Prison experts are only now beginning studies to see how widespread sexual assault and consensual sex are behind bars, reports the Associated Press. Under a 2003 federal law, the U.S. Justice Department’s Review Panel on Prison Rape began two days of hearings Tuesday at California’s Folsom Prison to learn what the largest state prison system is doing about the problem. “We don’t know to what extent the problem exists,” the federal rape panel’s chairman, Steve McFarland, told the Associated Press.
Reports of assaults “may be just the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t a clue,” said McFarland, who directs the Justice Department’s Task Force for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Congress cited estimates that 13 percent of inmates are assaulted nationwide. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in a 1997 survey, put the number at under 1 percent. Legislative researchers found 4.4 percent of California inmates reported assaults in 2000. BJS is starting its own scientific sampling of inmates nationwide in state and federal prisons, county and city jails, and juvenile facilities. The goal is to identify, by July, the best and worst facilities as far as the number of rapes, as well as consensual sex among inmates and between inmates and employees.