Minnette, our international blogger, has written the following informational and valuable blog that broaches the rarely discussed subject of sex in prison. I think you’ll find it enlightening.
Yes, I was a little concerned about some big guy raping my skinny son in the shower. Everyone has heard that story, but I wasn’t so sure it was a real thing.
Neither he nor anyone I spoke to indicated that was ever a problem. I did read that if someone is interested in you for sex, they leave a candy bar or something like that on your bunk. If you eat it, that indicates you are interested, if you are not, leave it somewhere obvious, so they know you are not interested. That said, if someone I spoke with was raped, I doubt they would have told me. There was a Prison Rape Elimination Act passed in 2003, and subsequent rules associated with the act were created in 2012 by the department of justice, but the likelihood of a prisoner complaining of sexual abuse or rape by another prisoner or an employee of the correctional system remains low. The same general advice about staying to yourself and not getting involved probably is good advice for avoiding this issue too. I also read that when someone goes to the showers, they often go with others they trust to prevent any issues. One interviewee indicated that wasn’t necessary but when you are in the shower, it’s respectful for others coming into the shower to avoid the adjacent shower stalls. This may be a safety concern and a privacy concern. People do release some of their tensions in the shower.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2015, that in 2011 there were over 8,700 allegations of sexual victimization reported under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. This includes both inmate on inmate and staff on inmate allegations, and it includes the transactions in jails, so it compares to a population of over 2 million people. It also includes being victimized by sexually harassing language and inappropriate touching, not just rape. After investigation, only 902 were substantiated, with about half being inmate on inmate and half being staff on inmate.
“An estimated 44 percent of substantiated inmate-on-inmate sexual victimizations involved physical force or threat of force, while 11 percent of staff-on-inmate sexual victimizations involved physical force, abuse of power or pressure. Victims were physically injured in 18 percent of substantiated incidents of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, compared to less than 1 percent of incidents of staff-on-inmate victimization.” It astounded me that the majority of the staff on inmate substantiated incidents were perpetrated by women staff members, but not surprisingly, most believed the inmate was a willing participant. Also interesting for inmate on inmate incidents, the most common location was in a cell, not the urban myth “drop the soap in the shower” scenario. For staff on inmate situations it was in a program area, such as the chow hall or commissary.
Although the prison system has made efforts to get inmates to report these situations, the strong prison culture of not being a snitch and the embarrassment associated with the victimization, would indicate a lot of situations are not reported.
Maintaining the common conception about rape in prison is said to be a deterrent to criminal behavior all by itself. So, the myth is perpetuated.
In Jeff Smith’s book, Mr. Smith goes to Prison, its clear boys will be boys when they are among themselves. There’s lots of talk about sex and outstanding sexual performance, and there is private masturbating going on with erotic magazines. Real erotic magazines are contraband, but they get smuggled in, just like drugs and cigarettes.
The opportunity for socially accepted, within the confines of marriage sex is available in a few state prisons. A brief history of such programs is provided in Conjugal Visits: Preserving Family Bonds Behind Bars by Patrick Rodgers on the Legal Zoom website from 2009.
“Interestingly, the origins of the conjugal visit had more to do with encouraging work than preserving marital relationships. The earliest program dates back to 1918 when James Parchmann, the warden at Mississippi State Penitentiary, introduced conjugal visits as an incentive for inmates to work harder. Sex was used as the proverbial dangling carrot for increasing inmate productivity. “
Such visits in Mississippi ended early in 2014, due to cost issues. There were 17 states that allowed such visits, but now there are just a few states that continue to allow overnight visits from family. Reporting on “State Prisons end Conjugal Visits” at the end of 2013, The Jackson Free Press article stated the following,
“In 2012, researchers writing in the American Journal of Criminal Justice found that states that have extended family-visitation programs experience significantly fewer incidents of sexual violence in their prisons. States that allowed conjugal visits had 57 incidents of sexual violence per 100,000 inmates compared to 226 incidents per 100,000 people in prison in states that lack conjugal visitation, the study found.
In a 50-state survey conducted in 2012, Yale Law School researchers called participation in such programs “a powerful incentive” for good behavior. “Allowing conjugal visitation may also decrease sexual violence within prisons. Family members and children who visit and are thus able to build and sustain more meaningful relationships with their incarcerated parent or family member may benefit tremendously. Indeed, more generally, the positive impact of visitation on visiting family and on inmates has been well documented,” the Yale researchers wrote.
Ear Hustle discusses such visits in the “Boom Boom Room”, it’s sixth episode, commented on the visits favorably. People who are eligible for a visit and have one scheduled, make every effort to stay out of trouble so the visit is not cancelled. There is positive anticipation of the visit, but indeed some sadness when it’s over. Not only does it help maintain family relationships, at San Quentin, it is set up in a cottage that recreates life outside the prison. Residents get to sleep on a more comfortable bed, nice sheets, and can cook for themselves. It’s a reminder of what is on the outside.
Unfortunately, these programs are becoming less and less common due to cost limitations, safety concerns and over the past few decades, due to most prison’s emphasis on punishment and retribution rather than rehabilitation. The same can be said for therapeutic communities discussed in the last blog. Even though their cost benefit analyses indicate they save considerably long term, immediate funding constraints close them down.
Other ways of building family relationships include father daughter dances, mommy and daughter teas, and sporting events held in prison. Some charities provide incarcerated individuals with books, one copy for them and another copy sent to their children. Then via skype, video or phone, the child and the prisoner read the book together. Some prisons allow televisits, allowing inmates to visit families remotely.
In a hopeful success story, an ex-offender used his inherent entrepreneurial skills to start a new business, pigeonly.com, to lower the cost and the time it takes to connect families with inmates. For many prisoners, interaction with people outside are their only lifeline.