First-Ever National Survey of Prisoners Shows Widespread Sexual Abuse in Detention
Stop Prisoner Rape, Los Angeles, December 16, 2007. A national survey of inmates, released today by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), confirms that sexual abuse plagues American prisons, derailing justice and shattering human dignity. According to the report, an estimated 60,500 inmates held at state and federal prisons were subjected to sexual abuse in the past year alone.
Today’s National Inmate Survey (NIS) is the first of its kind and covers more than 1.3 of the 2.4 million people currently in detention in the United States. Detainees held at county jails, juvenile facilities, and immigration detention centers were not included in the survey, nor were prisoners at half-way houses. The research method used in the new report – asking prisoners directly and anonymously whether they had been subjected to sexual abuse in the past 12 months – sets it apart from previous attempts by the federal government to study the problem, which have relied entirely on data submitted by corrections officials.
“We know from speaking daily with prisoner rape survivors that the vast majority will never file a formal complaint, for fear of retaliation, stigma, or further abuse,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR). “Not surprisingly, today’s report establishes a 15 times higher rate of sexual abuse than an analysis of formal inmate complaints over a one-year period, published by the BJS four months ago.”
Garrett Cunningham, a prisoner rape survivor from Texas and a member of SPR’s Board of Directors, is a case in point. “After being raped by a prison guard, I was devastated and terrified. I felt sure that filing a formal complaint with the perpetrator’s colleagues would only have made my situation worse.”
In today’s report, the BJS identifies the U.S. prisons with the highest and the lowest rates of sexual abuse. Alarmingly, five of the ten worst facilities are prisons run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). This finding confirms SPR’s own data, based on letters the organization has received from some 900 prisoner rape survivors nationwide; 20 percent of these letters come from men and women held in TDCJ facilities.
SPR urges corrections officials across the country to consider today’s BJS report a wake-up call. “When the government makes the grave decision to remove a person’s liberty, it takes on the responsibility to guarantee his or her physical safety,” said Ms. Stannow. “Whether perpetrated by staff or by inmates, sexual abuse in detention is a problem of poor prison policies and practices. It is not an inevitable fact of life behind bars.”
An international human rights organization, Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR) is the only group in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to eliminating sexual violence against men, women, and youth in detention. SPR was instrumental in securing passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, which mandated the BJS to conduct the NIS and publish the report released today.
For more information, visit www.spr.org or call Lovisa Stannow at 213-384-1400 (ext. 103) or 310-617-4350 (cell).
Click here to read the BJS report: Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates, 2007