New Report Confirms Crisis of Prisoner Rape

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C – Sexual violence continues to plague U.S detention facilities, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Justice. The study, released this morning by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), confirms that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inmates and those with a history of prior sexual abuse are at exceptionally high risk for victimization, while shedding new light on the extreme vulnerability of inmates with mental illnesses.

The BJS report, Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011–12, presents the results of its latest nationwide survey of inmates in state and federal prisons and county jails, as well as some special facilities, such as military jails. It found that rates of inmates reporting sexual abuse in prisons and jails – 4 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively – were consistent with the findings of previous BJS studies.Using a snapshot technique, which examines the inmate population on a single day, the report states that 80,600 inmates held in prisons and jails had been sexually victimized in the preceding 12 months. Accounting for inmate turnover, however, the BJS estimates that roughly 200,000 people were sexually abused in detention in that period – a figure that has remained largely unchanged since 2007, the year the BJS issued its first report of this kind.Prisoners with mental illnesses were sexually abused at significantly higher rates than other inmates. In federal and state prisons, people with symptoms of serious psychological distress were nine times more likely than those with no symptoms of mental illness to be assaulted by another inmate (6.3 percent versus 0.7 percent). Jail inmates with symptoms of serious mental illness were five times as likely as those with no symptoms to report inmate-on-inmate abuse. Of all jail inmates, those with serious mental illnesses made up more than a quarter of the population – a rate that is well over eight times greater than that of the outside community. “The fact that so many people with mental illnesses are being locked up is, in itself, profoundly disturbing. It’s simply unacceptable that, while behind bars, these inmates are subjected to horrific sexual abuse rather than getting the help they need,” said Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s Executive Director. Consistent with previous research, LGBT inmates also reported very high levels of abuse. Among men and women who identify as not being straight, roughly one in eight prisoners (12.2 percent) and one in twelve jail inmates (8.5 percent) were sexually abused by another inmate; 5.4 percent of LGBT prisoners and 4.3 percent of LGBT jail inmates reported being victimized by staff.Other key findings in the BJS report include:

  • In both prisons and jails, staff were at least as likely as inmates to commit sexual abuse. Among state and federal prisoners, 2 percent reported an incident involving another inmate, while 2.4 percent reported being abused by facility staff. Among jail inmates, 1.6 percent reported being victimized by another inmate, compared with 1.8 percent reporting abuse by staff.
  • Youth aged 16 to 17 held in adult prisons and jails did not have significantly higher rates of sexual victimization than adult inmates. Roughly 1.8 percent of juveniles housed in prisons and jails were abused by another inmate; 3.2 percent reported staff sexual abuse.
  • In both prisons and jails, women faced higher rates of sexual abuse than men. Contrary to popular stereotypes, the rates of inmate-on-inmate abuse were four times higher in women’s institutions than in men’s institutions (6.9 percent versus 1.7 percent).
  • As prior studies have also shown, inmates who had been sexually abused before their incarceration were prime targets for yet more abuse behind bars. Roughly one in eight prisoners (12 percent) and one in twelve jail inmates (8.3 percent) who had experienced abuse earlier in life reported being sexually victimized by another inmate at their current facility. Staff sexual misconduct was reported by 6.7 percent of prisoners and 5.1 percent of jail inmates who have a history of abuse.

As required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, the BJS report identified facilities with the highest and lowest levels of sexual victimization. Four facilities were found to have high rates of both inmate-on-inmate abuse and staff sexual misconduct: Rose M. Singer Center, a New York City jail; Apalachee Correctional Institution (West/East Unit/River Junction), a Florida prison; Montana State Prison; and Clements Unit, a Texas state prison. Of the 21 facilities found to have high rates of inmate-on-inmate abuse, four were in Texas – more than any other state. New York State and Florida were tied for having the most facilities with high staff sexual misconduct; of the three New York facilities identified, two were New York City jails.

Beginning August 20, 2013, all state prisons and local jails must be in compliance with the national PREA standards. Released by the Department of Justice in May 2012, the standards lay out concrete, common sense steps detention facilities must take to protect inmates from sexual abuse. The standards also require facilities to undergo independent audits every three years; the first round of these audits will commence in August.
The BJS also surveyed military detention facilities, jails in Indian Country, and immigration detention facilities. Among the military facilities, which hold service members awaiting court-martial or who have been court-martialed, two were found to have high levels of sexual abuse. Detainees at the Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility and the Naval Consolidated Brig, Mirimar were sexually abused at a rate more than twice the national average for jails (6.6 percent versus 3.2 percent). The worst Indian Country jail was the Oglala Sioux Tribal Offenders Facility, where more than one in ten inmates reported staff sexual victimization – a higher rate than any other jail nationwide.