California prisons

(I will edit this post and add comments later.)

With males vastly outnumbering females behind bars, prisons are typically designed and managed for violent men.

At a minimum, advocates want more female guards, to protect women’s privacy and dignity; more food for pregnant inmates; easier access to sanitary products; and regulations for visits that enhance, rather than discourage, the preservation of close family ties.

The California Legislative Women’s Caucus has made incarcerated women its top priority this year. In an unusual April fact-finding mission, four lawmakers visited Valley State, and two of them spent the night.

They went through processing as inmates do, minus the strip search, receiving bedrolls and cell assignments. They ate in the dining hall, slept on the thin mattresses and asked women about their problems and personal stories.

Some complaints mirrored those in men’s prison: Many inmates said they were hungry all the time and could not land spots in academic or job-training classes. What differed were complaints about medical care and concerns about children.

Measured on a per-inmate basis, the Corrections Department spends 60% more on healthcare for women than for men. Reproductive issues are cited as one reason, but women also arrive in prison with a greater incidence of HIV and AIDS and have more mental health needs. Some inmates told the legislators that they had not had a mammogram or Pap smear in years.

“The model for women in prison in California is wrongheaded,” said state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who was joined on the sleepover by Assemblywoman Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge). “Most of the inmates we spoke to were in for DUIs and drug offenses…. Why are we spending billions upon billions to house these people in such a high-security environment?”

After years of protest from female inmates and their families, male guards may no longer conduct pat searches of women.

Dawn Davison, who runs one of the four California lockups housing women, called that a key achievement. Because more than half of female inmates have been physically or sexually abused, she said, they were traumatized anew when pat-searched by men.

As for their conduct once imprisoned, officials could find no record of a female prisoner in California killing another. By contrast, 14 male prisoners were killed by fellow convicts last year.

And although assaults and even small-scale riots are common in men’s prisons, fights among women are usually “nothing more than a lovers’ quarrel and a little slapping around,” Davison said. Attacks on staff by women, she added, rarely go beyond a kick delivered by an inmate resisting an order.

Arriving 7 1/2 months pregnant, she worried constantly about her baby’s health. She said she received iron pills and prenatal check-ups but always left the chow hall “starving.” The servings, she said, were too meager for someone eating for two.

Most upsetting, Foster recalled, was “the total lack of privacy from men,” who make up 75% of the correctional officers at Valley State.

Male guards were able to look down on women in the showers from a control room, she said, and mingled near the inmate reception area while female officers conducted strip searches, in which hand mirrors are used to search incoming inmates’ private parts for contraband. That was most humiliating, she said, for women who were menstruating.

“It’s all run by men. The doctors, the officers. There are men everywhere,” said Foster, of Redding. “You just feel violated all the time.”

Afterward, with an ankle fastened to the bed, she was allowed to spend a few days in the hospital bonding with her daughter, Olivia. Then it was back to the cellblock, where the pain of separation was enhanced by pain from breasts engorged with milk.

The prison, Foster said, crying as the memories washed over her, did not provide a pump.

California prison population:

Men: 93%
Women: 7%

Female inmates:
Number in California prisons: 10,800
Average time served: 14 months
Serving time for a nonviolent crime: more than 66%
Have been physically or sexually abused: 57%
Average age: 36 * With minor children: 64%
Babies born to inmates each year: about 300

Sources: California Department of Corrections, Little Hoover Commission

http://www.clientsystem.com/content/view/80/69/

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