Saturday, March 20, 2010

Prison Rape: NYRB Series and CA Report

I wanted to draw your attention to Sasha Natapoff's recent post on Prawfsblawg about prison rape. She links to a two-part essay in the New York Review of Books about the variation in state efforts to stop prison rape. I really recommend the post.

There is also a California angle: UC Irvine researchers at the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections prepared a 2007 report to CDCR about sexual assault in CA institutions. Conducting face-to-face interviews with 322 randomly-selected inmates, Val Jenness, et al., found great variance in the frequency of assaults: 4% of the interviewee sample reported being sexually assaulted in a CA institution, but the rates were much higher among special populations: 59% of transgender inmates reported abuse. While sexual assault was prevalent for almost all inmates, non-heterosexual inmates and Black inmates were considerable more vulnerable to sexual assault.. There was also a strong correlation between victimization and mental health problems. The report includes some details about the characteristics of incidents, notably the gang context of many incidents, and the difficulty in labeling incidents as coercive, as opposed to "part of prison life", even when all incidents invoke fear, self-blame, and subsequent problems. Jenness et al also address overcrowding as a contributing factor to sexual assault incidents.


Tom said...

Breezed over the report and the postings. For the most part, it looks like the biggest part of the problem is against victims who are, in a sense, "easy targets", i.e.: already vulnerable prisoners who aren't likely to resist very effectively and against whom the perpetrators probably didn't need to use very much force or fear to control (and from whom the perpetrators probably had less fear of either retaliation or credible informing). I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the perpetrators were able to convince themselves that it wasn't even "rape", that the victims were pretty much "there for the taking" because of their status (as transgender, or homosexual, or whatever). In other words, prison rape may, in the largest measure, look an awful lot like most rapes in the free world: a crime of opportunity and happenstance as much as anything.

I can imagine that running a "humonitarian" mill with 170,000 moving parts doesn't afford a lot of options for making fine classifications and housing decisions with regards to vulnerable or identity-variant prisoners.

Hadar Aviram said...

Yes, the economy of scale is staggering. And yet, the needs of individuals in such cases cannot be ignored.

Incidentally, I had the chance to hear some talks this week at the UC Hastings Transposium ( The difficulties of trans folk in the criminal justice system--and particularly in juvenile institutions and placements--are rather unique and require specialized training, even of well-meaning folks who just don't know how to treat one and what to do. Housing decisions, as you say, Tom, is a big one. So is curtailing gender expressions, which I thought might have some link to safety ("if he doesn't dress like a girl the other kids won't abuse him"). The good news is that there are some organizations who know what is best to do in these situations, and the bad news is that the information has not been disseminated widely enough.