Violence Against Women

Report Shows Increase in Officer-on-Inmate Sexual Assault in US Prisons

A new report issued by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that allegations of rape and sexual assault by prison inmates are increasing, and that 49 percent of the alleged crimes involve correctional officers.

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

The report, which defined sexual victimization as non-consensual sexual acts, abusive touching, threats, and verbal sexual harassment, found 8,763 cases of alleged sexual abuse of inmates in a 2011 survey of administrators across federal and state prisons, local jails, military prisons, and jails in Indian country. Collectively, the survey encompasses 1.97 million inmates. Although women prisoners comprise 7 percent of state and federal prison inmates, 33 percent of staff-on-inmate incidents involved them.

The survey also showed that although reports are increasing, prosecution is not: a growing proportion of the allegations were dismissed as “unfounded” or “unsubstantiated,” and although most staff involved in misconduct cases lost their jobs, less than half were referred for prosecution and only 1 percent were convicted of a crime. Most staff members resign before their investigations come to a close, eliminating any public record of what happened and making it possible for them to remain in their field at another facility.

“These findings point to a level of impunity in our prisons and jails that is simply unacceptable,” Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International, told ProPublica. “When corrections agencies don’t punish or choose to ignore sexual abuse by staff members… they support criminal behavior.”

It is unclear whether the rising number of alleged assaults indicates a general increase in violent behavior or a growing awareness by prisoners and prison administrators.

Media Resources: Bureau of Justice 1/23/2014; ProPublica 1/27/2014; Al Jazeera 1/26/2014

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