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The United States makes up only 5 percent of the world's population, but it incarcerates 25 percent of the globe's prisoners. This unprecedented level of incarceration has brought increased attention to the problems of particular subsets of prisoners sometimes called "special populations." These groups include female prisoners; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and questioning inmates; older prisoners; and prisoners with mental illness and physical disabilities. This Article discusses human rights dilemmas in the treatment of special populations in prison.

The Article surveys ABA Standards and Resolutions that bear on special populations. While ABA Standards do not have the force of law, they can serve as models for jurisdictions seeking to enact best practices, and as a resource for advocates.

Standards governing the management of special populations may be necessary to ensure humane treatment and avoid victimization and loss of life. However, they can be controversial, even among human rights advocates. There are two types of critiques: that reforms perpetuate stigma and stereotypes and that reforms reinforce our reliance on prisons. These controversies expose tensions regarding the role of prison conditions reform in the vast American corrections system.

The economic crisis may be pointing us toward new solutions to these dilemmas. There is a push to reduce incarceration-related expenses by reducing harsh sentences, even in some states that are traditionally tough on crime. Reducing the number of U.S. prisoners will provide the most lasting resolution to the human rights issues.


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Recommended Citation

Hum. Rts., Summer 2011 at 17