It is Prison friday here at Scission. I've written about the horrors of solitary confinement before. Usually when we think about it, we think of some lone guy stuck in a hole somewhere forever. Today, let's think about women.
Much less is known or discussed about women in such places.
Victoria Law, author of the book "Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women" said during an interview:
Solitary confinement makes women more vulnerable to staff sexual assault since no one can see what is happening. In my book, I write about the experience of Christina Madrazo, a transsexual immigrant who was placed in INS detention. Originally, the INS (now called ICE) did not know what to do with her since her assigned gender at birth was male, but she identified (and was seeking asylum status) as a transgendered female. Madrazo was placed in solitary confinement where she was raped twice by a prison guard.
Even when they are not being physically assaulted, the women have no privacy—toilets are in full view of the cell door windows, guards can look through those windows at any time and, in many prisons, male guards can watch the women in the showers, on the toilet or when they are trying to dress or undress.
In addition, solitary confinement is used to punish women who have either reported being sexually assaulted by staff, or who have been discovered to have “consensual relationships” with staff members. I put “consensual” in quotation marks because, given the power dynamics in prison, especially the ability of guards and staff members to withhold services and/or provide small amenities, the relationship can never truly be consensual. I recently received a letter from a woman incarcerated in Colorado whose cellmate was accused of having a “consensual” relationship with a staff member. While the accusation was being investigated, the staff member was allowed to continue working in the prison. The woman was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the investigation and only released once the charge was found to be unwarranted.
Also, with women, there’s the prevailing notion that women need to be “good girls” and “to behave.” Thus, women are punished for behaviors that violate gender norms, behaviors such as spitting or cursing or not following orders, behaviors that men are not punished for. This is also why women are sent to segregation when they report sexual misconduct or engage in sexual activity; they’re violating what we, as a society, see as “good girl behavior.”
It may seem totally absurd to put women in solitary for reporting rape and other forms of sexual assault, but that is exactly what often happens. Think it's rare. Think again. Law points out at Solitary Watch:
In 1996, Human Rights Watch found that, in Michigan, incarcerated women who report staff sexual misconduct are placed in segregation pending the institution’s investigation of their cases. The placement is allegedly for the woman’s own protection. The five other states investigated also had similar practices of placing women in segregation after they reported abuse.
Not much has changed in the thirteen years since Human Rights Watch chronicled the pervasive and persistent sexual abuse and use of retaliatory segregation in eleven women’s prisons. Former staff at Ohio’s Reformatory for Women have stated that women who reported sexual abuse are subjected to lengthy periods of time in solitary confinement where cells often had feces and blood smeared on the wall. In Kentucky, a woman who saved evidence from her sexual assault was placed in segregation for fifty days. In Illinois, a prison administrator threatened to add a year onto the sentence of a woman who attempted to report repeated sexual assaults. She was then placed in solitary confinement.
In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) became law, ostensibly to address the widespread sexual abuse in the nation’s jails and prisons. Among its recommendations was “the timely and comprehensive investigation of staff sexual misconduct involving rape or other sexual assault on inmates.” However, this has not stopped the widespread practice of utilizing solitary to punish those who speak out. An investigation into sexual abuse at Alabama’s Tutwiler Prison for Women found that women who report sexual abuse “are routinely placed in segregation by the warden.” Some prison systems have also created new rules to continue discouraging reports of staff sexual assault. At Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, a woman reported that prison officials responded to PREA by creating a rule called “False Reporting to Authorities.”
“A lot of us do not report any kind of staff misconduct because history has proven that any kind of reports true or false are found [by the administration] to be false,” she stated. “When it was found to be false, the people were immediately found guilty and sent to administrative segregation.” In some cases, a woman may not even file an official complaint, but may only be speaking within earshot of another staff member.
Under PREA, those accused of sexual assault are sent to solitary confinement even before the charges are proven. In California, Amy Preasmyer was placed in solitary confinement after being accused of sexual assault by another woman. “I was abruptly removed from my bed late in the evening to face an extended wait and then a transfer to Ad-Seg,” she reported. “Upon entering my newly assigned chambers at 3 a.m., I found the toilet was backed up and a DD3 (EOP) [person with a disability] had urinated everywhere prior to me, leaving extremely unsanitary conditions and aromas.” She was not allowed to access supplies that would allow her to clean or disinfect her cell. Although she was eventually cleared of all charges, being in Ad Seg forced her to miss her final examinations for college. During that time, she also lost the privilege to shop, walk outside or even call home.
Don't think this only happens in the States. The Independent reported in August that during a surprise inspection of the women's prison near Ashford (in Britain) it was found that the prison had been detaining a female prisoner in segregation in a "squalid" cell for more than five years. Chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick told the newspaper, "We were dismayed that the woman who had already been in the segregation unit for three years in 2010 was still there in 2013. Her cell was unkempt and squalid and she seldom left it." Hardwick said her prolonged detention in the segregation unit amounted to "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment - and we use these words advisedly".
"Since the start of her incarceration in 2006, Ms. Worm, who suffered extreme physical, emotional and sexual abuse throughout her childhood and adolescence, has been subjected to extensive periods of solitary confinement, much of it while on a program called the management protocol," said a statement issued by the BCCLA in 2011.
"Solitary confinement does one thing. It breaks a person's will to live. Being locked up like that you feel like you're losing your mind. The only contact with another human is through a food slot. Days turn into nights and into days and you don't know if you'll ever get out."
It is 2014...
The following is from Action Committee for Women in Prison.