Fewer than three prisoners in every 1,000 report they were sexually abused or harassed, but there may be far more sexual violence in prisons because inmates fear reprisal, adhere to a code of silence, do not trust the staff, or are embarrassed, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics in a new study reported by the Associated Press. “Administrative records alone cannot provide reliable estimates of sexual violence,” said BJS’ Allen Beck and Paige Harrison. Said law Prof. Malcolm Feeley of the University of California at Berkeley: “It may be the single largest shame of the American criminal justice system, and that’s saying a lot.”
The new Justice Department study is based on reports to officials last year from more than 1,800 correctional facilities holding some 1.7 million inmates – 78% of the adult prison population. The report is the second required by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. “What gets reported is the tip of the iceberg,” said Cindy Struckman-Johnson, professor of social psychology at the University of South Dakota and a member of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. Struckman-Johnson’s studies found 10 percent of male Midwestern state penitentiary inmates have been raped. Only one-third of inmates actually reported it to anybody working in a prison, she said. The federal statistics bureau is working on ways to better measure sexual violence in prisons and jails, including anonymous self-administered surveys.