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PREA Review Panel: 'Cultural Change' Needed to Reduce Sexual Victimization in Prisons

Popular culture, as a recent federal report laments, continues to make jokes about sexual assaults in prison. But U.S. Department of Justice hearings on prison rape in the spring and fall of 2011 in Washington, D.C. produced sobering material.

A three-person review panel on prison rape published its report of those hearings in April 2012, lauding the practices of prisons and jails where incidences of sexual victimization are lowest, and criticizing facilities where reports of prisoner-on-prisoner rape and sexual assault by guards are highest. The 88-page summary report and its voluminous appendices were issued, according to the review panel, to identify common causes of prison rape, as well as characteristics of both victims and offenders, and to make recommendations that will ultimately "lead to effective practices that prevent sexual victimization in prisons and jails."

The hearings were scheduled after a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) national survey was published in August 2010. The survey, Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails, Reported by Inmates, 2008-09, estimated that nearly 4.5% of the overall prison population, and more than 3% of the nation's jail population, were sexually victimized within the prior year or since their admission to a correctional facility. According to BJS statisticians, the percentages added up to approximately 88,500 then-incarcerated adults who had been sexually victimized while in prison or jail.

The DOJ review panel, created and funded by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, selected 10 prisons and jails from the BJS survey to appear at the 2011 hearings. Six facilities —the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's (TDCJ) James V. Allred Prison in Wichita Falls, Texas; the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Va.; the Elmira Correctional Facility in Elmira, N.Y.; the Clallam County Jail in Port Angeles, Wash.; the Miami-Dade Pre-Trial Detention Center in Miami; and the Orleans Parish Jail (known as Orleans Parish Prison, or OPP) in New Orleans—were selected because of their high rates of sexual victimization.

The remaining four—the Elkton Federal Prison (FCI Elkton) in Elkton, Ohio; the TDCJ's Bridgeport Prison in Bridgeport, Texas; the Hinds County Work Center in Raymond, Ms.; and the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Tulsa. Okla.—were chosen for review because of their relatively low incidences of sexual victimization.

In April 2011, the review panel heard from prisoner advocate Wayne Krause, the legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), who testified about the culture at TDCJ-Allred, where almost 11% of all prisoners—"one of the nation's highest rates... by both correctional staff and other (prisoners)," according to the report—were sexually victimized in 2009. Krause related the stories of two prisoners there, "John" and "Jane," who alleged sexual victimization at Allred.

"John," according to a redacted sworn statement, alleged that an Allred guard came to his cell in October 2008 and forced him to perform oral sex. A semen sample, according to an official report, was an eventual match to the accused guard's DNA, and the guard admitted that "John" had performed oral sex on him. The same guard, as described in another sworn statement, forced "Jane," a transgender prisoner, to perform oral sex on him, too.

Krause told the review panel that the October 2008 incident was actually the third time the guard had sexually assaulted "John,- and that an Allred case worker did nothing to protect him, instead refuting the allegations without investigating. Krause also said that "the culture at Allred is one that blames and punishes the victim," according to the report, and that "the grievance procedures are inherently flawed when it comes to reporting sexual victimization because the TDCJ allows (a prisoner) only fifteen days after an incident to file a grievance."

The treatment of prisoners who allege sexual abuse, and the integrity of sexual abuse complaint procedures, were common themes in the review panel's report. At the Elmira Correctional Facility, prisoners "fear retaliation for coming forward to make a complaint." At the Fluvanna women's prison, "complainants are placed in administrative segregation while the charge is being investigated, which may be a number of weeks," the report says. And at Allred, "despite more than sixty complaints of (prisoner-on-prisoner) sexual victimization, the subsequent investigations did not substantiate even one claim."

"The panel found," according to the report, "that missing information from the investigative files at Allred and Elmira—including such important information as an alleged perpetrator's prior history of predatory behavior and the ultimate disposition of an investigation—may suggest a correspondence between lax investigative procedures and an institutional culture that permits the sexual victimization of (prisoners)."

In September 2011, the panel heard from jail officials, including Timothy P. Ryan, director of Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation. Ryan did not provide an explanation for the high incidences of sexual victimization at Miami's Pre-Trial Detention Center, which houses the most violent offenders in the county's jail system, and instead refuted the findings of the BJS report. He said that few jails have been as heavily-scrutinized as the PTDC, and that since 2007, prisoner-on-prisoner violence has dropped by 54%. Ryan admitted, however, that implementing PREA standards in a large urban jail has been difficult.

"We have a cultural change to make as well, to recognize that our jails and prisons should not have (sexual assaults) going on; that as a profession, we do not tolerate those things," Ryan told the panel. "And that message, I don't think has gotten out, that we have not done a good job of marketing ourselves as to what we really believe in."

The review panel said it agreed with Ryan that there is a "need to advocate for cultural change, not only in an America where joking about sexual assaults in prison and jails remains pervasive, but also among the people who work in the field of corrections."

Ultimately, the panel recommended that prisons and jails commit to "changing attitudes toward potentially vulnerable populations," including female and LGBTQ prisoners. It also recommended that facilities should follow the surveillance and security designs of jails and prisons where sexual victimization is low; and that efforts by investigators, first responders and prosecutors who seem apathetic toward incarcerated victims of sexual abuse must improve.

"While we believe that jails... and prisons are making significant advancements to abate sexual victimization," the report concluded, "much more can be done to prevent sexual assaults and to punish sexual predators."

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Review Panel on Prison Rape: "Report on Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails," April 2012; www.ojp.usdoj.govireviewpanel/reviewpanel.htm

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