Archive for Humane Exposures

Sensational TV Episode on Broken Prisons–link below

The brilliant new TV series, LAST WEEK ON SUNDAY WITH JOHN OLIVER, had a terrific July 20 episode explaining why American prisons are so awful–and how they can be fixed:

A Key to Fighting Homelessness is Correcting Public Misconceptions About it

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

A Central Florida Campaign, “Rethink Homelessness,” seeks to change public misconceptions that the homeless are just lazy people who don’t want to work.

The campaign’s centerpiece was a series of YouTube videos, including one that asked local homeless people what the rest of the population might be surprised to learn about them. They held their answers up to the camera on cardboard signs. The video got 100,000 Facebook views the first day alone.

Joshua Johnson, a main advocate for Rethink Homelessness recalls:

If I was approached, I’d hand a homeless person a business card for a local labor pool. Essentially the message was, ‘Here — I work for mine. You can work for yours.’

Once I met people on the streets and really talked to them, it changed my thinking about who they are. I came to understand that stereotypes suck.

In the most popular video, “Cardboard Stories,” set to the tune of “Royals” by Lorde, homeless people hold up signs revealing the details of their lives few would guess: They are battling lung cancer, for instance, or speak four languages. They are currently employed, are escaping domestic violence or once built robots. One, a 24-year-old whom many assume is on drugs or crazy, says: “I have Huntington’s.” Another woman’s sign reads: “I was a figure skater.”

Andrae Bailey, CEO of the homeless commission, which created the campaign, says:

We found out through our research that the homeless are people with disabilities and mental illness and mothers escaping domestic violence and veterans who panhandle because they have post-traumatic stress and they’re living on our streets after serving our country. Without understanding that, the community will never do anything to solve the problem.


A ”tease and reveal” billboard campaign that began with various people holding cardboard signs reading: “I never thought this would happen to my family” or “I never thought it would be my kid.” After two weeks came the “reveal” stage: the tag line “Rethink Homelessness.”

The need for changing attitudes about homelessness in the area is genuine, since Central Florida now ranks No. 1 in the nation on the issue of long-term, chronic homelessness for regions of its size.

The campaign also has attracted attention from other communities, including Jacksonville and Atlanta.

Shannon Nazworth, executive director of the nonprofit Ability Housing of Northeast Florida, which helps the homeless and people with disabilities, says:

It’s a phenomenal campaign. Frankly, it blows you away. We’re actually in the beginning stages of discussing how we can do something like this ourselves.

Eating Disorders in Women’s Prisons are Grossly Under-reported

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Reports on eating disorders in prison are surprisingly scarce. But these reports do suggest an unreported high rate of eating disorders in a women’s prison in the US, with a disturbing number developing for the first time during incarceration.

One reason that prisoners may under-report their symptoms is that inducing vomiting and possession of diet pills, laxatives and diuretics would subject them to disciplinary action. A critical factor seems to be that the American penal system appears to be more brutal, controlling and punitive than other penal systems in the developed world. The Texas heat , for example, can be brutal; 12 inmates died of heat-related causes in Texas prisons since 2007, and of 111 prisons in the system, only 21 are fully air-conditioned.

A major reason US prisons are so terrible has been the the privatization of the penal system.  Douglas Stephenson, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and former mental health consultant to a local county jail, said that the jail he worked with had been previously run by the county sheriff’s department, which employed graduates of the police academy with additional training and experience in corrections. The sheriff’s department protested greatly when the county commissioners decided to turn it over to the Corrections Corporation of America, which hired poorly trained, young, inexperienced personnel who were poorly paid and received few job benefits.

Stephensen wrote:

As I directly observed the way the guards dealt with the inmates, screaming, yelling at them, sometimes pushing them around, it seemed that they didn’t know the difference between a ‘jail’ and a ‘concentration camp’. In contrast, graduates of the police academy learned the difference early on over at the sheriff’s dept.
“The one thing the companies that make up the prison-industrial complex  –  companies such as Community Education or the private-prison giant Corrections Corporation of America  –  are definitely not doing is competing in a free market. They are, instead, living off government contracts. To the extent that private prison operators do manage to save money, they do so by employing fewer guards and other workers and by paying them badly. And then we get horror stories about how these prisons are run.
Rates of mental illness in US prisoners have been reported to be two to four times higher than in members of the general public. Borderline personality disorder was found to be quite common, and twice as high for women prisoners compared to men. In male and female offenders newly committed to prison it is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, with marked impulsivity in binge eating.
The few international studies that explored eating problems in female prisoners revealed high levels of restrictive and bulimic eating pathology and unhealthier attitudes toward weight and shape than among women in the general population. In a study of 124 female inmates receiving mental health services at a women’s prison in Oregon, the prevalence of current bulimic symptoms was 40%, and the lifetime prevalence rates for key criteria of bulimia and anorexia were 25.8% and 5.6%, respectively. In a study of UK female prisoners, 25% were found to be at risk for an eating disorder, a prevalence rate twice that observed in a non-eating disordered community sample.
Numerous studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that there is a social contagion or mass hysteria factor. ”Fat talk” – conversation about hating their bodies and wanting to be thin – has become an easy way for women to promote a relationship with other women.  In many colleges, binge-and-purge parties provide an alternative to sororities for becoming part of a social network and an equivalent initiation rite – the female version of a beer party, with popularity measured by the extent of bulimic behavior.What may begin as a social ritual may precipitate the onset of an eating disorder in a vulnerable person who, on trying it, finds that purging offers a release of tension. In a Canadian study, when a female college freshman was assigned at random to a bulimic roommate, she was five times more likely to have tried purging by the year’s end than a freshman not assigned to a bulimic roommate.
A locked setting may have a complex meaning for an inmate with an eating disorder, largely around control issues. Because a sense of control is paramount in those with eating disorders, issues around control will loom much larger in prisons, where inmates have little sense of control over their lives and basic bodily functions may be scrutinized and regulated. Under these circumstances, the development of a potentially life-threatening illness becomes a highly charged means of asserting control over correctional staff. Patients with eating disorders tend to be quite resistant to treatment under the best of circumstances, and so attempts to treat women with eating disorders in a prison environment present a formidable challenge.
A basic goal in treatment of an eating disorder is for the patient to attain sufficient internal control over thoughts, feelings and behavior, something that the usual prison environment impedes by asserting such control over inmates’ lives. Even a prisoner were to be transferred to a less-controlling environment, such as a therapeutic community or open hospital, the prison environment will already have had its destructive impact. To treat inmates with eating disorders, the structure of prison life would have to be radically altered from the day of admission.
The only environment in which effective treatment might occur is one which immediately upon admission places an inmate in an open ward psychiatric hospital for criminal offenders that operates as a female therapeutic community. Although therapeutic communities have been recommended for those with addictions, mentally disordered offenders, and criminal offenders (but not for psychopaths), there have been few scientific studies of their value in eating disorders.

Florida Law Seeks to Steer Juveniles Away from Adult Prisons


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

Florida recently enacted legislation that will help prevent the state from locking children up and throwing away the key when they are tried and convicted as adults. Currently, Florida sends more children into the adult criminal justice system than any other state.

HB 7035 makes Florida comply with recent Supreme Court rulings that bar mandatory life sentences without parole for children tried and convicted as adults for the most serious offenses. It also allows most arrested children the opportunity to show a court that they have been successfully rehabilitated and should have the chance to be released.

Specifically, the new law, which went into effect on July 1, 2014: 1) provides criminal penalties applicable for certain serious felonies by juveniles; 2) requires judges to consider specified factors before determining if life imprisonment is appropriate; 3) provides review of sentences for specified offenders; 4) provides for proceedings for determining if life imprisonment is appropriate for offenders convicted of certain offenses; 5) provides sentence review proceedings after a specified period by the original sentencing court for certain offenders; 6) provides for subsequent reviews; 7) requires the department of corrections to notify offenders of eligibility for sentence review; 8) entitles offenders access to counsel; 9) enumerates factors to be considered in sentence review; 10) requires courts to modify sentences if certain factors found; 11) requires courts to impose probation if sentence is modified and 12) requires written findings if court declines to modify sentence.

Tania Galloni, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Florida legal office, said:

This was long overdue, especially after the hysteria of the 1990s that led so many states to buy into the mantra of ‘adult time for adult crime.’

But much more remains to be done. For example, the overwhelming majority of children funneled into Florida’s adult criminal justice system are not charged with the most serious offenses. They are not criminal super-predators.

Prosecutors’ discretion, which a judge cannot overrule, has resulted in wild disparities in how a child is treated from one jurisdiction to another. Sometimes the difference between a child facing juvenile court and adult prison can be as simple as what side of a county line the child was standing on when the offense occurred.

Once these youngsters are charged as adults, many languish in adult county jails as they await trial. They’re often isolated and don’t have much opportunity to receive an adequate education as they wait. This occurs before a court has even determined whether these children are guilty of any offense.

Galloni added:

If convicted, these children face a lifelong battle against being treated as a ‘convicted felons.’ This isn’t a recipe for better public safety. Pushing these children into the adult system only alienates them once they are released and struggling to get their lives back on track.

Public safety is enhanced only when we rehabilitate young people through evidence-based treatment in the juvenile justice system. We don’t benefit from a system that needlessly destroys young lives in a misguided and ineffective effort to protect the public. Our state has certainly taken an important step, but it is clear more work remains.


So far, 91 Mayors and 5 Governors Have Accepted Michelle Obama, H.U.D. and V.A.’s Challenge to End Vet Homelessness by 2015


Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

As of this writing, June 25, 2014, the Mayors or top local officals of 91 American cities have accepted the recent challenge by First Lady Michelle Obama, on behalf of her, the Veterans’ Administration and Housing and Urban Development to end Veterans’ homelessness by 2015. Also agreeing to work to end homelessness by former members of the US Armed forces are the governors of Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Virginia and Puerto Rico.

These socially concerned mayors include those of 38 of the 50 most populous US municipalities. Unfortunately, 22 of the other biggest 50 cities have not yet committed to getting their vets off the streets and into housing. The laggards are: Los Angeles, San Jose, Austin, San Francisco, Charlotte, Ft. Worth, El Paso, Washington DC, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Portland, Albuquerque, Long Beach, Mesa, Virginia Beach, Colorado Springs, Omaha, Raleigh, Tulsa, Cleveland, Wichita and Arlington, TX. If you live in one of these burgs, feel free to urge your mayor to get on board.

The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness is a fine way to solidify partnerships and secure commitments to end Veteran homelessness from mayors across the country.

Ending homelessness among Veterans cannot be accomplished by federal partners alone but will require the partnership and commitment of each community’s homeless response and housing system, including Veteran Service Organizations, community-based providers, faith-based organizations, public housing agencies, affordable housing operators and many more. Corporate and philanthropic partners can play an important role in rounding out the array of housing, services and jobs available to Veterans experiencing homelessness.

HUD offers mayors a “webinar” (online seminar) on housing placement and retention strategies for programs that serve Veterans who experience homelessness, as well as a webinar that shares advice from successful efforts on how to develop a comprehensive approach that effectively brings the resources available to Veterans in need, to improve housing and life outcomes.

Key strategies communities should implement to achieve the goals of ending homelessness among all Veterans include: Housing First, targeting of permanent supportive housing, providing rapid re-housing opportunities and using other community and mainstream resources.

A key strategy for ending chronic homelessness among Veterans is ensuring that your community is using Housing First approaches and effectively targeting permanent supportive housing opportunities, including those provided through the HUD–VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, to chronically homeless and vulnerable Veterans.

Housing First is a proven method of ending all types of homelessness and is the most effective approach to ending chronic homelessness. Housing First offers individuals and families experiencing homelessness immediate access to permanent affordable or supportive housing. With no clinical prerequisites like completion of a course of treatment or evidence of sobriety and with a low-threshold for entry, Housing First yields higher housing retention rates, lower returns to homelessness and significant reductions in the use of crisis service and institutions than other approches.

Due to its high degree of success, Housing First is identified as a core strategy for ending homelessness in Opening Doors: the Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness and has become widely adopted by national and community-based organizations as a best practice for solving homelessness.

Phoenix has already made progress toward ending vet homelessness. Its Project H3 Vets Initiative was launched as a collaborative strategy to quickly house 150 of the most vulnerable veterans who were experiencing chronic homeless in Phoenix, using assistance provided through the HUD-VASH program and other resources. The Project H3 Vets Initiative is an extension of the Phoenix 100,000 Homes Campaign, Project H3: Home, Health, Hope. This public-private collaboration involved multiple government agencies and community partners. Based on the success of this initiative, an additional 100 HUD-VASH vouchers have been allocated.

Proposed New Hampshire Prison is Designed to Better Meet Women’s Needs

Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

After successfully creating one in Maine, architects in New Hampshire are working with the Department of Corrections to design a new $38 million state prison for 224 women, and unlike most women’s prisons around the country, these two facilities are designed for the particular needs of women inmates. Twelve years ago, the architect planning the New Hampshire facility designed the women’s unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, Maine. That unit, which houses minimum- and medium-security inmates, is considered a national model for gender-responsive prison design.

For more than 20 years, feminist researchers and activists have been re-thinking treatment programs at women’s prisons, which too often merely replicated what was offered in larger men’s prisons.  Unlike male inmates, 90 percent of women who end up behind bars have histories of sexual and domestic abuse.  They’re also more likely to suffer from mental illness and addiction. So researchers began advocating a “gender responsive” approach to female incarceration: programs and officer training that take into account women inmates’ histories of trauma.

Fully 66 percent of women in the New Hampshire prison system are receiving mental health treatment, versus only 35 percent of the men. Nationally, 25 to 50 percent of female prisoners report childhood abuse. Last year 108 NH male prisoners struck staffers or injured other inmates–vs. zero female prisoners.

According to New Hampshire Deputy Commissioner of Corrections, Bill McGonagle:

Our new women’s prison’s housing units will look out over a large outdoor area with security fences concealed, so as you look around the courtyard, it won’t be obvious that’s where you are.

Women will have keys to their rooms, and in an open lounge area they can watch TV on upholstered couches with wood coffee tables. It is believed that soft materials and natural light are important aspects of making this a natural environment, so as opposed to the clanging metal doors in most prisons, this facility will have quiet wood doors, avoiding stress for trauma survivors.

The new environment will make it easier for prisoners to focus on anger management, personal healing and community college classes. Getting equal access to those kinds of educational opportunities brought about the building of this new women’s prison in New Hampshire in the first place.  The current women’s prison in Goffstown doesn’t have space for vocational or educational classes.

McGonagle believes that strengthening relationships among the inmates is one of the goals of the gender-responsive approach.  He hopes open spaces inside the building will encourage interaction. While routines at men’s prisons usually discourage inmates from interacting with each other, “women want to be more relational,” McGonagle says, “and their connections with other women  is one of their strengths.”

Alyssa Benedict, who consults with prisons on gender-responsive programming, warns:

A prison with more open spaces requires more and better-trained officers. You have to train your staff to understand female development, how they relate to each other, and how to as a staff member insert yourself in a skillful way to create safety.

The NH corrections department has requested increased personnel for the new prison, but that will be subject to future legislative budget debates. New Hampshire lawmakers funded the new women’s prison after decades of debate over parity for women inmates.  Previously, incarcerated women had lacked access to vocational classrooms, science classrooms, regular education classrooms and recreation.

Construction crews break ground on August 18, 2014, and the prison is slated to open in October 2016.

Many States’ Juvenile Justice Laws Trending Back in a Progressive Direction

trendsinJJreport[1]A jump in serious juvenile crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to state laws that moved away from the traditional emphasis on rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system toward tougher, more punitive treatment of youth. During the past decade, however, juvenile crime rates have declined, and state legislatures are rebalancing to yield better results for kids at lower cost.

Today, there is more and better information available to policymakers on the causes of juvenile crime and what can be done to prevent it. This includes im­portant information about neurobiological and psychosocial factors and the effects these factors have on development and competency of adolescents. The research has contributed to recent legislative trends to distin­guish juvenile from adult offenders, restore the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, and adopt sci­entific screening and assessment tools to structure decision-making and identify needs of juvenile of­fenders. Competency statutes and policies have be­come more research-based, and youth interventions are evidence-based across a range of programs and services. Other legislative actions have increased due process protections for juveniles, reformed de­tention and addressed racial disparities in juvenile justice systems.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has produced the report “Juvenile Justice Trends in State Legislation, 2001-2011” illustrating the trends in juvenile justice enactments over the past decade.

The report states:

Research shows that adolescent brains do not fully develop until about age 25, and the immature, emotional and impul­sive nature characteristic of adolescents makes them more susceptible to committing crimes. Studies also have shown that juveniles who commit crimes or engage in socially deviant behavior are not neces­sarily destined to be adult criminals. This research has provided the basis for widespread state legisla­tive policy reforms in juvenile justice systems.

Currently, 47% of states have outlawed execution of juveniles (and 53% have not!). In 2010, the US Supreme Court abolished life sentences without parole for youth convicted of crimes other than homicide. Twelve states currently forbid life sentences without parole or have no youths serving such sentences.

One trend over the past decade is raising the age of jurisdiction for juvenile courts. Thirty-eight states set the maximum age at 17, but 10 states still treat 16-year-olds as adults and New York and North Carolina can try youths of only age 15 as adults. Seven years ago Connecticut moved more than 10,000 cases a year from adult court to juvenile court by raising the age of jurisdiction from 16 to 18.

Ten states now address mental competency and insanity in their juvenile statutes. In 2005 Oregon allowed juvenile insanity defense. Georgia requires a youth be represented by a lawyer when being evaluated for competency. In 2010, Iowa required a legal proceeding be suspended if the child was ordered treatment in a mental facility.

In Michigan a juvenile court must appoint an attorney to represent an indigent youngster, and most states will appoint counsel for an indigent youth, but the way that is done, the fees and the application process vary from state to state.

A major trend over the past decade is prevention statutes that divert non-violent offenders away from prison. These tend to be evidence-based practices that clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of treating and rehabilitating a juvenile in the community rather than in the pokey. Multi-systemic therapy, family functional therapy and aggression replacement training are evidence-based interven­tions in place of incarceration today in Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington.

Pre-trial diversion programs, such as Redeploy Illinois have also proved effective. Savings from fewer commitments are returned to the communities for treatment programs. In 2011, Ohio law ruled that 45% of the savings from closing corrections facilities be invested in community services, and Texas tasked its Youth Commission with increasing community-based juvenile offender programs statewide.

More than 65% of the two million youngsters arrested each year suffer from some mental disorder, so state policies have begun to focus on proper screening, assessment and treatment of young offenders. Washington State set a small sales tax to fund therapeutic courts. Colorado now allows a 90-day sentence suspension for mental treatment. Minnesota and Nevada require statewide mental health screening for all in the juvenile justice system, and Texas now insists that probation departments do mental health and substance abuse screening.

State legislatures are now trying to deal with the over-representation of minorities in the juvenile justice system. And many states are making fresh efforts to deal with the 100,000 kids released from confinement each year. California and Washington have eased healthcare accessibility for re-entering youth.

In addition, 10 states increased the confidentiality of juvenile records. Delaware, North Carolina and Vermont established automatic destruction of non-violent juvenile records, and Colorado, Illinois, Ohio and Washington created procedures for requesting juvenile records be expunged.

Because young females are the fastest-growing part of the juvenile justice system, representing as much as 34% of the incarcerated population in some states, Hawaii, Minnesota, Connecticut, Florida and Oregon now require gender-specific juvenile programs.

Eleven American Cities with Shockingly High Homeless Populations

Humane Exposures: HUD Funds Five Homeless Shelters for Veterans

Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, there are an estimated 100 million homeless people worldwide, which is startling when you consider how affluent some parts of the world are. A recent article titled 25 Cities with Extremely High Homeless Populations listed 14 foreign and 11 US cities with way too many homeless people. Worst was Manila, where 70,000 children live by begging or peddling. The next worst foreign cities on the list in order are Moscow, Mexico City, Jakarta, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Budapest, Sao Paulo, Athens, Rome, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Dublin and Lisbon. That list may be faulty, because it includes no African cities.  The worst American City is New York, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Tampa, Washington D.C., Chicago, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Denver.

As of 2013, the number of homeless people sleeping each night in the New York City shelter system was already over 60,000, 22,000 of whom were children. Currently 53,615 homeless men, women, and children bed down each night in the NYC municipal shelter system. Additionally, more than 5,000 homeless adults and children sleep each night in other public and private shelters, and thousands more sleep rough on the streets or in other public spaces. During the course of each year, more than 111,000 different homeless New Yorkers, including more than 40,000 children, sleep in the municipal shelter system. The number of homeless New Yorkers in shelters has risen by 73% since 2002. The homelessness crisis in New York is exacerbated by the lack of housing assistance initiatives provided by local authorities.

Los Angeles has one of the largest concentrations of homeless people in the United States: currently about 58,423 homeless people—a 16% increase from the 50,214 counted in 2011. Fortunately, these totals are way down from the 88,345 homeless counted in 2005.  Between 6,500 and 10,000 people in San Francisco are homeless at various times. And 3,000 to 5,000 of them refuse to live in temporary shelters provided by the government. Although San Francisco spends $165 million a year on services for the homeless, all that money hasn’t made a dent in the homeless population in at least nine years. In addition to the 6,436 homeless adults counted during one night last year, a separate daytime count found 914 homeless youth.

According to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, Seattle has a homeless population of 9,106. Among many health problems, diabetes is a common ailment among the homeless. Common causes of death among homeless individuals in the Seattle area include intoxication, cardiovascular disease and homicide—with the average age at death being 47. In 2007 there were 160 violent attacks against Seattle homeless people, with the most common reasons being race, religion or sexual orientation.

San Diego, with a population of 1,345,895 contains 8,520 homeless people in 2014—down 11.6% from 9,638 in 2012.  The opening of a transitional Connections Housing facility, as well as ex-Mayor Bob Filner’s push to increase funding for homeless shelters and encourage cooperation between various groups that aid the homeless, have all helped. The Serial Inebriate Program, a multi-agency effort intended to help homeless people deal with alcohol and substance abuse issues, placed 720 people in treatment and housing programs last year— an 84% increase from the arrangements made in 2012.

Lack of affordable housing and homeless shelters has contributed to the alarming number of 16,000 homeless people in the Tampa area. When Republicans held their 2012 convention in the city, CBS News reported that the Tampa-St.Petersburg area had the highest homelessness rate in the nation, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness: 57 homeless for every 10,000 residents.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s 2014 Point-in-Time Count of the homeless in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area (seven counties and the district) found 11,946 homeless individuals, up 3.5% from the previous year’s count. Last year, the city government began to provide shelter to its homeless population whenever temperature levels dropped below freezing. Those people who do not want to stay in temporary shelters are provided with a budget to stay in hotels.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless recently found that 21,000 Chicagoans lacked residences in the course of a year, and a 2005 University of Illinois report funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services found that as many as 25,000 Illinois youth are homeless. Research has shown that the “Housing First,” approach best remedies the factors that contribute to a household’s homelessness. Research also reveals that for some, lifelong support may be required to prevent the reoccurrence of homelessness, but that placing these people in housing is the most socially productive and cost-effective approach to the problem.

According to a 2011 study, there are about 4,088 homeless in Baltimore, many of whom are families with children. Today, the “Charm City” local government is making strides toward putting an end to this problem by creating projects aimed at providing affordable housing and health care.  There are as many as 2,200 homeless people every night in Indianapolis, which is equivalent to around 15,000 over the course of a year. Thought this city is known for its faith-based shelters, there are just not enough of them to provide a place for the entire homeless population. According to the 2012 Point in Time report from Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, Denver saw an increase in its homeless population from 411 to 964 between the years of 2011 and 2012.

Women’s Prisons Abuse and Overuse Solitary Confinement to the Severe Detriment of Many



Photo by Susan Madden Lankford

An ACLU report released last month, “Worse Than Second Class: Solitary Confinement of Women in the United States,” states that women are affected by solitary confinement—which typically amounts to 22 to 23 hours alone in a cell the size of a large bathroom for weeks, months or years at a time—in distinct and often uniquely harmful ways.  Women are put in the hole for small things. It can be for something stupid, like stealing a tomato from the kitchen or having two blankets instead of one.

Poverty is the dominant reason women commit crime, whether it’s sex work, welfare fraud or a drug offense. In many cases, these are crimes of survival. In 2004, more than 90%  of imprisoned women reported annual incomes of less then $10,000 before imprisonment, and most hadn’t completed high school. When women do commit violent crimes, it’s typically to defend themselves against an abuser. As many as 90% of female prisoners are survivors of rape, domestic violence and/or other trauma.

Many are mentally ill, and even more are the primary caretakers of young children who depend on them. According to the ACLU, the number of children with a mother in prison has doubled in recent years.

Gail Smith of CLAIM, a Chicago organization that provides legal aid to prisoners on family law issues, says:

When a prisoner is in solitary, visits are more likely to take place through video conferencing, where the mother and child are in separate buildings. It is a terrible thing to have a child travel three or four hours to see their mom and not even be able to hug her.

If a female prisoner’s child is in foster care, as is the case 20% of the time, those women are required to demonstrate “reasonable progress” in order to prevent their child or children from being permanently taken away from them. Progress includes drug treatment, anger-management, parenting classes and survivor groups, all of which they are barred from while in solitary.

Terry Kupers, a California psychiatrist who focuses on the effects of prolonged isolation on prisoners, says:

There’s a causal development for many women prisoners between being separated from their children and depression and suicide. The general rule in psychology is that men get angry and women get depressed. This principle is taken to its extremity in solitary.

When a woman reports being raped by a guard, she is immediately placed in solitary confinement. Although this is ostensibly for her protection, it is in fact retaliation, designed to discourage women from reporting abuse in the first place. While in solitary, women are regularly supervised by male guards who can watch them showering, changing clothes and  using the toilet—a loss of privacy and bodily autonomy that can often be re-traumatizing. Cut off from lawyers and family, and isolated from the general prison population, women in solitary are often at even greater risk of being sexual assaulted by staff with total impunity.

According to the ACLU, 75%  of incarcerated women have mental illness. Sensory deprivation, the absence of human interaction and extreme idleness can lead to severe psychological debilitation, even in healthy, well-functioning adults—while people with mental illness more rapidly deteriorate.

Kupers adds:

People with a history of trauma and mental illness tend to have more ups and down emotionally. Eighty percent of incarcerated women have been sexually or physically abused, so the emotions that everyone has in solitary—anger, depression, anxiety, fear and paranoia—are going to be much, much stronger for them. In isolation, these emotions will magnify and just keep reverberating, with no one to talk to.

Placing women with mental illness in solitary confinement can amount to punishment for behavior beyond their control. Women with mental illness have a much harder time conforming their behavior to staff expectations. One women who gave an officer an exasperated look was thrown into solitary for “reckless eyeballing.”

Another woman was pregnant and struggling with mental illness. She had just gotten back from the hospital the night before and was completely exhausted. When the officer insisted she get up early for breakfast, she refused, so the officer shook her, insisting she get up. The women pushed back and ended up in solitary, where she had zero access to even basic prenatal care.
Widespread criticism of solitary confinement has led to congressional hearings in recent years and forced the federal Bureau of Prisons to embark on its first-ever internal review of the practice. New legislation was recently passed in New York and Colorado, limiting the use of isolation among some of the most vulnerable prison populations: juveniles and the mentally ill. Though critics largely see these changes as positive, many feel they don’t go nearly far enough.

Smith concludes:

In order to become more healthy, not just women, juveniles or the mentally ill but all prisoners need greater freedom to make new and better choices. Stuck in a cell by yourself 23 hours a day, this simply isn’t possible.

At Alabama’s Tutweiler Prison for Women, Where Guards Have Raped Beaten and Sexually Harassed Prisoners for 18 Years Without Reprisal, Justice Department Proposes 24 Urgently Needed Reforms

Tutweiler Prison. Photo from Wikipedia

On January 17, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report of the findings of its investigation into the allegations of ongoing sexual abuse of inmates by prison guards at the Julia Tutweiler Prison for Women in Wetumka, Alabama.  It found that the State of Alabama grievously violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution by failing to protect women prisoners at Tutwiler from harm due to sexual abuse and harassment from correctional staff.

The DOJ report stated:

Tutwiler has a history of unabated staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse and harassment. The women at Tutwiler universally fear for their safety. They live in a sexualized environment with repeated and open sexual behavior, including: abusive sexual contact between staff and prisoners; sexualized activity, including a strip show condoned by staff; profane and unprofessional sexualized language and harassment; and deliberate cross-gender viewing of prisoners showering, (and using the toilet).

Officials at the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and Tutwiler have failed to remedy the myriad systemic causes of harm to the women prisoners, despite repeated notification of the problems and have demonstrated a clear, deliberate indifference to the harm and substantial risk of harm to women prisoners. They have failed to take reasonable steps to protect people in their custody from the known and readily apparent threat of sexual abuse and sexual harassment.

Officials have been on notice for over 18 years of the risks to women prisoners and, for over 18 years, have chosen to ignore them.  In 2003, Tutwiler deigned for 400 inmates, housed 992 women when a U.S. District Judge found that its overcrowded, underfunded conditions were so poor that they violated the U.S. Constitution. In 2012 the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners, filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice saying that in interviews with more than 50 women, it found evidence of frequent and severe officer-on-inmate sexual violence.


In May 2013, Mother Jones magazine reported that Julia Tutwiler ranked as one of the 10 worst prisons in the United States. Despite years of complaints against Tutweiler and the DOJ investigation, appetite for costly reform appears minimal in Alabama, while conditions remain horrible and prisoners are still fearful.
The report continued:

For nearly two decades, Tutwiler staff have harmed women in their care with impunity by sexually abusing and sexually harassing them. Staff have raped, sodomized, fondled and exposed themselves to prisoners. They have coerced prisoners to engage in oral sex. Staff engage in voyeurism, forcing women to disrobe and watching them while they use the shower and use the toilet.
Prison officials have failed to curb the sexual abuse and sexual harassment, despite possessing actual knowledge of the harm, including a federal statistical analysis identifying sexual misconduct at Tutwiler as occurring at one of the highest rates in the country.


Of the 233 prisoner letters the DOJ investigation received, 44 alleged pervasive sexual abuse and harassment. Investigators received numerous reports of many staff engaging in prohibited sexual contact with prisoners. At least 36 of the 99 total employees were identified as having had sex with prisoners. If you include staff identified for other forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment, the number of staff involved nearly doubles. In some cases, prisoners describe the misconduct as non-consensual, unwelcome and/or the result of physical force. In other cases prisoners were pressured into “consensual sex “ (still illegal) by threats or by promises of gifts or privileges,

Following the release of a damning 2007 report, ADOC officials failed to implement operational practices to address the issue of sexual abuse at Tutwiler. Instead, officials allow staff to continue to retaliate against women who made allegations relating to sexual misconduct. ADOC also failed to adequately respond to or investigate allegations and failed to properly discipline staff found to have engaged in sexual abuse or harassment. These actions and inactions, when combined with the various systemic deficiencies at Tutwiler, violate the law and foster an environment where additional sexual abuse can occur.

In both 2007 and 2013, sexual abuse at Tutwiler was woefully underreported. Many prisoners confirmed this, citing fear of retaliation as a reason for not reporting sexual abuse and harassment. EJI provided multiple examples of women who, after reporting sexual abuse, were placed in segregation with limited or no access to a telephone, visitors or programs, for an extended time. Prison officials treated these women with the presumption that they were lying, subjecting them to polygraph examinations as a prerequisite to investigating allegations. Staff verbally harassed them for reporting allegations of sexual abuse involving their colleagues.

The 2014 DOJ report observed that Tutweiler’s long and unabated history of staff sexual abuse and harassment is facilitated by a disciplinary system that fails to substantiate the conduct of, and discipline, sexual predators. Tutwiler fails to adequately manage and analyze existing data to identify potential sexual misconduct and problematic staff behavior. As a result, officers who are identified in several prisoners’ allegations are not flagged for further review and are less likely to be disciplined and prevented from further abuse. After the prisoners who file those reports see the officers remain on the unit, they decide that reporting is futile.

Staff and prisoners continued to engage in overt and inappropriate sexual behavior at Tutwiler within days of investigators’ recent arrival. This behavior underscores the need for numerous critical institutional reforms that will not only address the underlining causes of the harm, but also identify and implement sustainable reforms. To this end, the report concluded, ADOC must take on an active role in monitoring the changes made at Tutwiler, because it is no longer enough to delegate the changes to the Tutwiler officials without expansive oversight.

The report insists that order to rectify the deficiencies identified in this investigation, ADOC and Tutwiler should implement, at a minimum, the following 24 remedial measures:
1) Comply with all provisions of the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape as promulgated by the United States Department of Justice;
2) provide multiple internal methods for prisoners to privately report sexual abuse and sexual harassment, allowing the resident to remain anonymous upon request;
3) protect all prisoners who report sexual abuse or sexual harassment or cooperate with sexual abuse or sexual harassment investigations from retaliation by other prisoners or staff, while designating which staff members or departments are charged with monitoring retaliation;
4) provide a method for staff to privately report sexual abuse and sexual harassment of prisoners;
5) ensure that an administrative and/or criminal investigation is completed for all allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment;
6) prepare a written report of its investigative findings for each investigation;
7) establish guidelines for timely and thorough investigations and develop a process for monitoring those timelines, while ensuring that investigations not solely rely on polygraph examinations and Tutwiler not require a prisoner to submit to a polygraph examination as a condition for proceeding with an investigation;
8) ensure that all allegations of sexual abuse or sexual harassment are properly labeled and tracked;
9) have a written policy mandating zero tolerance toward all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment and outlining their approach to preventing, detecting and responding to misconduct;
10) develop and implement a detailed policy on prevention, detection, reporting and investigation of sexual abuse, including prisoner-on-prisoner and staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse;
11) develop a written, institution-specific plan to coordinate actions taken in response to an incident of sexual abuse, among staff first responders, medical and mental health practitioners, investigators and facility leadership, including timelines and lists of whom staff should contact in specific situations;
12) implement policies and procedures that enable prisoners to shower, use the bathroom, and change clothing without non-medical staff of the opposite gender viewing them, and requiring staff of the opposite gender to announce their presence when entering a prisoner-housing unit;
13) implement policies and procedures regarding the management of LGBT and gender- nonconforming prisoners;
14) ensure that all newly admitted prisoners receive information in their native language, through a prisoner handbook and, at the discretion of ADOC and Tutwiler, an orientation video, regarding the following: facility rules and regulations, definitions of sexual abuse and sexual harassment, how to report misconduct, how to report sexual abuse and sexual harassment, the process for accessing medical and mental health care, the disciplinary process and how to access the grievance process once it is developed;
15) collect, consolidate, analyze, track and otherwise use its data, including incident reports and grievances, to identify sexual abuse and sexual harassment and problematic staff behavior;
16) develop and implement an adequate grievance process;
17) ensure that a prisoner who alleges sexual abuse or sexual harassment may submit a grievance without having to give it to a staff member who is the subject of the complaint; 18) ensure that Tutwiler develop, implement, and document a staffing plan, based on gender-responsive principles, that provides for adequate levels of staffing, and, where applicable, real-time video monitoring, to protect prisoners against sexual abuse;
19) develop a plan to recruit additional women correctional officers;
20) establish a policy to ensure that any employee, contractor or volunteer who is suspected of sexual abuse or sexual harassment does not interact with prisoners until an investigation is concluded;
21) provide appropriate orientation, basic and in-service training to all employees who may have contact with prisoners;
22) address architectural features that contribute to a lack of privacy for prisoners while showering or using the bathroom, and conduct an assessment to identify physical plant vulnerabilities, including blind-spots within the facility, that could contribute to sexual misconduct;
23) implement a gender-normed classification system specific to women prisoners at Tutwiler; and
24 implement a risk-assessment process that adequately identifies potential predators and victims.