Security is not Safety: Gendered Harms in Women’s Prisons

Barbara Owen 25th May 2017 Article originally published here
Photo: Women’s prison in Karaganda region, Kazakhstan – Karla Nur, 2014
Photo: Women’s prison in Karaganda region, Kazakhstan – Karla Nur, 2014

Prisons – by definition – are secure institutions. Shifting philosophies of punishment underpin approaches to security and safety. The mobility, behaviour and activities of those imprisoned are controlled by carceral architecture and structured schedules with policy, practice and personnel reinforcing the custodial demands of imprisonment. Such procedures are designed to prevent escapes and maintain ‘control’ and ‘order’ through security and discipline. My experience in women’s prisons has led me to question this dynamic for imprisoned women: does security create safety? Are women safe while imprisoned? Does security itself create gendered harms of imprisonment?

In the last decade, my work has focused on these questions through two long-term projects. First, I was more than fortunate to be invited to work with the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ), a partner of PRI, in addressing the global issues of women in prison. Thailand, through the support of Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha, has led this charge by supporting the development of and implementing the Bangkok Rules, soft laws that offer guidance on human rights protections for women in prison (see PRI’s extensive resources on the Bangkok Rules). Second, I have explored the dimensions of gendered safety in American women’s prisons and jails with James Wells and Joycelyn Pollock through extensive interview, focus group and survey research. These experiences have steered me to question the wide gulf between security and safety – particularly as experienced by women prisoners.

Gendered Harms

As Dana Britton argues, prisons are deeply gendered organisations. In our book, In Search of Safety: Confronting inequality in women’s imprisonment, we build on this insight to examine the harms embedded in the contemporary prison and how these harms impact women differently than men. In documenting women’s experience with imprisonment, we frame these threats to women’s safety as ‘gendered harm’ in two ways. First, and most common, is the idea that harm is damage or injury to a person through overt actions or practice. Clearly, forms of physical and sexual violence against women in custody fit this view. Operational practice grounded in the need for physical security has also been shown to harm imprisoned women. The daily round in prison is often detrimental to women’s well-being, particularly for women with trauma symptoms or other mental health conditions.

Second, we also see gendered harm in terms of the inability or unwillingness to meet women’s pathway needs. Such needs are often unmet inside prison, when they fail to acknowledge the gender-based realities that shape women’s pathways to prison. Such neglect is common in women’s prisons throughout the world. There are overlapping themes relevant to women offenders: providing for their safety, rehabilitation and social reintegration while in custody, requiring that programmes and services address their gender-based needs in terms of health care (including pregnancy), mental health and other therapeutic needs; and recognising their histories as survivors of interpersonal violence, and their caring responsibilities for children. Women’s prisons may be secure but, we ask, are they safe?

We claim these harms are unnecessary and constitute gendered human rights violations. The challenges to safety and well-being of women prisoners are not only problems in America’s prisons. Globally, women in prison face many forms of discrimination and other consequences of gender inequality, reproducing the harms identical to those we find in U.S. prisons.

There are two practical solutions to this unnecessary suffering: expanding the concept of security to include multiple forms of gendered safety, and implementing the human rights protections outlined in the Bangkok Rules.

Continue reading

I retired after 28 years with the Alabama Department of Corrections. The new prison plan is lipstick on a pig.

Article originally published here May 11th 2017


By David Wise, who retired as warden of St. Clair Correctional Facility after 28 years with the Alabama Department of Corrections.

With less than a week left in Alabama’s Legislative Session, our lawmakers are rushing to pass a bill calling for construction of four new prisons – three men’s facilities paid for by local municipalities and leased to the Department of Corrections and one women’s facility built by the state.

David Wise
David Wise

Why are our lawmakers in such a hurry to put lipstick on a pig?

Facilities are not the main problem plaguing Alabama’s criminal justice system; proper funding and staffing necessary to run our prisons constitutionally and humanely are. Bricks and mortar should not take precedent over resources needed to provide adequate security, medical and mental health treatment, and protection to the public.

I retired after 28 years with the Alabama Department of Corrections, working my way through the ranks at four different facilities and the Training Division. I started my career at St. Clair in 1983 – the year it opened – and ended it there as warden.

I know what it takes to successfully run a prison: proper staffing, adequate funding, legislative support, gubernatorial leadership, and a DOC commissioner who advocates and implements change.

We can’t just lock people up and forget about them. We must take care of them. That requires better training for correctional officers, more programming to keep prisoners from idle time that can lead to violence, and quality medical and mental health care.

I agree that some of our facilities could stand to be replaced. But before we spend millions of dollars on new prisons, there are cosmetic repairs and security enhancements that could be made at a fraction of the cost to improve prison conditions and the environment for both prisoners and staff.

Alabama’s prisons are dangerously understaffed with only half as many correctional officers as needed. Starting salaries are lower than other competing law enforcement jobs, the work environment is unsafe with an abysmal officer to prisoner ratio, and mandatory overtime often requires officers to work double shifts.

Better staffing, better pay and better training are all more critical than new prison facilities.

ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn has said the four new facilities will be so nice that the obstacles of recruiting and retaining officers will be solved. That makes no sense. Unless the state can boost the starting salary for correctional officers by about $7,000 – on par with starting salaries of state troopers, police officers, and sheriff’s deputies – facilities will remain understaffed, the state will continue to shell out millions in overtime pay, and violence will continue to plague our prisons.

The state claims that the new prison plan, which caps bonds at $845 million and would cost more than $1 billion to pay back, will pay for itself with somewhere between $40 to $50 million in annual savings. A majority of the projected savings comes from reduction in staff and overtime spending. That doesn’t add up. If we fully staff our prisons with competitive wages, those savings won’t be realized. If we fail to fully staff our prisons, overtime pay won’t be saved. Either way, Alabama taxpayers will be left paying for these new prisons.

Another area of predicted savings comes from reduced healthcare expenses.

The Department of Corrections is facing a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center for unconstitutional levels of medical and mental health care. The resolution of these cases will significantly increase health care costs. To provide a constitutional-level of care, prisons are going to need additional doctors, nurses and other medical staff as well as more space to adequately treat incarcerated patients.

Shiny new buildings won’t attract more staff or provide better health care. Spending money on constructing new prisons before addressing the real problems plaguing ADOC is pointless.

I encourage our lawmakers to oppose the prison bill. We must develop a comprehensive approach to effectively fix our overcrowded, understaffed and under-resourced prisons. Doing so will take longer than a few days. After all, billions of dollars and people’s lives are on the line.

Pass the Video Visitation Act – H.R.6441

Campaign created by Jamani Montague
Ask congress to ensure that correctional facilities do not ban in-person visits
Ask congress to ensure that correctional facilities do not ban in-person visits

Sign this petition asking Congress to ensure that correctional facilities do not ban in-person visits.

Why is this important?

This petition is in support of Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth’s Video Visitation in Prisons Act, which would require the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that correctional facilities that have video visitation services do not ban in-person visits.

U.S. jails and prisons are increasingly using video visitation to replace in-person visits. Some carceral facilities have even taken measures to end in-person visits entirely. Securus, for example, a company that provides phone services and video visitation for jails, requires jails and prisons to immediately suspend in-person visits after adopting their contract.

Although video visitation is an important option for people with physical illnesses, disabilities, and limited time and finances, in-person prison visits help incarcerated people to maintain vital relationships with their family members and loved ones on the outside. Face-to-face jail and prison visits are one of the few available opportunities for connection granted to people locked behind bars. We must protect this basic human right.

Sign The Petition Now!


Exposing Global Tel*Link For the Crooks They Are

Prison Profiteers Global Tel*Link
Prison Profiteers Global Tel*Link
This article was originally published here

As we’ve discussed at length on End Prison Corruption Now, prison communications and the companies in charge of them are one of the major sources for corruption within America’s prison system. Global Tel*Link is one of the giants in the industry, and to nobody’s surprise, one of the worst offenders when it comes to ripping off families of loved ones.

The ACLU put together a video showcasing some information about GTL and some of the families affected by Global Tel*Link’s unabashed greed and harmful business practices.

Watch the video below (we would say enjoy, but you’re more likely to be appalled):

Here’s the transcription from the video:

Narrator: Think your phone company charges too much? Try Global Tel*Link, the biggest phone company for prisoners and their families. Global Tel * Link makes more than $500 Million a year charging sky-high rates to the very people who are least able to pay.

Kenny Davis: My name is Kenny and I’m 9. (Showing photos) Here’s me, here’s my mom and here’s my dad. He is tall and he’s funny, he is in jail.

Women (Speaking): And do you get to visit him a lot?

Kenny Davis: No.screen-shot-2016-07-21-at-2-33-36-pm-300x166

LaTonya Davis (Kenny’s Mom): My son’s father is in County, CCAA, we can’t make the commute as often… to see his dad because, there the commute is like almost a four hour drive. Phone calls are a problem because they cost too much and I have other bills. I’m a single parent. The service provider we use is Global Tel Link.

Mel Motel (Associate, Human Rights Defense Committee): What they do is they enter into contracts with the state prisons, county jails, detention centers. And prisoners and their families have no choice but to make calls through Global Tel Link.

screen-shot-2016-07-21-at-2-34-38-pm-300x168RT News reporter: I want to put this in a little perspective here, calls via private company Global Tel Link cost $1.13 a minute. That’s about $17 bucks for a fifteen-minute phone call.

Narrator: Seventeen dollars just to hear a loved one’s voice, while everyone else can talk to people across the globe for next to nothing. How does Global Tel Link get away with it? By rigging the system. It gets contracts by offering kickbacks to the prisons. The bigger the kickback, called a “commission”, the more likely the prison is to give the contract to Global Tel Link. The cost gets passed on the families through high prices.

Continue reading

Alabama’s prisons don’t have working fire alarm systems

Inmates in a dormitory at Staton Correctional Facility Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, in Elmore, Ala. (Julie Bennett/ (JULIE BENNETT)
Inmates in a dormitory at Staton Correctional Facility Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, in Elmore, Ala. (Julie Bennett/ (JULIE BENNETT)
 By Christopher Harress | article originally posted here

Not one of Alabama’s 15 state prisons has a functional fire alarm system, according to Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, who spoke to lawmakers earlier this week about overcrowding inside state correctional facilities.

“It’s pervasive in our system … that we have deficiencies in our fire alarm systems,” said Dunn. “So what we do, we have corrections officers posted throughout and if there’s an issue, we do it through a verbal system. Obviously, we have procedures if we have a fire to evacuate either portions or all of the facility but the aural fire alarms, we have deficiencies around the state.”

The revelation comes during a trying time for the state’s prisons. The system is at approximately 180 percent of capacity while the number of correctional officers required is dangerously low, according to previous reporting.

In 2016, Governor Robert Bentley put forth what’s known as the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative (APTI), a plan to build four mega prisons at a cost of $800 million. While the initiative passed through both the House and the Senate, it did not gain final approval. In the coming session this year it’s expected that Bentley will raise the issue again with some amendments to help it pass.

Dunn conceded that other problems did exist in terms of infrastructure and health and safety. “I think the salient point is that (failing fire alarms are) just one of a dozen things that we face,” Dunn said. “While I don’t disagree about the fire system, you’ve got problems with electrical, you’ve got problems with plumbing, you’ve got problems all over that need to be addressed.”

Continue reading

Raw sewage backing up and spilling onto bathroom floors

Several complaints have been made since raw sewage started backing up and flooding the bathroom floors in as many months. The Officers make the women contain the flow of effluent by placing blankets and towels under the doors. They are then made to fish out any large foreign objects like sanitary towels, from the toilet bowel by hand.

It is often days before an external contractor is called to attend and remedy the problem. Apart from the obvious health risks associated with raw sewage, flies plague the bathroom whilst the women are trying to wash and brush their teeth, having flies landing on their person and their belongings.

This is clearly a severe health risk and wrong on so many levels. If your loved one reports to you that the sewage is over flowing again, and the Officers response is indifference, please contact the Alabama Department of Public Health via this form immediately. Also, you may want you can contact Carla Ward on 205.244.2001 email she is a member the Department of Justice team that is investigating the appalling conditions in Alabama prisons.




Alabama Department of Corrections Healthcare is a Joke and thats not the half of it…

Alabama Department of Corrections likes to put out numbers concerning the amount they spend on inmates healthcare, but they are lies. We have to fill out a sick call for each thing that is wrong with us, and pay $4.00 each time. Any over the counter medicine given to us costs $4.00 for each medicine.

Alabama Department of Corrections Healthcare is a Joke
Alabama Department of Corrections Healthcare is a Joke

For example, if we sign up for a cold, we are charged $4.00 for the visit, $4.00 for the Ibuprofen, $4.00 for the Sinus pills, and $4.00 for the decongestant. They rarely give out antibiotics. We have to sign up at least 3x before we can see the nurse practitioner or Doctor. When we have an accessed tooth, they put us on the Dental waiting list, sometimes it takes 2 months before you see the Dentist, and then you have to be given antibiotics to get rid of the infection, before the tooth can be pulled.

We’ve had girls with their cheeks swollen 3x the normal size because of an accessed tooth and yet health care will not let them see the Doctor to get started on an antibiotic, whilst waiting to see the Dentist.

Those on chronic care for high blood pressure, have to pay $4.00 if we feel that our blood pressure is up and ask to have our blood pressure checked. If you complain about the healthcare at Montgomery Women’s Facility too much, they will send you back to Tutwiler, where no one wants to go. Its their way of punishing us for speaking out against their mistreatment. We call healthcare, deathcare and most of us try to avoid their type of care.

Correctional Medical Services, which later became Corizon, held the contract from 2007 to 2012. ADOC awarded Corizon the healthcare contract in 2012, through to Sept. 30, 2017, under extension, it was the only company to submit a bid. The $181 million extension will bring the total cost of the contract to $405 million. State funds pay 100 percent of the cost. So why the hell are inmates forced to pay for each appointment despite having to wait in some cases months to see a healthcare professional and then pay extortionate prices for over the counter medicine which cost pennies in the free world and where the hell are they supposed to get the money from in the first place?

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program have sued Alabama Department of Corrections, over the failure to provide adequate medical care, mental health care and accommodations for the disabled violates the constitution and federal law. Despite ADOC claiming their “healthcare” is adequate, it has agreed to improve conditions for inmates with disabilities, the lawsuit is ongoing and in fact, The SPLC, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and the law firm of Baker Donelson have asked a federal judge to certify its lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) as a class action, which would allow rulings in the case over the inadequate medical and mental health care of 43 prisoners named in the lawsuit to apply to the 25,000 people held in a prison system that has had one of the highest mortality rates in the country.


Alabama Department Of Corrections Grievance against Officers Program

Alabama Department of Corrections started a grievance against Officers program. We inmates can file grievances against Officers who abuse us and/or abuse their positions. Lt. Bendford is our grievance Officer and she rules on all complaints. She’s been working with the same Officers and supervisors for years.

Alabama Department Of Corrections Grievance against Officers Program
Alabama Department Of Corrections Grievance against Officers Program

She even goes out to lunch with some of them. She has committed some of the same offences that grievances state, another has done. How can she be objective and unbiased? She can’t.

Every grievance filed against her co-workers are “unfounded”. We are discouraged and pray that the Feds will take over. Every person who works here needs to be removed.

We pray a Fed takeover because that’s our only hope at justice.


Transcribed from a letter by an inmate, identity withheld in fear of retaliation

Despite talks of reform, Alabama’s prisons remain deplorable

Article Originally published here on January 09, 2017 at 3:35 PM, updated January 09, 2017 at 3:39 PM
Inmates sitting on their bunks in a dorm in Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka. (Julie Bennett/
Inmates sitting on their bunks in a dorm in Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka. (Julie Bennett/

By Dr. Larry F. Wood, retired clinical and correctional psychologist

I spoke out on the prison reform issue two years ago after working in Tutwiler women’s prison as a prison psychologist. Even after 25 years of professional experience in prisons, I was unprepared for the immensity of the problems. In particular, mental health and medical care were severely inadequate. The administration of the prison was unprofessional and abusive. Two years ago, I described the prison environment as a culture of abuse.

In the past two years, a federal investigation has continued and a trial is under way. The State of Alabama continues to deny that the conditions are unconstitutional. No substantial improvements or program changes have been announced. Governor Bentley has focused on borrowing money to build more prisons.

I have been disappointed that little seems to have happened over the past two years. State Senator Cam Ward has spoken eloquently on the subject, but there seems to be no political will to address the problem directly.

One core of the problem is the simple overuse of imprisonment to deal with social problems other than aggressive criminality. The most extreme example is mental illness. State hospitals were closed because of abusive conditions and now, most of the seriously mentally ill in our state are in prisons. Many other inmates are intellectually inadequate, socially unskilled, or drug addicted. Many were traumatized by a lifetime of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Prisons were initially used to control and punish the overtly dangerous. Their role has been expanded over many years to include the chronically disruptive in society. Such people are arrested numerous times and are backed up in county jails, waiting for beds to house them in prison. Prison, as a punisher, is not appropriate or effective for many such inmates.

Simply stated, Alabama’s prisons are overcrowded because too many people are being held in expensive, high security lockups. If our prisons were reduced to recommended population levels, they could be operated safely and professionally. Minimum security facilities with focused treatment and programs would be far less expensive than prisons for most inmates.

Continue reading