Dennis J. Stevens, PhD
Female, Rape & Solitary Confinement

Female Prisoners and Solitary Confinement

Dennis J. Stevens, Ph.D.

University of North Carolina Charlotte (RET)




The scholarly literature informs us about many female prisoner issues such as sexual assault and misconduct against them, prison sentencing, medical neglect, discrimination, and contraband initiatives. Organizations, too, such as Amnesty International, The Pennsylvania Prison Society, and the John Howard League pride themselves on emphasizing various female prisoner concerns, and rightfully so. However, a gap in the literature exists about female prisoners and solitary confinement or what is commonly called segregation (SEG) or “the hole” (Buchanan, 2007). It is hoped that this chapter will enhance an understanding on the impact of SEG practices upon female prisoners and detainees (individuals who have not been tried but are in custody) as a plausible correctional practice.


Solitary Confinement or SEG


SEG is a specific area or group of cells within a prison and local jail where prisoners and detainees are held in isolation from the general confined population (Encyclopedia of Prisons and Correctional Facilities, 2005). Specifically, SEG is the placement of a local, state, or federal prisoner or detainee into a space isolated from other prisoners, usually as a form of discipline, protection, or prevention (Legal Dictionary, 2011; Stevens, 2006). Prisoners are “written up” for various disciplinary reasons such as fighting or wandering into restrictive areas (“going out of bounds”). Prisoners and detainees including juveniles can be disciplined for unruly or disorderly behavior implying that unruly or disorderly conduct determinate at the discretion of individual custody personnel (Fraser, Mosley, Thornion, Belknap, & Rogers, 1984). Sometimes, custody officers may be compelled (because of the number of write-ups, the seriousness of the offense, or the restricted area breached). Other times, SEG can be a sanction related to the protection practices of a prisoner from other prisoners (celebrity, cop, or child killer) or it can be sanctioned as a method of preventing a prisoner from attacking others including correctional personnel, correctional volunteers, and correctional property. In both cases, protection or prevention rationales, although prisoners can request SEG for personal reasons (which can or cannot be approved), SEG is often used as protection or prevention tool without the consent of the prisoner.

Some prisoners “act out” or become highly aggressive towards others or even aggressive toward their own body. One rationale of SEG is to protect prisoners, staff and volunteers, and correctional property. How this protection occurs is unclear, explains Daniel Mears (2005). At the core of this rationale is the “rotten apple” theory which implies that isolating or removing the “bad apple” (i.e., the most violent or vulnerable prisoners) helps prevent other prisoners from committing assaults and infractions. Nonetheless, most detention facilities have SEG wings (often an isolated structure away from other prison activities) or a few single cells used for the purpose of isolating prisoners for disciplinary, protection, or prevention solutions.

That is, a prison within a prison. Female prison facilities similar to male facilities have SEG wings or cells. The term ‘female’ is used throughout this chapter rather than the term women because many confined females are not women, they’re juveniles; and juvenile prisoners experience harsh SEG initiatives, argues Mary Kay Papen (2011). Cassandra Shaylor examined SEG practices among adult female prisoners and implies that females in custody are devalued even less than females in the American society (Davis, De-Groot, & Shaylor, 1998). Shaylor goes on to say that female prisoners are viewed as “fallen women,” regardless of the crime they were convicted of, and therefore whatever treatment or destruction those prisoners encounter by correctional staff or other prisoners is justified.  


An Estimate of Female Prisoners Experiencing Solitary Confinement   


Solitary Watch (2011) reports that over 240 female prisoners experience SEG annually. Yet, my experience as a prison adviser, program facilitator, and prison teacher in several female prisons, suggests that the number of prisoners in SEG is probably 10 times greater than 240 prisoners or close to 2,400 or more females experience SEG annually. Many of SEG prisoners are “in the hole” more than once or more in a twelve month period and others are locked down for years at a time. My reasoning is that female prisoner statistics are sketchy because many correctional units do not keep track of SEG use particularly of SEG prisoners for short terms such as a couple of hours or a couple of days. Other times, prison regimes do not count prisoners in protective custody (yet it’s still isolation) regardless of the length of time the prisoner is “in the hole.” SEG prisoners continue to be “in the count” (five or six times a day an official inventory is taken of all prisoners) as residing in the general prison population. Then, too, solitary statistics often neglect to consider high security prisoners who remain in permanent close-supervision wings. Close supervision units including supermax facilities have become popular devises among correctional supervision techniques because prisoners are not in the “solitary count,” reports the Correctional Forum (2011). Also, the same, the very same, set of SEG cells or SEG wing is used often for prisoners regardless of the reason for placement in SEG: disciplinary, protection, or prevention.

Finally in this regards, it can be argued that female immigrants at temporary and private “jails,” American Indians at tribal custody facilities, female juveniles at detention centers, and detainees or females “held” for trial may not be counted accurately in general prison population counts. However, those prisoners can for disciplinary, protection, or prevention explanations be placed in SEG without consequence to custody personnel opening the door for mistreatment and abuse. Fact is, at the core of the chapter is the mental and sexual abuse of females in SEG and in general prison populations. Frankly, there are few concerns about females prisoner issues, let alone concern over a few thousand illegals, American Indians, and juvenile prisoners. 


General Sexual Assault Information About Female Prisoners


“Patterns of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization in 2011-12 were consistent with patterns in past surveys. Rates reported by prison and jail inmates were higher among females than males, higher among whites than blacks, and higher among inmates with a college degree than those who had not completed high school” (BJS, 2013).

Of an estimated 7,200 female prisons and 53,000 jails, some have higher rates of sexual assault by other prisoners and correctional staff reported cases than others (BJS, 2013). Specifically, 8 male prisons, 4 female prisons, and 12 jails were identified as having high rates of staff sexual misconduct (BJS, 2013). Although those facilities are known, reports BJS (2013), the rate of sexual assaults among female prisoners including juveniles has yet to be reduced or even controlled. For example, BJS (2013) reports that in 2011-2012, the following female prison with high rates of sexual assault are Denver Women’s Correction Facility (CO), Broward Corrections Institute (FL), Delores J. Baylor Women’s Corrections Institute (DE), and Julia Tutwiler Prison (AL). And among jails, Marion Co. Jail Intake Facility (IN), Baltimore City Detention Center (MD), and St. Louis Med. Security Institute (MO) among others of which three are in New York (BJS, 2013). The same holds true for juvenile detention facilities whereby it is known which facilities are high rate sexual assault among females. For example,  violent sexual offenses reported by 16 and 17 years old prisoners was 160; 2,200 juveniles between the ages of 18 and 19, and 18,830 youthful offenders between 20 to 24 reported sexual assault. And most often, it was a staff member who sexually assaulted those youngsters between the ages of 16 and 17 (BJS, 2013).

Supermax Prisons 


It should be acknowledged that a difference exists between separating prisoners through correctional classification practices which results in segregating prisoners and SEG as used throughout this chapter (Stevens, 2005). Correctional response to what many perceived as unmanageable prisons, prison systems radically turned to lockdown and “administrative segregation” (entire prison populations such as mental health and sex offender units) as a way to manage prisoner behavior and to provide programs, services, and supervision styles (Kupers, Dronet, & Winter, 2006; Stevens, 2006). Sections of prisons and new structures were built dedicated to “administrative segregation,” thus, the supermaximum security prison emerged (Riveland, 1999; Scharff-Smith, 2006). Studies on supermax facilities largely have been among male prisoners, but we can take some guidance from those studies. For instance twelve years ago, former state corrections director Chase Riveland (1999) wrote a report for the National Institute of Corrections (NIC). Riveland states that "(i)nsofar as possible, mentally ill inmates should be excluded from extended control facilities (as) much of the regime common to extended control facilities may be unnecessary, and even counter-productive, for this population." Five years later, William C. Collins (2004) declares that mental health conditions in supermax prisons were a major litigation-related issue. On one hand, correctional managers are cognizant of their Constitutional legal and moral responsibilities towards prisoners when attempting to provide care-with-custody. Trying to find balance between human right and moral practices with care tied to custodial supervision and care is a difficult endeavor. Yet an alternative and productive method of supervising prisoners has to be found. As we journey through the evidence that follows, most of which emphasizes both the deterioration of mental health and the sexual assault of female prisoners as the primary outcomes of SEC, your perspective about the future of prison might change. Yet, there have been some advantages claimed in prisoner accounts of SEG.      


Advantages of SEG


There are advantages of isolation of female prisoners but those advantages are rarely documented. For example, a female prisoner at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) at SeaTac says that she heard that short times (3 – 10 days) would provide locked-down prisoners “an opportunity to refocus, to think, to re-evaluate what they were doing.” She went on to say that “my own experiences in isolation, first for 3 days and later for 30 days, were the beginning of a spiritual quest that I’ve been on for many years now. I saw that many of the guards made a point of talking through the doors to the women in (SEG), using their unique humor, being human, showing compassion” (Casella & Ridgeway, 2011, June 28).   


Disadvantages of SEG  


Regardless of the length of time a prisoner spends in SEG, she faces particular hardships because of both her specific needs and her extreme lack of privacy. Prison personnel maintain a presence over prisoners almost every minute of their time while isolated regardless of the issues that brought a prisoner to SEG. Obviously, the most intimate functions of female SEG prisoners are observed by strangers. I can argue with a great deal of confidence that for most female prisoners that this fact in and by itself could develop into an extreme form of oppression and in some respects, trauma. Also, the trauma of female SEG prisoners is made all the more acute because of the number of women in prison with long histories of abuse at the hands of violent men in particular (Buchanan, 2007; Stevens, 1999; Wolff, Jing, & Siegel, 2009).

            One SEG prisoner describes isolation this way: "The doors on the bathrooms lock on the outside instead of in. There is just no way out ... they go inside a pit, like an empty swimming pool, to exercise, so that you don't know where you are ... Part of the plan here is sensory deprivation" (Correctional Forum, 2011). From another perspective, SEG is literally torture (Gawande, 2010; Schwartz, 2010). Just imagine being locked in a backed-up public toilet for a few days with strangers who randomly come and go. The mental health of SEG prisoners can easily deteriorate as a result of the oppression and trauma experienced during and after isolation.  


Mental Health of Female SEG Prisoners


The mental health needs are important issues among female SEG prisoners because their experiences are often linked to histories of abuse which manifest themselves into high levels of drug addiction, and are compounded by the affects of imprisonment, argues Judith Ford (2009).

The mental health (mental illness, dyslexia, illiteracy, and disabilities) of female SEG prisoners remains an enormous debate among experts who provide treatment, services, and supervision to female prisoners (Corrections & Mental Health, 2011). For example, 19 year old Ashley Smith hung herself as correctional personnel watched, reports CBC News (2010).  Many women once placed in SEG are abruptly taken off their anti-anxiety medication and other medications. Understandably, these prisoners would have a harder time than others especially those prisoners who are forced to go “cold turkey” without drugs, legal or otherwise (Corrections & Mental Health, 2011).

           More specifically, medical testimony presented in the New York case of Syed Fahad Hashmi concluded that after 60 days in SEG (regardless of the reason: discipline, protection, or prevention), a prisoner’s “mental state begins to break down,” argues Jean Casella and James Ridgeway (2011). One way to interpret Casella and Ridgeway’s finding is that a SEG prisoner experiences panic, anxiety, confusion, headaches, heart palpitations, sleep problems, withdrawal, anger, depression, despair and over-sensitivity. Little question that these experiences can lead to severe psychiatric trauma such as psychosis, distortion of reality, hallucinations, mass anxiety and acute confusion among some prisoners. That is, the mind disintegrates. Fact is there is no correlation between SEG use and a decrease in prison violence (Casella & Ridgeway, 2011). Then, too, The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons calls for ending long-term isolation of prisoners, and concluded that “after 10 days, no benefits of solitary confinement were found.”

            In another case, testimony from a woman prisoner in SEG writes:

“I knew I couldn’t just sit here and pass time, and I would emerge from this abyss unchanged. I had to do something, something different from my first stay (where I broke) – I had hung myself and was cut down by my “torturers” – revived and sent to an outside hospital for observation (lack of oxygen and throat damage). I’m lucky I didn’t break my neck… I couldn’t live like this – so deprived of EVERYTHING because I’m a “needy” person and (this prison) is not a place for the needy – “indeedy…” There were a lot of different factors at play that pushed me to decide to kill myself before they killed me. Nevertheless, here I am again, back in prison – chewed up and swallowed by the beast who didn’t get its fill of me the last 2 times and here I am… (with) a history that marks an inability to live in open population without disrupting the orderly running of the facility – YEAH! (smile) and being a threat to the security of the institution. I have been indigent since August and owe $28.00 to medical.. So I can’t get anything to make myself semi-comfortable or (get) the proper food to eat for my Hep. C. I can’t get any more batteries, nor can I even buy (wear) sneakers or shorts or t-shirts on cool days…I would be floored if I could eat tuna & drink V-8, listen to the radio, have my own writing paper, a stock of hygienes and whatever is close to a “necessity!” I would love to be able to order stuff once a week, like 66 of the women here [only 4 of us are “poor”] (Stopmax Voices, 2011).


The dialogue above implies that prison regimes can exacerbate mental distress especially through SEG isolation practices of female prisoners and detainees. Additionally, once in SEG, female prisoners lose their participation momentum in prison programs, too. For example, because of the increase in rates of incarceration of mothers with young children in the United States, social programs have been established to help mothers attend to parenting skills and other family concerns while incarcerated (Cecil, McHale, Strozier, & Pietsch, 2008). Unfortunately, when mothers are placed in SEG, they’re not permitted to attend any prison program including parenting classes or 12 Step programs in Narcotic or Alcohol Anonymous until released from SEG. Most often they must wait until a similar program starts up to reapply. Perhaps SEG initiatives should be eliminated from the practices of correctional systems. But there’s more evidence about sexual assault suggesting that the word “perhaps” might be replaced with the word “absolutely.”              


Sexual Assault Statistics


BJS reports than annually (in 2016) over 325,000 rapes were reported. However, an estimated 217,000 male and female prisoners reported being raped while incarcerated or approximately 10,000 for 100,000. Yet (BJS) official correctional counts show 300 victims for every 100,000 prisoners. Continuing along this line of reasoning, further (estimated) computations suggest that of the 148,000 women imprisoned, an estimated 15,000 of them were raped within a 12 month period. Additionally, a high percentage of those females raped were in SEG during their sexual assault experience. Please note that female prisoners do rape other female prisoners. However, the statistics above include both correctional personnel raping prisoners and prisoners raping prisoners. One estimate based on my understanding is that 7 of 10 rapes or attempted rapes are perpetrated by male and female custody officers against prisoners. Furthermore, over 90 percent of custody officer assaults occur while the prisoner is put in some form of isolation based on a disciplinary, protection, or prevention rationale most often in tune with the regulations of the facility or at the discretion of personnel.    

There are four concerns with my estimates: 1. Female prisoners would vastly underreport rape, attempted rape, or any form of sexual assault; 2. 148,000 is a snap shot of incarcerated women; fact is that an estimated 80,000 women are constantly coming in and going out of prison; 3. Most often female prisoners (both those raped and those not raped while incarcerated) under my care and custody have suggested that female prisoners are raped more than five times each by the same custody officer, and often they are raped by more than three officers on separate occasions; gang rape by custody officers does occur although rarely – See Margo Clinton’s account below. 4. The definition of rape used by the F.B.I. — “The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” — was written more than 80 years ago. The yearly report on violent crime, which uses data provided voluntarily by the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies, is widely cited as an indicator of national crime trends. It should be acknowledged that there is a debate about the official definition of rape cited above by the FBI. Critics say that rape or attempted rape do not take into account sexual assault cases that involve anal or oral penetration or penetration with an object, cases where the victims were drugged or under the influence of alcohol or cases with male victims. My four concerns stated above especially those concerns about prison sexual assault are congruent with the thoughts of Kim Buchanan, 2007, Gerald Gaes and Andrew Goldberg (2005), Joan Petersilia (2006), Cristina Rathbone (2005), Sal Rodriguez (2011), Silja Talvi (2007), and Amnesty International (2011).


Sexual Assault            


Evidence suggests that female prisoners held in SEG are frequently sexually assaulted by correctional personnel (Buchanan, 2007); that is, both male and female custodial personnel engage aggressively in the sexual assault of female prisoners. Rape within the context of women in SEG is relevant because of the nature of rape by correctional personnel and ultimately the prison as an institution. For instance, on the crime of rape in the women’s prisons, Catherine MacKinnon explains that if heterosexuality is males over females, gender matters independently (Landis, 2005). Heterosexuality is a fusion of the two with gender a social outcome, such that the acted upon is feminized, is the ‘girl’ regardless of sex, the actor correspondingly is masculinized and made strong. Whenever females are victimized, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator, this system is at work. “But it is equally true that whenever powerlessness and ascribed inferiority are sexually exploited or enjoyed- based on age, race, physical stature or appearance or ability, or socially reviled or stigmatized status- the system is at work,” says MacKinnon (Landis, 2005).  

              Rape is more than crime of violence and a crime of sex. It is a crime of hierarchies. The rapist uses power over the victim, MacKinnon emphasizes. Gendered systems of power exist in the correctional system. Rape in prison enforces rape as a crime asserting power over the powerless. Most states do not have a statute criminalizing sexual contact between prison staff and prisoners. However, the literature does not always support that perspective (Stevens, 2000; Thornhill & Palmer, 2000). Research which seems to be politically (i.e. feminist politics) unbiased shows that lust plays a central role in the motive or trigger of many chronic rapists. Most often, it appears that this latter profile fits the motivators of custody officers more often than a power perspective. Put another way, although the research of Wilson, Goodwin, and Beck (2002) sounds indecisive, they argue that up to 50 percent of men report some likelihood of raping if they know they can get away with it. The indecisive part is linked to their sample because in my experience, 100 percent of sexual predators will rape and they already know they will get away with it (Stevens, 2011). The thinking goes something like this: Put a piece of meat in a cage, handcuff her, make her helpless and without a way to communicate with anybody and if she does, she who would believe her. Rape might be the most obvious conclusion. On the other hand, a high percentage of males could care less about sex than expected, and being responsible, respectful, and honorable are qualities that help them decide on behavior suggesting that rape is not an option for them (Stevens, 2011; 2000). Nonetheless, of those correctional personnel (both male and female) who engage in sexual assault of prisoners, it would have to be said that those correctional officers were criminal in their intentions to rape prior to obtaining employment in correctional industry. That is, criminals seek opportunities and occupations that allow them the opportunity to exploit others at the levels they seek (Stevens, 2011; 2010; 2000). One conclusion of Wilson, Goodwin, and Beck (2002) is that the self-reported likelihood of raping among criminals and that would include correctional officers relates to an individual’s general attitude toward rape and to an individual’s moral reasoning or development of the participants. Who applies for those jobs in prisons anyway?

Nonetheless, because of a lack of regulation and poor hiring, training, monitoring practices and because women tend to be devalued American society, sexual assault among female prisoners especially when those prisoners are put in SEG cells for whatever the reason (discipline, protection, prevention) occurs often. For example, letters written by Susan Crane in 2011 contained the following:

While at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) SeaTac, Sr. Anne [Montgomery] and I were in cell 11 in one of the women’s units.  Cells 2 – 10 are filled with women wearing orange, held in solitary (Special Handling Unit as it is officially named). These sisters eat all their meals alone in their cells. They get out of their cell for a 15-minute shower three times a week (M, W & F).  They are offered no exercise or outside time. They not allowed to communicate with other prisoners, and we were not allowed to motion or talk to them. There is no yelling between cells. They can’t participate in group prayer, or any group activity. No one offers them Eucharist. Some of the women in solitary are pre-trial, some have been sentenced. They are probably here for some sort of write-up for an infraction of a prison rule: some have had a hearing with a BOP [Bureau of Prisons] officer and have been found guilty, and so continue to sit in the solitary cells. The write-ups might be, for example, for fighting, making a three-way call, or the result of mental illness (Casella & Ridgeway, 2011, June 28).   


Solitary Watch was among the many co-sponsors of a public panel discussion on “Isolation Units within U.S. Prisons,” organized and hosted by the Center for Constitutional Rights (2011) held recently in San Francisco. One issue was on what the BOP called communication management units (CMU, 2011) also known as lock-down for women prisoners or what we call SEG.

           Other than the large number of Muslim women prisoners in CMU’s other examples include Michelle Ortiz who was serving one year at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, a state prison in Marysville, when she was molested by a male guard (Id, 2011). Ortiz reported the first sexual assault to prison official Paula Jordan whereby Jordan informed Ortiz that the male guard was transferred to another prison (Tory, 2010). However, the male guard turned up in Ortiz’s cell, much to Ortiz’s surprise and raped her again and again.

            Rebecca Bright, another prison official launched an investigation and ordered Ortiz placed in SEG. She was handcuffed and helpless. Bright reportedly argued that Ortiz was talking about the incident with other inmates. Eventually, a jury awarded Ortiz $625,000 in damages. But Bright and Jordan appealed the verdict, and the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals “ruled 2-1 that the prison officials had qualified immunity, shielding them from paying damages” to Ortiz (Associated Press, 2010). The third judge, however, issued an outraged dissent. 

             Another example is the Black Panther activist, Assata Shakur, a New Jersey prisoner (Shakur, 2006). Shakur explains in her autobiography that when she was a prisoner and one month pregnant, she was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, and shackled to a bed for 10 days. She was moved to Middlesex County Jail for Men, and kept in solitary confinement for four months She was extradited to New York, to Rikers Island, where `the treatment’ continued. A day later, Assata Shakur went into labor and later gave birth to her daughter, Kakuya Amala Olugbala Shakur. When Shakur was returned to Rikers Island, she was shackled, beaten, put into solitar for a month. Finally, she was released from `punitive segregation: “So I was no longer locked. Just in jail. And separated from my child,” says Shakur (2006).

  Just Detention International (2009) mentions that sexual abuse of prisoners by guards at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) is an ongoing crime. Ohio female prisoners described a range of incidents, including violent encounters, threats and pressure to submit to sexual advances, trading sex for goods and favors, and relationships that were seemingly consensual. One conclusion Just Detention International decided is that a “climate of abuse” existed at this detention facility. It was implied that a similar climate of abuse existed at most female facilities across the country. However, prison officials see sex between their staff and prisoners as consensual. Yet, for females under near-total control by prison staff, the concept of “consenting” to sex is virtually meaningless (and Ohio law reflects this thought which is consistent with most state laws). The problems arising from this power imbalance are compounded by the past history of sexual abuse that many female prisoners have endured. Then too, Warden Deborah Timmerman at the Ohio Reformatory for Women reported that prisoners who complained of sexual abuse were transferred to SEG, losing their privileges while there which include family visitations, purchasing personal products from prison stores, participating in prison programs, and interacting with other prisoners and prison volunteers. Timmerman justified this policy by saying that it was necessary to protect the prisoner while officials investigated the incident, but she couldn’t explain why those inmates should be stripped of basic privileges and locked in isolation for 23 hours a day.

Consistent with the above accounts, Silja Talvi (2007) describes sex between prison personnel and prisoners. In one case, Officer K.P. Price had sex with a female prisoner. When the prisoner discovered that she was pregnant, an abortion was provided. I read that to mean an abortion was performed without Price’s consent. Four years later, Price pled guilty to a misdemeanor concerning the same prisoners, and he was placed on probation. At the same facility, Officer Michael Sneed was charged with having sex with a female prisoner in solitary confinement. Sneed also received probation.     

            Talvi (2007) also explains that Bobbi Bolton, a nonviolent offender incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institute Tallahassee had been sexually harassed at first and raped twice by Guard Jeffery Linton in her own cell. When she produced evidence of her attack by saving his semen on her clothing and filed a complaint, she was punished with four months in solitary confinement. Linton was charged with a misdemeanor and ended up with two years probation.


Transgender Prisoners and SEG   


Although solitary confinement is the placement of a local, state, or federal prisoner into a space isolated from other prisoners, usually as a form of discipline, protection, or as a method of preventing the prisoner from causing trouble, it can be argued that lesbian or a transgender prisoner female prisoner is always at-risk of being isolated. For instance, reports from Fluvanna Correctional in Virginia reveal that women who `appear to be lesbian’ have been segregated and put in a “butch wing” (Canzi, 2010). A no-touching policy has been instituted. Women walk single file everywhere. Access to religious services has been curtailed. Chiara Canzi (2010) also reveals that a number of female prisoners were discriminated against because they looked butch. When “butch” appearing prisoners take showers, they are lead, shackled and naked, down the hall, with a dog leash attached to her shackles, by a male guard. 

          Another case describes Maria Benita Santamaria who was a 35 year old transgender woman (“What is Left,” 2010). In June 2009, Santamaria was arrested in northern Virginia and charged with possession of methamphetamine.  She plead guilty and was sent to Central Virginia Regional Jail, a men’s prison. The prison placed her in solitary confinement, for “her own protection.” A year later, a U.S. District Judge ordered her removed to a federal prison with treatment facilities and counseling for transgender prisoners. When the holiday seasons intruded, the judge had Santamaria placed in a medical wing which was in fact more isolation. 

           Santamaria had undergone hormone treatments in preparation for sex change surgery until incarceration. Santamaria was in punitive solitary isolation during most of her prison sentence. She left her cell one hour a day and showered three times a week.

          Across the United States, correctional personnel call transgender prisoners `it’, and worse. Across the country and around the world, transgender and lesbian prisoners are placed in solitary confinement for long periods because of their status as opposed to their behavior “for their own protection.” Additionally, it should be acknowledged that abusive and discriminatory treatment against transgenders and transvestites are not unique to American corrections, but appear to be a global phenomena (Hanif, 2008). Hanif explains the findings through culture. That is, prison culture, rather than being divorced from larger society, is in effect able to articulate and elaborate on the processes of social exclusion faced by transgenders. Yet in my experience, American prisons are unique onto themselves even when facilities operate under the same authority. For instance, Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York and Elmira Correctional Facility are over a hundred miles apart. Yet both facilities house a similar security level prisoner and both are operated by the New York Department of Correctional Services. Yet, the cultural differences among prisoners and staff are more than sticking (Stevens, 2000). Prison cultures are developed by specific managerial regime, its physical structure, and its unique history among other variables including staff and prisoners. Prisoners and correctional personnel transferring from one similar security level prison to another typically remark that they have “to learn the ropes” or parish. However, staying on point, most often, little is heard from female SEG prisoners. The following is an excerpt from Wicked Women: A Journey of Super Predators.


Margo Clinton: A Transgender Prisoner


Once released (from prison), (pretty petit, 24 year old) Margo Clinton (not her real name) brought a law suit against the state prison system, alleging that she had been handcuffed to her bunk (while in protective custody but really in SEG) and repeatedly raped and sodomized by three correctional officers for two days (at a male prison). Her suit stated that rumors spread before the attack about her (gender, after her conviction and incarceration into a male prison), based on her civil suit linked to her transgender drugs. When the guards learned Margo had been born a male (that’s why the state sent her to a male prison instead of a female prison), they “wanted to see for” themselves. Upon discovering she has a vagina, they raped her, and two of the officers anally assaulted her “to be sure.” When Margo was asked what “to be sure” meant, she said that she had no explanation other than, “Well, they’re men and who knows what men think.”

            The lawsuit was dropped for lack of evidence, other than Margo’s medical report describing her bruised and battered body, and the lacerations on her thighs, vagina, breasts, and anus. There was no sperm found on or in her body. Margo explained that the guards used condoms and latex gloves. Correctional staff reported that Margo had harmed herself, and that she was always a “suicide and psycho case.”


Margo’s Second Arrest and Conviction


The movie Boys Don’t Cry made such an impact on Margo and Madelyn (Margo’s twin sister), they sought more information about it. They also sought out heroin, got high for a week or maybe longer, had sex, and were eventually arrested at the beach (family vacation home) house. A neighbor had called the police, reporting loud, continuous music, flames seen in different rooms of the eighteen-room house, and crashes coming from all over the beach home.

            During the trial, the magistrate decided that Margo had not only violated the terms of her good-time release (from the male prison above), but this second drug conviction, (the judge decided at the request of the prosecutor), was actually her third conviction. (Margo and her lawyers objected to the decision of the judge, but it was made clear that Margo was an “evil and deviant person” because of her transgender state). Therefore, Margo was a habitual criminal. In the jurisdiction where Margo was convicted, the sentencing guidelines mandated a life sentence for a habitual criminal.

            Also, the judge reviewed Margo’s PSI (official records), (her) earlier civil suits based on gender segregation, and the accusations against male correctional officers. The decision of the court was to ship Margo out-of-state to a jurisdiction that recognized transgender rights. In part, this decision further isolated Margo from family members and her friends.


Flight to Intake Center


“Without so much as a blink of an eye, the judge said, life without parole for you, young lady. I almost passed out. I couldn’t believe it! Here I was, a twenty-five-year-old woman who decided to go back to college to better myself, and the only way I would leave prison is in a pine box. My hands were already in restraints and I was dressed in a brown jump suit from the county jail. My hair was god-awful and dirty and my sneakers didn’t fit right, but I was pulled from the court into a vehicle, chained and locked, driven to the airport, onto the tarmac, and up metal stairs into a small, official-looking aircraft…” Note: The treatment Margo experienced while under the care and custody of a correctional system is consistent with other accounts offered by female prisoners in-group meetings. The point is that female prisoners are more likely to be raped once incarcerated than when they walking the streets in a free society. Most often those rapes happen while female prisoners especially lesbians and transgenders are in placed in solitary confinement as Margo had experienced.               


Immigrants, Female Prisoners and SEG


The Human Rights Watch (2101) reports that immigration detention facilities especially among female detainees, “Are rife with abuse.” Female immigrant prisoners are terrified with deportation and often share no language with their jailers. Immigrant prisoners tend to be even more reluctant to file reports than most criminal detainees. Thus, they are particularly vulnerable. What happens to immigrants once in isolation units remains a mystery. Nonetheless, one immigrant prisoner offers the following statement:


“I have been deprived of freedom since March 2007, after being judged and sentenced in San Diego, California. I am now in federal immigration detention in Dublin, California, and am completely alone in this country. The attention we receive here as Mexican women is deficient, an ironic fact since 75 percent of this institution's population is Hispanic, primarily from Mexico. We are lost and the Mexican consulate has abandoned those of us here. As Hispanics we lack information on legal processes and on the path we need to follow to be transferred to our home countries, a legal right guaranteed by treaties between the United States and several countries. Sometimes the administration simply tells us that we have no rights. The only thing available for our protection is a small brochure in Spanish containing the facility's rules” (“Some Barriers, 2009).


John Hagan and Alberto Palloni (1999) argue that our sociological knowledge of crime is fragmented and ineffective in challenging and correcting mistaken public perceptions, for example, linking immigration and crime. These misperceptions are perpetuated by government reports of growing numbers of Hispanic immigrants in U.S. prisons. However, Hispanic immigrants are disproportionately young males who regardless of citizenship are at greater risk of criminal involvement than older Hispanic males. The researchers conclude that the involvement of Hispanic immigrants in crime is less than that of citizens. One implication of this conclusion is that immigration causes crime and is at the core of a dysfunction of the American people resulting in harsh punishment including frequent and intense periods of solitary confinement among immigrant prisoners. Furthermore, Bosworth and Kaufman (2011) focus on issues surrounding the immigration and imprisonment of foreigners in a “carceral age” in the U.S. They imply that unknown populations of immigrants are held in jails and prisons awaiting trial or following conviction for crimes, and people who are detained purely under immigration authorities. Female prisoners and detainees (of all ages) in detention centers across the country described violations such as “shackling pregnant detainees or failing to follow up on signs of breast and cervical cancer, as well as basic affronts to their dignity” (Rhoad, 2010). Because immigration detention is the fastest-growing form of incarceration in the United States, these abuses are especially dangerous. They remain largely hidden from public scrutiny or effective oversight. BJS (2011, December) reports that of 190,000 federal arrests, 85,000 are linked to immigrant offenses or 46 percent. Immigration offenses drove the growing case load, BJS noted, increasing by an average annual 14 percent in immigration arrests and 25 percent in prison sentences for immigration convictions (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006).



The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) claims that more than 300,000 immigrants a year are detained in a “secretive web of 350 private, federal, state, and local jails, and prisons at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion. Obviously, if the count is off, then the flood gates of abuse which includes SEC leading to a deterioration of mental health and rape are on.  Even when immigrants file law suits, it seems that abuse continues. For example, in Jenkins vs. Werger 564 F.Supp. 806: The court decided that a statute in the state of Wyoming was invalidated. The statute authorized sheriffs to discipline jail prisoners by placing prisoners in solitary confinement for not more than five days. Prisoners, that is male, female, immigrants, and juveniles could be disciplined for unruly or disorderly behavior, which implies at the discretion of the jailers (Fraser, Mosley, Thornion, Belknap, & Rogers, 1984). The invalidated statute prescribed a diet of bread and water for solitary. But little says that anything has changed. Some answers follow.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003

Most prisoners and detainees, independent of gender and sexual victimization, report feeling safe inside prison. Yet, prisoners who feel the most unsafe reported sexual victimization by staff or concurrent sexual and physical victimization (Wolff & Shi, 2011). Rape and sexual abuse, for example “is one of America's oldest, darkest, and yet most open, secrets,” report Mann and Cronan (2002). Sexual assault anywhere is devastating, both physically and emotionally, adds Lovisa Stannow (2010). When such abuse happens in prison especially among SEG prisoners or prisoners isolated from the general prison population, victims face tremendous challenges such as suffering in silence, and they forced to regular contact with their attackers. Victims in SEG have no access to rape crisis counselors, functional grievance systems, or anyone else to help guide them through their victimization. Female prisoners once targeted, isolated, and vulnerable, are attacked more often than expected. The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 was passed unanimously by the U.S. Congress to reduce rape in prison and most assuredly some policymakers wanted to reduce or monitor arbitrary practices such as SEG. The Act establishes a system of grants and reforms that cost over $60 million a year. Its centerpiece is an annual survey by the U.S. Department of Justice that has been one of the most sweeping studies ever made of sexual assault in prisons. In prisons across the country especially among female SEG prisoners, many face similar horrors every day (Mann & Cronan, 2002; Stannow, 2010).  

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC)

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (2009) has issued a set of national standards to address the problem of sexual assault among female prisoners. Without an attempt at repetition, it’s highly probable that policymakers sought a covert method of monitoring SEG and other practices because of the strong connection between isolation and other correctional practices of torching female prisoners. That is at the core of NPREC’s (2009) investigation is that the Commission advises that in correctional settings, the Court has determined that sexual abuse violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. As a result, correctional systems have a special responsibility to protect the individuals they supervise. Judicial decisions have expanded protection of individuals by holding agencies responsible for the actions of anyone in a supervisor position. Then, to, after Cristina Rathbone (2006) interviewed hundreds of women prisoners in Massachusetts (MCI Framingham) over a two year period, Rathbone observes that while many custodial personnel work professionally and appropriately (a statement I strongly agree with), “[a] few… abuse their power appallingly and literally rape at will.” But isn’t the way things are? It’s always a few  criminals who do the most destruction (Agnew, 2005; Sherman, 1984; Stevens, 2011).

The Commission also recommended that NPREC’s recommendations become federal regulations, which would make those regulations binding on both state and local detention facilities. You can read the petition to move the recommendations to regulation by clicking on or by going to justdetention at Facebook. However, regulation changes little if most prison rapes aren’t reported from the get-go. If the victim is in SEG, who do you report it too? Also, victims in the general prison population know that reporting rape puts them in SEG to await the outcome of the investigation. Rarely, as mentioned earlier, prisoners are successful in report sexual assault and a few have been successful in litigation usually with the aid of the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU). In the past few years, millions of dollars in damages have been awarded prisoner sex assault plaintiffs. The moral case for these federal regulations is unassailable yet the courts continue to supply mandates with little success. For example, in litigation filed by the ACLU (2007), it was argued that in New Mexico, youth held in state run facilities “are routinely and unlawfully denied adequate mental health, medical and educational services.” Those juveniles in solitary confinement are often physically and emotionally abused by personnel. In another suit, Jenkins vs. Werger 564 F.Supp. 806: The court decided that a statute in the state of Wyoming was invalidated. The statute authorized sheriffs to discipline jail prisoners by placing prisoners in solitary confinement for not more than five days. Prisoners, that is male, female, immigrants, and juveniles could be disciplined for unruly or disorderly behavior, which implies at the discretion of the jailers (Fraser, Mosley, Thornion, Belknap, & Rogers, 1984). The invalidated statute which deprives individuals of due process or even limited due process rights, prescribed a diet of bread and water in SEG.

Mental deterioration, rape, and SEG seem to coexist in correctional environments, imply the above researchers. Even when prisoners respond to SEG through protests, little changes. For example, in California’s Securing Housing Units (or SEG units) at Pelican Bay, CCI Tehachapi, CSP Corcoran and Valley State Prison for Women prisoner protests included a refusal to food because the protestors argued that prisons do not protest what had been characterized by human rights groups as torturous conditions (Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity, 2011). Prisoners rallied around 5 demands, originating at Pelican Bay, which include an end to the practice of long term solitary confinement. A prisoner at CCI Tehachapi recently described the conditions and reasons for striking: “The only clothing we are given in here are socks, boxers and a t-shirt. (For female prisoners, socks, panties, sort of a holding devise for their breasts, t-shirts, and pants). To be honest they’re filthy. Now just imagine being locked in that bathroom for 24 hrs, 7 days a week, year after year after year for no legitimate reason. We have only been allowed to have fresh air for four hours in the past eight months.”


Curbing SEG practices will reduce many of the issues emphasized in this chapter including a reduction of custodial rape, argues Anthony Thompson (2009). Yet, Thompson implies that prison rape research especially linked to female prisoners experiencing SEG initiatives has little to do with corrections and more to do with administration advantages. Prison administrators don’t see rape as a real issue.

In a sense, this thought is consistent with Randall G. Shelden (2008) perspective that history is written by the privileged and in this sense the privileged are prison administrators. For example, Thompson (2009) suggests that an alarm of skepticism exists in the data collection process of most prison studies because correctional officials "may have an interest in minimizing the number of sexual interactions between inmates that can be defined as rape in order to lower their numbers for purposes of data collection." Hensley and Tewksbury (2005) thoughts are consistent with this reasoning. Their study shows that prison wardens generally believe sexual activities, consensual and coercive, are relatively rare in their institutions. In most workplaces, an employee who had sex on the job would be fired, argues Kim Buchanan (2007). In prison, a report of custodial sexual abuse is more likely to result in punishment or retaliation against the prisoner than in disciplinary consequences for the jailer.

Also, Hope and Brenda (2007) describe how a female prisoner who was born to drug-dependent parents was put on medication once incarcerated. When a correctional officer sent her to the shower stall, he raped her. The same officer raped her again in her bunk the next day while she was still heavily medicated. The shift captain became suspicious of the behavior of the officer, a rape test was ordered, yet the results were inconclusive. Typically, it was said that the female prisoner “is hallucinating.” Another prisoner was imprisoned on drug possession charges. She was repeatedly made to perform oral sex on a correction officer. She eventually had sex with him. She tried reporting the sexual assault on her own but was subjected to harassment by officers and shift captains and “put in the hole” (Buchanan, 2007; Hope & Brenda, 2007).

Then, too, I’ll add that many researchers lack professional or practical experiences in the specific world of corrections and generally in the justice community (Stevens, 2010). However, their studies and books are available from influential publishers and considered “to be gospel,” sort a speak (Shelden, 2001). That said, some individuals believe that prison rape may be part of the price that criminals pay for their illegal behavior. This thought is consistent with the experiences of victims of traditional rape and domestic violence, victims in prison find that they have few advocates fighting for them. Yet it must be acknowledged that in majority of cases that mutual attraction or affection does not drive prison sexual relationships; rather, most sexual acts in prison are the coerced products of dominance, intimidation, and terror, argue Man and Cronan (2002). Yet, as I have previously implied in this chapter, most custodial rape is a product of SEG or the isolation of prisoners and the out-of-control lustful motivators of custodial personnel (Antonaccio & Tittle, 2008; Stevens, 2000; Thornhill & Palmer, 2000). Thus, because of a lack of regulation and poor hiring, training, monitoring practices and because female become targets once placed in SEG, should this practice be modified if not eliminated entirely from correctional practices. That is, democracy is hardly served when justice protects the criminal rapist or in this case the very individuals charged with ensuring the legal and moral safety of prisoners.   

Furthermore, from the data of Kellett and Willging (2011), it is easy to assume that the difficulties increase for female prisoners when they return, once released to their families and communities as productive individuals after SEG experiences. These returning prisoners, many of whom grapple with mental illness and alcohol or drug dependence, blame themselves for their inability to overcome the impact of their isolation and SEG experiences while imprisoned. In fact, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (2009) reports that suicide is considered by one-third to one-half of rape victims attempt or succeed at suicide. Statistics tell us that most predators are rarely apprehended, therefore, I sometimes wonder if there are, indeed, criminals in prison or just broken souls. Empirical evidence tells me that once an individual is incarcerated regardless of their guilt or degree of innocence, the individual decisions of that prisoner have forever changed (Stevens, 1994, 1997, 1998b, 2010). 

Once a defendant, particularly a female defendant is sentenced to prison, in the words of female prisoner whom I counseled at MCI Framingham in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts clarifies the issues: “If a girl is not a whore or junkie when she arrives here, she will be when she’s released… (E)specially if she’s thrown in Seg (segregation or solitary confinement).”  


Final Thoughts


Since SEG practices are strongly related to the deterioration of mental health and an escalation of sexual assault among female prisoners. Many of those prisoners will never recover from their experiences as a prisoner and their victimization in SEG. In fact, those experiences will probably hinder them from becoming contributing citizen, mother, and wife, once released. Yet many females survive those experiences but their personnel battles are ongoing. We all have crosses to carry, yet their cross is an inefficient utilization of scare resources and endangerment to the greater good. On the other hand, little question that law breakers should be punished, but is incarceration and SEG the most intellectual response available from THE most technologically advanced and democratic society on earth? “Women in prisons across the United States are subjected to diverse and systematic forms of sexual abuse: vaginal and anal rape; forced oral sex and forced digital penetration; quid pro quo coercion of sex for drugs, favors, or protection; abusive pat searches and strip searches; observation by male guards while naked or toileting; groping; verbal harassment; and sexual threats” (Buchanan, 2007). Thus, the truth of the matter is that prison sentences and police arrests (arrests begin the criminal justice process) are not the best answers to reduce crime because prison employs caged-centered punitive (punishment) orientations and as a result both enhances and justifies violence (Stevens, 2012). Despite American advances, wealth, and professionally trained correctional personnel, it can be argued that the American justice system is not equipped or expected to go to the root of a violation and “cure” the social problem. Maybe many law breakers can be punished in a more humane approach such as a medical model for drug cases instead of a punitive model. For the record, only one-third of the women serving state prison sentences are incarcerated for violent offenses, and nearly one-third of female convictions are linked to drug charges (BJS, 2010b). Do females who serve prison time change? Do they conform to the rules, once released? Recidivism rates suggest that they change for the worst and if those females experienced SEG, they probably experienced rape, too. Now, what are the chances for them to turn around their lives? Violence, which of course is at the core of caged-punitive existence, begets more violence regardless of the professionalism of the personnel (Stevens, 1997). Experiences in prison would tend to reinforce the notion that “violence” (or the threat of violence) is an effective strategy to maintain order in both prison and community settings, Edgar, O’Donnell, and Martin (2003) argue compellingly. It appears that the prison “culture” that supports the situational use of violence to maintain order may reinforce the community “culture” (more on communities later) that offenders experience both before prison and after their release from prison (Byrne, 2007). Add to these thought the fact that females who serve more prison time and those with SEG experiences are more likely to accept a crime of violence as a behavioral option, once released, than those who serve less time and were never in SEG (Stevens, 1998b).  

One working definition of punishment can mean the infliction by the state of consequences normally considered unpleasant, on a person in response to his or her having been convicted of a crime (von Hirsch, 1976). Law violators receive punishment in order to control crime at both the specific (individual) and general (wider population) levels. That is others would learn that previous violators are not locked up, so she would not commit the crime. Clever, wouldn’t you agree. But, as Emil Durkheim perceptively proclaimed a hundred years ago, crime is an integral part of all healthy societies by drawing people together in a common posture of anger and indignation (Erikson, 1966). Mankind has attempted to control criminal behavior or better yet, individuals targeted as criminals throughout recorded history. We’ve tried dismemberment, crucifixion, entombment impalement, and relocation. We tried and fried them, butchered them, burned them, drugged them, lobotomized them, electrocuted them, and hung them. Now, we incarcerate and bury them in SEG and still… criminal behavior is pervasive. Thus, the question: what to do with prisons and their SEG practices? Maybe they should vertically shrink into non-existence. The evidence in chapter supports the idea that the prison industrial complex should be abolished, i.e.“[t]he use of prisons, policing and the larger system of the prison industrial complex as an “answer” to what are social, political and economic problems, not just prisons,” (Rose Braz cited in Bennett, 2008). Continuing along this line of reasoning, American society does not require punitive models of social control because few judicial efforts from the justice community (police, courts, and corrections) have stopped crime. Why? One reason might relate to the thought that “enforcement and conviction policy linked to the identification, apprehension, and criminal conviction of wicked offenders is frightfully misguided because the justice system is plagued with political-correctness and filmmaker versions of crime…” (Stevens, 2011, 5). Abolitionists of slavery believed that slavery could not be fixed or reformed, and therefore it should be abolished. Similarly, the prison industrial complex cannot be fixed or reformed to meet the needs of a healthy democratic society. This thought is consistent with a Critical Resistance's vision which calls upon the creation of genuinely safe, healthy communities that respond to harm without relying on prisons and punishment.

In conclusion, traditional models of social control grounded in caged-punitive orientations exacerbate the use of violence, isolation, and intimidation among female and male prisoners, detainees, and communities. Communities are impacted because over a million prisoners are returned to their communities each year in total, and another million are taken from their communities. I think I would be accurate in saying that prison impacts the individual, the community, and ultimately the greater good of the nation. Thus, a greater threat to our quality of life experiences might be more influenced by the use of prisons rather than criminals. It appears that only the eradication of the prison systems and control over the police would provide humanity with an opportunity to better control crime, reduce recidivism, and provide benefits toward recovery and quality lifestyles. An emphasis should be placed on working to build healthy and autonomous communities, where the basics are provided, such as food, shelter, self-determination, and a wider spectrum for economic and political participation which will aid in lasting community safety. Fundamentally, this thought gives rise to what I call a renaissance of community whereby the legitimate authority of violence through punitive responses is abolished from the hard hand of government and justice is shared by the people, for the people.





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