The U.S Department of Justice Office of Inspector General has completed a review, prompted in part by members of Congress and public interest groups, of concerns about what they consider to be deficiencies in Bureau of Prisons's management of female inmates. Part of the review determined that BOP’s conversion of Federal Correctional Institution Danbury to house male inmates negatively affected certain female inmates who had been housed there.
As a case study, the OIG also examined BOP’s 2013 decision to convert FCI Danbury from a female institution to a male institution as part of a larger plan to increase bed space for low security female and male inmates throughout BOP institutions. Although concerns were raised that the conversion would cause female inmates to be incarcerated farther from home, OIG found that, while 19 percent of U.S. citizen inmates were transferred farther from their homes, the overwhelming majority were transferred closer to their homes. The conversion resulted in 366 low security sentenced female inmates serving a portion of their sentences in Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) Brooklyn, a detention center intended for short-term confinement.
The National Association of Women Judges found that the conditions of confinement at MDC Brooklyn amounted to a violation of the American Bar Association Standards on Treatment of Prisoners, as well as the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. When OIG representatives visited MDC Brooklyn, they found that BOP offered female inmates no access to outdoor space, less natural light, and fewer programming opportunities than what would otherwise be available to female inmates at BOP facilities designed to house sentenced inmates in long-term confinement.
In addition, a separate OIG criminal investigation determined that, during the time that sentenced female inmates were assigned to MDC Brooklyn, multiple custody staff sexually assaulted female inmates, resulting in the convictions of two Lieutenants and a Correctional Officer. In December 2016, after reversing its decision not to house female inmates at FCI Danbury, BOP opened a new low security institution for female inmates at FCI Danbury. However, because FCI Danbury was constructed without a Special Housing Unit, they found that managing female inmates who needed to be placed in a SHU disrupted institution operations because BOP had to transfer these inmates to Federal Detention Center Philadelphia for SHU placement.
During a visit to MDC Brooklyn in August 2017, OIG representatives found that its female inmates had less access to fresh air and sunlight than what would have been available to them at FCI Danbury.
In response to congressional concerns that the conversion of FCI Danbury would cause female inmates to be housed farther from their homes, OIG analyzed the distances from home for female inmates transferred from FCI Danbury. The analysis found that 81 percent of Danbury’s U.S. citizen female inmates were transferred closer to or remained the same distance from home and 19 percent were transferred farther from home.
OIG found that of the 1,127 female inmates transferred or released from FCI Danbury, 497 were U.S. citizen female inmates who were transferred to other BOP institutions. Of those 497, they found that 401 were transferred to a BOP institution closer to their homes or were reassigned to a minimum security prison camp at FCI Danbury. Conversely, 96 were transferred to a BOP institution farther from home. Of those 96, 61 were from BOP’s Northeast Region. OIG did not consider the non-U.S.citizen inmates whom BOP transferred from FCI Danbury in this analysis because the BOP data analyzed did not always include a U.S. residence for these individuals.
Though female inmates compose a small percentage of the nationwide incarcerated population, correctional officials have recognized that in some areas female and male inmates have different needs and the BOP has adopted gender-responsive programs and policies that account for these needs. As a continuation of prior U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General reviews examining BOP’s management of certain subpopulations of inmates, including aging inmates and inmates with mental illness in restrictive housing, OIG initiated a review of BOP’s management of female inmates, specifically BOP’s efforts and capacity to ensure that BOP-wide policies, programs, and decisions adequately address the distinctive needs of women.
OIG concluded that BOP has not been strategic in its management of female inmates. OIG determined that BOP needs to take additional steps at the Central Office level to ensure that female inmate needs are met at the institution level. Our review identified instances in which BOP’s programming and policy has not fully considered the needs of female inmates, which has made it difficult for inmates to access certain key programs and supplies. Further, while BOP is adhering to federal regulations and BOP policies requiring that only female Correctional Officers conduct strip searches of female inmates, BOP’s method for ensuring compliance with these requirements assigns staff inefficiently.