Federal Reports Show Women Receiving Harsher Prison Punishments Than Men

A report released Wednesday shows that when compared to their male counterparts, incarcerated women receive disproportionately harsh punishments for violations of prison rules.

The report, titled “Women in Prison: Seeking Justice Behind Bars”, was done by the United States Commission on Civil Rights. The report includes information from a yearlong investigation and public hearings.  Chair of the commission Catherine Lhamon said that “What we saw was that women themselves are substantially more likely [than men] to be subject to disciplinary practices for minor infractions”.

Women are often disciplined two to three times more often than men for more minor violations of prison rules. In interviews with incarcerated women, NPR found that punishment for minor violations often carried “significant consequences”, including losing privileges ability to buy food or hygiene products and reduced phone or visitation time. Some even had days added onto their sentences. One woman was sent to solitary confinement for three months after she made an unauthorized phone call to her young daughter.

The report included other issues for women in prison, not only discrepancies in discipline. Among the recommendations of the report were:

  • Prisons should better address the health care needs of women in prison, “including gynecological and prenatal care, as is constitutionally required.” NPR’s reporting found that a large number of women with mental health issues are sent to solitary confinement.
  • Prisons should “prohibit shackling pregnant women and placing them in solitary confinement, as these practices represent serious physical and psychological health risks.”
  • Prisons should “do more to help women keep in contact with their children and families.”
  • Prison staff should be better trained “to address the high rates of trauma among incarcerated women.” NPR found that 75% or more of women in prison have experienced previous sexual or physical trauma.
  • Prisons should “avoid harsh punishments for minor infractions” and reduce the use of solitary confinement.


NPR 2/26/20, 10/15/18; US Commission on Civil Rights 2/22/19

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