Monday, January 27, 2014

Guards May Be Responsible for Half of Prison Sexual Assaults

Last week, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released this three year survey finding that the number of inmates reporting sexual abuse by prison and jail staff is growing--up more than 10 percent since its last survey. Of course, increased reporting could be the result of other systemic factors Jailunrelated to the actual frequency of such crimes by correctional officers--e.g. improved complaint procedures and education about inmates' rights. But, as ProPublica's Joaquin Sapien reports, the survey's findings cast doubt as to the true efficacy of alerting correctional officers of allegations of sexual abuse--which, in turn, raises questions as to the likelihood that inmates would expose themselves to reporting processes quite possibly operated by those whose abuse caused the need for reporting in the first place. The title of this post comes from that report, which explains:

[E]ven 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.

14th Amendment, Prisons and Prisoners | Permalink


Post a comment