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New report outlines mismanagement, mishandling of female inmates

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Oct 3, 2018 - 10:10:03 AM

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WASHINGTON—The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General announced, in a full report, that the Federal Bureau of  Prisons (BOP) has mismanaged its female inmate population and the bureau’s programming and policies may not fully consider their needs.

“At the headquarters level, we found that BOP has not ensured that its decision makers are trained about how female inmates’ needs differ from those of male inmates. And BOP may not have adequate staff in their Women and Special Populations Branch. We also found that, until recently, BOP didn’t have a formal process to verify its prisons’ compliance with BOP policies for managing female inmates,” said Michael Horowitz, inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice at a press conference discussing release of the report.

None of this was news to Matinah Muhammad who spent four years incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, West Virginia on a heroin distribution charge.

“The inmates looked after each other,” she told The Final Call. “Everyone looked after each other.  We are all we had.  That’s why so many females had relations with each other because they took care of each other.  They couldn’t depend on the corrections officers.”

“We even had a protest there.  One day I got sick and couldn’t go to work.  They put me in the hole.  Everyone who worked in the decal factory with me went on strike because they knew Sis. Donna (her name then) hadn’t done anything to warrant being sent to the hole.”

Mr. Horowitz identified three main areas of concern at the bureau’s prisons. “First, we found that low staffing limits BOP’s ability to provide all eligible female inmates with trauma treatment, even though a study relied upon by BOP shows that approximately 90 percent of female inmates are affected by sexual, physical, or emotional trauma at some point in their lives,” he stated.

“Second, we found that only 37 percent of sentenced pregnant inmates participated in BOP’s pregnancy programs. Third, not all prisons ensured that female inmates had sufficient access to feminine hygiene products.”

As of September 2016, the Federal Bureau of Prisons incarcerated 10,567 sentenced female inmates, representing seven percent of the total bureau’s sentenced inmate population of 146,084.

The report, which was released Sept. 18, explained that the bureau may not be able to provide its trauma treatment program to all eligible female inmates until late in their incarceration, if at all, because the bureau has assigned only one staff member at each institution to offer this program.

Report findings also estimated that only 37 percent of sentenced pregnant inmates participated in the bureau’s pregnancy programs between fiscal year (FY) 2012 and (FY) 2016. They believe participation was low because bureau inmates and staff lacked awareness of these programs, and staff may apply eligibility criteria more restrictively than intended by Federal Bureau of Prisons headquarters.

Further, the report found that the distribution methods for feminine hygiene products provided to inmates varied by institution and did not always ensure that inmates had access to a sufficient quantity of products to meet their needs.

The report also found that the bureaus’ practice of assigning correctional officers to posts solely by seniority resulted in an inefficient use of correctional officer resources at female institutions. Male correctional officers are assigned to posts at which staff must regularly conduct searches of female inmates.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of  2003 and Federal Bureau of Prisons policy prohibit male correctional officers from searching female inmates, consequently, female correctional officers must leave other assigned posts to conduct these searches.

The report made 10 recommendations to assist the prison bureau in exploring options to improve the management of its female inmate population. They include training executive leaders on issues important to managing female inmates, enhancing the capacity of the Federal Bureau of Prisons trauma treatment program, communicating information about pregnancy programs, and clarifying guidance on the distribution of feminine hygiene products.

“They let family come on the property for Ramadan and other holidays.  They need more family activities.  Women need to see their children.  Children need to see their mothers.  My daughter suffered when I was away.  I was four and a half hours away from D.C.  A lot of women seldom see their children. That’s a problem.  Stop sending women so far away,” Ms. Muhammad said.