DOJ IG’s Report: BOP Fails to Meet Needs of Female Inmates

DOJ IG’s Report: BOP Fails to Meet Needs of Female Inmates

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

A report issued September 18 by the Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) identifies shortcomings in how the leaders of DOJ’s Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the correctional facilities it operates fail to meet the needs of its female inmates. Women are about 7% of all sentenced federal inmates (10,567 out of 146,084 as of September 2016).

In the 60-page report, “Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons Management of Its Female Inmate Population,” DOJ’s IG Michael Horowitz identified one overall problem with BOP’s managing female inmates. It identified the agency’s failure to manage strategically. It said that failure was revealed by three main issues IG staff encountered in interviews, visits to 12 BOP facilities, and review of agency records.

These were:

  • staffing levels too low to be able to provide treatments for inmates affected by trauma to all who might benefit
  • relatively low participation rates by inmates eligible for BOP pregnancy programs
  • some correctional facilities’ failure to give inmates adequate access to feminine hygiene products

Even though a study BOP relies on estimates about 90% of female inmates are at some time in their lifetimes affected by physical, sexual, or emotional trauma, trauma training staff has been limited to one per facility because of BOP staffing, thereby guaranteeing available training will not keep up with the demand for it. Similarly, only 37% of pregnant sentenced inmates participated in BOP pregnancy programs.

While none of the problems identified in the report came as a surprise, the unavailability of feminine hygiene products in some BOP facilities has garnered the most previous publicity in numerous press accounts. It also prompted members of Congress to introduce several bills to remedy that problem.

The IG’s report also clarifies that it’s not just the correctional facilities contributing to the problems; headquarters inattention must also shoulder the blame. For example, BOP’s Women and Special Populations Branch is supposed to bring specialized expertise to BOP operations. Still, it is small (consisting only of an administrator and three other staff members) and tasked with dealing with the issues not just of women but about half a dozen prison population groups.

Although BOP now insists that staff in female correctional facilities receive training on women’s needs and issues, no similar requirement applies to BOP’s headquarters officials. BOP recently developed a process for checking how well its facilities complied with standards for female prisoners but hasn’t implemented the new process yet.

The IG’s report also includes, as a case study, of BOP’s lax supervision of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where it sent women inmates of the Danbury, Connecticut facility, which served as the model for the prison depicted in the hit series “Orange Is the New Black.” At the New York facility, multiple incidents of sexual abuse of inmates by officials led to convictions on sex charges of two local police officers and one corrections officer.

The IG report concluded with ten recommendations for improvements in BOP’s management of female inmates. A BOP response said the agency agreed with all the suggestions and is working to implement them.