Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Women in Prison: Seeking Justice Behind Bars

Women in Prison: Seeking Justice Behind Bars

The United States Commission on Civil Rights, Women in Prison: Seeking Justice Behind Bars (Washington, DC: The United States Commission on Civil Rights, 2020).

This report from the United States Commission on Civil Rights details the findings of a yearlong investigation of the experience of women in US prisons and makes recommendations for improvement. It provides a background of data and research concerning the number of women in prison, their unique challenges, and challenges for correctional agencies associated with the management of this population. It also provides an evaluation of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice’s efforts in protecting the rights of women in prison and recommendations for correctional agencies.

One major finding was that although women are less likely than men to act violently in prison, women receive a disproportionate number of disciplinary write-ups for lower-level offenses—such as being disruptive, insolence, disobeying orders, cursing, and altering clothing. Women are also more likely to receive harsher punishments for minor infractions. This results in some agencies placing women in segregation for minor violations, denying them good time credits, barring them from participating in certain programming, and imposing other restrictions.

The report’s many recommendations include prohibiting the use of segregation for pregnant women, avoiding harsh punishments for minor disciplinary infractions, and training staff to address the high rates of trauma among incarcerated women. The report also recognizes efforts made in North Dakota Department of Corrections, Alabama Department of Corrections, and Massachusetts Correctional Institution for Women at Framingham that reduced their use of segregation increased the use of alternative responses and had positive results.

Click here to read an NPR article about the report.

Click here to read the full report. (See Chapter 5 on disciplinary processes and restrictive housing, and Chapter 8 for findings and recommendations)

Click here to read a related factsheet, “Women in Segregation.” 

Keywords: DOJ, federal, gender, sex, PREA, CRIPA, substance abuse, LGBT women, classification, family, parenting, mother, health care, sexual assault, sexual abuse, discipline policy, restrictive housing, staff training, recidivism, drugs, programming.