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Rethinking Treatment of Female Prisoners

The State

They live in a world designed for violent men. Advocates for change say privacy, dignity and closer family ties are needed.

June 19, 2005|Jenifer Warren | Times Staff Writer

Arriving 7 1/2 months pregnant, she worried constantly about her baby's health. She said she received iron pills and prenatal check-ups but always left the chow hall "starving." The servings, she said, were too meager for someone eating for two.

Most upsetting, Foster recalled, was "the total lack of privacy from men," who make up 75% of the correctional officers at Valley State.

Male guards were able to look down on women in the showers from a control room, she said, and mingled near the inmate reception area while female officers conducted strip searches, in which hand mirrors are used to search incoming inmates' private parts for contraband. That was most humiliating, she said, for women who were menstruating.

"It's all run by men. The doctors, the officers. There are men everywhere," said Foster, of Redding. "You just feel violated all the time."

In January, she gave birth at Madera Community Hospital. She was not handcuffed during her labor or delivery. But she said a male officer was in the room, just on the other side of a curtain, the entire time.

Afterward, with an ankle fastened to the bed, she was allowed to spend a few days in the hospital bonding with her daughter, Olivia. Then it was back to the cellblock, where the pain of separation was enhanced by pain from breasts engorged with milk.

The prison, Foster said, crying as the memories washed over her, did not provide a pump.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Behind bars

A growing number of critics say female inmates, most of them incarcerated for drug and property crimes, are ill-served by a prison system designed for violent men. The California Department of Corrections plans to change some regulations and practices to reflect differences between the sexes.

Inmate facts

California prison population:

Men: 93%

Women: 7%

Female inmates:

* Number in California prisons: 10,800

* Average time served: 14 months

* Serving time for a nonviolent crime: more than 66%

* Have been physically or sexually abused: 57%

* Average age: 36

* With minor children: 64%

* Babies born to inmates each year: about 300

Sources: California Department of Corrections, Little Hoover Commission

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