NY State Women’s Prisons Are Not Safe
On Thursday, March 3rd 2022, NOW-NY and Women’s Justice NOW testified before the New York Senate Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Senate Standing Committee on Ethics and Internal Governance regarding Sexual Assault in the Prison System.
New York – While imprisoned in New York women have been raped, sexually exploited, and sexually harassed by prison guards.
What has been documented is widespread sexual assault and rape of women inmates, including a widespread practice of women exchanging sex for leniency, and staff working in tandem organized efforts to facilitate unlawful and exploitative sexual contact with women inmates. Some of the tactics employed include:
- male staff being permitted regular, unmonitored one on one access to female inmates
- a lack of unpredictable and unannounced supervisory rounds, contributing to officers engaging in illegal sexual activity without fear of being caught
- inadequate surveillance
- a policy of allowing officers to swap assignments, allowing some officers the ability to stalk and harass female inmates
- poor screening practices for officers, contributing to an influx of contraband items that are then used as a bribery/coercion tool on inmates.
This all points to a structure that enables those in power – those who hold people in their custody – to sexually abuse and exploit inmates, and a culture that allows it with impunity. It is systemic abuse and it is often the most vulnerable, the most damaged women who are targeted and preyed upon.
“I want to tell you about Mary Doe. Most of her life she’s known sexual abuse. She was forced to start stripping at age 13, she was raped by multiple men the following year, and that attack resulted in a pregnancy. She, as so many vulnerable, young girls who are sexually abused, ended up in the sex trade. Her convictions for prostitution were a calling card for abuse. In early 2019, she was assaulted by a Sergeant while she was on bathroom cleaning duty. She was working alone, he blocked the exit and punched her in the gut, and then forced her to perform oral sex on him. He told her he would make the rest of her time at BHCF difficult and would “make problems” for her when she was released if she refused. All the while, another guard was sitting at the desk station near the bathroom, and he smirked at her when he gave her permission to end her shift and go back to her housing unit.”
What Needs to Change:
- Recruit more women officers
- Investigate and hold accountable guards who break the law
- Overhaul DOCCS (Department of Corrections and Community Supervision)
- Establish a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency task force to tackle this entrenched problem
Access the full testimony here
NOW-NY advocates for laws that defend our rights and break barriers for women and girls. We work to advance economic opportunity and fairness in the workplace, protect and expand reproductive rights, and strengthen our criminal justice system for victims of gender-based violence.
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