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September 03, 2010

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Also fun reading: Human Rights Watch's 2001 report on male prison rape.

I'll try for a less downbeat post tomorrow, ok?

correct me if I'm wrong, but these numbers don't show the real extent of the problem, because they only include rape that has been reported by the victim to the authorities. Its likely that far more sexual assault goes unreported because of shame and/or fear of retaliation, and/or the lack of a response by prison authorities.

Oh, yes, I meant to mention the problem of under-reporting, but I was also striving to not go overlong on a post that's already on a repellent topic and heavy with numbers and official reportese.

In any case, sure, obviously lots of assaults go unreported because those reporting typically aren't protected; this can be changed for the better.

Obviously, nobody is going to be stopping all prison assaults and rapes. But we can lower the occurrence a great deal.

Of course, the problems of our overall justice system are systemic and constitute a crime of the worst sort.

Meanwhile, last year: Netherlands to close prisons for lack of criminals.

And, as I mentioned: "The BJS numbers don’t include thousands who we know are sexually abused in juvenile detention and other kinds of corrections facilities every year, nor do they account for the constant turnover among jailed detainees. Stays in jail are typically short, and several times as many people pass through jail in a year as are held there on any given day. Overall, we can confidently say that well over 100,000 people are sexually abused in American detention facilities every year."

Although there are lots of exceptions, and cross-contracts, loosely speaking, jail is where you get put when you're arrested, and awaiting trial or sentencing. Prison is where you go after you're sentenced.

I joined a Yahoo discussion group awhile back, which I almost quit in disgust because one of the first posts I read included a -- yuck, yuck -- prison rape joke, and the poster refused to apologize for it, and most of the membership attacked me for my humorless attitude.

It did, in the end, have a beneficial outcome, and I think all parties involved saw things more clearly afterward, but it was very disturbing to see so many people I had thought of as intelligent and thoughtful and compassionate run into a brick wall when it came to thinking about prison rape.

Yeah, it's one of those issues and dynamics where one will walk into, metaphorically or literally, a conversation undergoing a round of prison rape jokes,and one's alternatives are either to come across as a humorless putz, or to acquiesce in letting that sort of thing pass as acceptable.

Neither tends to leave one feeling good.

Of course, this is just a subset of the entire range of issues one has to make such conversational decisions about.

"But why should I care for monsters, rapists, mass murders, and other scum, you ask? Setting aside that many people in prison are innocent, ..."

More to the point, I think, even the guilty people in prison didn't stop being human beings when they were convicted. It's a poor system of morals that only extends compassion selectively.

(To be perfectly clear, I'm not suggesting Gary Farber thinks guilty people in prison aren't worthy of compassion. I have, however, met enough people online who do...usually self-proclaimed Christians, which is extra-special ironic...that I think the point is worth mentioning.)

Way to come back Gary!

I think many people are naïve or total denial about the way prison’s power structures are organized.

It is a myth, that child rapist will be placed on the bottom of the “social structure”. The smallest and weakest men will be placed on the bottom and most child rapist tend to be weak and small. Or men with no prior relationships with prison gangs. However, if the child rapist is a big powerful imposing man or/and with relationships with influential gangs, he will be treated with the deference that position demands.

I think our culture enjoys imagining a type of righteous justice existing behind bars, but the jail and prison systems reflect the culture, outside. Power and influence are what matters.

Bye italics?

Who do you suppose these men are raping and beating when they're not incarcerated? Statistics say that one in three women and girls will be beaten or raped (or both) in their lifetime. While it is crucial to expose and work against prison assaults, it's also important to address the larger issue in our society.

Who do you suppose these men are raping and beating when they're not incarcerated?

From Gary's post:

•Female inmates in prison (4.7%) or jail (3.1%) were more than twice as likely as male inmates in prison (1.9%) or jail (1.3%) to report experiencing inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization.

That is, not all perpetrators are men.

I fixed the italics! (Hey, it's not as if I'm familiar with this software.)

Hi, everyone!

It's true that not all perpetrators in prison are male, although females are probably more likely to report sexual assaults.

I was agreeing with SOD that we need to address the issues in our society at large. When we hear about the violent sexual assaults of males in prison it really seems to clarify the experience of terror, pain, humiliation, subjugation, and life altering damage that is done to the victims in ways that we may not always consider when girls and women who are "free" are victimized. If we don't address it all, nothing will be solved.

Gary, it is great to see you here again.

What I don't understand is why prisoners who have been raped aren't entitled to cash awards from the government. I mean, they're prisoners. They can't leave. By definition. The government assumes responsibility for them. If the government refused to give them food or water or shelter from the elements, they'd be entitled to relief, right? But when the government prevents them from doing any of the things that might prevent sexual assault, surely the government then adopts some responsibility the consequences, right?

But putting aside small matters like justice and basic human dignity, I really don't get why governments don't view prison rape as a huge problem from a purely practical perspective. We like to imprison people for really long periods of time. Prison rape is an awesome way of infecting lots of prisoners with horrifically expensive chronic diseases. Diseases whose treatment we have to pay for. I mean, you'd think that some state government or prison guard union could throw together a study showing that if they increased the number of guards by X% so as to reduce the incidence of prisoner rape by Y%, they'd eliminate $Z billion of long term healthcare costs and then shop it around a state capital. I've given up on Americans caring about justice and dignity, but I'm still a little shocked at how pointlessly wasteful the whole epidemic is.

That is, not all perpetrators are men.

Surprisingly, at least to me, another highlight that Gary didn't include states:

Most victims of staff sexual misconduct were males; most
perpetrators were females. Among male victims of staff
sexual misconduct, 69% of those in prison and 64% of
those in jails reported sexual activity with female staff. An
additional 16% of prison inmates and 18% of jail inmates
reported sexual activity with both female and male staff.

Turb,

you'd think that some state government or prison guard union could throw together a study showing that if they increased the number of guards by X% so as to reduce the incidence of prisoner rape by Y%, they'd eliminate $Z billion of long term healthcare costs and then shop it around a state capital.

This is true if by "you" in "you'd think" you mean Gary, or any of a substantial number of other individuals, including me. If you mean "pretty much anyone," I don't think it's true.

I'm not trying to claim sainthood. But the fact is, as Gary suggests, that a large portion of the population does not care what happens to prisoners, and many even regard these assaults as part of the punishment. Hey, what do you want, country club prisons?

a large portion of the population does not care what happens to prisoners, and many even regard these assaults as part of the punishment. Hey, what do you want, country club prisons?

I'm sure you're right, Bernard, although I'd lean more toward the second point than the first: I think plenty of people *do* care, but not in a good way.

I would guess that sadism and 'whistling in the dark' (or desire, for that matter) are often tangled up together. I think people make prison rape jokes, or titter nervously at them, for reasons similar to the ones which compel people to, quite gratuitously, ridicule poverty or poor people. It may be a kind of a distancing mechanism: 'THAT can never happen to ME...right?'

It's the self-perpetuating 'genius' of a hierarchical, harsh capitalist (in this case) culture, with its atomization of the individual/family, that fear overpowers humanity; rather than looking up at who's repressing and ripping them off, people tend to focus downward, and furiously despise people worse off than them. So when *their* number comes up, they either don't see it coming, or react in a completely ineffectual, or incoherent, or even counterproductive way (like joining a Tea Party).

Also, those jokes are the one socially semi-acceptable way for putatively straight men to yak about both anal sex, and about rape itself.

Welcome back, Gary! Very good post. I haven't yet clickeed the linkees, but I shall before the weekend is out. It pleases me to see you writing in this forum.

In the meantime, everyone, please don't click on the name of the person whose typepad account is a URL. I don't know what happens, nor do I care to find out, but it may be something malicious.

Gary, bless you for taking the time and energy to write this out with such detail.

I'm not trying to claim sainthood. But the fact is, as Gary suggests, that a large portion of the population does not care what happens to prisoners, and many even regard these assaults as part of the punishment. Hey, what do you want, country club prisons?

I get that, but I expect government officials to try and save cash during budget crises. And I expect prison guard unions to advocate for policies that lead to more prison guard hours or pay. My point is: reducing prison rape incidence could be very profitable for some people....

I know that there are people that would consider prison rape stories as a powerful deterrent*. If people hear them they will try everything not to come into conflict with the law => less crime => less go to prison => less cost. I guess these are the same that consider capital punishment today as too 'humane' and thus not deterrent enough.

*used as such for example in a German anti-piracy TV/cinema ad.

Of course, the problems of our overall justice system are systemic and constitute a crime of the worst sort.

Agree. Sadly, it is a crime that has so far gone unpunished.

Turb,

I get that, but I expect government officials to try and save cash during budget crises. And I expect prison guard unions to advocate for policies that lead to more prison guard hours or pay.

Stop being rational. You're smarter than that.

I can see the union campaign now:

"Let's spend more money on guards to reduce prison violence and long term health care costs for prisoners."

That'll be a winner all right.

I think the solutions are:

1. A reduction in incarceration rates. That reduces the number, if not the rate, of rape and other violent acts. It also reduces crowding which, I suppose, will also reduce the rate of violence.

2. A change in the definition of the state's responsibility to prisoners. This likely will have to be judicially imposed, probably by some liberal "judicial activist," who decides that putting prisoners in predictably violent situations is just as "cruel and unusual" as inflicting violent punishments directly.

I agree with Turbulence, but the political ads against such measures write themselves:

"Liberals say they want to "help" stop rape and assault among their criminal constituents in the prisons, but they really want to reward their public employee union thugs who will rape YOU -- the taxpayer!"

Then, some grainy black and white footage of a prison guard pushing a poor beleaguered taxpayer into a cell full of swarthy, vaguely Muslim-looking gangbangers and locking the cell door behind him.

Further, I suspect another difference between publicly-run versus privately-run prisons is that you get pretty much the same amount of rape and assault behind the bars of the privately-run prisons, but with lower overhead costs and fewer personnel.

Anal violation behind bars tends to gross out the American public, yes, but what will really stoke a tea party revival on the Washington Mall is if the anal violation is administered inefficiently and with too many highly paid bureaucrats standing between the violator and the violated.

I have no statistics at hand but from what I hear it is worse in many private prisons because they want to make a profit => save money => hire cheap, unqualified personnel and not enough of it in any case.

I think the problem is something like this:

A) I think it's pretty much a given that people with that petty criminals be rehabilitated by the prison system.

B) But some criminals, such as people who rape children, lots of people would like to see have what they think the worst possible punishment visited upon.

C) That an environment where B) can occur also pretty much runs counter to A) on a frequent basis doesn't seem to compute.

Speaking as someone who has rooted for B), from time to time, yet realized that C) holds, and also wants A), I have been guilty of holding mutually contradictory ideas.

Speaking as someone who has rooted for B), from time to time, yet realized that C) holds, and also wants A), I have been guilty of holding mutually contradictory ideas.

What's this?

A blog commenter admits to ambivalence and inconsistency on an issue under discussion?

Must be a historic first on the Internet.

Related: Senator Jim Webb made a promising beginning to a campaign of some cpmrehensive prison reform, but his efforts seem to have stalled.

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Whatnot


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