New data suggests that inmates have just as much to fear from their guards as they do from each other: Nearly half of all sexual assaults in U.S. jails and prisons is committed by corrections officers and staff.
That statistic actually represents an uptick in reported cases of sexual assault. Accusations of rape against prison guards and staff rose 18 percent between 2006 and 2011–the most recent year for which data is available–according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“An inmate is just as threatened by staff as … by other inmates — this wasn’t the prevalent thought just a few years ago,” said Jamie Fellner, a former member of the National Rape Elimination Commission, in a statement to The Washington Times.
According to the statistics, in cases where the accusation was found credible, 77.1 percent of the victims–and 80 percent of the perpetrators–were male. More than a third of the victims were 24-years-old or younger.
Some accusations are made by prisoners against guards whom they simply do not like, making the adjudication of such matters inherently difficult.
Still, the increase in accusations is something of an indictment of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which has not succeeded in curbing sexual assault in prisons since it was signed into law by President Bush ten years ago.
Some experts think rape between guards and prisoners is actually occurring at an even higher frequency than the number of accusations suggest.
This report really captures only a very small percentage of the sexual abuse that goes on in prisons,” said Chris Daley, deputy director of Just Detention International, in a statement. “And, sadly, for only a very small percentage, was there any real justice.”
The Times noted that some of the provisions of PREA were not implemented until 2009, and experts hope these more recent changes will go a long way toward reducing rates of prison rape–and help victims receive justice.
The American prison system is increasingly seen as a mess by people on all sides of the ideological spectrum. U.S. prison are overcrowded, and half of the inmates are nonviolent drug criminals. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers–including Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy–hope to reform mandatory minimum sentencing, which forces judges to give lengthy sentences to low-level, nonviolent offenders. (RELATED: Lawmakers consider bipartisan sentencing reform)