Sex Crimes

Prison Rape Reports Are Rising

After national reporting standards were implemented, substantiated sexual assault claims rose by 63 percent.

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Prison sexual assault chart
Bureau of Justice Statistics

New numbers released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show a dramatic increase in reports of sexual assault in America's jails and prisons.

The new numbers cover the years 2012 through 2015. In 2015, jails and prisons across the country reported 24,661 claims of sexual assault or misconduct. That is nearly triple the number recorded in the last report of this type, which was published in 2011. That year the bureau reported 8,768 sexual assault or misconduct complaints.

Some of that increase probably can be explained by increased pressure to report and track these incidents. In 2012, jails and prisons implemented new standards for detecting, investigating, and reporting prison rape. The reforms were prompted by research that began back in 2003 with the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Beginning in 2012, allegations of sexual misconduct began to shoot up. Officials say most of the claims, both against staff and against fellow inmates, were either unfounded or unsubstantiated. In 2015, officials said, more than 80 percent of sexual assault and misconduct allegations were either false or unprovable.

But substantiated sexual misconduct claims also increased, albeit at a lower rate. In 2015, officials substantiated 1,473 sexual assault and misconduct claims, up from 902 in 2011. That's a 63 percent increase. It could mean that more sexual assaults are happening, that the new system is increasing the percentage of incidents that are reported, or a combination of the two.

In 2015, inmates were the perpetrators in 58 percent of substantiated sexual assault and misconduct cases, while the other 42 percent involved staff members. Most sexual assaults happen in state prisons, which house more people than local jails and federal prisons combined.

Local jails, however, see a higher rate of substantiated sexual assault and misconduct claims. In every type and perpetrator category of sexual assault and misconduct examined by the study, victims' claims were found to be substantiated at higher rates in jails than in state or federal prisons. The number of substantiated claims per 1,000 inmates was also higher in jails. Assuming the numbers are trustworthy, inmates in local jails are at greater risk of sexual assault than inmates in state or federal prisons.

That reality matters in the context of the push to free some of the 400,000 to 500,000 pretrial arrestees who are being detained every day in jails across the United States. Judging from this study, people detained prior to trial (often because they cannot afford bail) are actually at a higher risk of sexual assault than people who have been convicted and sent to prison.

Read more details about the latest prison sexual assault numbers here.

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  1. Some of that increase probably can be explained by increased pressure to report and track these incidents.

    I’d like to think that the incarcerated aren’t so separated from the rest of society that they’re not also defining down sexual assault same as the rest of us. Anyway, prison rape is a small price to pay for soccer moms feeling safe and for an entire industry to remain firmly afloat.

    1. Me too.

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  2. Back in HS for my Senior Thesis I did a report on prison reform with the prevalence of Prison Rape being a central complaint. It’s an atrocity. It is not justice. The sick satisfaction people take from some idea of “Prison Justice” is pathetic. And it’s largely just a case of the biggest and strongest violently assaulting and raping younger kids and other weak people.

    And from my report I learned almost nobody gives a shit. They’re criminals, so no one cares about what happens to them. Even if they’re their for a non-violent crime.

    1. It sucks. Hard.

      But the problem is that there isn’t a really good fix for it.

      1. Dropping drug laws and putting fewer nonviolent offenders in prison might help.

      2. Take charges of it seriously. At this point it’s literally laughed at. It’s a punchline, “Don’t drop the soap, haha. Get it because you’re going to get violently assaulted and maybe seriously injured, haha. Rape”

        Prison reform to depopulate them in general. Give the remaining prisoners more space, and monitor. Take abuses of authority on the guards part seriously. Work to depopulate the prison unions which lead to such monstrous imbalances of power by making people who cannot face consequence for their action. There are steps to take, but no one gives a shit to even do that. People don’t care about Criminals to any significant degree.

        1. Fewer inmates in the first place is the big one. Segregate violent offenders from the non-violent ones. Build and operate prisons as places where people are treated with basic human dignity rather than caged up like animals. Make prisons a place where people can get help with the addictions, lack of education, emotional and mental issues that drove them to crime in the first place.

          1. You actually said something sensible.

            1. It’s not “for the children!” So nobody gives a shit.

        2. Eliminate use of private prisons.

        3. It’s disgusting that it’s routinely joked about. Especially when you consider how many people are jailed over victimless crimes like drugs, or how many people are convicted falsely because dumb jurors have an automatic and undeserved respect for the testimony of anyone wearing a badge, or any authority figure like a DA. And no doubt the ones who don’t belong there in the first place are more likely to be the victims.

          But even if someone is unequivocally guilty of a crime, I would say that being raped qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. Would society tolerate prisoners being used for Dr. Mengele-style experiments? Probably not. So why is prison rape mentioned as a joke on so many cop TV shows?

          1. My biggest question, would people vote to have “being raped” passed down as a sentence for anyone? If people would not administer that as justice, then supporting it as prison justice is sick and immoral.

            1. would people vote to have “being raped” passed down as a sentence for anyone?

              Yes, I believe the MeToo mob would support that.

          2. Would society tolerate prisoners being used for Dr. Mengele-style experiments? Probably not.

            You’re more optimistic than I am. I think today’s Americans would support that, as long as the prisoners involved were convicted of sufficiently deplorable crimes.

      3. Over 24,000 reported sexual assaults in 2015 and almost half of the alleged assailants work for the prison system. There is an easy way to stop this. #MeToo

      4. Nah, there are plenty of solutions. The problem is that there’s no incentive for those involved to actually implement them.

        Let’s just take cameras. If you had wall-to-wall coverage in a prison/jail such that there was no privacy anywhere, any accusations would be trivial to investigate. But that kind of thing is (A) expensive, and (B) will end up costing the prison/jail twice as they end up being held liable in the lawsuit.

        Put simply, until it costs less to have a “safe” prison/jail then it is to have an “unsafe” one, there will be no financial incentive to make one.

        Which leaves the moral incentive. But as BUCS points out, people don’t really care and treat it as a joke. So there’s no incentive there either.

        So if we want to “fix” the situation, we need to make it either economically infeasible (civil lawsuits against prisons/jails for creating unsafe environments and failing their wards resulting in huge payouts), or morally infeasible (consistent and sustained public outcries for years on end). Neither seems likely to happen at the moment.

        So the problem is not that we can’t fix them. It’s that no one involved is incentivized to fix them.

        1. They actually have been getting rid of privacy. They’ve been taking doors off bathrooms, putting windows into all staff offices, and generally making it so their is no area in the entire prison where somebody can’t just walk by and see everything in the room.

          1. Eh, that’s just visible privacy. Real privacy is in the recordings.

            Also note, that’s cheap to do. The kind of privacy violation that would put a stop to this isn’t cheap.

            It all comes back to the money.

        2. I actually worked for about two years in a close custody prison and there were cameras all over the common area of the wing. The only places that they couldn’t record were in the cells themselves and the shower. We kept one inmate per cell and the showers had opaque glass (where you could see the shape of someone in the shower, but not any detail). The point is that the prison was set up to minimize violence, but I would hesitate to say it never happened.

        3. Haven’t the courts ruled consistently that the state is not responsible for keeping inmates safe from other inmates?

      5. Chastity belts.

        1. Are much more effective as a kink then as a device that actually prevent sex.

          That said, even if you could find a perfect chastity belt (for men and women) that prevented intercourse without harming the wearer or requiring undue time from prison guards, that would only stop one aspect of sexual assault/harassment.

  3. I guess there really is a Rape Culture after all.

    1. There is a rape culture in the subcultures from which most violent convicts come. They bring it with them to prison. Prison Sex is no different from Ghetto Sex or Biker Gang Sex. It just has biological males playing the part of the Bitches.

  4. If I’m reading the report right, Table 2 indicates that jails typically have lower rates of accusations/allegations then prisons, and Table 6 indicates that they have higher rates of substantiated incidents.

    So fewer accusations, but more substantiated incidents

    But let’s look at the Table 4 (outcome of investigations). Here we see that local jails also have higher rates of “unfounded” (meaning investigated and found wanting) then prisons. Meanwhile, prisons have significantly higher rates of “unsubstantiated” (meaning investigated and couldn’t determine).

    So I’m not sure I’m ready to say that jails are worse then prisons or vice-versa, but it sure looks like jails are better at investigating. Probably due to the smaller populations, smaller and more frequent facilities, and so-on.

    1. I’m concerned that the “Under Investigation” and “Substantiated” lines nearly mirror each other.

      Also, Table 3, which shows that Staff Sexual Misconduct is by far the most common category of allegation. Though, that’s just allegation and in a prison there is obvious advantage for a prisoner to lie about the staff committing a wrong against them. But it’s still disconcerting.

      1. Ironic that justice is meted out quicker once someone is in prison then before someone is in prison. Or at least, prompt and speedy resolution is how I’m interpreting “under investigation”.

        Regarding Table 3, I think it’s interesting that it highlights another difference between jail and prison. Looking just at the “Federal and State prisons” column vs. the “local jails” column, you can see that while Staff Sexual Misconduct is the biggest group for incidents in Prisons (16,244 allegations out of 47,066 total, 34.5%), it is the second biggest in Jails (4,574 out of 16,171, 28.3%).

        That said, it’s also the largest substantiated category for prisons (1,078 out of 2,942, 36.6%). For jails it’s third (446 out of 1880, 23.7%).

        Since the substantiated rates track the allegation rates, it doesn’t look like inmates lie about staff more then they lie about other inmates.

        1. Yes, there is some stuff that starts to become shady as well.

          On Table 9 it says “cExcludes facilities under private contract” for investigations of Federal and State Prisons.

          1. The private/contract facilities are under the “All facilities” column. Since the total for that column in table 9 is only 849 higher then the sum of the federal/state prisons and local jail columns, they probably didn’t get their own column due to low totals.

            1. Perhaps, but I think that’s strangely hidden from view. It’s not obvious, and if you need to infer it by adding up the columns of the chart, it probably would have been better just to include it in to one column. The explicit exclusion of it just raises a red flag in my mind.

              1. I don’t want to be insulting, but I’m going to hazard that you didn’t spend too much time in an academic setting learning to read these kinds of data sheets and reports.

                The report reads fine. It’s not written for laymen, but that’s really not the intended audience.

                1. No, not social science ones. I’ll trust your opinion on this.

    2. Jails are local, which means prisoners probably have friends and family in the area that regularly visit them and can raise hell over injustices.

  5. Local jails, however, see a higher rate of substantiated sexual assault and misconduct claims. In every type and perpetrator category of sexual assault and misconduct examined by the study, victims’ claims were found to be substantiated at higher rates in jails than in state or federal prisons.

    Just when I thought I couldn’t be more afraid of a rural town after dark lock up.

    1. Is it because you’re more likely to be sexually assaulted, though? I’m not saying it isn’t, but there may be other forces at work. For example, jails are generally smaller, so investigating and substantiating claims may be easier than in a prison.

      (I’d still try to stay out of jail.)

      1. Jails are ran by the sherriffs, youre actually in greater danger to have prison justice carried out on you.

  6. Have these statistics been correlated with a rise in STEVE SMITH sightings in the prison system?

    Under bad lighting, he could easily be mistaken for a shaggy* hipster.

    *Yes, I know how they use the term “shag” in the UK.

    1. STEVE SMITH’S SHAGS SAY “UK” WHEN STEVE SMITH SHAGS STEVE SMITH’S SHAGS.

  7. The DA/police love hanging the prison rape/stabbing scenario over suspects head. Well just those that they know wouldnt survive in there. The irony is that the most violent criminals least likely to change thrive in the prison system while those that just made a few mistakes are more likely to pay a heavy price thanks to prison justice. And no raping/stabbing isnt just for rapist or child molesters, p much any weaker individual is subject to abuse. And the corruption thanks to this system rivals what you hear about in 3rd world countries. Gang members carrying cellphones shanks and handcuff keys for years. If you think thats possible without the blessing of the guards/sherrifs your a fool.

  8. What? No alt text?

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