NEW YORK - March 2 - Many states fail to adequately protect incarcerated women from sexual misconduct at the hands of corrections staff and allow the dangerous practice of shackling inmates during the third trimester of pregnancy -- including during labor and delivery, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) said in a report released at the start of Women's History Month.
The report, Abuse of Women in Custody: sexual misconduct and shackling of pregnant women, examines the current laws, policies and practices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons regarding custodial sexual misconduct (CSM) and the shackling of inmates who are pregnant or giving birth. The report, an update to a 2001 AIUSA report, finds that while great strides have been made -- following the campaigns of AIUSA and others, now only Vermont lacks a law protecting women from custodial sexual misconduct, as compared with five states in 2001 and 14 in 1999 -- few states provide thorough legal or administrative protection to women in custody.
The report also finds that nearly half (at least 23) of the states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have policies or practices allowing women to be restrained during labor; thirty eight states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons may use restraints on pregnant women in the third trimester. As part of its ongoing Stop Violence Against Women Campaign, AIUSA will mobilize its activists to combat the practice of shackling or otherwise restraining women during pregnancy and labor, beginning with a focus on six states -- Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Maine and Ohio -- and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
"Incarceration is not a green light for correctional staff to mete out punishments that rob women of their dignity and human rights," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of AIUSA. "When a woman can be held criminally liable for sex with a guard, or when a guard can claim consent as a defense, it demonstrates a horrible misuse of power. Furthermore, restraining a woman in the throes of labor endangers her and the child she is carrying. All correctional facilities should review their legislation and policies to ensure that they are protecting women inmates."
To highlight the importance of legislation and policies regarding misconduct in prisons, Abuse of Women in Custody documents numerous cases and allegations of abuse, including:
- Samantha Luther allegedly was taken from Wisconsin's Taycheedah Correctional Institution to the hospital in handcuffs and leg shackles and informed that, though two weeks from her due date, labor was to be induced. Reportedly she was kept in shackles, leaving 18 inches between her ankles, and told to pace the hallway for several hours. “It was so humiliating. My ankles were raw,” Luther said. “I had shackles on up until the baby was coming out and then they took them off for me to push…It was unbelievable. Like I was going to go anywhere.
- In Southern Nevada Women's Correctional Facility, former prison guard Randy Easter was indicted for his sexual relationship with inmate Korinda Martin, who reportedly gave birth to his son. Martin herself was indicted and faced one count of voluntary sexual conduct between an inmate and another person. Easter claimed the relations were consensual. Martin denied this, and filed a federal lawsuit asserting that consensual sex between guards and inmates isn’t possible due to the inherent power inequity. The case was dismissed for lacking merit.
Only seven states have statutes against custodial sexual misconduct that address Amnesty International’s major concerns -- though this is an improvement from 2001, when only Oklahoma did so. According to the new AIUSA report, four states still permit holding an inmate criminally liable for engaging in sexual conduct with a prison official -- Arizona, California, Delaware and Nevada. Arizona doesn't take into account the inmate’s lack of consent, so even an inmate who was raped could be charged under the law. In California, inmates may be penalized for oral sex or sodomy. In Delaware and Nevada, the statutes call for punishment of the inmate if he or she is unable to prove rape.
Policies in Connecticut and South Carolina do not require that a rape kit be taken for victims of custodial sexual misconduct. Rape kits have become a standard tool to ensure that evidence of sexual assault (including DNA evidence) is collected and preserved; Amnesty International believes that rape kits should be taken within 72 hours whenever a woman reports custodial sexual misconduct.
More than half of state statutes allow for cross-gender "pat-down" searches under certain circumstances; only Minnesota, New Mexico and South Dakota prohibit them. Many states say they try to limit the use of cross-gender searches or the presence of male guards working in female restrooms. However, 12 states do not limit the practice of cross-gender searches, and Tennessee and the Federal Bureau of Prisons do not put any restrictions at all on the duties of male guards.
"While there is no question that progress has been made in changing the laws that govern inappropriate sexual contact between guards and inmates, clearly there is more to be done," said Sheila Dauer, director of AIUSA's Women's Human Rights Program. "We are still a long way from having truly comprehensive protection for all incarcerated women in this country, including during pregnancy, labor, delivery and recovery."
Founded in 1961, Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots movement that promotes and defends human rights, with more than one million members worldwide.