Women on Death Row Suffer Harsher Conditions than Male Inmates

Women on Death Row endure more hardships than their male counterparts, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report, titled The Forgotten Population: A Look at Death Row in the United States Through the Experiences of Women, studied 66 women, ten of whom have already been executed, and found that because there are so few women living on Death Row, they are more likely to experience isolation, which can bring about or exacerbate mental illness. They are also more likely to experience sexual harassment from prison guards and staff who watch them as they dress, wash, and go to the bathroom. One in five of the women studied had been sexually assaulted while in prison. Disturbingly, many of the women were sentenced to death for crimes that generally do not result in the death penalty for men, according to the ACLU study. The report also found many similarities between the women’s lives before they were incarcerated and the type of crimes they committed. Over half the women had experienced ongoing abuse from either family members or partners. Half of the women studied had at least one accomplice in their crime and, in most of these cases, the accomplice received a lesser sentence despite appearing to be equally culpable, the ACLU reports. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of the women on Death Row were convicted of killing people they knew, such as a family member. “This gives further documentation to the intersections between state violence and domestic violence,” Andrea Bible, project coordinator for Free Battered Women, told Women’s eNews. “This report was done to bring to light the conditions of women on death row and to note that abuse has been a factor in most of the cases.” In addition to these problems, the women were also found to experience many of the same difficulties that men on Death Row experience; for example, inadequate defense attorneys and addiction to drugs or alcohol. The study offered 13 recommendations, including creating programs to provide defense attorneys with training to investigate prior domestic abuse and introduce the issue at trial, altering prison staff policies to prevent sexual harassment and assault, giving women prisoners who are sexually abused access to the court, and integrating female Death Row inmates into other women’s prisons to prevent isolation. DONATE to Ms. magazine’s Women in Prison Program, which provides magazines to women in prison across the country JOIN the Ms. community and receive one year of the premier feminist publication


ACLU Press Release and Executive Summary 11/29/04; WomenÕs eNews 12/02/04; United Press International 11/29/04

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