The Cost of Prison Rape

Originally posted on August 28, 2010

A new report released by the Bureau of Justice reveals an alarming rate of sexual assault against inmates. According to the report about 88,500 prison and jail inmates (4.4% and 3.1% respectively) reported abuse. Among state and federal inmates, 2.1% reported abuse by another inmate while 2.8% reported abuse staff. Among jail inmates, 1.5% of jail inmates reported abuse by another inmate while 2.0% reported abuse by staff. About half of the sexual contact between inmates and staff was reported as consensual (1.8% of prison inmates and 1.1% of jail inmates) and the other half was nonconsensual (1.7% of prisoninmates and 1.5% of jail inmates). The highlights listed on the first page reveal a disconcerting picture:

Prevalence of sexual victimization

  • An estimated 4.4% of prison inmates and 3.1% of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months. Nationwide, these percentages suggest that approximately 88,500 adults held in prisons and jails at the time of the survey had been sexually victimized.
  • About 2.1% of prison inmates and 1.5% of jail inmates reported an incident involving another inmate. An estimated 1.0% of prison inmates and 0.8% of jail inmates said they had nonconsensual sex with another inmate (the most serious type of acts), including unwilling manual stimulation and oral, anal, or vaginal penetration.
  • About 2.8% of prison inmates and 2.0% of jail inmates reported having had sex or sexual contact with staff. At least half of the inmates who experienced staff sexual misconduct (1.8% in prison and 1.1% in jail) said that they willingly had sex or sexual contact with staff.

Facility rankings

  • Eight male prisons, 2 female prisons, and 6 jails were identified as “high rate” facilities based on the prevalence of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization; 4 male prisons, 2 female prisons, and 5 jails were identified as “high rate” based on the prevalence of staff sexual misconduct. Each of these facilities had a lower bound of the 95%-confidence interval that was at least 55% higher than the average rate among comparable facilities.
  • Seven male prisons, 4 female prisons, and 9 jails were identified as “low rate” facilities based on a small percentages of inmates reporting any sexual victimization by another inmate or staff and a low upper bound for the 95%-confidence interval around the rate. Among the 167 prisons and 286 jails in the survey, 6 prisons and 28 jails had no reported incidents of sexual victimization.
  • Except for a 6.0% rate of sexual victimization in the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks (Leavenworth, KS), rates in the 5 surveyed facilities operated by ICE, 3 operated by the U.S. Military, and 2 facilities in Indian country were lowerthan average rates in state and federal prisons (4.4%) and jails (3.1%).

Variations in victimization rates

  • Female inmates in prison (4.7%) or jail (3.1%) were more than twice as likely as male inmates in prison (1.9%) or jail (1.3%) to report experiencing inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization. Sexual activity with facility staff was reported by 2.9% of male prisoners and 2.1% of male jail inmates, compared to 2.1% of female prisoners and 1.5% of female jail inmates.
  • Rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization in prisons and jails were significantly higher among inmates who were white or multi-racial compared to blacks, inmates with a college degree or more (compared to those who had not completed high school), a sexual orientation other than heterosexual compared to heterosexual, and who had experienced a sexual victimization before coming to the facility compared to those who had not.
  • After controlling for multiple inmate characteristics, rates of reported staff sexual misconduct were lower among white inmates (compared to black inmates), lower among inmates ages 25 or older (compared to inmates ages 20 to 24), higher among inmates with a college degree (compared to those who had not completed high school), and higher among inmates who had experienced sexual victimization before coming to the facility (compared to those who had not).

Circumstances surrounding victimization

  • Among inmates who reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, 13% of male prison inmates and 19% of male jail inmates said they were victimized within the first 24 hours after admission, compared to 4% of female inmates in prison and jail.
  • Inmate-on-inmate victimization in prisons and jails was most commonly reported to have occurred between 6 pm and midnight: more than 40% of victims reported this time period.
  • Most victims of staff sexual misconduct were males; most perpetrators were females. Among male victims of staff sexual misconduct, 69% of those in prison and 64% of those in jails reported sexual activity with female staff. An additional 16% of prison inmates and 18% of jail inmates reported sexual activity with both female and male staff.
  • Among inmates who reported staff sexual misconduct, nearly 16% of male victims in prison and 30% of male victims in jail said they were victimized by staff within the first 24 hours, compared to 5% of female victims in prison and 4% of female victims in jail.

Male inmates were more likely to be bribed or blackmailed into sex sexual activity, offered protection, or threatened with harm or a weapon by other inmates than female inmates. Males were also more likely to be assaulted numerous times and by multiple perpetrators. Males who had sexual contact with by staff were more likely than females to report the assaults as consensual, but were also more likely to be assaulted by staff within the first 24 hours and to be injured by jail staff during the assault. Females were more likely to be injured during prison staff assaults, however, the report notes that the difference in the rate of injury by prison staff was not statistically significant. And as was true in the report on juvenile prison rape, male inmates were more likely to be assaulted by staff, most of which was committed by female staff. According to the report, 69% of male prison inmates and 64% of male jail inmates were assaulted by female staff.

It is important to point out the gender breakdown because a few articles incorrectly posited that females are at a higher risk of assault than male inmates, and the report does not actually state that. The report does state that females are more likely to be victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual assault. This information does not get mentioned in some of the news reports, leaving the impression that female inmates are being assaulted primarily by male staff. Likewise, those news articles fail to report that female staff sexually assault male inmates at a high rate, and fail to mention that male victims face more assaults and assaults by multiple perpetrators.

Setting that aside, other findings from the report include:

  • Rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization among prison inmates were higher among females (4.7%) than males (1.9%), higher among whites (3.0%) or multi-racial (4.4%) than among blacks (1.3%), higher among inmates with a college degree (3.4%) than among inmates who had not completed high school (2.0%), and lower among currently married inmates (1.3%) than among inmates who never married or who were widowed, divorced, or separated (2.2%).
  • ƒ Similar patterns of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization were reported by jail inmates. Females (3.1%), whites (1.5%), and inmates with a college degree reported higher rates of victimization (2.9%) than males (1.3%), blacks (1.2%), and inmates who had not completed high school (1.3%).
  • Among heterosexual state and federal prisoners, an estimated 1.3% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 2.5% reported being victimized by staff. In contrast, among prison inmates with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual (including bisexual, homosexual, gay or lesbian, or other), 11.2% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 6.6% reported being sexually victimized by staff .
  • Similar differences were reported among jail inmates, with heterosexual inmates reporting lower rates of inmate-on-inmate victimization (1.1%) and staff sexual misconduct (1.9%) than nonheterosexual inmates (7.2% and 3.5%, respectively).
  • Inmates who had experienced sexual victimization before coming to the facility were also more likely than inmates with no sexual victimization history to report incidents of sexual victimization involving other inmates and staff. Among inmates who hadexperienced sexual victimizationbefore coming to the facility,11.0% of prisoners and 7.4% ofjail inmates reported having beensexually assaulted by anotherinmate at the current facility. Anestimated 8.7% of prisoners and6.1% of jail inmates who hadexperienced sexual victimizationbefore coming to the facilityreported sexual activity with staff.

This report comes on the heels of Attorney General Eric Holder missing the June deadline for establishing new guidelines to protect against prison rape. Holder’s explanation was that the changes would cost too much. However, Holder apparently only looked at one side of the cost, namely the costliness of it. He apparently did not examine the cost effectiveness of the reforms:

Last September, the Justice Department commissioned Booz Allen Hamilton to study what it would cost to implement the NPREC standards. Unfortunately, the results of that study are too flawed to be of much use. Even more concerning is that Mr. Holder has commissioned no study of the benefits of reducing prisoner rape; nor, apparently, does he plan to. Yet as a brief submitted to the Department of Justice by New York University Law School’s Institute for Policy Integrity makes clear, “substantial additional costs” can only be understood in relation to the standards’ projected benefits. Moreover, Mr. Holder is legally obligated to analyze the costs and the benefits of the new standards together: he cannot give greater emphasis to one half of the calculation than the other. By failing to perform proper analysis, the Attorney General is delaying the reform mandated by a unanimous Congress in passing PREA—and he has already missed his statutory deadline for issuing a final rule on the standards by more than two months.

As the above article notes, it would actually be more cost effective to make the reforms since at present prisons and jails must cover the cost of treating rape victims for their physical and mental trauma and protecting them from further assaults by placing them in segregation, which not only costs more in and of itself, but can also raise the cost when inmates need treatment for the mental distress of being isolated.

There simply is no reason not to implement the PREA recommendations. While it initially cost a substantial amount of money to make reforms, over time the cost pays for itself by reducing the money spent on helping inmates recover from their assaults and reducing the money spent on isolating vulnerable inmates. It can also reduce the money spent on investigating alleged crimes.

The prison lobby may object to these reforms because of cost, but it is also possible that they object to the reforms because the reforms may reveal the extent of prison rape. The above report does not include juvenile inmates and does not account for the turnover rate in jails. The actual number of victims may be much higher than 88,500 inmates. And as the report shows, a little more than half of the assaults are committed by staff. Even if half of that is consensual, it is still a situation in which prison and jail staff violate state and federal policies and break the law. The reforms could reveal the lack of the adequate policies to address reports of prison rape and reveal the prevalence in which staff are allowed to assault inmates.

Perhaps the most exacerbating element is that we are talking about saving money rather than helping people, as if 88,500 people being sexually assaulted is a fair trade for easy state and federal costs. It is an embarrassment, particularly in a society and country that prides itself protecting people’s rights and freedom. Of course, this country is know for such hypocrisies, so perhaps this is just business as usual.


13 thoughts on “The Cost of Prison Rape

  1. Perhaps the most exacerbating element is that we are talking about saving money rather than helping people, as if 88,500 people being sexually assaulted is a fair trade for easy state and federal costs.
    I think people “justify” that mentality by thinking that since they are inmates they are criminals therefore they deserve what they get. And when it comes to violent crimes that feeling is much stronger. And I also think its worth noting that its even stronger when talking about men who are in prison for commit particularly violent crimes.

  2. Another great post, TS.

    My initial reaction is that the rates are lower than I expected (although still appalling). I wonder if there were factors that discouraged reporting abuse, i.e. prisoners’ (correct or incorrect) perception that there might be retaliation if they reported abuse.

    I also wonder about the extent to which sexual activity is exchanged for protection and could be viewed as the product of systemic coercion, i.e. Chris agrees to have sex with Derrick only because Derrick will protect Chris from being assaulted by other prisoners.

  3. I also wonder about the extent to which sexual activity is exchanged for protection and could be viewed as the product of systemic coercion, i.e. Chris agrees to have sex with Derrick only because Derrick will protect Chris from being assaulted by other prisoners.

    I suspect it occurs more frequently than the report listed. I also wonder how many of the consensual acts were trade offs for protection, either following an assault or in an attempt to prevent an assault. It may very well be a much worse situation, but because so many inmates, particularly male inmates, may be hesitant to come forward or view what happened to them as sexual abuse or rape, they may not have reported their experiences fully. Keep in mind that after a while a person can get used to being abused and simply stop thinking about it as wrong.

  4. TS:

    …particularly male inmates,may be hesitant to come forward or view what happened to them as sexual abuse or rape, they may not have reported their experiences fully.

    I think this may be the reason behind that stat that shows women inmates are twice as likely to report being a victim of prison rape. But that hasn’t stopped some from twisting that value. (“Women are more than twice as likely to be abused by other inmates than men.”)

    I’m not sure how it is in women’s prisons but in men’s prisons its a known fact that reporting abuse can get you marked as a snitch. And we all know how snitches are treated. On a bit of a related note I was watching that show Gangland on History Channel this weekend and they were talking about the Mexican Mafia. One of the former members commented that if they out that someone who’s trying to join them has been raped (yeah gangs do background checks like they’re hiring you apparently), even if he goes back and kills his rapist, he is automatically turned down for membership.

  5. I think this may be the reason behind that stat that shows women inmates are twice as likely to report being a victim of prison rape.

    I do as well. While I do believe the staff abuses inmates more often than we like to acknowledge, it seems incredibly unlikely that staff would assault adult inmates more than other inmates would. The report also found that while women reported inmate-on-inmate sexual violence more often, those assaults typically only occurred once and were generally not violent. Conversely, the men who reported being assaulted by other inmates reported multiple offenders, multiple assaults, and a greater use of threats and violence. Even if women are more likely to report being assaulted, men are more likely to be seriously injured and repeatedly preyed on. To my knowledge, none of the articles mentioned that, just as only a few mentioned that female staff was responsible for the majority of the abuse against male inmates.

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