Watching the watchers

Via Eric Crampton, of all people (his “interesting” sidebar is, well, interesting, and incidentally his co-fisk of the BERL booze report is brutal), the news that (in US prisons, at least) guards commit more rapes than inmates is pretty sobering.

Although sexual abuse of prisoners is widespread, rates vary across facilities. For example, 10 facilities had comparatively high rates, between 9.3 and 15.7 percent, whereas in six of the facilities no one reported abuse during that time period. More prisoners reported abuse by staff than abuse by other prisoners: 2.9 percent of respondents compared with about 2 percent. (Some prisoners reported abuse by other inmates and staff.)

Victims and witnesses often are bullied into silence and harmed if they speak out. In a letter to the advocacy organization Just Detention International, one prisoner conveyed a chilling threat she received from the male officer who was abusing her: “Remember if you tell anyone anything, you’ll have to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life.”

This isn’t a report from some two-bit bunch of pinko soft-on-crime liberal nancies – The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission was formed in 2003 by the (then-majority Republican) US Congress, by a unanimous vote in conjunction with the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. It is a large-scale demographic and consultative research project intended to first determine the scale of the problem of prison rape, then to develop policy and procedure by which to eliminate it and standards to which prison operators must adhere in ensuring its elimination. As Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the initiative’s sponsors, said “it is not a liberal issue or a conservative issue. It is an issue of basic decency and human rights.” The research has been almost six years in the making.

So, for the benefit of David Garrett and Judith Collins:

Crowded facilities are harder to supervise, and crowding systemwide makes it difficult to carve out safe spaces for vulnerable prisoners that are less restrictive than segregation.

In other words: dorm-style and double-bunked prisoner accommodation means more rapes. Further:

In Farmer v. Brennan [1994], the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of sexual abuse violates an incarcerated individual’s rights under the Eighth Amendment. As the Court so aptly stated, sexual abuse is “not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.”

If it’s good enough for the USA, with the world’s highest incarceration rate per capita, then it’s good enough for New Zealand, which under the previous government as much as the current one, looks determined to challenge that record.


5 thoughts on “Watching the watchers

  1. I would think that container cells would be preferable to double bunking except for the rapists. But would double bunking reduce the incidence of prison officers doing the rape? The percentages could be suspect becuase of the ‘no tell’ code between prisoners. There needs to be a similar survey done in NZ prisons becuase while I accept the American system is highly suspect one likes to think one’s own country is better … but is it?

  2. Whatcha mean “of all people”?! Prison rape is horrible and folks who wink at it as being part of the sentence are abhorrent.

  3. Eric,

    It wasn’t the sort of issue I expected to come across in a professional economist’s “interesting” links, rather than in one of the many more sexual-politics-oriented blogs. Pleasantly surprised to do so.

    No intention whatsoever to suggest you were a member of the hang’em-flog’em brigades, so I apologise if that was the impression.


  4. Pingback: Kiwipolitico » Blog Archive » Let it burn

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