This shouldn’t come as a surprise: prison is not a fun place to be for anyone, but especially not for women. Why is it so bad for women, you ask?
Well, for one thing, because of drug war policies that have a disproportionate impact on women, more women than ever are ending up in America’s prisons and jails.
And once they’re there, the conditions are even worse than the horrid conditions in men’s prisons. In some states, there is so little room available in women’s prisons, that women are being randomly assigned to men’s prisons, where they are segregated, their freedom of movement is even more limited, and they face other discrimination with regard to the availability of education, job training, etc.
But wait! There’s more! Around the country, incarcerated women face being raped and sexually abused by the men “guarding” them. As detailed in a recent RH Reality Check column (reposted on AlterNet), guard-on-prisoner sexual assault occurs frequently. Sometimes, the guards do not even seek consent. Other times, the guards bribe women for sex, allowing them to have cigarettes, books, and other privileges. In those situations, though there may be “consent,” there is no real consent because the women have no real option other than to say yes. “No” could mean retaliation including (but not limited to) loss of privileges and embarrassing searches. And should a woman report that she has been assaulted, she is often placed in solitary confinement “for her own protection.”
To make matters worse, birth control and emergency contraception are rarely available to incarcerated women, abortion can be difficult (to impossible) to obtain (barring a lawsuit), and children are – almost without exception- removed from their incarcerated mothers immediately after birth (which, itself, often happens in shackles).
All of which is to say this: as long as we’re incarcerating women in such great numbers (which I obviously think we shouldn’t be, but that’s for another post), we have got to be more attentive to treating them better. Just because they’re hidden away behind barbed wire and guard towers doesn’t mean they don’t exist.