THE HORROR STORY OF WHAT HAPPENS TO WOMEN IN PRISON.
THE HORROR STORY OF WHAT HAPPENS TO WOMEN IN PRISON. FORGET THE "BAD GIRLS"
MOVIES OF YEARS AGO. THE ABUSES ARE DONE BY STAFF, NOT PRISONERS.
To those unfamiliar with certain acronyms: GP = general population; SHU =
secure housing unit (aka "the hole," solitary); DOM = department operational
maual; CCWF = Central CA Women's Facility; VSPW = Valley State Prison for
Women (these two prisons are across the street from one another, in the town
of Chowchilla, CA, about 40 miles north of Fresno, and house approximately
4,000 women each, including those on death row)
California Prison Focus
2940 16th Street, Suite 307 &#9642; San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: (415) 252-9211 &#9642; Fax: (415) 252-9311 &#9642; www.prisons.org
Male Custodial Staff Out of Women's Housing Units
This discussion paper is offered to facilitate dialogue and planning in the development of a campaign to relieve women prisoners of the structural abuse and illegal acts brought upon them by the assignment of male
correctional officers to women's housing units. The opinions expressed are mine and are based on visiting women in California prisons and research of regulations and law. Corey Weinstein for CPF
HISTORY and BACKROUND
While male staff have historically worked in women's penal institutions, they were often restricted to noncontact positions. Housing units were guarded by matrons, and searches of any kind conducted only by
female staff. This remains the current practice in Europe and almost everywhere else.
With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 employment patterns in penal institutions changed. Title VII mandates equal employment rights for women. Many of the restrictions on male officers working in women's facilities were eliminated to make way for female officers working in
men's facilities. By 1992 men constituted the majority of custodial staff in women's facilities sometimes outnumbering female staff two or three to one.
One of the legal defenses of the status quo is that if female staff are not permitted postings in men's facilities, their capacity for employment and promotion is greatly restricted.
The overwhelming majority of custodial staff at CA's women's prisons are men.
CA has the largest number of incarcerated women of any State, and has the two largest women's prisons in the world (CCWF and VSPW). A 1995 study found that 41% of women prisoners in CA had suffered sexual abuse prior to incarceration, and 70% experienced physical abuse.
Between 1/1999 and 12/2001 CDoC investigated 187 of sexual abuse of women prisoners, and treated 100 cases as criminal.
LAW and REGULATION
Title 15 of the CA Administrative Code prohibits any sexual behavior by any CDoC employee or volunteer directed against any prisoner or parolee.
The DOM mandates that strip searches being conducted only by COs of the same sex. However, there is no restriction on pat searches or unannounced cell searches.
In a summary of current case law Deborah LaBelle, Attorney at Law (for a MI case) noted:
1. Prisoners retain their constitutional rights to bodily integrity, privacy and safety from assaults and harassment during their incarceration.
2. Women prisoners' safety and privacy is impaired by the use of male officers in certain supervisory positions or by allowing male officers to perform certain tasks.
3. Male officers' employment concerns must give way to protect women prisoners' safety and privacy.
However in 8/2001 the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claimed that excluding "male officers for any assignment" guarding female inmates "based solely on their sex" was a violation of the 1964 civil Rights Act. This is in contradiction to the Bona Fide Occupational Qualification exception of Title VII which rules an employer can discriminate if the very nature of the position requires certain characteristics or capacities that
automatically disqualifies a protected class (but it's a very high standard,
requiring a finding that no member of the group can do the job).
Recently officers at CCWF and VSPW have been retrained to conduct pat searches that include touching of the breasts and genitals.
Rule 53 of the United Nations' Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states:
(3) Women prisoners shall be attended and supervised only by women officers. This does not, however, preclude male members of the staff, particularly doctors and teachers, from carrying out their professional duties in institutions or parts of institutions set aside for women.
Rule 53 requires that no male member of the staff have a key to a women's unit and that no male staff enter a women's unit unless accompanied by a woman officer.
THE SHU and GP
In the SHU male custody staff serve all daily needs at the cell door including all meals, mail and administrative functions. They are on the tiers as women undress, use the toilet and take in-cell bird bathes. The women must request toilet paper and sanitary napkins from male guards. It is
against the rules for women to achieve privacy by temporarily covering the
windows in the cell door and wall. Men are almost always around when the women are strip searched, and they are strip searched for any movement out of their cells even activities within the locked unit.
The women complain that these routines are embarrassing and demeaning. Women who have a history of being sexually assaulted before incarceration suffer even more as the torment of the past is rekindled. The
many who have mental health problems also are more vulnerable and more easily
traumatized. The SHU is used as a dumping ground for women whose psychiatric
disabilities cause them to run afoul of the prison rules making them triply punished. They are punished by imprisonment for their crime, punished with SHU placement for their psychiatric disability and finally sexually harassed by the routines in the SHU and uncontrolled guard behaviors.
Women in the SHU report that male guards stand at the shower doors pretending to make small talk. Guards make blatant sexual remarks, comment on the women's bodies in lurid detail and verbally abuse them with derogatory comments and racial slurs. Guards coerce women to expose themselves in what are called "peep shows" buying such with petty favors like food, soap, toiletries or candy. The California Penal Code says that there is no such a
thing as consensual sexual activity between staff and prisoners, so buying a sex show from a prisoner is unlawful sexual activity.
In GP male custodial staff escort women, restrain women and pat search women. Male COs have instant access to any housing unit unannounced. Therefore there are ample opportunities for fondling and groping, and
observation of women in shower, at toilet and unclothed.
1. Male custodial staff be removed from all housing units at prisons for women in CA. No male staff member is to have access to a key to any unit housing women. As this would place a burden on CDoC and the
custodial staff, it should be phased in with the first units changed the SHU
and ADSEG facilities, and then other GP units in a step wise fashion.
2. To accomplish #1 a statewide coalition is needed to develop the tools and resources to force change. Only informed and coherent public pressure will force the Courts, Legislature and CDoC to consider these reforms. Labor support is key to blunt the CCPOA's opposition to anything
that alters union control over post orders.
Natural allies might prove to be groups such as: AI, WAR, NOW, HRW, League of
Women Voters, CNA, etc.
3. Consideration should be given to restrict female custodial staff from posting in the SHU and ADSEG facilities of men's prisons for reasons of privacy and abuse. Men sit around in their underwear in these lockups. There is frequent sexual harassment of female staff by prisoners
using abusive language and masturbation, making it a sexualized environment
They say NOBODY is perfect so just call me NOBODY