4 percent report sexual victimization in prison

CBS News

Female and LGBT inmates - as well as inmates identified with mental health problems - are more likely than other prison and jail inmates to report sexual victimization, according to a newly-released report from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

An estimated 80,000 inmates - 57,900 in prisons and 22,700 in jails - reported one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staffer within the previous 12 months or since they were admitted to a facility, the report found.

That includes 3.2 percent of those held in jails, which typically hold people waiting for trial and those with shorter sentences, and 4 percent of inmates held in prisons. These figures are consistent with past BJS findings.

Incidents of victimization were the result of interactions with both other prisoners and facility staff. Overall, 2.4 percent of prison inmates reported having had sex or sexual contact with facility staff, while 2 percent reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization; 1.8 percent of jail inmates reported sexual contact with staff, while 1.6 percent reported inmate-on-inmate victimization.

Just over 1 percent of prisoners and 0.7 percent of those in jail reported at least one incident of non-consensual sex with another inmate, either oral, anal, vaginal or from manual stimulation. Roughly half of those who reported staff sexual victimization said the sexual contact was consensual, though such contact is legally considered non-consensual.

The findings come from the BJS's third National Inmate Survey, taken between February 2011 and May 2012 in 233 state and federal prisons, 358 jails and 15 other facilities. It was administered to 92,449 adult inmates and 1,738 juveniles in state prisons and local jails, with the findings extrapolated across the corrections system. The findings were reported first on CBSNews.com.

Most inmates responded by entering answers on a computer touch screen, with their responses and identities kept confidential. Because the responses are self-reported, it is impossible to know the degree to which the findings under- or over-represent actual incidents of sexual victimization.

Inmates who self-identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or other reported higher incidences of sexual victimization than other inmates. Just over 12 percent of non-heterosexual prisoners and 8.5 percent of non-heterosexual jail inmates reported being sexually victimized by another inmate. Around five-and-a-half percent of non-heterosexual prisoners and 4.3 percent of non-heterosexual jail inmates reported being sexually victimized by staff.

Sexual victimization is defined as "all types of unwanted sexual activity with other inmates, abusive sexual activity with other inmates and both willing and unwilling sexual activity with staff."

Victimization rates were also higher among those identified with mental health problems - 6.3 percent of prison inmates and 3.6 percent of jail inmates "with serious psychological distress" reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization.

"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, Executive Director of Just Detention International, which is seeking to end sexual abuse in prison.

Rates were also higher among women, whites and the highly-educated - 6.9 percent of female prison inmates reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, compared to 1.7 percent of males. Whites in prison reported victimization at higher rates (2.9 percent) than blacks in prison (1.3 percent). In addition, prison inmates with college degrees reported victimization at higher rates (2.7 percent) than those who had not completed high school (1.9 percent). Similar results were found among jail inmates.

16- and 17-year-olds behind bars reported incidences of sexual victimization similar to adult prisoners. 

The report also listed nearly 50 facilities with what were found to be high rates of either staff or inmate-on-inmate victimization. They were led by the Northwest Florida Reception Center and Santa Rosa Corrections Institute (Florida) prisons for men, and the Mabel Basset Correction Center (Oklahoma) and Denver Women's Corrections Facility (Colorado) prisons for women. The highest rates of misconduct in jails were both found to be in Indiana, at the Ripley County Jail and the Marion County Jail intake facility.

Four of the 21 facilities found to have high rates of inmate-on-inmate victimization were in Texas, more than any other state. Both New York and Florida had three facilities with high incidences of staff sexual victimization, more than any other state. 

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