Phillip Cohen, Sex Crimes, Incarcerated, The Huffington Post, August 29, 2010
The Justice Department has released its latest estimates of sexual victimization among U.S. prisoners. The numbers, and their political context, have been discussed better by others -- including those who point out the Administration's failure to meet its legal obligations to prevent such crimes.
These numbers are extrapolated from a survey of some 80,000 inmates. Despite promises of confidentiality, then, we know there is underreporting (although there may also be overreporting). And these numbers don't include juveniles.
Among adults, the estimate is about 88,000 prisoners reporting sexual victimization in the last year, in the 2008-9 survey -- which includes non-consensual sex and assault by other prisoners, as well as any sexual contact with staff. (Since prisoners could report more than one category of victimization, the numbers add up to more then 88,000.)
It's morally offensive to dwell on the cost aspects of this situation, since the state that countenances such crimes against its prison population is as culpable as the individuals who carry them out. However absurdly, though, the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act required the government to study this problem and take steps to prevent it -- but also required that it do so at no substantial cost. Even so, as David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow argue, taking into account the true costs of the damage caused by these crimes, even a large investment to end the problem could be justified financially.