Criminal Justice

Prison Study: Equal Sexual Misconduct from Inmates, Staff

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A new U.S. Department of Justice survey shows prison inmates are just as likely to face sexual misconduct by facility staff as from their bunkmates.

They should be just as worried about the folks on the other side of the bars.

A study released this month, based on surveys gathered in 2008 from former state prisoners, reports nearly 10 percent of inmates have experienced some sort of sexual misconduct while imprisoned. Of those, half indicated the misconduct took place at the hands of facility staff. One out of 20 former state prisoners reported a sexual incident with a prison facility employee. Only one out of five of these former prisoners said the sexual contact with staff was unwilling. The government, however, classifies all sexual activity between inmates and staff as nonconsensual.

CBS reported the study results as part of an effort by the White House to push all detention facilities to fight harder against prison rape. New regulations are afoot:

The new regulations are immediately binding on federal prisons. They include screening inmates for the potential of sexual victimization and using that information in housing and work assignments, requiring background checks on employees, keeping juvenile inmates away from adult inmates, and requiring evidence preservation after a reported incident and requiring termination as the presumptive punishment for staff members.

States who don't fall in line face a loss of 5 percent of their Justice Department prison money unless their governor certifies that the same amount of money is being used to be bring the state into compliance. Prison accreditation organizations also will be banned from getting federal grants unless they include similar anti-prison rape standards in their accreditation process.

Your eyes might boggle at the idea that background checks for employees and terminating employees for sexual misconduct weren't already binding regulations.

The study [pdf] has some interesting (and of course, horrifying) highlights worth going over. A full 79 percent of all reported misconduct between inmates and staff involved male prisoners with female employees, not the other way around. Half the inmates who engaged in sexual activities with staff reported being offered special privileges or favors. A quarter had been bribed or blackmailed.

The "don't drop the soap" fear is also still sadly valid: 34 percent of all bisexual male prisoners and 39 percent of all gay male prisoners reported being sexually victimized by other male inmates, by far the highest incident rates in the list of sexual demographics.