NIJ's response to the Prison Rape Elimination Act.Findings from the National Institute of Justice research completed to date suggest that sexual violence in prison is a relatively rare event. Because of the low numbers associated with this issue, the greatest challenge in this research is collecting enough data about prison sexual violence to be able to provide meaningful estimates of prevalence to the public. However, the understanding that protecting inmates and staff from sexual violence also protects them from general acts of violence on the whole can contribute significantly to how corrections administrators improve safety and security in their facilities. The National Institute of Justice has funded research attempting to find the nexus between prison sexual violence and violent behavior. It is here that ongoing research funded by the Prison Rape Elimination Act may have the greatest impact.
NIJ's Response to PREA: 2003 - 2008
Under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, several federal agencies are required to determine prevalence by collecting data; fund programs to assist federal, state and local corrections agencies; and conduct research.
NIJ decided to fill significant gaps in the knowledge about sexual violence by funding research that would explain the complexities of prison rape beyond the incidence and prevalence data that the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) was required to collect. NIJ created a comprehensive research agenda based on the major issues raised by PREA and addressed issues not covered by other federal agencies. This research agenda spanned from 2003 to 2008 and included a number of solicitations.
Beginning in 2003, NIJ staff conducted a literature review with a meta-analysis of the previous studies in the field. The review found that most studies lacked national scope, had low response rates and produced inconsistently wide variances in prevalence. (1) At the same time, NIJ funded a multistate study to explore male and female inmates' perceptions of prison rape. Focusing on maximum-security institutions, it was the largest study ever to research the culture behind the issue. (2)
From 2004 to 2008, NIJ released solicitations for research to:
* Identify policies and practices to prevent sexual violence in prisons and jails;
* Study medical and psychological effects of sexual violence on inmates;
* Develop screening instruments to identify potential victims or perpetrators;
* Examine techniques for the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults on inmates;
* Investigate the potential connection between sexual violence and other violent behavior;
* Evaluate programs and technologies designed to prevent prison rape; and
* Examine staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct, specifically aimed at research on cross-gendered supervision and strip and pat-down searches of inmates.
Current State of Knowledge
From 2004 to 2007, BJS released several reports regarding the prevalence of rape in prisons on a national level. Data were collected from both administrative records of allegations officially reported to correctional administrators and self-reported data collected from inmate interviews. In the report, Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, 2006, BJS' estimated total number of allegations for the nation was 6,528. About 36 percent of the reported allegations in 2006 involved staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct and 34 percent involved inmate-on-inmate nonconsensual sex acts. Since 2003, the estimated number of allegations nationwide rose by 21 percent (5,386 in 2004; 6,241 in 2005). (3)
According to the BJS facility-based sample study of inmate self-reported prevalence of rape reported in 2007, an estimated 60,500 inmates (or 4.5 percent of the nation's prisoners) reported sexual victimization while incarcerated. Approximately 38,600 inmates reported sexual victimization by staff while about 27,500 inmates reported victimization by other inmates. (4)
NIJ PREA Projects
NIJ-funded PREA research includes 10 projects--four have yielded final reports to date, and six are ongoing. All four final reports are at the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, available at www.ncjrs.gov. The data produced from these studies have been archived at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, available at www.icpsr.umich.edu/. A brief summary of the four final reports follows.
The Culture of Prison Sexual Violence. As the first NIJ-funded research for PREA, this study was designed to better understand the perception of inmates regarding sexual violence in prisons. A total of 564 male and female inmates from maximum-security facilities across the country were interviewed. Key findings from this ethnographic study indicate that a majority of inmates perceived safe conditions and protection from physical and sexual assault.
* Participants largely perceived safety to be the personal responsibility of inmates, independent of institution efforts to protect them.
* Regardless of personal perceptions, 28.2 percent and 31.5 percent, respectively, reported that a correctional system's policies and procedures can protect them against rape. Both male and female inmates largely reported that correctional officers try to protect them against rape.
* Male and female inmates reported some worry or sense of threat caused by a potential rape, but, in general, did not fear imminent rape. (5)
Sexual Violence in the Texas Prison System. In this report, researchers examined nearly 2,000 official allegations of prison sexual assault from 2002 to 2005. During this time, Texas reported the rate of alleged incidents at 3.95 per 1,000 inmates, nearly four times the national average of 1.05 per 1,000 inmates. At the same time, Texas reported one of the lowest substantiation rates of sexual violence, less than 3 percent.
The researchers found that about 2 percent of the prison population was classified by prison officials as either a "victim" or an "assailant," a base rate too low to develop a valid statistical profile of victims or assailants. Instead, they identified a number of common characteristics evident in these two groups.
* White inmates were attacked more frequently than other races. Black inmates comprised the highest percentage of assailants.
* Victims tended to be younger than their assailants.
* Twelve percent of the allegations involved mentally impaired prisoners, a small percentage of cases, but still eight times the proportion of inmates in the general population.
* Most sustained cases occurred in cells, bathrooms or showers between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. when correctional staff were most likely to have increased responsibilities for inmate management. (6)
Addressing Sexual Violence in Prisons: A National Snapshot of Approaches and Highlights of Innovative Strategies. Researchers conducted a number of nationwide surveys to identify policies, practices and promising programs addressing prison sexual violence. From these surveys, 11 states with promising practices were selected for case studies. They were Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah.
From 2004 to 2005, 90 percent of the states (45 total) participated in a survey to examine policies and practices. Results show that 37 states had either written policies specifically related to prison sexual violence or were in the process of developing them, and 35 states reported having policies and programs to prevent sexual violence in prison.
The study, released in 2006, identified a number of barriers to developing policies or prevention programs including changing correctional culture, staff resistance, fears of inmates making false allegations, lack of resources and facility design. (7)
Gendered Violence and Safety: A Contextual Approach to Improving Security in Women's Facilities. This study, released in 2008, involved a multistate, multimethod approach to determine inmate and staff perceptions of sexual violence within the context of violent behavior in women's facilities. Using both focus groups and interviews with inmates and staff, the researchers created and validated instruments to help correctional administrators understand the experiences of female inmates; identify potential strengths and weaknesses in facility design, staff allocations and prison culture; and design prevention and intervention efforts to increase safety and security in both women's prisons and jails. Although the instruments developed under this study were validated, the researchers admit more research is needed to simplify and perfect them. Currently, efforts are under way to address this issue. (8)
Major findings include:
* Sexual violence was embedded in a larger context of violent behavior, and this context was gender-based. While female institutions were not increas ingly dangerous, violence among women in prisons and jails followed a continuum that began with verbal assaults, occurring most frequently, and carried through to rape and murder, which occurred rarely.
* Although violence in women's jails and prisons was not a dominant aspect of inmates' lives, the potential for such behavior, shaped by time, place, culture, relationships and staff actions, was constant.
* Ongoing tensions and conflicts between inmates and between inmates and staff; lack of economic opportunity; and lack of therapeutic options to address past victimizations or to treat destructive relationships con tribute to the continuum of violence.
Challenges and Future Plans
Sexual assault in the nation's prisons continues to be a complex issue for both prison officials and policymakers. PREA addresses the need to determine the magnitude, culture and repercussions of sexual violence in prisons nationwide. In this regard, NIJ continues to address issues important to corrections practitioners while responding to the PREA legislation.
(1) Gaes, G.G. and A.L. Goldberg. 2004. Prison rape: A critical review of the litera ture, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, March, NCJ 213365. Available at www.nicic.org/Downloads/PDF/2004/019813.pdf.
(2) Fleisher, M. and J. Krienert. 2006. The culture of prison sexual violence, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. Available at www.ncjrs.gov/pdffilesl/nij/grants/216515.pdf.
(3) Beck, A., P. Harrison and D. Adams. 2007. Sexual violence reported by correctional authorities, 2006, Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/svrca06.htm.
(4) Beck, A., and P. Harrison. 2007. Sexual victimization in state and federal prisons reported by inmates, 2007, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/svsfpri07.htm.
(5) Fleisher, M. and J. Krienert. 2006.
(6) Austin, J.F., T. Fabelo, A. Gunter and K. McGinnis. 2006. Sexual violence in the Texas prison system, Washington, D.C. NCJ 215774. Available at www.ncjrs.gov/pdffilesl/nij/grants/215774.pdf.
(7) Zweig, J.M., R. Naser, J. Blackmore and M. Schaffer. 2006. Addressing sexual vio lence in prisons: A national snapshot of approaches and highlights of innovative strategies, Washington, D.C., October, NCJ 216856.
(8) Owen, Barbara, J. Wells, J. Pollock, B. Muscat and S. Torres. 2008. Gendered violence and safety: A contextual approach to improving security in women's facilities, Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice. Available at: www.ncjrs.gov/pdffilesl/nij/grants/225338.pdf.
Authors' Note: Findings and conclusions reported in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The late Andrew L. Goldberg was a program advisor at the National Institute of Justice. Doris Wells is a writer-editor at the National Institute of Justice.