Beverly Henry is a formerly incarcerated women prisoner that has spent many years in the system. She recounts her time in the prison system and the things she had to see that occurred there. A memory that she shared with Huffington Post talks about what happened when “one woman had liver disease, with eyes “yellow as a warning sign” and two tampons stuck up her nose to stem the bleeding that poured from every orifice. Henry brought her to the prison’s clinic where, she said, the two were told to return to work. Within a week, the woman was dead” (Gottesdiener, 2011). This is a glimpse at the brutality and the loss of rights that prisoners have to go through in the prison system. This was not a small occurrence that the guards can overlook.The woman was clearly in terrible health and the fact that it was overlooked is sickening. If
this had happened outside of jail, there would be an outrage and it probably wouldn’t have happened in the first place. Since these women are in prison, it was overlooked and no one batted an eye because to many, these people “deserved” this fate. Henry also talks about the unfair treatment by guards as “guards have sex and women are harassed by the guards,” said Henry. “Women get pregnant; babies are born: These things happen here and the guards are responsible” (Gottesdiener, 2011). This is extremely sickening as this is crossing a very big line. These guards are supposed to be the responsible ones that protect these women yet they are crossing the line. Henry describes this as a regular occurrence which makes me wonder why there aren’t any consequences in place. Pregnancy is not something that can be hidden and people must have noticed. The fact that people are aware of this issue and nothing is being done is very incorrect.
Something that is quite interesting is seeing the way that the prison system in America relates a lot to the prison system in India. Now India and America are very different countries. Wallerstein describes America as a core country and India as a semi-peripheral country. A core country is a country where it can stand strong on its own and not prone to exploitation in terms of politics and a semi-peripheral country
is prone to exploitation, but not as much as a peripheral country. Much like the predicament of disadvantaged groups in America, a journal called Rights of Women Prisoners in India: An Evaluation, discusses how the people convicted “are poor and helpless, they languish in jails for long periods either
because there is no one to bail them out or because there is no one to think of them. The very pendency of criminal proceedings for long periods by itself operates as an engine of oppression” (Garg). This is a lot like how certain disadvantaged groups in America cannot post bail due to low funds and have to suffer in the system. This is surprising because America is seen as the more the more “advanced” country, yet it has a big problem in common with India.
One of the biggest ways in which women’s rights are infringed upon is through the sexual assault that they suffer at the hands of the guards in prison. A fact sheet by Amnesty International gives us a closer look at what women prisoners have to go through in terms of sexual assault. “In federal women’s correctional facilities, 70% of guards are male. Records show correctional officials have subjected female inmates to rape, other sexual assault, sexual extortion, and groping during body searches…Male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who complain about sexual assault and harassment” (Women). This is a gross miscarriage of justice as this is not what should be happening in prisons or anywhere for that matter. This is a violation of the women’s rights as a prisoner and person. Such harrowing things shouldn’t be happening in the jails to these women. As mentioned in previous posts, jail is not a place where people should get punished and be exposed to violence like this. Despite the fact that this is a prison and some rights are taken away from them, not being subject to sexual assault is a right that should be available to everyone, regardless of whether or not you’re in prison or “deserve it”. The fact that even reporting these guards doesn’t help these women explains their feelings of hatred towards the system. The system is set in place to protect them, but when no one carries out the consequences, it is really a troubling affair.
When mothers are separated from their children, it causes pain and anguish for both the mother and child. Parents play a great role in shaping their kids’ lives and not being able to be there for the other present massive problems. Huffington Post reports that “children of incarcerated parents can struggle with a range of issues that include poverty, poor grades, behavioral issues, and depression” (Bellware, 2016). This shows how the separation doesn’t only hurt the mother. These children have never committed a mistake in their lives. For them to have to go through this because of a flawed penal system and the mistakes of their parents is extremely wrong. This separation also goes against the rights of the prisoners themselves because they have the right to be present in their children’s lives. When it is time for them to come out and their children blame them for being in jail and not active in their lives, it causes issues for the mothers as even in the outside, they are not accepted. When the children are born, they develop an attachment. There are three types of attachment: secure, ambivalent, and avoidant. Children who develop a secure bond tend to do better in the future. This demonstrates how important it is that the mother is with the child as it is growing up and how separating them causes disadvantages to both mother and child.
When discussing medical negligence in these prison systems, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care notes that it is important to remember that “women have unique, gender-specific health needs. Incarcerated women report histories of alcohol and drug abuse, sexually transmitted infection, sexual and physical abuse, and mental illness, with rates of these conditions higher than those of incarcerated men, according to numerous studies” (Women’s). They need appropriate care for certain things, but however, the law doesn’t recognize it and neither do the guards. Without appropriate care, they are subject to risks in their sexual health which poses a big problem. They should have the right to the correct medical treatment, especially when there are so many studies that support the idea that they are susceptible to massive risks in terms of sexual and overall health. The right to proper treatment is in their basic rights as people in the United States. Being in prison shouldn’t be the reason why someone doesn’t have access to proper treatment. Proper treatment is a right and women have different health concerns that should and must be catered to. Prison is an establishment that is essentially set to lead people on the right path (or at least that’s what it aims to do), it shouldn’t be the reason people die because they don’t access to proper medical health.
Pregnancy and labor are arguably one of the most painful things women have to endure. It often requires many medical precautions and procedures and the emotions that surround a person as they’re giving birth is a whirlwind. The last thing that women prisoners want when they’re in labor is to be shackled, but unfortunately, this is a reality in many places. Even though this practice is technically illegal in many states in the United States, the practice still occurs. For example, an article in the Guardian elaborates on how “the Correctional Association interviewed over 950 women in prison, including 27 who gave birth after the anti-
shackling law went into effect. Nearly half had been shackled while being transported to the hospital to give birth, and nearly all had been shackled at some point in their pregnancy” (Law, 2015). This shows how even with a law in place, this practice is still prevalent. Shackling is an immoral thing to do when someone is giving birth, but the dismissive nature of the way prisons treat their pregnant prisoners doesn’t
end there. The Guardian explains how “more than half of the women who spoke with the Correctional Association had similar experiences of nurses dismissing their symptoms or conducting superficial exams when they reported being in labor” (Law, 2015). This is one of the major problems when discussing childbirth as their cries for help aren’t taken seriously. If someone didn’t heed what the prisoner was saying and they had to deliver the child by themselves, that would be a massive problem as proper medical care is best for a safe delivery for both child and mother. This can cause either the child or mother to be gravely injured, going against the basic rights of the prisoner as a person and woman.
Now in order to understand what prisoners have to endure, it is important to understand a way in which the system has disadvantages for certain groups. The ACLU explains how “the yawning gap between the wages of Black women and white men — can have especially onerous implications in the criminal justice system. Economically disadvantaged Black women have fewer resources to make bail, causing them to wind up behind bars for far too long, even for crimes they’ve only been charged with and often are not found guilty of” (Bandele, 2017). This is a way in which the law tends to cause disadvantages to some groups and advantages to others. Those with less money and resources can’t post bail, causing them to stay in jail for a very long time which leads to a loss of responsibilities. Jail time is not looked favorably upon and responsibilities cannot be managed when one is in jail. For example, it would be incredibly difficult for a single mother to be in jail when she knows that she needs to work in order to support her family. And she cannot post bail either because of the low funds that she and her family are relying on. The system itself is causing a disfavor to those who are low income which can be linked to one of the biggest reasons why our prison systems have many people from low-income backgrounds.
The United States has always had a complicated penal code that has often times done more harm than good. Those who have been punished by the court are often sent to jails where they do not have access to proper resources or corrective treatment. This causes the system to fail the prisoner as they are not learning or gaining anything by being in the prison system. This is an even bigger problem for female prisoners as there are too many of them in the system and are forced to deal with the elimination of their rights. In the William and Mary Journal of Woman and the Law, it “is estimated that over half-a-million women and girls are held in penal institutions around the world, the largest population being in the United States” (Jenni). These 500,000 women and girls are suffering a gruesome fate in these prisons such as medical negligence, separation from their child, sexual assault and tyranny at the hands of the guards. The blog will inform you on how the system works against women and the plight of women in these jails.