USA: "Not part of my sentence": Violations of the human rights of women in custody

Report
February 28, 1999

USA: "Not part of my sentence": Violations of the human rights of women in custody

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  • State and prison authorities should urgently review their criteria for confining prisoners in supermax units; they should amend their policies to ensure that no prisoner is confined long-term in conditions of isolation and reduced sensory stimulation.
  • The authorities should immediately improve conditions in such units so that prisoners receive more out-of-cell time, improved exercise facilities and adequate access to natural light and fresh air.
  • Security measures should be applied in a way that does not violate standards requiring that prisoners be treated with respect for their human dignity.
  • Inmates who are mentally ill or disabled, or at risk of mental illness, should not be placed in supermax units. All prisoners in segregation should have their physical and mental health evaluated by qualified health personnel in accordance with professional health standards, and should receive adequate treatment.

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(1) Interview on Dateline NBC Television, November 1, 1998, National Broadcasting Co Ltd.
(2) Prisons are mainly operated by the federal government and state governments to hold people sentenced to imprisonment for longer than a year; jails are generally operated by local governments (county and city) and mainly hold people being detained before they are tried and people sentenced to imprisonment for less than a year.
(3) See Amnesty International,United States of America: Rights for All, AI Index: AMR 51/01/99, chapter 7.
(4) About 60,000 are in city and county local jails - most of these women are pre-trial or serving relatively short sentences. About 78,000 are in state and federal prisons serving sentences of longer than a year.
(5) National Institute of Corrections, "Current Issues in the Operation of Women's Prisons," National Institute of Corrections, Longmont, Colorado, 1998.
(6) Sources for these reports are cited in Amnesty International, Not Part of Her Sentence, AI Index: AMR 51/01/99.
(7) Alabama, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin (this state has a law prohibiting "abuse" of people in penal institutions). States which do not have criminal laws protecting staff from sexual contact with inmates may prohibit such contact through rules for staff. Amnesty International has been informed that this is the case in Massachusetts.
(8) Human Rights Watch, Nowhere to Hide: Retaliation Against Women in Michigan State Prisons, Human Rights Watch, New York, 1998.
(9) "Female Offenders: As Their Numbers Grow, So Does The Need for Gender-Specific Programming," Corrections Compendium, March 1998.
(10) Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, E/CN.4/1998/54, Recommendation 1.
(11) City of New York Department of Corrections Directive 4202 (19 June 1989).
(12) The women were interviewed by Reverend Annie Bovian, of the Women's Advocate Ministry in Courts and Jails, an organization assisting incarcerated and women released from custody in New York.
(13) Dr Garcia is an obstetrician and gynaecologist at North Western University's Prentice Women's Hospital. Her statement was provided to Amnesty International by Chicago Legal Aid to Incarcerated Mothers, December 1998.
(14) Principle 24, Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment and Rule 25(1) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
(15) Shumate v Wilson, US District Court, Eastern District of California, No CIV S-95-0619 WBS JFM.
(16) The document containing the settlement states that the agreement is not to be construed as an admission of liability and that California does not admit that what it undertakes to do differs from the then current policy and practice. The women prisoners considered that the settlement required California to significantly improve health care provision.
(17) Assessment Report on the Compliance of The California Department of Corrections with the Settlement Agreement in Shumate v Wilson, 18 November 1998; Letter in response from E Alexander on behalf of counsel for the women prisoners, dated 5 January 1999.