JDI IN THE NEWS - ARCHIVED

Tim Smith, Rape Underreported at State Prisons, Experts Say, The Greenville News, July 19, 2001.

South Carolina prison records show two men have been raped by fellow inmates in the past three years, a figure national experts consider so off the mark it is laughable and one that at least one lawmaker said raises questions about how determined officials are about stopping violence and lawbreaking inside the state's 31 prisons.

Based on studies of other prison systems, about 1,400 inmates likely have been raped in that time. One study found 7 percent of inmates reported being raped since incarceration, and 4 percent said they had been raped in the previous three years. Some are raped repeatedly, preyed on by predators, gang raped, beaten and passed on to others for more abuse. "I know as a matter of utter and complete moral certainty that those (South Carolina's figures) are bogus numbers," said Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., who is drafting federal legislation to reduce prison rape.

Gary Maynard, who took over as director of the state's prisons in May, said he believes the number is higher than the numbers reported, but finding the truth is difficult.

"There is a failure to report, even when there is a sufficient opportunity to report," he said. "I think it's not nearly as much as the general public would think."

State Sen. David Thomas, a Greenville Republican who until January chaired the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee, said the rapes reported are "artificially" low and provide more evidence the system is trying to hide its problems.

"This is a different angle on the same problem of the department having a clear-cut self-interest in trying to whitewash the negative things that are there and to cover them up," Thomas said, referring to last year's revelations of sexual misconduct between guards and inmates.

"It fits into the pattern. The fact that their numbers are artificially low just gives credence to the fact that they don't want to see the truth and certainly don't want to act on it."

Thomas said he was not aware of the statistics until questioned by The Greenville News.

"I think if we had seen such numbers, the committee would have risen up and said, 'Wait a minute. That number doesn't sound right,' " he said.

Thomas said he hopes Maynard will provide a more realistic picture of sexual assaults "and clean up this department."

"It's a dirty secret that unfortunately is well known nationwide," Thomas said.

Maynard said the problem with studying inmate sexual assault is that research often depends on whether inmates tell the truth. Some victims deny assaults, he said, while others make false claims.

But national experts say the problem is inmates don't report it, largely because prison systems make it difficult or dangerous to do so. Some use rape as a management tool, said Tom Cahill, president of Stop Prison Rape, a California organization. Prison officials have threatened troublemakers with being placed in rapists' cells. Sometimes, he said, they allow assaults to control violent prisoners.

A spokeswoman for South Carolina's prison agency said the system does not use sexual assault to manage prisoners.

Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia lawyer and former prosecutor, said serial murderer Pee Wee Gaskins, who was executed in 1991 for murdering a fellow inmate with a pipe bomb, regularly raped other prisoners.

"He would rape young, newly arrives at will," said Harpootlian, who prosecuted Gaskins.

Bob Pitts Jr., who retired two years ago after a long career as a parole agent in South Carolina prisons, said he regularly heard men crying from sexual assaults.

"Unfortunately, I just didn't do anything about it," he said. "It was something that just wasn't reported."

Likewise, Eunice McAllister, a longtime prisoner advocate in South Carolina, said, "It's ongoing all the time."

A study conducted by the University of South Dakota showed 21 percent of inmates are sexually assaulted. Human Rights Watch, a New York City-based organization that monitors rights violations worldwide, reported that a survey of guards in a southern state it did not identify showed one out of five inmates are victims of forced sex. The targets are most often young and slight. Sometimes, they are in prison for nonviolent crimes, such as using drugs, passing bad checks, stealing cars.

The abuse leaves lifelong scars, always psychological, sometimes physical. Anal intercourse is the most common way of passing AIDS, and until 1998, inmates with HIV lived among the general prison population. Now, all inmates are tested as they come in and the 460 males who have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS are segregated in their cells at Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia but mix with the general population during daytime programs.

Rage is common among victims, experts say, as is depression and suicide attempts.

Most inmates say they do not report incidents out of fear of retaliation, said Cindy Struckman-Johnson, the University of South Dakota professor who studied seven prisons in the Midwest. Those who do report do not fare well, she said.

In South Carolina, prosecutors declined to prosecute two cases because no witnesses other than the victim would testify. One trial is pending; the other was never referred to a prosecutor, prison officials said.

The four inmates accused of sexual assault have been punished within the prison system. One was confined to his cell for 30 days. Another lost a year of "good time," records show.

In two cases, different inmates assaulted the same inmate during the same week of February 2000. Both lost 240 days good time, records show. One inmate who told investigators he brandished a homemade knife as he raped another prisoner lost 480 days of good time, records show.

Circuit Judge Joe Watson, a former prosecutor for Greenville and Pickens counties, said he tried one or two cases of inmate sexual assault during his 12 years in office.

He said he believes more rapes happen in prison than the numbers reported and that they are low because inmates don't report because they think not much can be done.

Joann Morton, a criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina and a state prison administrator from 1976 until 1988, said inmates fear the consequences of reporting, and prison officials don't want to hear about it.

"Prison administrators, generally, don't want to admit cases of homosexual rape because that generally means your prison is not that well run," she said.

Bob Demond, a national consultant who has written and studied the issue for two decades, said he believes prison systems trade a greater evil for a lesser evil. Once an inmate has been raped, he is a target, not only at the prison he's in but any he may be sent to.

Cahill and other experts believe prison rape continues because the public doesn't care.

"There still is an underlying belief that if you're in prison and you report being sexually assaulted that you somehow caused this to happen to you," Demond said. "It's almost like what happened to women 25 years ago."