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Senate Committee Examines Federal Prison System

On August 4, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing, “Oversight of the Bureau of Prisons: First-Hand Accounts of Challenges Facing the Federal Prison System.”

Piper Kerman, author, “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” made the case for “adopting gender-specific policies and programs as a way to improve public safety, in a manner that is not inhumane to anyone serving in federal prison.” Ms. Kerman said, “Gender-responsive correctional approaches are guided by women-centered research. They are strengths-based, trauma-informed, culturally competent, and holistic. These approaches recognize the importance of relationships as a target of intervention for women. Finally, they account for the different characteristics and life experiences of women and men who are involved with the criminal justice system, and respond to their unique needs, strengths, and challenges.”

Ms. Kerman noted that “[f]emale prisoners are different from male prisoners in a number of obvious and less obvious ways. In addition to having a higher percentage of mentally ill people among their ranks, incarcerated women are often single moms with young children. Very high incidences of sexual and physical assault are a reality for women in prison, jail, and immigration detention centers, both before and during their incarceration. It is essential to consider this trauma in order to establish rehabilitation that works, and to avoid correctional settings that make things worse. Instituting gender-responsive policies garners significantly improved outcomes, including reductions of inmate-on-staff assaults and inmate-on-inmate assaults, segregation placements, disciplinary reports, one-on-one mental health watches, petitions for psychiatric evaluation, crisis contacts, self-injury incidents, and suicide attempts.”

The following witnesses also testified:

 

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