Nearly one in 10 prisoners suffer sexual abuse while incarcerated in state prisons, local jails and post-release treatment facilities, according to a report published Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The report, based on the first National Former Prisoners Survey, includes data from 518,800 former prisoners who were on supervised parole in mid-2008.
An estimated 3.7 percent said they were forced or pressured to have nonconsensual sex with another inmate. About 5.3 percent reported an incident that involved facility staff.
The report’s publication coincides with the Justice Department's release of landmark federal standards to protect inmates in all federal, state and local facilities, under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.
"For too long, incidents of sexual abuse against incarcerated persons have not been taken as seriously as sexual abuse outside prison walls," the Justice Department said in a statement on the standards. "In popular culture, prison rape is often the subject of jokes; in public discourse, it has been at times dismissed by some as an inevitable — or even deserved — consequence of criminality."
A quarter of those who reported they had suffered unwanted sexual contact at the hands of other inmates said they had been physically held down or restrained and a quarter had been physically harmed or injured. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) reported serious injuries, including anal/vaginal tearing (12 percent), chipped or lost teeth (12 percent), being knocked unconscious (8 percent), internal injuries (6 percent), knife/stab wounds (4 percent) or broken bones (4 percent), according to the survey of former prisoners.
Although any sexual contact between staff and inmates is legally nonconsensual, former prisoners said some incidents were unwilling and some were "willing."
Most victims of staff sexual misconduct reported some type of coercion. Half said they had been offered favors or special privileges and a third said they had been talked into it. Nearly 7 in 8 in this category reported only perpetrators of the opposite sex. More than three-quarters of all reported staff sexual misconduct involved a male inmate with female staff.
The rate of victimization by other inmates was reported by homosexual (39 percent) and bisexual male inmates (34 percent) at rates about 10 times higher than those reported by heterosexual males (3.5 percent).
In other findings, the report said inmates of two or more races (11.3 percent) and black non-Hispanics (6.5 percent) suffered sexual victimization at rates higher than white non-Hispanic inmates (4.5 percent) and Hispanic inmates (4 percent).
The survey was part of the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Prison Rape Statistics Program, which has collected administrative records of reported sexual violence or allegations of sexual victimization directly from victims since 2004.
The new standards require an array of measures to prevent and handle sexual abuse involving prisoners, including additional staff training, grievance reporting systems, increased staff and video monitoring, prompt medical and psychological attention for victims, and disciplinary actions for staff or inmate perpetrators.
"The standards we establish today reflect the fact that sexual assault crimes committed within our correctional facilities can have devastating consequences — for individual victims and for communities far beyond our jails and prisons," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
The standards will go into effect for federal facilities in 60 days. States that do not comply or demonstrate that they are working toward complying with the standards face the loss of relevant federal funds.
In drafting the standards, the Justice Department was prohibited from placing an undue financial burden on the states. It collected public comment, and haggled with officials from states, a wide array of advocacy groups and other stakeholders, a department official said, explaining why the standards were instituted nine years after the law was passed.
"These standards are the result of a thoughtful and deliberative process — and represent a critical step forward in protecting the rights and safety of all Americans," Holder said.
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