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Prison Rape

What is prison like

Sad to say, but many in the outside world snicker and smirk at prison rape. Reader’s comments about internet articles on prison rape reflect the attitude that sexual violence is part of doing the time for the crime. In 2003, Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, designed to educate inmates about their rights and provide them with a way to report sexual crimes. Prisons and jails are filled with prisoners who have committed nonviolent crimes. Such inmates are easy prey for predators that are among other inmates and correctional officers.

Jan Lastocy, a first time Michigan offender, was in prison for attempted embezzlement. She was working at the prison warehouse as a secretary when a new correctional officer threatened her with ticket violations, if she did not provide sex for him. She knew that violation tickets would lengthen her 15 month sentence and would have prevented her return to her family.

Lastocy suffered six months in silence, never telling anyone about the rapes because, she stated, “Part of the reason I never said anything is because the warden had made the comment that if it ever came down to the word of an inmate versus a guard, she would always believe the guard over the inmate.”

After Lastocy was released, she was contacted by investigators who had reviewed complaints from other female inmates about this guard. One of the inmates had saved the officer’s DNA. The correctional officer was convicted and received a five year sentence.

Although the Rape Elimination Act was passed in 2003, many states are still in the process of complying with the federal rules. Several states led by Rick Perry of Texas have protested and opposed the requirements claiming the provisions were too costly to implement and the rules violated states rights. The rules provide for protection for inmates who have reported sexual crimes. The Act provided for accurate reporting of sexual violence by every prison and jail. Although Texas has not complied with the Rape Elimination Act, the state accepted several million last year from the federal government for its prison system.

On a personal note, during my first week in state prison, new inmates were temporarily placed in their own unit. I remembered observing a young good looking inmate with long hair. You could see that he was very proud of his hair as you watched him with his careful hair preparation during a rec period. He was bragging about his girlfriends to another inmate. He was in prison for drug charges. About two months after we were assigned to our permanent unit, I saw him at the chow hall. The young inmate was accompanied by two large inmates. There was some makeup on his face and he looked dead to the world.

By Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com

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22 Responses to Prison Rape

  1. PrisonPath June 19, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    I agree that this is a travesty. It is common to hear jokes about this issue. We recently had someone who is directly involved with our organization who was arrested for the first time at 18 years old. He is young and attractive and my first thought was that we need to bail him out of jail because I know what could happen to him.
    By Nancy

  2. Anne June 19, 2014 at 10:13 pm #

    Thanks for calling attention to this issue. It’s so important, and so little understood or respected, as you point out.

    I once served as an expert witness for a man who believed that just after he was sentenced, he had been purposely housed with a large, dangerous inmate convicted of murder. He was raped by this inmate and suffered from it. He believed that the corrections officers at this facility purposely used this treatment to intimidate new prisoners.

    The jury found that the rape had occurred, but instituted damages of $1.00.

  3. PrisonPath June 23, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    No doubt about it. sexual assault in prison is a huge problem, as is sexual harassment in prisons and jails – and it’s not only other inmates that one needs to worry about, you also have prison staff that contribute to the problem.
    By Kathy

  4. PrisonPath June 23, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    I was incarcerated with a post-operative transsexual. She had already done time in a Colorado women’s prison, but when convicted in California, she was sent to the men’s prisons based solely on the gender on her birth certificate. Had she not been on a Level II yard, in dormitory housing, she would undoubtedly have been raped repeatedly by both inmates and staff.
    I have also listened to rapes as they occurred in Folsom. If you speak up, you get labeled as a snitch, and either get killed, raped, or both. The sickest part, is that there realistic ability to address this crisis as long as there are 2,500,000+ prisoner in this country being housed in deplorable conditions and supervised by incompetent security staff. Hell, I got a SHU term once when I performed no action to deserve it, and my testimony was “lost” by the staff. The complaining Correctional Officer was later busted for smuggling drugs and cell phones. All he got for it was 16 months paid vacation…
    If the prisons are being run by fascist hypocrites, and there is no attempt at having any legitimate credibility, where the fuck is the legitimacy in the “criminal justice” system???
    By Gary

  5. PrisonPath June 23, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    Many men have the idea that men are entitled to dominate women. In prison, they display those same attitudes towards other men. I have seen guards who made no attempt to hide the fact that they themselves are gang members. And any guard who smugles cell phones or tobacco is naturally worried that any inmate who rats on another inmante will likely rat on him too.

    The easiest way to reduce the incidence of prison rape is to simply reduce the prison population, which will naturally reduce the cost of any other reforms that might be needed. The easiest way to reduce the prison population is to eliminate the Reagan era subsidy that states receive for incarcerating people. Take away the subsidy, and prisons become an expense, rather than a source of revenue. The states might then discover that helping a man get his life together is more economical than sending him to prison when he steals something.

    With a smaller inmate population, the states might then increase the pay, and standards they demand when hiring correctional officers. Require a college degree, and you eliminate most of the undesirables. And higher pay reduces the temptation to smuggle contraband.
    By Allen

  6. PrisonPath June 23, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

    It is that whole authoritative position that makes inmates vulnerable. I agree correctional officers are not properly trained for a lot of situations, in fact as long as they have a GED they can take the test to work in a correctional facility. Improve the quality of the staff and work from there. Some correctional officers are former military and they are also not used to dealing with the typical inmate population. Better education, more stringent training and without a doubt, more careful screening of who they hire. But it all costs money and in today’s economy that is probably out of the question in every state in the Country.
    By Kathy

  7. PrisonPath June 23, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    The naivety of some of those officers was kind of funny. I was once selected for a random shake down. My box was full of hooch, that I was making in plastic pint jars. I decided to just play it cool, and hope for a miracle.

    The woman picked up a pint jar of laundry soak, that I had made by shredding a bar of hand soap and dissolving it in water. She asked me what it was, and I told her it was laundry soap. She then asked, “How much laundry are you doing?”, and proceeded to confiscate some of my hooch, but not all of it. She never did figure out what it was.
    By Allen

  8. PrisonPath June 23, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    If it was not so ignorant on the guards part I would have to laugh – in Rikers they brought in the dogs, the boss chair, mirrors for under the beds, the whole nine yards, including the “boom squad” and “turtles” in full battle gear – it’s was a women’s facility overkill if you ask me and they found zip….since it was all hidden in the drop ceiling in the bathrooms and showers.

    In the state facility there was another woman who went to lock and they searched her cell and found the remote for the television, a stapler, 2 scotch tape dispensers and hooch – it was a total joke – it’s almost like there is more chaos in prisons and jails then out on the streets.
    By Kathy M.

  9. PrisonPath June 23, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    Prison Rape

    One of the fundamental crises in the “correctional industry” is that thanks to the Reagan administration, the “Field of Dreams” dictum became a reality: Build it and they will come…
    The explosion in prison population was not met with higher training standards for the staff. Also, Title IX brought in a large contingent of female guards. Some knew what they were doing, others were clueless, and still more didn’t give a damn about anything other than their paycheck and benefit package.
    While I fully endorse inclusion of everyone in the hiring, the person hired must have the ability to do the job. In one of the arbitrary searches, a female guard came to my bunk and tried to move one of my boxes. It probably weighed 50 pounds because it was full of legal documents. She chose not to dig in it. Another time, after being sent to “the hole”, my regular C.O. brought all my boxes of property. In one of them, he found a copy of the wages and benefits for every employee at C.S.P.-Solano (a friend had found it in the trash and brought it to me…). The C.O. took it, but did not report me because he knew the charge that sent me to the hole was bogus.
    Sadly, that level of understanding and compassion was so rare that it truly amazed me that he kept that information to himself. Too often, other C.O.’s would find some non-essential item that had no great importance, and would create some fake scenario that made the possession of it look like an act of war. The absurdity of this duplicity only eliminates the credibility of ALL correctional staff. If they are too incompetent to do the job, why should the prisoners respect them?
    By Gary H.

  10. PrisonPath June 23, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

    An excellent article on male-male rape can be found online in the Californian Law Review (Volume 99, Issue 5) and is titled Real Rape Too written by Bennett Capers.

    When one considers the full implications of male-male rape, which by the way is not only something that happens in prison, as juxtapose male-female rape, the only conclusion is that our understanding and response to sexual abuse is one of fear and ignorance.

    To be so intolerant of sexual abuse in one form and then tolerant of sexual abuse in another form is not really not so difficult to understand: all forms of sexual abuse serve a function within society.

    In effect sexual abuse is the fuel that makes possible the movement of the institution along its social trajectory. The true ugliness of the situation can only be put in perspective when we can see this response as a projection of the collective consciousness onto the general structures existing within society.

    We are complicit, and yet the hyper-individualized society in which we live forms a barrier to this point of view.
    By Ahimsa Non-violence

  11. PrisonPath June 23, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    While I agree to a certain extent with Robert Brown, regardless of your position in the custody nightmare, AS PROFESSIONALS, you are expected to act upon the best interests of all concerned parties. Sadly, that social consciousness seems to be against the ideas of the Unions, and this disparity allows the Private Prison CEOs to have vacations in some of the most exotic places on the planet. Why? Because nobody gives a shit about anyone who has been convicted and sent away.
    Those who judge the lack of outcry as a submission to tyranny, are only part right. What is truly killing the moral fibre of the USA is the sheer idiocy of those who watch FOX News, and still are stupid enough to consider it as a “News Organization”. There should be a 12 step program for those infected with Foxism….
    The rest of us have a simple mission: DO NOT STAY SILENT WHEN FACING DE FACTO OPPRESSION. Those who blindly submit have surrendered to Fascism. Those who resist this mind-numbing idiocy, are branded traitors, revolutionaries, and in some cases, terrorists. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    We are the educated; We are the intelligensia…; We are what society COULD BE.
    Will we cower in seclusion then make excuses to the new powers., or will we work to provide a reasonable, rational place to entertain the arguments? Hide in the “Ivory Tower”, or become immersed in the humanity we propose to assist?
    We create tomorrow by our actions, or inactions, of today…..
    Gary

  12. PrisonPath June 23, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

    A recent US Department of Justice report reports statistics that indicate staff-on-inmate sexual abuse amounts for 50% of the total cases. So the problem is that institutions such as prisons are neither positive environments for staff or inmates. Of the 50% only around 25% were ever prosecuted.
    By Ahimsa Non-violence

  13. PrisonPath June 24, 2014 at 1:21 am #

    I tend to doubt the accuracy of Ahimsa Non-violence’s statistics. In California, even when a videotape of a prison guard is publicly displayed beating a shackled and subdued child, all that occurs is the guard getting 16 months paid vacation. I dare anyone to show me any legitimate statistical study showing positive results in prosecuting prison guards. Of the noted 25%, how many ended up with a guilty verdict? 1%? 2% 0%? Certainly lower percentage than similar prosecutions of private individuals….
    This is a tragic example of the absurdity of the current system, and the inequality found in the entire “criminal justice” system….
    By Gary

  14. PrisonPath June 24, 2014 at 1:22 am #

    One further complication is that some of the sexual contact is mutually desired. Granted, one’s status as a prisoner is supposed to render one incapable of giving legal consent. But simply deciding whether an incident represents a true assault or a mere technical violation of the law can sometimes be problematic.

    A female guard in my dorm was transferred to another dorm, after another inmate complained that he awoke to find her stroking his thigh. I then discovered that she had been seen observing me as I slept. Whether she actually touched me at any point was unclear.

    I only wished she had followed through, and that she had woken me up so I might enjoy it. Of course, I can see where an inmate who did feel violated might be afraid to speak up, for fear of suffering retaliation from other inmates.
    By Allen

  15. PrisonPath June 24, 2014 at 1:24 am #

    When I committed these numbers to memory I used easy percentages to remember. I should have been more careful. Nonetheless the national statistics come in near where I stated: 42% staff-on-inmates and 36% referred to prosecution.

    Reference:

    Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, 2004
    Allen J. Beck and Timothy Hughes
    Bureau of Justice Statisticians

    For adult institutions it was found that:

    Page 5: Nearly 42% of the reported allegations of sexual violence involved staff sexual misconduct, 37% involved inmate-on-inmate non-consensual sexual acts; 11% staff sexual harassment; and 10% inmate-on-inmate abusive sexual contact.

    Page 9: The survey collected data on 539 staff implicated in 508 substantiated incidents of staff sexual misconduct during 2004. Correctional authorities indicated that 55% of the staff were discharged, 36% referred for prosecution, and 9% disciplined but not discharged.

    Page 9: The most common sanction imposed on staff involved in sexual harassment of inmates was discipline, but not discharge or prosecution … 3% were referred for prosecution.
    By Ahimsa Non-violence

  16. PrisonPath June 24, 2014 at 2:58 am #

    There is no ambiguity. There is no gray area. Sexual contact of a staff member with an inmate can never be consensual. As is pointed out it is a matter of law.

    An argument can never be made that a 13 year old boy consented to a 40 year old women’s sexual contact, whether the 13 year old boy enjoys it or not. Whether the 14 year old boy instigates it, advances it, and encourages it.

    Of course, it is often considered a gift for the boy. The experienced woman teaching the male child about sex. But then the opposite is not the case, where it is a 13 year old girl and a 40 year old man.
    By Ahimsa Non-violence

  17. PrisonPath June 24, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    As noted in my earlier comment, prosecution of staff is virtually unheard of. Most likely, there were internal political circumstances which prompted the prosecution[s], but “justice” was never done. “Referred for prosecution” is essentially meaningless, because too many jurors are probably fans of some absurd television drama that portrays all law enforcement personnel as saints.
    Quite frankly, the “Justice System” in the USA is devoid of legitimacy. I am embarrassed to note that I am an American citizen, far more than being an ex-con….
    By Gary

  18. PrisonPath June 24, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    We would NEVER ‘snicker and smirk’ about prison rape since we know only too well the impact it can have on an offender and the lack of support given to them afterwards, particularly on the young where it is often applied in ‘gang rape’ situations as weapon of power and fear. For informed reading, see

    http://toysoldier.wordpress.com/2010/05/02/prison-rape-ignored-in-britain/
    By Ian Ross

  19. PrisonPath June 25, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    I found dealing with complaints about prison rape particularly difficult to deal with. It was rare anyone would come forward as a witness and I remember a very harrowing situation where I read a letter of complaint to the DG that made me cry with the emotion of what was claimed to have happened. When I asked the area manager to investigate the complaint there seemed to be some substance to it. I can’t say anything more than that but I was glad I read the complaint, took it seriously and asked senior people to act upon it. Actions were taken and this should not have occurred again. Prison is a microcosm of society and as such everything that can happen in society can happen in prison. The only difference to that is that male and female prisoners are not usually kept in the same prison.
    By Wendi

  20. PrisonPath June 25, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Having been a Prison Officer for 16 years I think I can honestly say that I would never have taken the subject lightly, and would have realised many of the implications for the victim. I think the problem is further compounded by the fact that men in particular are reluctant to come forward and admit that they have been raped.
    By Michael

  21. PrisonPath June 26, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    Ian. I agree. I have worked with sex offenders and victims at different stages of my career. Rape is a violent act of taking control over someone else. That is true of rape wherever it is committed. I have witnessed staff in prisons going to extra lengths to help and assist those who have come forward. The problem is if staff don’t know something has happened they can’t help. There is the Independent Monitoring Board who prisoners can talk to and the Listeners scheme. There are teachers, health workers, chaplains and prison visitors who prisoners can confide in. But if the culture is of fear of reprisal for grassing and you have suffered a traumatic experience you are not likely to trust anyone. I wonder if something akin to Childline with perhaps a free direct line to a specialist helpline might help prisoners who have suffered such trauma report it. Like any bullying situation the few control the many by making them keep quiet. If prisoners felt safe that they could report, have the perpetrator moved and investigated and get appropriate support to deal with the trauma they have suffered we may be able to reduce the problem. Sadly those being bullied can resort to bullying others and the same can be true of rapists. Afraid I have heard too many rapists telling me they were abused as a child. But of course many many abused children do not go on to abuse others. So what is different? Why do some children who are abused go on to abuse others and others do not? I’ve always said we should look at those people who have had a tough life and not resorted to crime to understand rehabilitation. Instead people are fascinated by offenders and study them rather than those who have been brought up in similar or worse circumstances but don’t offend. Identifying the difference should help work out what works for some offenders. The reality is some offenders just grow up, meet a great partner who believes in them and helps them turn themselves around, others have a family tragedy that shocks them into stop being selfish and think of others for a change. I remember a major drug dealer crying in front of me because his mum had died but he had not been able to be by her side. He changed dramatically after that and wanted to help others. Maybe if those who have been raped can do a video or talk to prisoners about the importance of speaking out and stopping it.
    By Wendi

  22. PrisonPath June 26, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    Wendi, we are of one. I agree with all that you write but I have come to believe that there is no golden key as to why one young man from a broken background might go on to offend when another does not. I came from a family with an alcoholic dad and a mum who struggled to cope. Both smoked heavily, a choice which ended my dad’s life. I do not and have not ever smoked nor do I drink heavily. I enjoy a gin and tonic at the end of the day and a carefully measured 250ml of wine – one third of a bottle – with my evening meal. My dad’s downfall into alcoholism gave me a healthy respect for drink. And that, I believe, IS the key! There are some who see their futures as replicating the lifestyle of their parents or, in many cases amongst the young men with whom I work, their parent, invariably their mum. Perhaps a succession of men have passed through the young man’s life, leading him to a distrust of men in general and an overdependence on women, often rushing into doomed relationships as a result. Perhaps anger where he believes that his mum wilfully deprived him of contact with his blood dad. This may have been the result of his mum genuinely looking after his best interests or, sadly, as we see so often in the media, the child being used as a weapon to punish the dad. On the other hand, some young people see their ‘family template’ as a model of how NOT to live their lives, having seen the chaos and havoc that ensues from such choices. We share a view on the impact of mums on the young men with whom I work. When we start to discuss the impact of their offending behaviour on their mums, often the only person still visiting them, the bag search routine, passing through drug dogs, strip searches etc and how they may have disrespected and taken their mums for granted in the past, the room falls silent. We are on hallowed ground. The mother/son – father/daughter bond kicks in. When they often feel of little value within themselves, we ask who they imagine their mums think of first thing in the morning and last thing at night. They immediately answer ‘Me!’. That self awareness tells them all they need to know. This can be a powerful weapon in steering some young men towards better choices when they leave prison, determined that their mums will not endure. I quote from memory a letter from an inmate which we use often in our early intervention workshops in schools – ‘Mum has been there for me. I’ve been in prison for 18 months and even though I’ve only got 3 months left of my sentence, my mum still cries when she see me on a visit. My mum has been in and out of hospital, mostly because of how much she worries and cries over her son being in prison’. That lad didn’t need our workshop but he did attend it. He didn’t need any rehabilitation, anger management, behaviour challenging and enhanced thinking skills courses He needed to be with his mum which he now is. As for young people speaking out about their rape in prison, I fear that this will only happen when they are out of prison since the prison environment certainly does NOT lend itself to any remedial work in this highly sensitive field.
    By Ian

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