Pubdate: Thu, 4 Mar 1999
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 1999 Creators Syndicate Inc. 
Page: A11
Address: 1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: Barbara Vobejda, Washington Post Staff Writer


Women inmates in the nation's prisons and jails are routinely subjected to
sexual abuse by male guards, including groping during body searches and
rape, Amnesty International USA found in a report scheduled for release today.

The report details what is described as common practice: male guards
touching prisoners' breasts and genitals during daily pat-down and strip
searches, watching women as they shower and dress and, in some cases,
selling women to male inmates for sex.

The document also describes serious problems with medical care, including
the use of shackles while prisoners are giving birth.

"It is not an exaggeration to say we are facing a crisis in the treatment
of women in prison," said William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty
International USA.

Todd Craig, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons, said the U.S.
government has taken steps to address the problem in its facilities: 31,000
staff members across the country have been trained in preventing sexual
misconduct and inmates have been trained in how to report problems. Also,
10 prison employees were disciplined last year and seven were prosecuted
for sexual misconduct, Craig said.

"It's an issue we have zero tolerance for," he said.

While complaints about mistreatment of prisoners are not new, problems for
women inmates have become much more critical because of the rapid growth in
the female prison population, according to Schulz.

The number of women in prison more than tripled between 1985 and 1997,
rising to 138,000. That represented a much faster increase than the growth
in the male prison population: The number of female prison inmates rose
about 11 percent each year between 1985 and 1996, compared with 7.9 percent
for men.

That rapid increase for women is primarily a result of the nation's war on
drugs, which was launched in the 1980s and led to much stiffer sentences
for drug offenses. The number of women sentenced to state prisons for drug
crimes, for example, increased tenfold between 1986 and 1996, the report said.

But as the number of women inmates has increased, prison facilities have
not kept pace in accommodating the female population. In federal prisons,
for example, 70 percent of those who are guarding women are men. In Canada,
by comparison, 91 percent of such guards are women.

In 12 states, there are no laws prohibiting sexual contact between guards
and inmates. Virginia's legislature approved such a law last week.

Among the incidents cited in the report is the case of a prisoner at the
Washington state Corrections Center who was raped and impregnated by a guard.

In another case, the Federal Bureau of Prisons agreed last year to pay
$500,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by three women who said they were
sexually abused at the Federal Detention Center in Pleasanton, Calif. A
Justice Department statement said there was insufficient evidence to

One of the women, Robin Lucas, said in an interview yesterday that she was
housed in a men's facility, where she was attacked by a male inmate allowed
into her cell by a guard. When she complained to authorities, the guard
retaliated by allowing three men into her cell, where she was handcuffed,
beaten and raped. 

"Then I didn't want to talk to anybody," she said. "I was scared to death."
After her release, she and the two other women were able to secure changes
in the prison system, including better training of guards and medical
treatment for inmates who complain of sexual assault.

In Florida, the state's Department of Corrections announced a new policy in
January prohibiting guards from keeping inmates in their cells naked. That
followed the suicide last fall of Florence Krell, an inmate at the
Jefferson Correctional Institution in Monticello, Fla. Before hanging
herself, she wrote letters to her mother and a judge complaining about
mistreatment, including being observed by male guards when she was left
naked in her cell.

In 1994, a federal judge ruled that the D.C. Department of Corrections had
violated the constitutional rights of the District's female inmates after
13 women filed a class action suit accusing guards of fondling and raping
them, among other instances of mistreatment.

The Justice Department has filed suit against the states of Arizona and
Michigan, accusing them of allowing sexual misconduct in their prison
facilities for women, including prurient viewing of women in showers,
sexual contact and rape.

A Justice Department officials said that while the suits indicate a serious
problem, it is impossible to gauge how pervasive the problem is outside
those facilities "because women inmates who are victims are often reluctant
to come forward."

Among the allegations in the report are accounts of medical maltreatment,
including that of an inmate in Cook County, Ill., who was shackled to the
hospital bed during 12 hours of labor. When she was close to giving birth,
the doctor couldn't adjust the bed for delivery because of the shackles,
nor find the corrections officer to unlock the shackles until moments
before the baby was born.

The inmate had been incarcerated for a drug offense and had no record of
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