This report examines the civil rights of women in United States prisons. The population of women in prison has increased dramatically since the 1980s, and this growth has outpaced that of men in prison, yet there have been few national-level studies of the civil rights issues incarcerated women experience. The Commission studied a range of issues that impact incarcerated women, including deprivations of women’s medical needs that may violate the constitutional requirement to provide adequate medical care for all prisoners; implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA); and the sufficiency of programs to meet women’s needs after release. The Commission also examined disparities in discipline practices for women in prison compared with men, and the impacts of incarcerated women being placed far from home or having their parental rights terminated.
The Commission majority approved key findings including the following: Many prison policies and facilities are not designed for women or tailored to their specific needs. Rather, many policies were adopted from men’s prison institutions without evaluating their application to women’s prison institutions. Incarcerated women report extremely high rates, and much higher rates than men, of histories of physical, sexual, and mental trauma. Notwithstanding federal statutory legal protections such as PREA and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, aimed at protecting incarcerated people, many incarcerated women continue to experience physical and psychological safety harms while incarcerated and insufficient satisfaction of their constitutional rights. Department of Justice litigation against prison systems involving sexual abuse among other wrongs has secured important changes to safeguard incarcerated women’s rights.