prisons.

Amnesty's report cited court records and accounts by female inmates of sexual abuse by prison guards, including being sold to male inmates for sex, groping pat-down searches, rape and prurient viewing of women while dressing and showering.

"These degrading and dangerous abuses reflect an epidemic of violence against women and the continued second-class status of women in the U.S.," the report said.

Amnesty International said that, although it is difficult to estimate how many women are victims of sexual abuse or assault, the number of women in U.S. prisons and jails has more than tripled since 1985, to 138,000, increasing the likelihood that a greater number of women will be subject to human-rights abuse in a prison system primarily designed for male inmates.
Amnesty claims that 12 states lack laws prohibiting prison guards from having sexual contact with female inmates. Coercive sexual abuse was the report's most frequently cited abuse, said Christine Haenn, media director for Amnesty International in Washington.

The report cites the case of a female inmate at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago who alleged in a federal court hearing last October that she was forced into a sexual relationship with a staff member in return for contraband hair products and food.

The woman said she was groped and fondled by another employee on a number of occasions after the first employee bragged about what he had done. One of the employees has been reassigned to a job where he has no contact with female inmates, Amnesty said.

Amnesty's report also said the penal system's medical system and prenatal resources for female inmates are inadequate. It said shackles are sometimes used during hospitalization, including childbirth, by various institutions, including Cook County Jail.

The report recommends that prisons place women with infants in halfway houses so they can be with their children for at least part of their prison term. Illinois permits qualified inmates--those without a history of violent behavior or severe mental illness--in residential programs for up to two years.However, only 15 slots are available for this program.

In 1997, the report states, at least 120 pregnant women were incarcerated in Illinois state prisons, and 51 babies were born to prisoners.