I watched a documentary on a new prison for women called the Springer Correctional Facility and it’s located in New Mexico. They took around 450 women from other prisons and gave them a better environment where they had more freedom to walk around the prison grounds verses being stuck in their cell block most of the day. The prison also offers a wide variety of training programs so the inmates can get their GED’s and learn job skills. The focus of this new correctional facility is to help inmates successfully transition back into society. It’s too early to know how effective they will be but here are some things I learned:
• Around 33% of all women incarcerated around the world are in the U.S. At first I found this shocking then I realized that our per capita drug use is through the roof compared to other countries and in one way or another, drugs are why most of them are in prison.
• Of all inmates in our prison system, women only make up around 10% of the population which is statistically very low considering that women make up around 51% of the U.S. population.
• When police began a heavy crackdown on drugs, women were being incarcerated at a much faster rate than men as men are generally in prison for more severe offenses. Currently, the growth rate in female prisons is 7% while male inmates are rising about 5.7%.
• Roughly 64% of the women incarcerated were their children’s primary guardian. Most of them don’t come from stable home environments where a husband/father is in the picture. From what I could tell, many of the children ended up in foster care or with their grandparents.
• Because so few women commit crimes compared to men, most states have only one female prison which means nothing can be done about trying to make it more convenient for a prisoner to be close to family. The “great” state of New York has 54 correctional facilities for men. Even though the state of Louisiana ranks 25th in population, they by far have the highest percentage of their population behind bars. One report showed that around 10% of the citizens of Louisiana are incarcerated.
• White women are the minority in our prison system with Hispanics having twice as many women incarcerated than whites and African Americans having four times as many. This makes it a terrible challenge for white women who are behind bars because there’s often a lot of hatred towards whites in the African American and Hispanic communities that inmates often come from.
• In most of the Western World, the prison guards in women’s prisons are female but in the U.S. more than half of the guards are men because of “gender equality” laws. Silja Talvi, author of: Women Behind Bars - The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System, argued that in theory gender equality makes sense in most occupations but in practice having male guards watch over female prisoners is problematic.
• The use of drugs (usually heroine), is why most of the female inmates are there, meaning most of their crimes stemmed from the need for drugs (i.e. assaults, burglary, larceny, prostitution, etc.). New Mexico has more deaths due to overdoses than any other state. It amazed me to see that within one week of prisoners entering the new correctional facility that drugs were being smuggled in and women were sneaking off into the showers to get high.
Prison guards are sometimes the source of drugs and other contraband like cellphones which are a hot commodity. The guards typically get paid for these things by family members and friends of the inmates. The prison does random inspections of the cells but since some of the guards are providing the contraband, they overlook it during the search.
There are a lot of female prisoners who offer sexual favors to payoff prison guards for helping them out. Being a prison guard isn’t a lucrative career and the conditions they work in are pretty bad, so it lends itself to this kind of illegal activity.
The chance of a guard getting in trouble for their involvement in sexual misconduct is very low. One report read: “When authorities confirmed that corrections staff had sexually abused inmates in their care, only 42% of those officers had their cases referred to prosecution; only 23% were arrested, and only 3% charged, indicted, or convicted.” With this in mind, why would a female prisoner say anything if she were assaulted by a guard? There’s nothing but a terrible downside for complaining.
Probably around 90% of the women at Springer had tattoos with a majority of them having several including on their arms, face, and neck. How in the world can they find a decent job with ink all over them? If they interviewed for a job they can wear sleeves to cover up their arm tattoos but hiding their face and neck tattoos would be extremely difficult. What employer would want them in front of their customers?
The bottom line is when many of them leave prison they go back to using drugs and because they typically can’t get a job for a variety of reasons like not having a high school diploma/GED, having a criminal record, and not having the physical appearance to be in front of customers, they’ll use illegal means to get money and will end up back in prison. It’s the epitome of the revolving door of justice.
Warning: What you’re about to read is for a mature reader. There’s no other way of saying it but most of the inmates appeared to me to be lesbians which makes sense because of how many tattoos they had and how they carried themselves like gang members. It’s hard to believe that 64% of them have children. I couldn’t imagine my mom having any tattoos let alone tattoos covering her arms and face. Let’s face it, there’s a huge difference in the lesbian community from those who are on the more masculine side (a.k.a. butch), to those who aren’t, like Ellen DeGeneres and her beautiful wife, Portia de Rossi.
I don’t know the percentage who were born gay or just became that way because of the environment they found themselves in (many were sexually abused as children), and/or being institutionalized (prison system), but prison guards who were interviewed said it’s one of the main causes of fights because inmates often fight over and for, girlfriends.
It does appear that when President Bush signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003 it helped reduce the amount of rapes in both the men’s and women’s prison. For some prisoners getting five years added on to their sentence for each incident wasn’t worth the risk. As it stands now roughly 16% of the men are still being raped and around 6% of women. Personally I don’t trust these figures because I’d imagine a lot of rapes go unreported.
What can a victim do? If she says something to the authorities she’s marked as a nark and the outcome generally doesn’t go well for her. If she’s moved to another cellblock, which means she would no longer see the person(s), who raped her, it doesn’t take long through the grapevine for her new cellmates to find out she told on someone.
In their prison society it means members of her new cellblock have to do something about it out of respect for the cellblock she came from and to ensure she doesn’t become a tattletale in their cellblock. The way it generally works is the inmate in trouble gets taken into the shower area (where there are no cameras), and beaten.
In a situation like this, the beating might not be a one-time event and she might get attacked on and off for a while. Her way out of it is to become a girlfriend to one of the power players on her new cellblock so she’d have protection.
Regardless of whether it’s a men’s or a women’s prison, it’s all about control, power, and mostly respect. Not respecting someone is by far the number one cause of fights in prison. It could be something as simple as walking into someone’s cell uninvited because they’re very paranoid about someone stealing what little stuff they have. If one of the power players wants an inmate’s desert and she doesn’t give it to her, it’s a sign of disrespect and by their code, she’s required to take the other inmate into the shower to beat her up or be called a “punk” and lose her status.
Many of these women like to intimidate and excerpt power over weaker inmates. Can you imagine trying to transition back into society after experiencing something like this? Just a guess on my part, but I’d imagine that smaller, weaker, women who go to prison the first time, probably are less likely to commit another crime and it’s probably the same with men. If this hasn’t been studied it would be interesting to know.
By the way, having consensual sex in prison is against the law but preventing it from happening is another story especially since most prisons are understaffed, it’s mostly taboo for prison guards to enter the shower area, and of course there are no cameras in the shower area so that’s where laws are broken.
Some inmates who are about to be released commit violations so they can extend their stay then some get out for a while and realize how tough it is on the outside and will commit a crime to get back in. How sad is this? Just how bad are their personal lives outside of prison to where they prefer being locked up?
When I was in the 9th grade a friend of mine’s dad who worked in law enforcement took us to a men’s prison and walked us around. We weren’t used to men shouting out how attractive we were and needless to say, both Sergio and I were scared straight. Although the experience shook me up, I’m really glad he took the time to share what life was like behind bars because I’ve spent the last 40 years making sure I didn’t end up there.