Female Prisons – HidingFromGoro – July 11 (2/2)

Most women in prison are mothers, and they are five times as likely as imprisoned fathers to have children in foster care.

The game they play is, if you go to prison for more than 15 months, you lose your kid to foster care- permanently- and the median sentence is 36 months.


One-third of children who were so “freed” from their biological parents in New York City between 2000 and 2004 were not adopted, according to a report published in 2006 by the Women in Prison Project of the Correctional Association of New York. They stayed in foster care. These children are “legal orphans,” children who have a parent but whose relationship to their parent is no longer recognized by the state.

government agencies simply do not know how many children are in foster care because their parents are in prison, nor how many parents’ rights have been terminated for this reason.


Michelle McCollum was in the first trimester of her pregnancy when she awaited trial in 2005 for possession of marijuana. She later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation. McCollum blames unchecked violence and delayed medical care for the loss of her pregnancy. On August 21, 2005, she was attacked by two other inmates, she says in an affidavit filed in the lawsuit that recently found jail conditions unconstitutional.

Two inmates punched McCollum in the stomach repeatedly. After the attack, she and another inmate cried to guards for help. But McCollum writes that detention officers refused to bring her to the infirmary — even after she told them she was pregnant and injured.

Three days after the attack, McCollum’s bleeding wouldn’t stop. She was finally taken to the Maricopa County Hospital. There, doctors said she had miscarried and ordered that she return to the hospital for a checkup.

Despite her reminders, jail personnel did not take McCollum back to the hospital. On September 17, she began bleeding again. The bleeding wouldn’t stop.

An ambulance finally rushed McCollum back to the hospital — where doctors gave her a blood transfusion because she had lost so much blood. Then they performed a procedure called a D&C, which removed the remains of the pregnancy.


The nurse told her to go immediately to the infirmary. So Spencer got ready for a trip to medical.

Then she waited. The sergeant on duty decided that Spencer was not top priority, he said later in a sheriff’s report about the incident.

About an hour after she requested help, Spencer was escorted to the infirmary. The one healthcare professional on the premises, a nurse, took Spencer’s blood pressure. She also detected the baby’s heartbeat, around 4 a.m. The nurse — who later admitted she had no prenatal training — told Spencer that she’d be going to the hospital, but she also decided that Spencer’s pain was not an emergency.

Another hour later, Spencer passed out. The nurse took her blood pressure again; it was fatally low. The nurse called an ambulance and tried to get an IV into Spencer’s arm. She couldn’t. When EMT Jarrid Ortiz arrived, Spencer, who is African-American, had lost so much color it was clear to him that it was an emergency. “If you are turning that color, you’re not getting enough blood to your organs and skin,” Ortiz later told a sheriff’s detective.

By the time the ambulance arrived at the Maricopa County Hospital, Spencer had been in severe pain and without a doctor for almost four hours. Doctors delivered Ambria Renee Spencer, a 9-pound baby girl with a quarter-inch of thick hair on her head.

Ambria was dead.


Sarah remembers that the floor workers often handled red bags that had HIV diapers in them and things of that sort. When they were finished with the trash, they had to go serve food, and they didn’t have access to a good way to wash their hands.

While Sarah was in the medical tank waiting to be seen, she saw one girl who was said to be coming off heroin. She was lying in her own feces, seemingly unconscious, and the other women said she had been there for days. Sarah sat on the floor next to a woman who was pregnant with twins. The pregnant woman waited 4-6 hours before even being seen—cramping, in pain, bleeding through her pants onto the floor and extremely upset. Sarah remembers the woman repeating how scared she was that she might lose her babies. Sarah and other women in the room kept telling the guards to take this pregnant woman first. The guards only replied with things along the lines of “Shut the fuck up, the bitch shouldn’t have gotten herself in here to begin with. This is jail, not a country club.”

Sarah saw Officer Otto grab the woman by the back of her neck again and slam her face into the floor. By this point, Sarah had ducked into a utility closet because “You don’t really want an officer to know you’ve seen them do something like this.” Sarah heard the woman scream at him, “You fucker, I’m pregnant.” When the woman stood up, Sarah saw that her face was all bloody and busted and her braces were hanging out of her mouth. Sarah also saw that the woman was pregnant and showing.

Posted Image


After being wrongfully arrested and taken to a Philadelphia lock-up, Erica and her female friend were forced to perform sex acts on one another by a police officer. Although she faced tremendous barriers in her efforts to hold the Philadelphia Police Department accountable, a recent independent investigation substantiated her allegations.

Erica’s full story (mp3)
Erica’s testimony before the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC)

Posted Image


An immigration official forced Esmeralda (formerly Mayra), a transgender woman, to perform oral sex on him while she was in the custody of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility. The official later resigned and was sentenced to four months in jail. After reporting the abuse, Ms. Soto suffered various forms of retaliation and often feared for her life. Ms. Soto, who came to the U.S. seeking asylum, had also been raped by a male inmate while detained at a jail in her native Mexico. She currently resides in Southern California.

Esmerelda’s full story (mp3)
Esmerelda’s testimony before NPREC

Posted Image


Transferred with 77 other female inmates from Oregon to a private prison in Arizona, Barrilee immediately noticed the sexualized environment in the facility. Male officers verbally harassed female prisoners, watched them showering, and demanded sexual favors. An officer who claimed to be looking out for her instead raped Barrilee, and she faced retaliation for reporting the attack.

Barrilee’s story (mp3)
Barrilee’s testimony before NPREC (pdf)

Posted Image


While in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Thomas was sexually assaulted by another inmate. After filing a report and being rebuffed by corrections staff, he suffered various forms of retaliation as he attempted to navigate a difficult inmate grievance process. Since being released from custody, he has continued to fight for the rights of California inmates.

Thomas’s story (mp3)
Thomas’s testimony before NPREC

Posted Image


Cecilia, a transgender woman, was raped while held over the weekend in a San Francisco jail. Her story is similar to many transgender women, who are at extreme risk for sexual violence behind bars, as they are usually placed in men’s facilities based on their birth gender or genitalia. She now is a nationally recognized activist defending transgender people’s right to be free of violence and abuse.

Cecilia’s story (mp3)
Cecilia’s testimony before NPREC

Posted Image


Michelle is a 62 year old, transgender woman who was arrested in late 2006 and placed in the men’s wing of the Los Angeles County Jail. At the time of her arrest, she had very limited mobility. During Michelle’s confinement, she was denied the use of her wheelchair. Other detainees were prohibited from helping Michelle and she was forced to move about without assistance, falling on multiple occasions. One day while in the shower, she was surrounded and threatened with rape by four other inmates. The attempted sexual assault was interrupted when Michelle’s partner entered the shower and was able to fend off the would-be assailants. Michelle has been released and resides in Hollywood, CA.

Michelle’s story (mp3)

Here’s the story of Marcia Powell, who was kept in an outdoor metal cage in the AZ sun and literally cooked to death:


The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has chosen not to prosecute Arizona Department of Corrections staff in the death of inmate Marcia Powell.

Powell, 48, died May 20, 2009, after being kept in a human cage in Goodyear’s Perryville Prison for at least four hours in the blazing Arizona sun. This, despite a prison policy limiting such outside confinement to a maximum of two hours.

The county medical examiner found the cause of death to be due to complications from heat exposure. Her core body temperature upon examination was 108 degrees Fahrenheit. She suffered burns and blisters all over her body.

Witnesses say she was repeatedly denied water by corrections officers, though the c.o.’s deny this. The weather the day she collapsed from the heat (May 19 — she died in the early morning hours of May 20) arched just above a 107 degree high.

According to a 3,000 page report released by the ADC, she pleaded to be taken back inside, but was ignored. Similarly, she was not allowed to use the restroom. When she was found unconscious, her body was covered with excrement from soiling herself.

Powell, who was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution, actually expired after being transported to West Valley Hospital, where acting ADC Director Charles Ryan made the decision to have her life support suspended.

(Ryan lacked the authority to do this, but that’s another story, which you can read about, here.)

ADC conducted its own criminal investigation into Powell’s agonizing demise. The information I have indicates that ADC submitted its conclusions to the county attorney earlier this year. (Please see update below.) ADC was seeking charges of negligent homicide against at least seven c.o.’s, as well as related charges against other prison staff.

Why didn’t the county attorney’s office pursue those charges? Apparently, they didn’t think they could prevail in court.

County attorney spokesman Bill Fitzgerald issued the following terse statement.

“There is insufficient evidence to go forward with a prosecution against any of the named individuals,” he e-mailed me, declining to elaborate further.

Donna Hamm of the advocacy group Middle Ground Prison Reform wasn’t buying it.

“Having read the bulk of those 3,000 pages of reports,” she told me, “if someone in a prosecutorial position can’t find a crime in those pages, they have absolutely no credibility in my opinion.”

Hamm noted that guards passed Powell several times throughout her stay in the cage, and that some mocked her pleas for water. As for c.o. claims that Powell was given water, Hamm countered that Powell’s eyes “were as dry as parchment,” and that the autopsy results show there was no sign of hydration.

Hamm was incredulous that the county attorney couldn’t find enough evidence to bring charges.

“It’s just beyond comprehension,” she stated. “This is the same office that has prosecuted mothers who left their babies in a couple of inches of water to go outside and take a cell phone call or look in the mail.”

She also cited the case of “Buffalo Soldier” Charles Long, who was prosecuted by the MCAO for negligent homicide in the 2001 death of a kid who had enrolled in his program for troubled teens and died after being exposed to the heat and put in a bath, where he inhaled water.

The ADC did make some reforms in the wake of Powell’s death. It was discovered that the cages were being used to control unruly prisoners, and the ADC claims this practice has stopped. However, Hamm says she has uncovered a case of a man in a Tucson facility who, earlier this year, was held all day and overnight in an outside cage.

Some 16 prison employees were sanctioned in one way or another as a result of the Powell incident, and some were fired. But Hamm says she believes some of those sanctioned have been reinstated.

The outdoor cages are still in use, but have been retrofitted to provide shade, misters, water stations, and benches, which, ironically, Hamm says are metal, and would thus soak up the heat. She’s toured ADC facilities to see the redone cages, and admits that changes are positive, but too late to save Powell’s life, obviously.

“All the retrofitting in the world is worthless if the staff doesn’t follow the policy,” she insisted.

Powell had been diagnosed as mentally ill, and was on more than one psychotropic drug, drugs that increased her sensitivity to heat, sunlight and lack of water. All the more reason, according to Hamm, that prison staff should be held accountable.

The only next of kin that was located for Powell was an aged, adoptive mother in California, who had not had contact with Powell for years, and did not want to take possession of the remains.

So, with the help of Hamm and others, Powell’s ashes were interred last year at Phoenix’s Shadow Rock Church of Christ.

Brophy College Preparatory School also dedicated a plaque to Powell on school grounds this year.

But with no one with standing to bring a federal lawsuit (Hamm says the deadline for a state lawsuit has expired), and with the MCAO unwilling to bring a case against those responsible for Powell’s well-being, there looks to be no justice for the schizophrenic deceased woman.

I asked Hamm what this means for the case.

“It means they’ve gotten away with the most colossal example of brutality I have seen against a female prisoner in the history of the Arizona Department of Corrections,” remarked Hamm, adding, “And they got off scot-free.”

Posted Image
Article and slide show of IL women’s “impact incarceration” program

Mothers Behind Bars:
A state-by-state report card and analysis of federal policies on conditions of confinement for pregnant and parenting women and the effect on their children (pdf)


State Findings
Overall grades: Averaging the grades for prenatal care, shackling, and family-based treatment as an alternative to incarceration, twenty-one states received either a D or F, both of which are considered failing grades. Twenty-two states received a grade of C, and seven received a B. The highest overall grade of A- was earned by one state—Pennsylvania.

Prenatal care: Thirty-eight states received failing grades (D/F) for their failure to institute adequate policies, or any policies at all, requiring that incarcerated pregnant women receive adequate prenatal care, despite the fact that many women in prison have higher-risk pregnancies.

  • Forty-three states do not require medical examinations as a component of prenatal care.
  • Forty-one states do not require prenatal nutrition counseling or the provision of appropriate nutrition to incarcerated pregnant women.
  • Thirty-four states do not require screening and treatment for women with high risk pregnancies.
  • Forty-eight states do not offer pregnant women screening for HIV.
  • Forty-five states do not offer pregnant women advice on activity levels and safety during their pregnancies.
  • Forty-four states do not make advance arrangements for deliveries with particular hospitals.
  • Forty-nine states fail to report all incarcerated women’s pregnancies and their outcomes.

Shackling: Thirty-six states received failing grades (D/F) for their failure to comprehensively limit, or limit at all, the use of restraints on pregnant women during transportation, labor and delivery and postpartum recuperation.

There has been a recent increase in states adopting laws that address shackling, now totaling ten. Of the states without laws to address shackling:

  • Twenty-two states either have no policy at all addressing when restraints can be used on pregnant women or have a policy which allows for the use of dangerous leg irons or waist chains.
  • When a pregnant woman is placed in restraints for security reasons, eleven states either allow any officer to make the determination or do not have a policy on who determines whether the woman is a security risk.
  • Thirty-one states do not require input from medical staff when determining whether restraints will be used.
  • Twenty-four states do not require training for individuals handling and transporting incarcerated persons needing medical care or those dealing with pregnant women specifically, or have no policy on training.
  • Thirty-one states do not have a policy that holds institutions accountable for shackling pregnant women without adequate justification.
  • Thirty-four states do not require each incident of the use of restraints to be reported or reviewed by an independent body.

Family-Based Treatment as an Alternative to Incarceration: Seventeen states received a failing grade (F) for their lack of adequate access to family-based treatment programs for non-violent women who are parenting.

  • Seventeen states have no family-based treatment programs, while thirty-four states make such programs available.
  • Of the thirty-four states with family-based treatment programs, thirty-two offered women the option to be sentenced to these programs in lieu of prison, while two did not.

Prison Nurseries: Thirty-eight states received failing grades (D/F) for failing to offer prison nurseries to new
mothers who are incarcerated. While a far less preferred option than alternative sentencing, prison nursery programs still provide some opportunity for mother-child bonding and attachment.

  • Thirty-eight states do not offer any prison nursery programs.
  • Of the thirteen states that do offer such programs, only two allow children to stay past the age of two.
  • Three of the thirteen programs offer therapeutic services for both mother and child.

Posted Image