PRI was honoured to join an expert meeting convened by University of Chicago Law School on 14 May, to provide guidance and feedback for a thematic report by Professor Manjoo on the causes of women’s incarceration around the world, the conditions of such incarceration, and its consequences.
The experts mapped various issues relevant to violence against women in custodial settings, starting by looking into underlying causes, such as penal laws that criminalise women for ‘immoral behaviour’, the absence of legal representation, the lack of recognition of self-defence in the context of repeated domestic violence, and the targeting of low-level offenders in the ‘war against drugs’. The experts also elaborated on conditions enshrined in law or common in practice that prevent women offenders from having access to non-custodial alternatives.
Discussions also included aspects of conditions in detention, which put women at risk of violence and abuse in various ways, focusing in particular on:
- Mental health and substance dependency issues, found at a higher rate in the female prison population,
- The damaging impact of solitary confinement on female prisoners, often used more punitively women’s prisons than in men’s, and the specific ‘pretext’ of solitary confinement for ‘protection’.
Participants also highlighted:
- attitudes failing to address women prisoners’ specific needs, including the perception that treatment of women prisoners does not constitute discrimination if the situation is ‘the same in every prison’.
- the problem of multi-faceted discrimination, in particular racial discrimination and of violence against LGBT people
- intersections between criminal law and immigration systems, resulting in an ‘inflation’ of incarceration.
- the risk of violence for women even after release, when the particular stigma attached to women offenders often results in retaliation, revenge and violence by family members.
Read our contribution: Challenges at the international level and added value of the UN Bangkok Rules