Prison Rape

The existence of widespread rape in our prisons is one of the real black marks on our society. We could easily make prisons more humane if we had the political will. Americans are less tolerant of cruelty to animals than used to be the case. Perhaps we will eventually become less tolerant of cruelty to members of our own Untouchable class.

(Via Instapundit and Rand Simberg.)

16 thoughts on “Prison Rape”

  1. I don’t think that people don’t care about prison rape. People are especially concerned that young offenders or innocent prisoners will suffer. I just think it’s way down on people’s list of priorities

    It’s a non-trivial problem to solve. All the improvements I have seen have involved redesigning prisons to give prisoners individual cells, showers etc. This cost a lot and takes a long time. People have other improvements they would rather spend money on.

  2. Shannon, as I discuss in detail in my earlier post, I strongly disagree that people care about prison rape. They do not want to hear about it, and if they do, they reserve their pity for other people who are not convicted criminals. Further, as discussed here and in other places, reforms need not be massively expensive.

  3. What is the situation with young offenders in the various states? Do they go to “adult” prisons or are there separate establishments? Over here it is a real mess with young offenders’ homes closing down.

  4. We might consider legal reform regarding non-violent offenses (specifically drug related) and then we wouldn’t have such a rampant prison population. We also might make prison an actual reformative process by filling inmates endless hours of sexually frustrated boredom with more constructive (and tax saving) activities. Beyond stamping license plates there’s a myriad of trades long term prisoners could learn and apply toward state based projects. Added bonus is they’ve got a hope once out of the system. Another bit is to reform states Probation and Parole agencies’ interests away from recidivism and toward reform.

  5. Munroferguson,

    The idea of prisons as reformatories goes back to the mid-1800’s. We go through cycles of roughly 30 years duration between trying to reprogram/train prisoners and just locking them up. We always try reform and end back up with just locking them up.

    The idea of reformatories seems obvious but they simply don’t work. Look at the history of recidivism rates. Throughout the 20th century, prisons have grown increasingly more humane and the opportunities for prisoners to improve their chances when they leave have grown in synch. Addictions treatment, psychological and psychiatric care are now much better. Yet recidivism rates have not budged since the 1920’s when record began being kept routinely.

    People don’t commit crimes because they don’t have jobs or because they have addictions. People commit crimes because they don’t care about the rights of others. This in turn arises from severe narcissism and outright sociopathy. Reformatories cannot address these core behavioral problems.

  6. Leavenworth was once infamous for prison rape.
    There was a scandal about it.
    Now it’s famous for being relatively free of it.
    The problem is not insoluble. In the short term, you need more guards, and leadership that will concentrate on the problem. Long term, it’s a matter of architecture too.

  7. The idea of reformatories seems obvious but they simply don’t work.

    If the goal is simply to reduce recidivism, Shannon, then you’re right. However, I think our goal should be to make prisons more humane because a) it’s what we ought to do if we are a humane society, and b) it gives the inmates something to do in prison besides victimize each other. In particular, the idea of completely separating violent and non-violent offenders just seems like common sense and decency to me.

    I also think it’s important that while the number of people who are genuinely reformed by prison is not statistically significant, it’s surely non-zero. I’m much more concerned by one angry-but-decent kid who manages to get his life in order because he was treated humanely than I am about a thousand dirtbags who will remain dirtbags no matter what.

  8. I can’t offer broad statistics, only my own experience with one juvenile facility. I was on a 5-person architectural team designing a RI State Juvenile Detention Center : two buildings for 52 and 96 beds respectfully, that were open for occupancy last summer. Rape prevention was one of the issues listed in the program.
    We addressed it with few non-operational measures: by space planning and careful lighting. Each inmate has his own bedroom. There is one restroom for every six bedrooms, equipped with shower, toilet and a lavatory. The bedrooms a lockable from the inside; doors have a vertical glazed vision panel. Out of 4 housing units there is one with enhanced security; the bedrooms there are equipped with individual toilet/lavatory combos, so the inmates don’t have a need to leave their rooms. There are clerestories in the corridors and a glass wall with the view of the landscaped grounds in each dayroom. In addition, all spaces are well-lit with combination of artificial light sources. Situations when inmates are unsupervised are limited; when procedurally they are required to be one-on-one with the staff, they usually are in a well-lit room with a vision panel in door or partition. All classrooms and assembly rooms are equipped with security devices (pushbuttons, bells, etc) all sallyports are constructed with a glazed panel for transparency. Furniture is sturdy, impossible to take apart (to separate legs from a chair, f.ex) without power tools.

    The design was praised by all the agencies involved, particularly where ease of use, safety and security of inmates and personnel is involved.

  9. P.S. The only one entry with a floor plan that I was able to find after a quick search is here. Scroll down past the art allowance information (it’s all outdated anyway; the art has been commissioned already), down to the floor plan of of the Youth Assessment Facility (the smaller building). As described in the narrative, the housing units are meant to separate inmates per category of their crime (all sex offenders, f.i., are housed in one, drug criminals- in another, etc) The school has two gyms, art and music rooms, media library, a commercial kitchen and a barbershop (for training purposes), along with regular classrooms housing 12 students each.

  10. I have to stand squarely with Shannon on this. It has been my experience that people care about prison rape, but realize that it will take resources that could be used for what is considered more pressing problems.

    But I interact with people in law enforcement who have to deal with criminals, so I wouldn’t gainsay the charge that my experience is non-standard.

    I also have to side with Shannon when he discusses the futility of combating recidivism. Setbit might speak truth when he says “…while the number of people who are genuinely reformed by prison is not statistically significant, it’s surely non-zero”, but he is ignoring the fact that it eventually becomes a waste if self improvement programs are piled up that either don’t improve the inmates, or of the programs themselves aren’t being used.

    My personal opinion is that programs that allow the inmates to earn a GED or learn a blue collar trade are a good idea, even though the vast majority won’t bother to take part. Anything more is a waste of taxpayer dollars.


  11. [I]t eventually becomes a waste if self improvement programs are piled up that either don’t improve the inmates, or of the programs themselves aren’t being used.

    My personal opinion is that programs that allow the inmates to earn a GED or learn a blue collar trade are a good idea, even though the vast majority won’t bother to take part. Anything more is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

    James, I completely agree. I had hoped it would go without saying that by “humane” I didn’t mean “fun and enriching”, but I guess we need to include that word on the list of those rendered meaningless by political usage.

    I don’t suggest that prisons vainly try to motivate criminals to “reform” by offering free entertainment and education, only that they don’t actively thwart the process in those instances where it would naturally occur. For example, even a chain gang could be part of a “reformative” prison term as long as it didn’t involve physical abuse or other dehumanization, for the simple reason that it would keep inmates out of trouble for the time that they were busy.

    The question I always ask regarding topics like this is, “What would I want for myself if I were (rightly or wrongly) sent to prison?” The list is obvious: healthful food, physical safety, access to books, access to physical activity, and as much basic human dignity as is practical.

    It seems, unfortunately, that we frequently fail on the safety and dignity counts. I base that not just on what I read but on what I’ve heard from various people in law enforcement.

  12. I read through the recent rape commission recommendation list. One of the big surprises was that slightly more than 50% of the prison rapes reported by the commission were done by prison personnel, not prisoners. We have a moral obligation not to pay for rapists or cover up for them. Whatever the reporting challenges and the actual on the ground percentages, these are felonies committed by government personnel and they must stop. Ignoring this is being complicit in it.

    If the guards and other personnel are actually creating half of the rape cases, we have a huge problem in our criminal justice system. Safe rape is not a fringe benefit.

  13. I have a stepbrother who is in federal prison for tax evasion and wire fraud (the book was thrown at him since he was a Homeland Security supervisor in D.C.) and I fear for what may have been done to him (he doesn’t exactly inspire fear among others) in the three years he has already served.
    I am a firm believer in the death penalty for crimes which victimize people in a fatal or traumatic fashion, which would include probably most of the violent offenders in our prisons at this time.
    I can see where the failure of the death penalty in this country has helped to create a predator class of inmates who run gangs and violent exploitation schemes within prisons because they have nothing left to lose (given their close to or actual life sentences).
    I can also see where politicians have crafted irresponsible, wasteful, destructive schemes (Like 3 strikes for non-violent offenders and mandatory sentencing for drug users) to plug away on alleged soft on crime opponents and exploit public fears.
    That said, I doubt people will care enough about prison rape or prison reform to prioritize it in any meaningful way.
    It appears it will be Senator Coburn & Senator Webb’s lonely crusade in the Senate.
    Yet, if we are not willing to truly reform our prison sentencing and prison system, can we at least change it to benefit the broader country?
    Why not create prison-centric industries manufacturing a few of the items we take for granted as provided now by China and other overseas sources? Profits would enable the prisoners would be paid a middling amount which would entitle them to a starter fund when they left prison, with the remainder of the profits going to fund GED programs, prison health care, guard salaries and other operating costs?

    I inquire about this possibility of the more learned commenters here because I noticed in the Navy how many of the common products we used (from cleaning supplies to certain low-cost parts) came from the Lighthouse of the Blind and other small scale enterprises in the USA. If the blind can manufacture this, why not prisoners?

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