Reports of Prisoner Rape Compared to UFO Sightings
Day One of the Justice Department Hearings on Sexual Abuse in Jails
Media Contact: Chris Daley
Yesterday, a few corrections officials offered some interesting theories as to why their facilities had been found to have high rates of sexual abuse.
Officials from three jails -- Orleans Parish Prison in Louisiana, Clallam County Jail in Washington, and Miami-Dade County Pre-Trial Detention Center in Florida -- testified before the U.S. Department of Justice's Review Panel on Prison Rape, after their facilities were found to have a very high prevalence of sexual abuse and sexual harassment.
The facilities were selected based on the findings in Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2008-09, a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
Officials from Orleans Parish Prison and Clallam County Jail called the BJS statistics into question, denying that their facilities had such high rates of abuse. Orleans Parish Prison officials claimed that inmates falsely reported abuse in return for "bags of cookies" offered by the survey administrators -- prompting lead BJS researcher Allen Beck to point out that there was no difference in average rates of sexual victimization between cookie and non-cookie facilities.
Clallam County Sheriff, Bill Benedict, equated inmates' reports of sexual abuse to other "cultural delusions," such as UFO sightings. Despite this, Sheriff Benedict acknowledged that sexual assault does happen and detailed steps his department is taking to fulfill the Panel's recommendations.
In stark contrast to those from Orleans Parish and Clallam County, officials from Miami-Dade County did not dispute the BJS numbers, but rather focused on the many changes they have made at their facility since the publication of the BJS report. The Review Panel complimented them on those changes and pointed out other steps the officials could take to improve inmate safety. In response, Miami-Dade Director Timothy Ryan cited JDI's pilot peer education project in California as a model he would like to adopt to increase awareness about sexual abuse among inmates.
Yesterday's widely diverging testimony is a good reminder both of how far we've come, and how far we still have to go in ending the disgraceful sexual abuse that happens every day in U.S. detention facilities.
"Let's hope that Miami-Dade County will serve as an inspiration to Orleans Parish Prison and Clallam County Jail," said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of JDI. "It's time to get serious about ending prisoner rape."
The review panel reconvened today to hear testimony from Russell Robinson, an expert in the special vulnerability of many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender inmates, and corrections officials from David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Oklahoma and Hinds County Work Center in Mississippi.
JDI is sharing live updates from the hearings via Twitter @JustDetention, using #jailrapehrng.
The Review Panel hearings will be held at the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, 810 7th St NW, 3rd Floor, Washington, DC 20531.
--More information on the Review Panel hearings is available here.
--The Bureau of Justice Statistics report can be found here.