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Consensual Homosexual Activity in Male Prisons.

The topic of sexual coercion in ale prisons has received much more academic attention and debate than consensual homosexual activity in prison literature (Bowker, 1980; Nacci and Kane 1983; Lockwood, 1980; Sagarin, 1976; Saum, Surratt, Inclardi and Bennett, 1995; Scacco, 1975; Struckman-Johnson, Rucker, Bumby and Donaldson, 1996; Tewksbury, 1989; Wooden and Parker, 1982). According to Saum et al. (1995), this may be due to the nature of the homosexual acts. Saum et al. (1995) also argued that "consensual sex is seen as less of a threat to inmate or institutional security than rape and thus does not demand the attention of more violent behavior" (415). Only four studies have focused on the amount of consensual homosexual activity in male prisons (Saum, Surratt, Inciardi and Bennett, 1995; Tewksbury, 1989; Nacci and Kane, 1983; Wooden and Parker, 1982).

In one of the most comprehensive surveys on sex in prison, Wooden and Parker (1982) found that approximately 65 percent of male inmates in a medium-security California prison had engaged in consensual homosexual activity while incarcerated. Unfortunately, Wooden and Parker's sample was overrepresented by "effeminate homosexuals" and "vulnerable heterosexual youngsters" (9). In other words, the California Department of Corrections used this particular prison as a place to house many of the known homosexuals.

In a study by Nacci and Kane (1983), federal inmates' sexual behavior was examined. In a random sample of 330 inmates in 17 federal institutions, they found that 30 percent of males had engaged in some form of consensual homosexual activity. Tewksbury (1989) found that 19.4 percent of 150 male inmates in an Ohio prison had consensual sexual contact with other male inmates during the preceding year. Finally, Saum et al. (1995) found that only 2 percent of 101 inmates in a Delaware medium-security prison had engaged in male-to-male sexual activity during the previous year of incarceration.

As one can see, these studies vary in terms of the amount of homosexual activity in male prisons. This is due in part to methodological issues that researchers face when conducting studies on sex in prison. One of the most difficult problems with sex studies is the reporting. Because of the inmate social code that governs prisons and often demands masculinity and power, many inmates may underreport the amount of homosexual activity in which they have engaged while incarcerated because they fear that others may see them as weak (Saum et al., 1995).

According to Saum et al. (1995), there are problems with the actual wording of questions that inmates are asked, which may make it difficult for them to answer. For example, the sexual terminology employed often is quite different among researchers. Concise and uniform questions that can assess the number of inmates who engage in consensual homosexual activity are needed. Thus, the present study was undertaken to explore the amount of consensual homosexual activity in three Oklahoma male prisons and to improve some of the methodological issues that face prison sex researchers. Additionally, this was the first examination of male consensual homosexual activity in Oklahoma prisons.

Method

From August 1998 to May 1999, qualitative face-to-face interviews were conducted with 174 male inmates at a minimum- (N = 52), medium- (N = 61) and a maximum(N = 61) security prison in Oklahoma. A total of 300 inmates (100 inmates from each facility] were randomly selected to participate in the study. However, due to the sensitive nature of the study, 126 inmates refused to participate. Therefore, the response rate was 58 percent.

Inmates who agreed to participate were told that a voluntary, in-depth interview would be conducted that would take approximately 30 minutes to complete. They were informed that they could experience emotional discomfort due to the sensitive nature of the research. Inmates also were told not to provide their names or any identifiers during the interview in order to maintain confidentiality.

Comparison of the general population of each of the prisons and the research sample reflected some differences. For example, white inmates (38.5 percent) were underrepresented in the sample of minimum-security inmates compared to the general population of the institution (52.4 percent). Native Americans (19.2 percent) also were overrepresented in the sample of minimum-security inmates compared to the general population (7.7 percent). White inmates (47.5 percent) were underrepresented in the sample of medium-security inmates compared to the general population (53.9 percent). Additionally, white inmates (45.9 percent) were underrepresented in the sample of maximum-security inmates compared to the general population (55.3 percent). The mean age of the sample was 39 for minimum-security inmates, 36 for medium-security inmates and 33 for maximum-security inmates. These are considerably close to the mean ages of each institution (37, 36 and 33, respectively). Half the sample had never been married, with only 22.4 percent currently married and slightly more than 27 percent legally divorced or widowed.

Results

Inmates were asked to characterize their sexual orientation at the time of the interview. More than 78 percent of the sample identified themselves as heterosexual. Eight percent characterized themselves as homosexual and slightly more than 13 percent identified themselves as bisexual. Table 1 provides a breakdown of the inmates' sexual orientation for each institution. The maximum-security unit had more self-identified homosexuals and bisexuals than the other two institutions.

Table 1: Sexual Orientation of Sample
 Sexual Entire Minimum Medium Maximum
Orientation Sample Security Security Security
 (N = 174) (N = 52) (N = 61) (N = 61)

Heterosexual 78.7% 92.3% 73.8% 72.1%
Bisexual 13.2% 3.8% 16.4% 18%
Homosexual 8% 3.8% 9.8% 9.8%


Inmates also were asked whether they had engaged in any of the following consensual activities with another male prior to incarceration: kissed someone of the same sex, rubbed a body part against someone of the same sex or allowed someone of the same sex to rub a body part against them in a sexual manner, touched the sex organs of a male or allowed a male to touch their sex organs, had oral sex (either giving or receiving) with someone of the same sex, and/or had anal intercourse (either giving or receiving) with someone of the same sex.

Nearly 16 percent of the entire sample said they had kissed someone of the same sex prior to incarceration. More than 16 percent stated that they had rubbed a body part against a male or allowed a male to rub a body part against them in a sexual manner prior to incarceration. More than 17 percent of the inmates had touched the sex organs or allowed someone of the same sex to touch their sex organs prior to incarceration. Nearly 18 percent of the sample had either given or received oral sex from a male prior to incarceration. Finally, 14.4 percent of the inmates had engaged in anal intercourse with someone of the same sex. Table 2 provides a breakdown of the inmates' sexual behavior prior to incarceration for each institution. Inmates at the maximum-security prison were more likely to have engaged in homosexual behavior prior to incarceration than inmates in the medium- and minimum-security prisons.

Table 2: Homosexual Behavior Prior to Incarceration(*)
Homosexual Entire Minimum Medium Maximum
 Behavior Sample Security Security Security
 (N= 174) (N=52) (N=61) (N=61)

Kissed 15.5% 5.8% 18.0% 21.3%
Rubbed 16.7% 5.8% 21.3% 21.3%
Touched 17.2% 5.8% 21.3% 23%
Oral Sex 17.8% 7.7% 21.3% 23%
Anal Sex 14.4% 5.8% 18% 18%


(*) Percentages include respondents who answered yes to the questions.

If the inmates answered yes to either of the questions pertaining to oral or anal sex, they were asked whether they were active (insertee in oral sex and/or insertor in anal sex], passive (insertor in oral sex and/or insertee in anal sex) or versatile (could play both roles) prior to incarceration. More than 10 percent of the inmates said they had played the active role with another male prior to incarceration. More than 4 percent had played the passive role, while nearly 4 percent had played the versatile role with another male prior to incarceration.

Inmates also were asked whether they had engaged in any of the following consensual activities with another male during incarceration: kissed someone of the same sex, rubbed a body part against someone of the same sex or allowed someone of the same sex to rub a body part against them in a sexual manner, touched the sex organs of a male or allowed a male to touch their sex organs, had oral sex (either giving or receiving) with someone of the same sex, and had anal intercourse (either giving or receiving) with someone of the same sex.

More than 18 percent of the sample said that they had kissed someone of the same sex during incarceration. More than 23 percent stated that they had rubbed a body part against a male or allowed a male to rub a body part against them in a sexual manner during incarceration.

More than 24 percent of the inmates had touched the sex organs or allowed someone of the same sex to touch their sex organs while incarcerated. Nearly 24 percent of the sample had either given or received oral sex from a male during incarceration. Finally, 20 percent of the inmates had engaged in anal intercourse with someone of the same sex while incarcerated. Table 3 provides a breakdown of the inmates' sexual behavior during incarceration for each institution. Again, inmates from the maximum-security facility were more likely to engage in consensual homosexual activity during incarceration than inmates in the minimum-and medium-security facilities.

Table 3: Homosexual Behavior During Incarceration(*)
Homosexual Entire Minimum Medium Maximum
Behavior Sample Security Security Security
 (N = 174) (N = 52) (N = 61) (N = 61)

Kissed 18.4% 9.6% 23% 21.3%
Rubbed 23.6% 7.7% 29.5% 31.1%
Touched 24.1% 9.6% 26.2% 34.4%
Oral Sex 23.6% 9.6% 26.2% 32.8%
Anal Sex 20.1% 9.6% 27.9% 21.3%


(*) Percentages include respondents who answered yes to the questions.

If the inmates answered yes to either of the questions pertaining to oral or anal sex, they were asked whether they were active (insertee in oral sex and/or insertor in anal sex), passive (insertor in oral sex and/or insertee in anal sex) or versatile (could play both roles) while incarcerated. More than 13 percent of the inmates said they had played the active role with another male prior to incarceration. More than 5 percent had played the passive role, while nearly 6 percent had played the versatile role with another male prior to incarceration.

Finally, the inmates were asked if they had a male sex partner in prison. More than 18 percent of the sample indicated that they did have a male sex partner at the time of the interview. Many of these partnerships had lasted for more than one year (10.2 percent). In addition, more than 6 percent of the sample indicated that they were in love with their partner.

Discussion

The present study did not find an elevated rate of consensual homosexual activity in the inmates compared to the amount in which they engaged prior to incarceration. One-fourth of the prison sample indicated that they had engaged in some form of consensual homosexual activity while incarcerated. However, when you examine the number of inmates who had engaged in homosexual activity prior to incarceration (18 percent), there is not much difference. Thus, it appears that inmates who engage in homosexual activity prior to incarceration also engage in homosexual activity while incarcerated.

Consensual homosexual activity in prison is not as high as other studies have found. This could be due in part to the sensitive nature of the interview, which may have resulted in underreporting by the inmate sample. It also could be due in part to the assumption that inmates are not as sexually active as previously thought. For example, since more than 90 percent of the sample indicated that they feared HIV/AIDS, it can be assumed the disease is possibly deterring inmates from having sex while incarcerated. In addition, although randomly selected in three Oklahoma prisons with different security levels, the N's are only a representative sample of those three prisons and are too small to generalize to the overall population of Oklahoma inmates.

Research on consensual sex in prison does provide correctional administrators and staff with more knowledge of their institutions. All forms of consensual sex is illegal and forbidden in prison. According to Saum, Surratt, Inciardi and Bennett (1995), sex is forbidden "so that correctional officers can fulfill their objective of a safe and secure environment" (414). Correctional administrators and staff must be aware of the amount of consensual sex occurring in their institutions so they may provide additional safety and security measures to their inmate populations as well as society. Tewksbury and West (2000) stated, "It should be of institutional concern to understand sexual expression among inmates who are safe and discreet, and to control unsafe and unwanted sexual expression among inmates who use sex as a weapon" (375).

In conclusion, given what we do know about prison sexuality, researchers must persist in recommending policy changes within prisons. For example, although consensual homosexual activity is a violation of rules and regulations within correctional facilities, administrators must wake up to the grim reality that inmates contract sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, while incarcerated. Currently, only five prison systems allow condoms: Mississippi, New York City, San Francisco, Vermont and Washington, D.C. (Hammett, Harmon and Maruschak, 1999). Thus, we all must continue to strive for safety and security in our correctional facilities.

REFERENCES

Bowker, L. 1980. Prison victimization. New York: Elsevier North Holland.

Hammett T.M., P. Harmon and L.M. Maruschak. 1999. 1996-1997 update: HIV/AIDS, STDs and TB in correctional facilities. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice.

Lockwood, D. 1980. Prison sexual violence. New York: Elsevier Press.

Nacci, P. and T.R. Kane. 1983. The incidence of sex and sexual aggression in federal prisons. Federal Probation, 47(4):31-36.

Sagarin, E. 1976. Prison homosexuality and its effects on post-prison sexual behavior. Psychiatry, 39:245-257.

Saum, C., H. Surratt, J. Inciardi and R. Bennett. 1995. Sex in prison: Exploring the myths and realities. The Prison Journal, 75(4):413-430.

Scacco, A. 1975. Rape in prison. Springfield, III.: Charles C. Thomas.

Struckman-Johnson, C., D. Struckman-Johnson, L. Rucker, K. Bumby and S. Donaldson. 1996. Sexual coercion reported by men and women in prison. The Journal of Sex Research, 33(1):67-76.

Tewksbury, R. 1989. Measures of sexual behavior in an Ohio prison. Sociology and Social Research, 74(1):34-39.

Tewksbury, R. and A. West. 2000. Research on sex in prison during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Prison Journal, 80(4):368-378.

Wooden, W. and J. Parker. 1982. Men behind bars: Sexual exploitation in prison. New York: Plenum.

Christopher Hensley, Ph.D., is director of the Institute for Correctional Research and Training at Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky.
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Correctional Association, Inc.
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Author:Hensley, Christopher
Publication:Corrections Compendium
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:2510
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