•Sexual abuse: rape of an inmate by staff
is internationally recognized as a form of torture and violates US federal
and state criminal laws, yet reports of rape and other forms of sexual
abuse are common in US prisons and jails. Amnesty International is calling
for female inmates to be supervised by female staff only, and for victims
to be more effectively protected from retaliation if they report abuses.
•Medical care: access to a doctor is often
conditional on permission by non-medical staff, who may underestimate the
seriousness of the case or be inclined not to believe inmates. In some
cases, delays are reported to have had serious health consequences. In
1998 an inmate in an Arizona Jail wrote to Amnesty International reporting
that she had lost her baby -- and almost bled to death -- after her call
for urgent medical attention was left unheeded for hours. Amnesty
International is urging that all women in custody have access to free and
adequate medical care.
•Mental health care: there are concerns
about the use of psychotropic drugs and a reported lack of counselling.
Amnesty International is calling for an inquiry into prison mental health
services and for women suffering from severe mental illnesses to be
transferred to mental health institutions.
•Use of physical restraints on sick and
pregnant women: handcuffs and shackles are often used on women both during
transport and in hospital even if they do not have a history of violence
or escape. In the case of pregnant women, restraints pose a serious health
threat. Amnesty International is calling for the use of restraints to be
limited to cases in which the inmates' conduct makes them necessary.
• Super-maximum security units: some women
appear to be sent to such units -- where conditions are particularly harsh --
for comparatively minor infractions. Some of the rules in those units -- such
as the one requiring that prisoners be "in full view" all the time
--violate the inmates' privacy and dignity, and their isolated nature can
increase the opportunities for abuse.
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