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Guards May Be Responsible for Half of Prison Sexual Assaults

Guards May Be Responsible for Half of Prison Sexual Assaults

Written by Joaquin Sapien

new Justice Department study shows that allegations of sex abuse in the nation’s prisons and jails are increasing — with correctional officers responsible for half of it  — but prosecution is still extremely rare.

The report, released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, takes data collected by correctional administrators representing all of the nation’s federal and state prisons as well as many county jails. It shows that administrators logged more than 8,000 reports of abuse to their overseers each year between 2009 and 2011, up 11 percent from the department’s previous report, which covered 2007 and 2008.

It’s not clear whether the increase is the result of better reporting or represents an actual rise in the number of incidents.

Allen Beck, the Justice Department statistician who authored the reports, told ProPublica that abuse allegations might be increasing because of growing awareness of the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act.

“It’s a matter of speculation, but certainly there’s been a considerable effort to inform staff about the dangers of sexual misconduct, so we could be seeing the impact of that,” said Beck.

The survey also shows a growing proportion of the allegations have been dismissed by prison officials as “unfounded” or “unsubstantiated.” Only about 10 percent are substantiated by an investigation.

But even in the rare cases where there is enough evidence to prove that sexual abuse occurred, and that a correctional officer is responsible for it, the perpetrator rarely faces prosecution. While most prison staff shown to be involved in sexual misconduct lost their jobs, fewer than half were referred for prosecution, and only 1 percent ultimately got convicted.

Roughly one-third of staff caught abusing prisoners are allowed to resign before the investigation comes to a close, the report concludes, meaning there’s no public record of what exactly transpired and nothing preventing them from getting a similar job at another facility.

“These findings point to a level of impunity in our prisons and jails that is simply unacceptable,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International, a prisoner advocacy group in California. “When corrections agencies don’t punish or choose to ignore sexual abuse committed by staff members — people who are paid by our tax dollars to keep inmates safe — they support criminal behavior.”

The lack of punishment may deter inmates from reporting. When the Justice Department has surveyed inmates directly, as opposed to the administrators that oversee them, the reports of abuse have been far greater. A 2013 survey estimated that more than 80,000 prisoners had been sexually victimized by fellow inmates or staff over a two-year period, roughly five times the rate reported by administrators.

“Inmates don’t report because of the way the institution handles these complaints: they’re afraid if they do report, then the staff will retaliate,” said Kim Shayo Buchanan, a law professor at the University of Southern California who studies the issue. “Even if you report and they believe you, which they probably won’t, the most likely thing to happen is that the person will be suspended or maybe fired.”

Calls for comment to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Association of State Correctional Administrators weren’t immediately returned.

 

This post was originally published in ProPublica

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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66 comments

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4:15AM PST on Feb 10, 2014

My husband is a retired corrections officer who would NEVER have allowed something like this to happen around him. Offenses of this kind do happen because some people are not nice but they are rare. Most of the corrections personnel are honest hard working people.

8:03PM PST on Feb 2, 2014

Doesn't surprise me. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I worked in a boys medium secure prison (it was a transition facility for boys who were getting ready to go from prison to freedom) and many staff and supervisors were sleeping with the youth. I turned several in only to find nothing had happened. I finally wrote DSS. The boys were bragging they were "hitting" that. Not that the boys were entirely innocent.... my first night working one young man (17 years old) asked me if I wanted him to "rock my world". I told him I didn't have sex with children and reported him. He said he was just joking, after all why would he want to sleep with an old lady. I always made sure to keep a tape recorder with me after that. I also made sure to keep a professional relationship with the boys at all times. Sex with a prisoner should be not only a fireable offense but one that keeps you from any position of trust again

1:44PM PST on Jan 31, 2014

"Roughly one-third of staff caught abusing prisoners are allowed to resign before the investigation comes to a close, the report concludes, meaning there’s no public record of what exactly transpired and nothing preventing them from getting a similar job at another facility. "

This is terrible. People in authority positions who abuse their positions I believe should have even harsher penalities to the normal for sexual assaults. What kind of world are we living in when this all becomes basically okay.

11:21AM PST on Jan 31, 2014

You've all said it for me....

3:53AM PST on Jan 31, 2014

I find myself wondering what percentage of these offenses are occurring in the for profit prisons as compared to the prisons that are actually run by the state or federal government. I'd wager that the percentage is higher in the private prisons, since the investigations cost money, and they don't want anything to eat into their profit margins.

That is one industry that very much needs to be shut down, and made illegal in this country. It's long past time for the government of this nation to stop privatizing things that really need to be run by our government. Private industry is only interested in profit, and have already been found to avoid spending money on things that are necessary by law.

12:46AM PST on Jan 30, 2014

Now there's a shocker. Not.

7:53PM PST on Jan 29, 2014

THIS IS THE NEW CORRUPT CONTINUING PRISON SYSTEM RUN BY PRIVATE COMPANIES. I CAN IMAGINE WHAT HAPPENS TO INMATES WHO TELL ON STAFF, HOWEVER, I THINK PRISONS SHOULD HAVE SURVEILLOR'S WHO WILL HONESTLY REPORT ANY WRONG DOING .........WHEN I MEAN SURVEILLANCE, I MEAN CAMERAS THAT ARE IN THE PRISON, BUT THE SURVEILLANCE IS NOT DONE BY PRISON EMPLOYEES OR BY ANYONE IN THE PRISON ITSELF.,,,,,,,,,,,,AND THE CAMERAS SHOULD BE HIDDEN AND NOT TAMPERABLE BY STAFF OR INMATES. I THINK THIS WOULD STOP THIS NEW PRIVATE BUSINESS. ALSO, THE FBI, CIA, AND INTEL, AND PRISONS LET CRIMINAL MEDIUMS RUN FREE IN THESE PLACES AND LET THESE MEDIUM'S KILL AND MAIM PEOPLE AND ANIMALS. I WOULD NOT TRUST ANY ACTUAL PRISON FACILITY. WE CITIZENS WHO SIT OUT HERE AND LET PRISON OFFICIALS GET AWAY WITH LYING ABOUT US AND THEY GET AWAY WITH ABUSE AND BEATINGS, WE SHOULD AS CITIZENS STOP THIS NOW. SOMEONE SHOULD GET UP A PETITION FOR A NEW ORGANIZATION IN THE GOVERNMENT WITH HONESTLY VETTED PEOPLE TO SURVIEL PRISONS AND REPORT ANYONE..RIGHT TO THE TOP...WE HAVE BECOME A BAD COUNTRY IMPRISONING OTHER COUNTRY'S CITIZENS MAKING OUR COUNTRY LOOK WORSE. .....ALL FOREIGN ALIENS SHOULD BE SENT HOME AND PRISONS EMPTIED OF OFFENDERS THAT ARE NOT DANGEROUS...SUCH AS USING GUNS, ETC. AND THE PROBATION SYSTEM IS OVERLOADED WITH FRIVOLOUS ISSUES.

12:36PM PST on Jan 29, 2014

Disgusting corrupt prison officals, they should all be reviewed by a 3rd party investigation.

8:24AM PST on Jan 29, 2014

Money is God ... and corruption sets the tone. How sad we've become.

6:09AM PST on Jan 29, 2014

thank you for posting

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