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Women in U.S. Prisons Undergo Routine Abuses, Report States

By Sheila Hotchkin and Mark Arax

A comprehensive review of conditions facing women in American prisons has found that incidents of rape, sexual abuse and medical neglect are widespread among inmates nationwide.

The study, released Thursday by the human rights group Amnesty International, cited unacceptable conditions in prisons and jails for many female inmates, whose numbers have tripled in the past 15 years to about 138,000.

Female prisoners suffer much of the abuse at the hands of prison guards and other workers from staffs that are overwhelmingly male, the study found. And women behind bars often are provided with shoddy medical treatment or denied medical services altogether.

“While women who commit crimes deserve to be punished, they do not deserve to be brutalized,” said Dr. William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

The 103-page report was based on prison visits and a yearlong series of interviews with prisoners, attorneys, social workers and physicians across the country. However, it offered few statistics to illustrate the problem.

Some experts criticized the report’s methodology and questioned its conclusions.

“If you look long enough and hard enough, you’ll find incidents, and if you put enough incidents together, it looks like a crisis,” said Jim Turpin of the American Correctional Association, which represents wardens, sheriffs, psychologists and other correctional facility workers nationwide. “But that doesn’t mean it’s the norm out there. ... It’s not the problem that Amnesty is making it out to be.”

This is the second such report released in the past year that underscores the particular abuse faced by a growing number of female inmates nationwide. An earlier study was conducted by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.