Prison estimate of the day

The U.S. Department of Justice recently released its first-ever estimate of the number of inmates who are sexually abused in America each year. According to the department’s data, which are based on nationwide surveys of prison and jail inmates as well as young people in juvenile detention centers, at least 216,600 inmates were victimized in 2008 alone. Contrary to popular belief, most of the perpetrators were not other prisoners but staff members—corrections officials whose job it is to keep inmates safe. On average, each victim was abused between three and five times over the course of the year. The vast majority were too fearful of reprisals to seek help or file a formal complaint.

The emphasis is added, the link is here.


Hmm, I don't know if I trust prisoners based on survey data. Maybe they thought they'd get a chance to name the guards and hurt their careers.

"The vast majority were too fearful of reprisals to seek help or file a formal complaint."

So i doubt that they "get a chance to name the guards".

Precisely. The bogosity of this survey is off the charts.

Does anyone really believe that prison guards rape prisoners more than other prisoners do? Really? We all know that prisoner-on-prisoner rape is all too common; but the guards do it even more? Guards who get to retire at 45 with full pensions risk throwing it all away for the joy of raping a man? And the prisoners are afraid to report it for fear of reprisals, such as, I dunno, getting raped? They apparently think that keeping silent about a rape is a sure way to never get raped again? Really?

You need to meet a guy named Occam if you're buying this.

The other problem is this would indicate way more people are homosexual than we know. Unless this is a very nasty selection bias.

Prisoners don't have many options on the fornication menu. Guards do. That makes this strange.

Rape is almost universally more about power and control than sexual gratification, and it also doesn't have to involve intercourse. So, the survey facts would not necessarily suggest that there is a larger proportion of homosexuals among the prison guard population than we currently think (and there may not be a good way of even measuring that).

Jeez, Mike, don't get so defensive, we won't think less of you if you like to do that with other men.

Look at that, Silas, aren't you a bit of a prick.

"there is a larger proportion of homosexuals among the prison guard population than we currently think " Really? Higher than 30%?

Rape is not about power. Rape is about sex.

I think Roissy said it best: Warren Buffett does not generally have an orgasm when he clinches another deal. For example, age is inversely correlated with rape risk:

Thank you so much for posting that. What happens in US prisons is inhumane, and we have been ignoring it for too long; mainly because it is bad politics to care for criminals.

I second Noumenon. Asking prisoners if prison conditions are fine is like asking people if the compensation for their job is high enough.

Just wrong. And these inmates are supposed to re-adapt to society when their sentences are through?

All right, guys, how high is that prisoner survey bias? It'd have to be monumental to take away the horror of the survey results.

Given that it's a government survey, I'm inclined to suspect bias in the opposite direction.

Not that this condones the acts but the 216,600 number does not make sense given the data in the report. I think the author is misrepresenting the data. From the report "The estimated number of prison and jail inmates experiencing sexual victimization totaled 88,500." Table 1 in the report breaks that number down into type of victimization: inmate on inmate, staff abuse and willing activity. If you take the 88,500 and then add the break down numbers I get 221,000. Also, although about 2/3 of the victimizations are by staff members, half of those are considered as "willing" acts by the prisoners.

Note: Detail may not sum to total because inmates may report more than one type of victimization. They may also report victimization by both other inmates and staff.

I'm not sure what it means for an inmate to have "willing" sex with staff. Prison guards don't necessarily carry stun sticks all the time, but if they don't have one right this moment that isn't really enough to make it consensual, is it?

The report itself says that all sexual contact with staff is legally nonconsensual, which makes sense to me.

Interestingly, that is less than 10% of the overall prison population. If the majority of victims are indeed guards, it is probably significantly lower that that.

None of this passes the smell test, but, it does indicate that it is a minority of inmates who are sexually abused in prison.

I believe it; it gels with what we know about the psychology of abusers.

"Given that it’s a government survey, I’m inclined to suspect bias in the opposite direction."

Good point

Any survey on this topic is subject to possible bias that cannot be tested. We can start out by deciding what we want to believe and then assume that the results are biased from that. If we want to.

One possible lower bound is to look at the number of women who get pregnant in prison. Apart from possible conjual visits, no one is available for that except prison guards, who have a responsibility not to have sex with prisoners even if the women agree to sex in exchange for food, water, blankets, clothing, etc. I tried a short search which did not find statistics on conceptions in prison. I must have used the wrong keywords.

But prison rape is widely believed to be common; lots of people laugh about it as if it's an appropriate punishment.

If we instead agreed that prisoners should give up all right to privacy, we could have CCTV watching them all the time, and then we would know that the rapes happen in the times and places that the CCTV is shut off. We could track travel into and out of the areas where CCTV fails, and that would give us a baseline to estimate rapes.

I thought this line was interesting:
"corrections officials whose job it is to keep inmates safe"

Is that how their jobs are defined? I always assumed the main job of a correction official was to keep prisoners from escaping.

Most of that job is done by the wall and fences.

The guards announced it was time to lock down the pod again. As the men who had orally raped and sodomized him left his cell, Liberto says that a guard yelled at his assailants, "Did you show that white boy a good time?"
Jan. 23, 2001 SALON 'The Jail from Hell'

King served a two-year prison sentence for burglary, which suggests a predisposition to violate other people's rights. While in prison, he joined a white supremacist group and covered his body with Nazi and Klan tattoos. One psychiatrist at his trial suggested that this may have been a way to deter attacks by black inmates. Time magazine quotes another witness as saying King became part of a group known as "peckerwoods," described as "whites who would not yield money or sexual favors to blacks."

Just a few details mentioned in passing. But they are worth dwelling on. White convicts complain, unavailingly, of a particularly ugly fact of life in prisons: racial attacks on whites by non-whites. Assault, robbery and homosexual rape are commonplace. The fact that there was a special slang term among inmates in King's prison for "whites who would not yield money or sexual favors to blacks" is grim evidence of this condition. Apparently there was no need for a term for blacks who wouldn't yield money or sexual favors to whites.
March 22, 1999 'BECOMING A DEVIL' by Joseph Sobran

“Such musings inspire little confidence. Indeed, this comment supports the suspicion that the policy is based on racial stereotypes and outmoded fears about the dangers of racial integration. This Court should give no credence to such cynical, reflexive conclusions about race. …

[I]ntegrated cells encourage inmates to gain valuable cross-racial experiences…”
Justice John Paul Stevens, 2005 Johnson v. California, Ending Prison Segregation

There are probably more men than women raped in the United States every year—most of them in prison. Best estimates put the annual number of prison rapes at about 140,000, which is 50,000 more than the 90,000 or so rapes of women reported to police. Gang rape of the most brutal kind is common, and weaker prisoners often seek protection from a “daddy” who fights off other predators in exchange for total submission and sex on demand. There is an ugly racial dimension to prison rape: Blacks and Mexicans deliberately seek out white victims, and black-on-white rape is probably more common than any other kind. Prison rape is an appalling secret in a country that prides itself on human rights.

The only sure defense against rape is the willingness to fight, and even this may be no protection against gang assault. In many prisons a small, unaggressive white is sure to be raped, probably by blacks or Hispanics. As one prison guard explains, a young white has “almost zero” chance of escaping rape “unless he’s willing to stick someone with a knife and fortunate enough to have one.” Some of the tougher inmates may even fight each other for the chance to rape an effeminate young white.

As No Escape reports, Hispanics sometimes rape Hispanics, and blacks sometimes rape blacks, but neither group permits anyone of another race to rape its own people. If a black tried to “turn out” a Mexican, the Mexicans would riot and try to kill him. Blacks also defend each other from white or Hispanic rapists. It is only whites—unless they are known members of white racialist gangs who do stick together—who are on their own and can be raped with impunity.
Hard Time Cruel and unusual punishment in American prisons review of No Escape by Human Rights Watch 2005

Y'all talking about bogosity? You're missing something. Nothing in the article spoke specifically about the study being about male-on-male rape. In fact, if you read the link, the person interviewed was a female prisoner.

Would I believe that the majority of male-on-male prison rapes are perpetrated by guards? No.
Do I believe that these numbers can be explained by male prison guards assaulting (powerless, having no recourse) female prisoners? Yes.

Sounds like many of the commenter's on here have never been around the prison industry. I have family who are incarcerated (deservingly) and have known more than my fair share of prison guards; two of whom live on my block. From the stories they tell I'm quite inclined to believe, if anything, the actual number of prison rapes by guards was UNDER reported in this report. I'm also not talking so much about anal or oral sex but power prison games like sodomizing with foreign objects or masturbating on incapacitated prisoners.

Former guard here. You have to be incredibly naive to buy this.

D, you and Peter both have expert knowledge. He says that it's underreported and you say it's bogus but don't say how. Do you agree with Peter?

Former guard here. You have to be incredibly naive to buy this.

Former administrative staffer. I concur. Cell extractions are videographed, and any sexual contact is now a felony in my state. Trust me, CO's who aren't paid or appreciated nearly enough aren't looking to be incarcerated-"hey I remember you". They do a hard job and are routinely the subject of false allegations (who could figure that out). Of course federal bureacrats just think inmates are victims of "society".

Does stuff like this happen? Yes. As often as alleged in the report? Count me skeptical.

Does stuff like this happen? Yes. As often as alleged in the report? Count me skeptical.

Well, but the report didn't allege it happening a lot. People who got raped by staff apparently only got raped a few times a year. And it wasn't that many getting sexually abused in the first place.

So, one guard who rapes 2 or 3 prisoners a week would account for 50 to 75 or so rapes per year, maybe 20 to 50 prisoners. It wouldn't take very many of those to produce the sort of statistics claimed.

I knew one state prison guard who was arrested for raping a 10 year old boy (not on the job). Another guard explained to me that when you take that job you give up the right to go to prison. A CO who goes to prison for child rape will die there. But as it turned out, there was insufficient evidence and he got off.

The trouble with arguments of the sort "Nobody would be stupid enough to do X because of the bad consequences" is that real people do incredibly stupid things a whole lot.

For example, I once knew a woman who shoplifted regularly, often for things she in no way needed. Each time she took a small risk of getting caught. If she got caught, she might get arrested and have big problems from that, or the people who caught her might coerce her into disgusting sex acts etc instead. There was no good way for her to quantify the risk because she hadn't been caught yet after hundreds of successful tries -- it must have been low but how low? When I asked her in more detail about it, she got a sense of excitement from doing it and getting away with it. Also a sense of power. She would not think about the long run.

Aren't a lot of people like that? Consider how many people invested in the stock market, even knowing that another 1929-style stock market crash was inevitable....

Basicly, most people are stupid enough to do things that will have catastrophic results eventually. Arguing that they ought to be too smart to do that is completely bogus.

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