WASHINGTON, July 31 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice released its first statistical report on prison rape and abuse on Sunday, but acknowledged that much sexual violence in prisons was probably never reported.
In a report required by the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, the Justice Department's statistical arm measured sexual violence officially reported to prison authorities last year.
The report concluded that there were an estimated 8,210 incidents in the nation's prisons and jails, which hold about 2.1 million inmates.
But the report itself warned that there was no reliable estimate of unreported sexual victimization behind bars.
"Administrative records cannot alone provide reliable estimates of sexual violence," wrote statisticians Allen Beck and Timothy Hughes. "Due to fear of reprisal from perpetrators, a code of silence among inmates, personal embarrassment and lack of trust in staff, victims are often reluctant to report incidents to correctional authorities."
The prison rape act also established a commission that is due to begin hearing testimony on the issue next month. It also mandated better training for prison staff and the establishment of a safe reporting system for victims.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics is working on a computer questionnaire inmates will be able to answer anonymously without fear of reprisal. They expect to test it in 10 state and five federal prisons later this year.
They also plan to survey former and soon-to-be-released inmates who might be more likely to answer questions without fear of reprisal.
"They have a lot more reporting to do. Once the anonymous survey is completed, I think we'll see numbers that are far higher," said Kara Gotsch of the American Civil Liberties Union prison project.
Lovisa Stannow of Stop Prisoner Rape said: "This report represents an important step forward because there is such a lack of reliable data. But these numbers are the tip of the iceberg because most victims never bother to report their abuse."
Nearly 42 percent of the reported allegations of sexual violence involved staff sexual misconduct toward inmates; 37 percent were nonconsensual sexual acts by inmates on fellow prisoners; 11 percent involved sexual harassment by staff that fell short of actual abuse and the rest abusive sexual contacts by inmates that fell short of actual rape.
In state-operated juvenile facilities, which are often required by law to record all allegations and report them to law enforcement authorities and child protective services, allegations of staff sexual misconduct ran proportionately almost 10 times higher than for adult facilities.
Of allegations made in state prisons for which investigations were complete, 18 percent of inmate on inmate rapes were substantiated. Thirty percent of allegations of staff sexual misconduct were substantiated.
"The most common outcome of investigations of sexual violence was a determination of lack of evidence," the report found. Prison activists say it was very difficult to prove a rape unless there was actual DNA evidence. Otherwise, it was usually one inmate's word against another, or an inmate's word against that of a prison guard.
Women, who are less than 10 percent of the prison population, made up almost half of the victims of abusive sexual contact in state prisons.
By far the highest number of rape allegations happened in Texas with 550. Of those, only 13 were substantiated.
NEWS RELEASE: JULY 31, 2005
Bureau of Justice Statistics
Almost 2,100 Sexual Violence Incidents Took Place In The Nation's Correctional Facilities During 2004
WASHINGTON, D.C. - State and federal correctional authorities substantiated nearly 2,100 incidents of sexual violence in adult prisons, local jails and juvenile facilities during 2004, according to a Department of Justice report released today. The Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) said this represented one-third of all completed investigations into alleged sexual violence behind bars.
During 2004, an estimated 8,210 allegations of sexual violence were reported by correctional authorities-the equivalent of 3.2 allegations per 1,000 inmates and youths incarcerated in 2004.
State and federal prison systems reported 42 percent of all allegations, local or private juvenile facilities 23 percent, local jails 21 percent and state juvenile systems 11 percent. Almost 42 percent of the reported allegations of sexual violence involved staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct, 37 percent were inmate-on-inmate nonconsensual sexual acts, 11 percent were staff sexual harassment of inmates, and 10 percent were inmate-on-inmate abusive sexual contacts.
Rates of substantiated incidents were highest in state-operated juvenile facilities (5.2 substantiated incidents per 1,000 youths) as well as in local and private juvenile facilities (5.0 per 1,000 youth). These rates were nearly 10 times higher than those reported in state prisons (0.5 per 1,000 inmates) and 8 times those in local jails (0.6 per 1,000).
In almost 55 percent of the allegations of staff sexual misconduct in prisons and 45 percent of allegations of inmate-on-inmate nonconsensual sexual acts, the evidence was insufficient to determine if the incidents had occurred.
Males comprised 90 percent of the victims and the perpetrators of inmate-on-inmate nonconsensual sexual acts in prisons and jails.
In state prisons, 69 percent of the victims of staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct were male, while 67 percent of the perpetrators were female. In local jails, 70 percent of the victims of staff sexual misconduct were female and 65 percent of the perpetrators, male. Almost 90 percent of the perpetrators of staff sexual misconduct were discharged or referred for prosecution.
Most prisons and jails imposed legal sanctions on the perpetrators of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence. In addition, authorities in 89 percent of the state prison systems and 74 percent of the local jails with substantiated incidents reported that perpetrators were moved to solitary confinement, moved to a higher custody level or transferred to another facility.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics cautioned that the 2004 survey data should not be used to rank systems or facilities because higher or lower counts might reflect variations in definitions, reporting capacities and the procedures for recording allegations and hence not actual differences in the underlying incidence of sexual violence.
The Bureau is developing future data collections, including victim reports of sexual violence in surveys of current and former inmates, to permit reliable comparisons. This will include developing and testing methods to more fully measure the incidence of sexual violence. Questionnaires and survey procedures will undergo large scale testing later this year.
A national implementation of data collections is scheduled to begin in a sample of 10 percent of the nation's prisons and jails in June 2006 and a sample of 10 percent of the juvenile facilities in December 2006.
The data are collected pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-79). The publication of the report is required by law and it is prepared on June 30 of each year. The first report was prepared June 30, 2004.
The Act establishes a zero-tolerance policy for inmate-on-inmate and staff-on-inmate sexual violence in correctional facilities. Incidents of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence were separated into two categories: nonconsensual sexual acts and abusive sexual contacts. Incidents of staff-on-inmate sexual violence were categorized into staff sexual misconduct and staff sexual harassment. Most correctional systems and facilities were able to report information on the most serious incidents of sexual violence.
The report, "Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, 2004" (NCJ-210333) was written by BJS statisticians Allen J. Beck and Timothy A. Hughes. Following publication, the document can be accessed at: www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/svrca04.htm.
Additional information about BJS statistical reports and programs is available from the BJS website at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs.
The Office of Justice Programs provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims. OJP is headed by an Assistant Attorney General and comprises five component bureaus and two offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and the Office for Victims of Crime, as well as the Office of the Police Corps and Law Enforcement Education and the Community Capacity Development Office, which incorporates the Weed and Seed strategy and OJP's American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Desk. More information can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov.
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