“Invisible” Women in Federal Special Housing Units
Date:  01-29-2014

Female prisoners held in federal SHUs ignored in internal audit
Sometimes it seems as if women prisoners are invisible. We hear much more about male prisoners, and although males make up the majority of prison populations, The Sentencing Project offers these dramatic facts:

  • The number of women in prison increased by 646% between 1980 and 2010, rising from 15,118 to 112,797. Including women in local jails, more than 205,000 women are now incarcerated.

  • The number of women in prison increased at nearly 1.5 times the rate of men (646% versus 419%).

  • As of 2010, more than 1 million women were under the supervision of the criminal justice system.

  • The rate at which women are incarcerated varies greatly across the nation. Nationally in 2010, 67 out of every 100,000 women were in prison.

    Last year California prisoners went on a hunger strike in protest of being held in solitary confinement in Special Housing Units (SHUs). Although the hunger strike was held at California state prisons, Solitary Watch and other prison reform advocates called for a broader look at SHUs on a federal and state level. According to Solitary Watch, in September 2013 the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) conducted an audit of its “restricted housing units” but failed to include any federal female correctional facilities.

    In an article posted on January 24, 2014 Solitary Watch gives a brief history of Special Housing Units, recounting how the BOP opened its first SHU for female political prisoners in 1986, until a worldwide storm of outrage over its conditions forced the BOP to shut it down.

    SHUs for the general female population continue to exist, and although they were ignored in the BOP’s internal audit, Solitary Watch beseeches the BOP to examine the conditions of its federal female SHUs, and make necessary changes to correct the indignities and injustices that the women held there are subjected to.
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