Prison Rape and the Government

Sexual Victimization Reported by Adult Correctional Authorities, 2007–2008

by Allen J. Beck and Paul Guerino
Bureau of Justice Statistics, 62 pp., available at bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov

National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

by the United States Department of Justice
Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 23 (February 3, 2011), 56 pp., available at federalregister.gov/a/2011-1905

Initial Regulatory Impact Analysis for Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Proposed National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)

by the United States Department of Justice
(January 24, 2011), 65 pp., available at ojp.usdoj.gov/programs/pdfs/prea_nprm_iria.pdf
dkaiser_2-032410.jpg
Eli Reed/Magnum Photos
Female inmates locked down in the Maricopa County Jail, Phoenix, Arizona, 1998

Back in 1998, Jan Lastocy was serving time for attempted embezzlement in a Michigan prison. Her job was working at a warehouse for a nearby men’s prison. She got along well with two of the corrections officers who supervised her, but she thought the third was creepy. “He was always talking about how much power he had,” she said, “how he liked being able to write someone a ticket just for looking at him funny.” Then, one day, he raped her.

Jan wanted to tell someone, but the warden had made it clear that she would always believe an officer’s word over an inmate’s, and didn’t like “troublemakers.” If Jan had gone to the officers she trusted, they would have had to repeat her story to the same warden. Jan was only a few months away from release to a halfway house. She was desperate to get out of prison, to return to her husband and children. So she kept quiet—and the officer raped her again, and again. There were plenty of secluded places in the huge warehouse, behind piles of crates or in the freezer. Three or four times a week he would assault her, from June all the way through December, and the whole time she was too terrified to report the attacks. Later, she would be tormented by guilt for not speaking out, because the same officer went on to rape other women at the prison. In a poem, Jan wrote:

These are a few of the reasons why prisoners fear reporting rape.
Fear of being written up and possibly losing good time.
Fear of retaliation.
Fear of feeling that no one will believe them.
Fear of feeling that no one really cares.

For all these reasons, a large majority of inmates who have been sexually abused by staff or by other inmates never report it.1 And corrections officials, with some brave exceptions, have historically taken advantage of this reluctance to downplay or even deny the problem. According to a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a branch of the Department of Justice, there were only 7,444 official allegations of sexual abuse in detention in 2008, and of those, only 931 were substantiated. These are absurdly low figures. But perhaps more shocking is that even when authorities confirmed that corrections staff had sexually abused inmates in their care, only 42 percent of those officers had their cases referred to prosecution; only 23 percent were arrested, and only 3 percent charged, indicted, or convicted. Fifteen percent were actually allowed to keep their jobs.

How many people are really victimized every year? Recent BJS studies using a “snapshot” technique have found that, of those incarcerated on the days the surveys were administered, about…


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