By Christopher Zoukis
A report issued September 18 by the Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) identifies shortcomings in how the leaders of DOJ’s Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the correctional facilities it runs fail to meet the needs of its female inmates. Women are about 7% of all sentenced federal inmates (10,567 out of a total if 146,084, as of September 2016).
In the 60-page report, “Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Management of Its Female Inmate Population,” DOJ’s IG Michael Horowitz identified one overall problem with BOP’s management of female inmates. It identified that the agency’s failure to manage strategically, and said that failure was revealed in three main issues IG staff encountered in interviews and visits to 12 BOP facilities and review of agency records.
- staffing levels too low to be able to provide treatments for inmates affected by trauma to all who might benefit
- relatively low participation rates by inmates eligible for BOP pregnancy programs
- some correctional facilities’ failure to give inmates adequate access to feminine hygiene products
Even though a study BOP relies on estimates about 90% of female inmates are at some time in their lifetimes affected by physical, sexual or emotional trauma, trauma training staff has been limited to one per facility because of BOP staffing, thereby guaranteeing available training will not keep up with the demand for it. Similarly, only 37% of pregnant sentenced inmates participated in BOP pregnancy programs.
While none of the problems identified in the report came as much of a surprise, the unavailability of feminine hygiene products in some BOP facilities has garnered the most previous publicity, in numerous press accounts. It had also prompted members of Congress to introduce several bills to remedy that problem.
The IG’s report also makes clear that it’s not just the correctional facilities contributing to the problems, but headquarters inattention must shoulder part of the blame as well. For example, BOP’s Women and Special Populations Branch is supposed to bring specialized expertise to BOP operations, but it is small (consisting only of an administrator and three other staff members) and tasked with dealing with the issues not just of women, but about half a dozen prison population groups.
And although BOP now insists that staff in female correctional facilities receive training on women’s needs and issues, no similar requirement applies to BOP’s headquarters officials. BOP recently developed a process for checking on how well its facilities were complying with standards for female prisoners but hasn’t implemented the new process yet.
The IG’s report also includes, as a case study, of BOP’s lax supervision of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where it sent women inmates of the Danbury, Connecticut facility which served as the model for the prison depicted in the hit series “Orange is the New Black.” At the New York facility, multiple incidents of sexual abuse of inmates by officials led to convictions on sex charges of two local policeman and one corrections officer.
The IG report concluded with ten recommendations for improvements in BOP’s management of female inmates. A BOP response said the agency agreed with all the suggestions and is working to implement them.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.