Half of Officials Found to Abuse Inmates Face No Legal Action: Many Keep Their Jobs
According to a study released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), even in substantiated cases of staff sexually abusing inmates, only half of the abusive officials were subject to any legal action. Indeed, 15 percent of confirmed staff abusers were allowed to keep their jobs. Such high levels of impunity are shocking considering that every state has a law criminalizing sexual contact between officials and inmates.
"By failing to take serious action against abusive staff, prisons and jails across the country are tacitly approving of these crimes -- a message lost on no one within these facilities. We are talking about reported and substantiated incidents of abuse by the very people who are supposed to keep inmates safe and whose salaries are paid by the taxpayers," said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International.
"Sexual Victimization Reported by Adult Correctional Authorities, 2007-2008," documents formal reports of staff sexual misconduct, staff sexual harassment, inmate-on-inmate nonconsensual sexual acts, and inmate-on-inmate abusive sexual contacts that were filed at adult facilities. Inmates filed 7,374 such complaints in 2007 and 7,444 in 2008. Approximately 14 percent of these -- or about 1,000 each year -- were "substantiated" by corrections officials upon investigation. The majority were deemed "unsubstantiated," lacking enough evidence to conclude whether or not the incident had occurred.
Reported incidents of sexual violence represent only the tip of the iceberg. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released on Monday, the Department of Justice estimated that 216,600 inmates were sexually abused in 2008. This number is based on anonymous surveys by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, conducted directly with prison and jail inmates -- and it is likely still an undercount. What's more, the total number of incidents of sexual abuse is several times higher, as many inmates are victimized again and again.
"At JDI, we hear from inmates every day who never filed a formal report, sometimes due to shame, stigma, and threats of retaliation, other times because they don't expect officials to support them if they do file a complaint. Needless to say, the common lack of a meaningful response documented by today's report has a devastating chilling effect on other inmates who have been victimized," explained Stannow.
Jan Lastocy is a case in point. She endured months of repeated rapes by an official at a Michigan women's prison. "Like most, I never told anyone I was being raped because I was afraid I would be the one to get in trouble, not the man assaulting me," Lastocy said. "The warden had made it clear that he would always believe an officer's word over that of an inmate, so I figured that reporting the rapes would serve only to lengthen my sentence, not to end the abuse."
Notably, in more than three-quarters of substantiated cases of staff sexual misconduct, the victimized inmate received no follow-up treatment, such as a forensic exam, HIV testing, or mental health counseling.
"Today's report shows the urgent need for binding national standards addressing sexual abuse behind bars," said Stannow. "Corrections facilities are clearly ill-equipped to respond properly to the victimization of inmates."
In Monday's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Department of Justice solicits public input on standards aimed at eliminating sexual abuse in detention, which the Attorney General has been reviewing for the past year and a half. Developed by a bipartisan federal commission, these recommendations are the product of years of input from corrections officials, criminal justice experts, advocates, and survivors of sexual violence. Once the 60-day public comment period comes to a close on March 24, the Justice Department will review the public's input and modify the proposals, with the aim of publishing final standards by the end of 2011.
"Sexual abuse in detention constitutes a nationwide crisis, which Attorney General Eric Holder has a historic opportunity to address by promulgating strong standards," said Stannow. "He should do so without further delay, rather than allowing officers to keep abusing inmates with impunity."
Please click here for the Bureau of Justice Statistics report: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2204.
Please click here for the Department of Justice Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/programs/pdfs/prea_nprm.pdf.