Free Albert Woodfox! Take Action with Amnesty Intl: "Herman died a free man. Let’s help Albert live as one."

Please take action for Albert Woodfox here!

(FLYER: Amnesty Intl actions for Albert Woodfox on Oct. 19 in New Orleans and Oct. 21 at the Capitol in Baton Rouge)


RELATED:  UN statement on Albert Woodfox

Today, Amnesty International kicked off a new campaign in support of Albert Woodfox. The email action alert and a separate press release are both reprinted below, in full:

——
Herman died a free man. Let’s help Albert live as one.

Herman Wallace died nine days before his 72nd birthday. The famed ‘Angola 3′ prisoner succumbed to liver cancer on Friday, 3 days after being released from prison. 

Herman survived more than 41 years of isolation, becoming a fierce activist calling for an end to the cruel, inhuman use of solitary confinement. 

He died a free man, but the search for justice is far from over. The third member of the Angola 3, Albert Woodfox, is STILL being held in solitary confinement.

Enough is enough — call on Louisiana authorities to free Albert Woodfox. 

Albert was placed in solitary after a 1972 murder that he maintains he did not commit. There is no physical evidence linking him to the crime. 

Albert’s conviction has already been overturned three times — most recently by a federal district court — but the state obsessively appeals every time the court rules in his favor.

Tell the Louisiana authorities to free Albert Woodfox today.

Before he died, Herman said this about Albert and their struggle for human rights: 

“I want the world to know that I am an innocent man and that Albert Woodfox is innocent as well…The state may have stolen my life, but my spirit will continue to struggle along with Albert and the many comrades that have joined us along the way here in the belly of the beast.”

I never met Herman, and yet I will always remember him as larger-than-life — a symbol of resistance to human rights abuses and injustice who refused to be silenced. More than 110,000 people like you rose up to free him — Now it’s time to shine the light for Albert — take action. 

In solidarity,

Jasmine Heiss
Campaigner, Individuals and Communities at Risk
Amnesty International USA

(End of email alert. The Oct. 10 Amnesty USA press release begins.)

Louisiana Must End Campaign of ‘Vengeance’ Against Remaining Angola 3 Prisoner Albert Woodfox

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia

(NEW YORK) – Following the death of Herman Wallace, who was held in solitary confinement for nearly 40 years, Amnesty International today launches a campaign demanding the release of his co-defendant Albert Woodfox, who also has been held in cruel conditions of isolation following a deeply flawed trial.

‘Enough is enough,’ said Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty International USA executive director. ‘Nothing can justify the cruel treatment that the state of Louisiana has inflicted on Albert Woodfox. It’s simply unconscionable for the state to hold him one day longer. His trial was flawed and his conviction has been overturned three separate times. Authorities must let the most recent court ruling stand and release Woodfox from prison. At this point, Louisiana officials seem to be out for vengeance; instead, we call on them to act in the interest of justice and see that he is released.’

Woodfox and Wallace were both convicted of the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller. There was no physical evidence to link them to the crime and their convictions relied primarily on the dubious testimony of a sole eyewitness who received favorable treatment in return for his testimony.

Both men have robustly denied any involvement in the crime. They believe they were falsely implicated in the murder because of their political activism in prison as members of the Black Panther Party.

Earlier this year a federal judge overturned the conviction. However, Woodfox continues to languish in prison after the state of Louisiana appealed against his release.

During a legal process that has spanned four decades, Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned three times.

‘Were it not for the state of Louisiana’s dogged determination to appeal against these rulings, Woodfox would almost certainly be a free man by now,’ said Tessa Murphy, an Amnesty campaigner.

Wallace was released last week just days before he died of liver cancer. A federal judge who overturned his conviction said it would hold the state in contempt of court if it attempted to appeal the case.

For most of the last four decades, Woodfox has been confined to a small cell for 23 hours a day, denied access to meaningful human interaction and rehabilitation.

Prison records show that Albert has not committed any serious disciplinary infractions for years and that he doesn’t pose a threat to himself or others.

Take action: Demand the release of Albert Woodfox.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Amnesty International: USA: California prison authorities ‘toying with the lives’ of inmates on hunger strike

From: Amnesty International, August 30th 2013:
The refusal by California’s prison authorities to explore options to resolve the hunger strike crisis in the state’s high security units is a dangerous move that could lead to the deaths of inmates in their custody, Amnesty International said.
More than 30,000 prisoners joined a hunger strike last July over inhumane detention conditions in California’s security housing units (SHUs). More than 70 are still refusing food.
“It’s nothing short of appalling that instead of dealing with the complaints, California’s prison authorities have chosen to threaten inmates with force-feeding and disciplinary measures, and have moved some to other facilities,” said Tessa Murphy, Campaigner on the USA at Amnesty International.
“No one should be punished for exercising the right to peaceful protest. California prison authorities must stop toying with people’s lives and meet with the mediation team to begin a meaningful process of negotiation.”
Amnesty International has also received reports that some of those on hunger strike have been denied medical care.
This week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) published a press release saying that it had addressed some of the inmates’ demands.
“Recent proposals by California’s prison authorities do not go far enough to address the inhumanity that permeates many aspects of the security housing units, including lengthy periods during which inmates are held in isolation and excessively harsh conditions of confinement including lack of social contact and programming,” said Tessa Murphy.
“The rehabilitation of prisoners is absolutely essential for their positive reintegration into society at the end of their sentence.”
Amnesty International is calling on CDCR to reduce the length of the step down programme and to make meaningful changes to the isolation units, particularly in Pelican Bay prison, with an emphasis on increased social contact and rehabilitation.
On 19 August, a federal court issued a decision that would allow the state to force-feed hunger strikers “at risk of near-death or great bodily injury”. The court also ruled that the state may ignore “do not resuscitate” directives if they were signed for the purpose of the hunger strike, or if the state believes they were achieved through coercion.
The force feeding of mentally competent hungers strikers is contrary to medical ethics and breaches their right to freedom of expression.

Amnesty International report finds California SHUs illegal

From the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Solidarity website:

Amnesty International report finds California SHUs illegal
Posted on September 27, 2012

Amnesty International released a report today (Sept 27, 2012), called “The Edge of Endurance: Prison Conditions in California’s Security Housing Units”. The report slams the state of California for abusing prisoners’ rights under international law as well as for falling short on the recently implemented step-down procedures. It also includes a section about the 2011 hunger strike.

Read the full report HERE (PDF), or check the bullet points that we pulled out of the Executive Summary after the jump. Below that, we’ve copied and pasted the report’s section on the hunger strike.

Pelican Bay State Prison front view of cell D1-119

-No other US state is believed to have held so many prisoners for such long periods in indefinite isolation.

-Many prisoners have spent decades in isolation despite reportedly being free of any serious rule violations and – if they are serving a “term to life” sentence – without any means of earning parole.

-Prisoner advocates and others have criticized the gang validation process as unreliable and lacking adequate safeguards, allowing prisoners to be consigned to indefinite isolation without evidence of any specific illegal activity, or on the basis of tenuous gang associations, on evidence often provided by anonymous informants.

-No changes to the physical conditions of confinement are proposed for the Pelican Bay SHU, where prisoners would spend at least two years in the same isolated conditions of cellular confinement as they are now.

-Amnesty International considers that the conditions of isolation and other deprivations imposed on prisoners in California’s SHU units breach international standards on humane treatment.

THE 2011 HUNGER STRIKE

“During the hunger strike he was taken to a Pelican Bay Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) with eleven other hunger strike leaders. He was in ASU with no warm clothes, bed blankets, possessions (including writing materials). The air conditioning was turned right up while he had just a t-shirt and trousers.” – Wife of gang validated SHU prisoner, one of the hunger striker leaders- this information was corroborated by one of the lead hunger strikers with whom the Amnesty International delegation spoke.

On 1 July 2011, prisoners in the SHU initiated a hunger strike to protest against their conditions of confinement, bringing the issue into the public spotlight.

The strike spread to prisons across the state, with more than 6,000 prisoners participating at one point. The hunger strikers’ demands for improved conditions in the SHUs give an indication of just how stark those conditions were: they included requests for access to personal items such as being able to purchase wall calendars, “watch caps” (outdoor headwear when exercising in bad weather), “sweat pants” (to keep warm) and at least some basic in-cell art materials. They also asked to be able to have an annual photograph taken to send to their families (a common practice allowed to most prisoners).

The strike ended on 20 July after CDCR agreed to make some modest changes immediately (allowing prisoners to have “watch caps”, wall calendars and some other personal items), and said it was undertaking a policy review to address the wider demands. One of the hunger strikers’ “core demands” was that California comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Americas Prisons 2006 recommendation to end long term solitary confinement and make segregation a last resort. The strikers also called for prisoners who had served ten or more years of indefinite SHU confinement to be released to the general prison population. Other demands included better food (following repeated complaints that the food provided to SHU prisoners was often cold and lacking nutrition) and requests that SHU inmates with chronic health problems be moved to the New Folsom Medical SHU facility.

Following concern among prisoners about what they perceived as a lack of progress in implementing changes, the hunger strike resumed briefly in late September 2011, but was called off after meetings between prisoner representatives and CDCR and further assurances that CDCR would institute changes. While no disciplinary action had been taken against the first hunger strikers, the second hunger strike was treated by CDCR as a major rule violation and some prisoners were punished by having their property and canteen privileges confiscated. Fifteen of the strike leaders were reportedly moved to harsh conditions in administrative segregation cells for a short period. Amnesty International wrote to CDCR at the time, urging it to take action to end to the hunger strike by providing assurances on improvements both to conditions and the procedures by which prisoners are assigned to the SHU, rather than through disciplinary action resulting in still harsher conditions.

Full Report: http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/california_solitary_confinement_report_final.pdf

United States Must Halt Life Without Parole Sentences for Children

United States Must Halt Life Without Parole Sentences for Children, says Amnesty International

Human Rights Organization Details Stories of Three Young Offenders From Louisiana, Illinois and North Carolina, in New Juvenile Justice Report
Louisiana Case to be Featured in Amnesty International’s Global Write-a-Thon

November 30, 2011
(Washington, D.C.) — Authorities in the United States must ban the imposition of life without parole sentences against children and review the cases of more than 2,500 prisoners currently serving such sentences to bring the sentences into line with international law, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

“In the United States, people under 18 cannot vote, buy alcohol or lottery tickets or consent to most forms of medical treatment, but they can be sentenced to die in prison for their actions. This needs to change,” said Natacha Mension, U. S. campaigner at Amnesty International (AI).

Children as young as 11 at the time of the crime have faced life imprisonment without parole in the United States – the only country in the world to impose this sentence on children.

Amnesty International’s 34-page report ‘This is where I’m going to be when I die’: Children facing life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the United States, illustrates the issue through the stories of Christi Cheramie, Jacqueline Montanez and David Young.

In the United States, life without parole can be imposed on juvenile offenders as a mandatory punishment – without consideration of mitigating factors such as history of abuse or trauma, degree of involvement in the crime, mental health status, or amenability to rehabilitation.

“We are not excusing crimes committed by children or minimizing their consequences, but the simple reality is that these sentences ignore the special potential for rehabilitation and change that young offenders have,” said Mension.

In May 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court said life without parole is “an especially harsh punishment for a juvenile,” as the young offender will serve, on average, more years and a greater percentage of his life in prison than an older offender. “A 16-year-old and a 75-year-old each sentenced to life without parole receive the same punishment in name only,” the Court said.

Eighteen months after prohibiting this sentence for non-homicide crimes committed by under-18-year-olds, on November 8, 2011, the Supreme Court agreed to consider this issue in relation to crimes involving murder. It will not issue a decision until the second quarter of 2012 at the earliest.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into force more than two decades ago, expressly prohibits the imposition of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for offenses, however serious, committed by people under 18 years old. All countries except the United States and Somalia have ratified the Convention.

“It is long past time for the United States to ratify the Convention without reservations or other limiting conditions and to fully implement its prohibition on the use of life imprisonment without release against children, including in relation to the cases of those already sentenced,” said Mension.

On November 30, Christi Cheramie, who is serving life without parole in Louisiana, will submit an application for executive clemency with the state Board of Pardons. Christi was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in 1994, when she was 16 years old for the killing of her 18-year-old fiancé’s great aunt.

She pleaded guilty just before her trial in adult court began, fearing she could be sentenced to death if the trial went ahead. Her guilty plea prevents her from directly appealing her conviction or sentence.

A psychiatrist who saw Christi prior to her trial said that she was a “depressed, dependent, and insecure” 16-year-old who “seems to have been fearful of crossing” her fiancé, who she maintains committed the crime. Christi’s childhood was marked by sexual abuse. At the age of 13, she was hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic after trying to commit suicide on at least two occasions.

After spending half of her life in prison, Christi believes she has changed in many ways. She has obtained a high school equivalency diploma, a degree in agricultural studies, and teaches a number of classes at the prison. A warden has stated that she is “worthy of a second chance.” View a video of Christi’s grandmother and her conversation with Christi here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AHsW9YbP1A&NR=1

Christi will be among 15 people for whom Amnesty International activists worldwide will be taking action as part of Write for Rights – the Global Write-a-Thon on December 3 – 11. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide will be educated about Christi’s case and asked to call on Governor Jindal to help. In the United States, more than 35,000 people are expected to participate in this annual event. http://www.amnestyusa.org/writeathon

Additionally, on Dec. 3 in New Orleans, Amnesty International USA, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, the Louisiana Interfaith Conference and Citizens for Second Chances will hold an event from 4 to 7 pm with a candlelight vigil, music and speakers focusing on Christi’s case at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, 1313 Esplanade Avenue. For more information visit www.jjpl.org

A clemency campaign is also pending for a second person whose case is profiled in AI’s report. Jacqueline Montanez is the only woman in Illinois serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a crime committed as a child. A victim of child abuse, Jacqueline began abusing drugs and alcohol at the age of nine. Jacqueline’s abuser was her step-father, a gang leader, who also involved her in the drug trade as a very young child and groomed her to be his “little soldier.” After running away from home and joining a rival gang, she and two older women shot and killed two adult male members of her step-father’s gang.

Because she was 15 at the time of the crime and charged with first degree murder, she was automatically tried in adult criminal court. This denied the court system the opportunity of conducting a transfer hearing to determine whether her case ought to have been tried in juvenile court where factors such as her young age, home environment or amenability to rehabilitation would have been considered. Jacqueline was also automatically sentenced to life without parole due to her conviction; the sentencing court had no discretion to consider her history, her age, the circumstances of the offense or her potential for rehabilitation.

Now 35 years old, she expresses deep remorse for her actions and believes that she has grown into a very different person. She has obtained a high school equivalency diploma and has become a certified trainer of service dogs for disabled people. She grieves for her victims and the pain that their families have suffered.

In Illinois, 80 percent of children in prison for life without parole received mandatory sentences; about 82 percent are prisoners of color. That number is even higher in Cook County, where the Montanez case originated. These findings were published by the Illinois Coalition on the Fair Sentencing of Children in its 2008 report Categorically Less Culpable, Children Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Illinois. http://www.law.northwestern.edu/cfjc/jlwop/documents/JLWOP_Report.pdf

Jacqueline’s petition for executive clemency will be submitted to the Illinois governor and the Prisoner Review Board in January 2012.

David Young is one of two teenagers arrested and charged for the murder of Charles Welch in 1997. He was automatically charged in adult criminal court as required by North Carolina law for any criminal offense committed by anyone age 16 or older. Young’s co-defendant, who shot the victim, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 19 to 23 years in prison. David was convicted of first-degree felony murder and was sentenced to life without parole.

Young grew up in a hostile community environment where his parents abused drugs and his stepfather physically abused him and his mother. Now 32 years old, Young obtained his high school equivalency diploma and is in solitary confinement after being stabbed by two prisoners.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom and dignity are denied.

# # #

For a copy of the report, ‘This is where I’m going to be when I die’: Children facing life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the United States, email Gwen Fitzgerald at gfitzgerald @ aiusa.org. OR Click here to view the report in PDF.

Photos are available online at https://adam.amnesty.org/asset-bank/action/quickSearch?keywords=newsflash+LWOP. For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.

Mother’s Day: Sentencing and the War on Drugs

<!–[if !mso]> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

Women in Prison: A Fact Sheet
The Issue: Sentencing and the War on Drugs
The Department of Justice found that women were over represented among low level drug offenders who were non-violent, had minimal or no prior criminal history, and were not principal figures in criminal organizations or activities, but nevertheless received sentences similar to “high level” drug offenders under the mandatory sentencing policies. From 1986 to 1996 the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased ten-fold. Nationally one in three women in prison and one in four women in jail are incarcerated for violating a drug law. (Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners in 1997)
·  According to The Boston Globe, “nearly 26% of the nearly 2000 men and women crowding Massachusetts prisons for  drug crimes are first-time offenders…. Worse, nearly three out of four drug traffickers who do get charged in major cases, but agree to forfeit substantial drug money to prosecutors, bargain their way out of the long sentences…. The result: those with no money or information to trade face the hard mandatory sentences.”
·     From 1986 to 1996, the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased from 2,370 to 23,700.  (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington DC Prisoners in 1997)
·  In 1986, 12.0% of women in prison were drug offenders. In 1991, 32.8% of women in prison were incarcerated for  drug offenses.  (Women in Prison, Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991. US Department of Justice, March 1994, NCJ 145321)
The Issue: Sexual Assault and Misconduct Against Women in Prison
The imbalance of power between inmates and guards involves the use of direct physical force and indirect force based on the prisoners’ total dependency on officers for basic necessities and the guards’ ability to withhold privileges. Some women are coerced into sex for favors such as extra
food or personal hygiene products, or to avoid punishment.   
·  Powerlessness and Humiliation
There are 148,200 women in state and federal prisons. 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 watch women undressing, in the shower or the toilet. Male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who complain about sexual assault and harassment
·  Retaliation and Fear
In many states guards have access to and are encouraged to review the inmates’ personal history files (this includes any  record of complaints against themselves or other prison authorities). Guards threaten the prisoner’s children and visitation rights as a means of silencing the women. Guards issue rule infraction tickets, which extend the woman’s  stay in prison if she speaks out. Prisoners who complain are frequently placed in administration segregation.
·  Impunity 
Ineffective formal procedures, legislation and reporting capacity within US jails and prisons account for much of the  ongoing sexual abuse of women. In 1997, according to the US Justice Department only 10 prison employees in the  entire federal system were disciplined, and only 7 were prosecuted. If a prison official is found guilty, he is often simply transferred (“walked off the yard”) to another facility instead of being fired. The inmate may also be transferred. 
The Issue: Medical Neglect of Women in US Prisons
Women are denied essential medical resources and treatments, especially during times of pregnancy and/or chronic and degenerative diseases.
·  Failure to refer seriously ill inmates for treatment and delays in treatment
Women inmates suffering from treatable diseases such as asthma, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, cancer, late-term miscarriages, and seizures have little or no access to medical attention, sometimes resulting in permanent injury or death. Instances of failure to deliver life-saving drugs for inmates with HIV/AIDS have also been noted.  
·  Lack of qualified personnel and resources and use of non-medical staff
There is too few staff to meet physical and mental health needs. This often results in long delays in obtaining medical attention; disrupted and poor quality treatment causing physical deterioration of prisoners with chronic and degenerative diseases, like cancer; overmedication of prisoners with psychotropic drugs; and lack of mental health treatment. The use of  non-medical staff to screen requests for treatment is also common. 
·  Charges for medical attention
In violation of international standards, many prisons/jails charge inmates for medical attention, arguing that the charge deters prisoners from seeking medical attention for minor matters or because they want to avoid work. In some supermaximum prisons, where prisoners cannot work at all, the US Justice Dept. expressed concern that charging prisoners impedes their access to health care.
·  Inadequate Reproductive Health Care
In 1994, the National Institute of Corrections stated that provision of gynecological services for women in prison is inadequate.  Only half of the state prison systems surveyed offer female-specific services such as mammograms and Pap smears, and often entail a long wait to be seen.
·  Shackling During Pregnancy
Shackling of all prisoners, including pregnant prisoners, is standard policy in federal prisons and in the US Marshall Service and exists in almost all state prisons. Shackling during labor may cause complications during delivery such as hemorrhage or decreased fetal heart rate. If a caesarian section is needed, a delay of even 5 minutes may result in permanent brain damage to the baby.
  
·  Lack of treatment for substance abuse
The gap between services available and treatment needs continues to grow. The number of prisoners with histories of drug abuse is growing, but the proportion of prisoners receiving treatment declined from 40% in 1991 to 18% in 1997.  
·  Lack of Adequate or Appropriate Mental Health Services
 48-88% of women inmates suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to sexual or physical abuse experienced prior to coming to prison.  Very few prison systems provide counseling. Women attempting to access mental health services are routinely given medication without opportunity to undergo psychotherapeutic treatment.  
The Issue: Discrimination Based On Gender, Race and Sexual Orientation
The growth in incarceration has had its greatest impact on minorities, particularly African Americans. Women are most vulnerable to different forms of discrimination, including sexual harrasment or abuse. Women that do not fit the “norm”, such as lesbians, are more succeptable to torture and abuse.
Discrimination Based on Race:
·  Over a five-year period, the incarceration rate of African American women increased by 828%. (NAACP LDF Equal Justice Spring 1998.) An African American woman is eight times more likely than a European American woman is to be imprisoned.  African American women make up nearly half of the nation’s female prison population, with most serving sentences for nonviolent drug or property related offenses. 
·  Latina women experience nearly four times the rates of incarceration as European American women.
·  State and federal laws mandate minimum sentences for all drug offenders.  This eliminates the option for judges to refer first time non-violent offenders to drug treatment, counseling and education programs.  The racial disparity revealed by the crack v. powder cocaine sentences insures that more African American women will land in prison.
Although 2/3 of crack users are white or Hispanic, defendants convicted of crack cocaine possession in 1994 were 84.5% African American.  Crack is the only drug that carries a mandatory prison sentence for first time possession in the federal system. 
Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation:
·   Human Rights Watch has documented categories of women who are likely targets for sexual abuse. Perceived or actual sexual orientation is one of four categories that make a female prisoner a more likely target for sexual abuse, as well as a target for retaliation when she reports that abuse.
·  If a woman is a lesbian, her criminal defense becomes more challenging.  Jurors in the US were polled as to what factors would make them most biased against a defendant, and perceived sexual orientation was chosen as the most likely personal characteristic to bias a juror against a defendant, three times greater than race. (National Law Journal November 2, 1998.)
·  The case of Robin Lucas depicts how sexual identity may subject a woman to further abuse or torture by a guard. She was placed in a men’s prison where male guards allowed male inmates to rape her.  The male guards taunted her about her same sex relationship, saying to her “maybe we can change your mind”.  
For more information on issues affecting women in prison and other women’s human rights issues, please visit the Women’s Human Rights Program website at www.amnestyusa.org/women or contact us at AIUSA 5 Penn Plaza-16th floor, New York, NY 10001 or at (212) 633-4292.

Mother’s Day: Sentencing and the War on Drugs

 

Women in Prison: A Fact Sheet
The Issue: Sentencing and the War on Drugs
The Department of Justice found that women were over represented among low level drug offenders who were non-violent, had minimal or no prior criminal history, and were not principal figures in criminal organizations or activities, but nevertheless received sentences similar to “high level” drug offenders under the mandatory sentencing policies. From 1986 to 1996 the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased ten-fold. Nationally one in three women in prison and one in four women in jail are incarcerated for violating a drug law. (Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners in 1997)
·  According to The Boston Globe, “nearly 26% of the nearly 2000 men and women crowding Massachusetts prisons for  drug crimes are first-time offenders…. Worse, nearly three out of four drug traffickers who do get charged in major cases, but agree to forfeit substantial drug money to prosecutors, bargain their way out of the long sentences…. The result: those with no money or information to trade face the hard mandatory sentences.”
·     From 1986 to 1996, the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased from 2,370 to 23,700.  (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington DC Prisoners in 1997)
·  In 1986, 12.0% of women in prison were drug offenders. In 1991, 32.8% of women in prison were incarcerated for  drug offenses.  (Women in Prison, Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991. US Department of Justice, March 1994, NCJ 145321)
The Issue: Sexual Assault and Misconduct Against Women in Prison
The imbalance of power between inmates and guards involves the use of direct physical force and indirect force based on the prisoners’ total dependency on officers for basic necessities and the guards’ ability to withhold privileges. Some women are coerced into sex for favors such as extra
food or personal hygiene products, or to avoid punishment.   
·  Powerlessness and Humiliation
There are 148,200 women in state and federal prisons. 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 watch women undressing, in the shower or the toilet. Male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who complain about sexual assault and harassment
·  Retaliation and Fear
In many states guards have access to and are encouraged to review the inmates’ personal history files (this includes any  record of complaints against themselves or other prison authorities). Guards threaten the prisoner’s children and visitation rights as a means of silencing the women. Guards issue rule infraction tickets, which extend the woman’s  stay in prison if she speaks out. Prisoners who complain are frequently placed in administration segregation.
·  Impunity 
Ineffective formal procedures, legislation and reporting capacity within US jails and prisons account for much of the  ongoing sexual abuse of women. In 1997, according to the US Justice Department only 10 prison employees in the  entire federal system were disciplined, and only 7 were prosecuted. If a prison official is found guilty, he is often simply transferred (“walked off the yard”) to another facility instead of being fired. The inmate may also be transferred. 
The Issue: Medical Neglect of Women in US Prisons
Women are denied essential medical resources and treatments, especially during times of pregnancy and/or chronic and degenerative diseases.
·  Failure to refer seriously ill inmates for treatment and delays in treatment
Women inmates suffering from treatable diseases such as asthma, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, cancer, late-term miscarriages, and seizures have little or no access to medical attention, sometimes resulting in permanent injury or death. Instances of failure to deliver life-saving drugs for inmates with HIV/AIDS have also been noted.  
·  Lack of qualified personnel and resources and use of non-medical staff
There is too few staff to meet physical and mental health needs. This often results in long delays in obtaining medical attention; disrupted and poor quality treatment causing physical deterioration of prisoners with chronic and degenerative diseases, like cancer; overmedication of prisoners with psychotropic drugs; and lack of mental health treatment. The use of  non-medical staff to screen requests for treatment is also common. 
·  Charges for medical attention
In violation of international standards, many prisons/jails charge inmates for medical attention, arguing that the charge deters prisoners from seeking medical attention for minor matters or because they want to avoid work. In some supermaximum prisons, where prisoners cannot work at all, the US Justice Dept. expressed concern that charging prisoners impedes their access to health care.
·  Inadequate Reproductive Health Care
In 1994, the National Institute of Corrections stated that provision of gynecological services for women in prison is inadequate.  Only half of the state prison systems surveyed offer female-specific services such as mammograms and Pap smears, and often entail a long wait to be seen.
·  Shackling During Pregnancy
Shackling of all prisoners, including pregnant prisoners, is standard policy in federal prisons and in the US Marshall Service and exists in almost all state prisons. Shackling during labor may cause complications during delivery such as hemorrhage or decreased fetal heart rate. If a caesarian section is needed, a delay of even 5 minutes may result in permanent brain damage to the baby.
  
·  Lack of treatment for substance abuse
The gap between services available and treatment needs continues to grow. The number of prisoners with histories of drug abuse is growing, but the proportion of prisoners receiving treatment declined from 40% in 1991 to 18% in 1997.  
·  Lack of Adequate or Appropriate Mental Health Services
 48-88% of women inmates suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to sexual or physical abuse experienced prior to coming to prison.  Very few prison systems provide counseling. Women attempting to access mental health services are routinely given medication without opportunity to undergo psychotherapeutic treatment.  
The Issue: Discrimination Based On Gender, Race and Sexual Orientation
The growth in incarceration has had its greatest impact on minorities, particularly African Americans. Women are most vulnerable to different forms of discrimination, including sexual harrasment or abuse. Women that do not fit the “norm”, such as lesbians, are more succeptable to torture and abuse.
Discrimination Based on Race:
·  Over a five-year period, the incarceration rate of African American women increased by 828%. (NAACP LDF Equal Justice Spring 1998.) An African American woman is eight times more likely than a European American woman is to be imprisoned.  African American women make up nearly half of the nation’s female prison population, with most serving sentences for nonviolent drug or property related offenses. 
·  Latina women experience nearly four times the rates of incarceration as European American women.
·  State and federal laws mandate minimum sentences for all drug offenders.  This eliminates the option for judges to refer first time non-violent offenders to drug treatment, counseling and education programs.  The racial disparity revealed by the crack v. powder cocaine sentences insures that more African American women will land in prison.
Although 2/3 of crack users are white or Hispanic, defendants convicted of crack cocaine possession in 1994 were 84.5% African American.  Crack is the only drug that carries a mandatory prison sentence for first time possession in the federal system. 
Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation:
·   Human Rights Watch has documented categories of women who are likely targets for sexual abuse. Perceived or actual sexual orientation is one of four categories that make a female prisoner a more likely target for sexual abuse, as well as a target for retaliation when she reports that abuse.
·  If a woman is a lesbian, her criminal defense becomes more challenging.  Jurors in the US were polled as to what factors would make them most biased against a defendant, and perceived sexual orientation was chosen as the most likely personal characteristic to bias a juror against a defendant, three times greater than race. (National Law Journal November 2, 1998.)
·  The case of Robin Lucas depicts how sexual identity may subject a woman to further abuse or torture by a guard. She was placed in a men’s prison where male guards allowed male inmates to rape her.  The male guards taunted her about her same sex relationship, saying to her “maybe we can change your mind”.  
For more information on issues affecting women in prison and other women’s human rights issues, please visit the Women’s Human Rights Program website at www.amnestyusa.org/women or contact us at AIUSA 5 Penn Plaza-16th floor, New York, NY 10001 or at (212) 633-4292.