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The sexual abuse in prison is a serious problem in our country. It is compounded by the sheer number of inmates stepping inside the prison system every year. It is surprising to find out that our country is widely recognized as the one with most number of prisoners. This problem however is preventable and controllable if we will only change our attitude. We all have rights. Conviction for a crime no matter how heinous our crime is will not strip us of our rights.
In a letter sent to the Human Rights Watch by a sender whose name was purposely withheld, the sender narrated his horrifying experience while he was inside Prison. He recounted…”I’ve been sentenced for a D. U. I. offense. My 3rd one. When I first came to prison, I had no idea what to expect. I’m a tall white male, who unfortunately has a small amount of feminine characteristics. And very shy. These characteristics have got me raped so many times I have no more feelings physically. I have been raped by up to 5 black men and two white men at a time.
I’ve had knifes at my head and throat…There is no supervision after lockdown. ” (“No Escape Male Rape in US Prisons”) This excerpt speaks of an ugly reality inside the US prison. This is the reality that we have come to accept as part of the defects in the US prison system. This is the reality that has been institutionalized in our society which contributes not only to the perpetuation of violence inside prison but also to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS. (“Its Not My Problem”)
The sad thing about this issue is that there seems to be nothing being done about this problem by government authorities. Is it because while we uphold the rule of justice and consider rehabilitation as one of the primary purposes of prison, at the back of our minds we think that the inmates deserve what happens to them while inside the prison? This research paper deals with the issue of sexual abuse in US Prison. I aim to discuss the different scenarios of sexual abuse and the power relations happening inside prison that is at the core of this problem.
I aim to discuss of prisoners protected by domestic and international laws. Rights of Prisoners The issue of sexual abuse in US prison is extremely important nowadays considering that according to the new report of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice, our prison population has ballooned to a total of 2 million inmates. Research also shows that since 2002 one in every one hundred forty two US citizens is locked up in jail and out of the 1,200,203 state prisoners, 3055 inmates were younger than 18 years old. Robert Longley, 2007) Indeed, the increasing number of inmates in the US prison demands that this problem should no longer be ignored and that something be done eradicate this problem. At the outset, it is important to emphasize that prisoners too have rights regardless whether they have been convicted or not.
The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution is emphatic about this point. It states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. On the other hand, those who are waiting for their convictions are likewise protected under the authority of the Fifth Amendment, which states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. ” (“Fifth Amendment”)
In the case of Deshaney v. Winnebago City Social Services Department 489 U. S. 189 (1989), the Supreme Court has declared that when the state holds a person into custody and deprives him of his liberty that he is unable to care for himself and at the time it fails to provide him basic needs, the state violates the provisions of the Eight Amendment. Thus, the Eighth Amendment protects every prisoner from brutality imposed by the guards against him but also it requires the prison officials to give ample protection from violence that the other inmates may inflict on him.
In a suit for violation of Eighth Amendment, however, the law provides that the inmate whose rights have been violated to prove the following: a) the objective element – the extent of the injury the inmate has suffered which is so serous that it violates the society’s standard of decency and b) the subjective element – the prison knowing fully well that a violence has occurred “maliciously and sadistically” fails respond to this violence for the purpose of causing the inmate injury. (Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U. S. 1, 14 (1992). )
Though it is quite easy to prove the first element, the second element is very difficult to prove and presents serious obstacle against an inmate who is contemplating on filing a suit against prison officials for violation of their Eighth Amendment. In addition to the protection guaranteed under the Eighth Amendment and Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the DOJ has been granted authority to prosecute a public official for violating a prisoner’s constitutional rights.
Thus, under Section 242 of the United States Code, “This statute makes it a crime for any person acting under color of law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to willfully deprive or cause to be deprived from any person those rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the U. S. ” (Sec 242 of the United States Code) However, in the same manner as the violation of the Eighth Amendment is difficult to enforce, so is the violation under this statute which requires the injured party to prove that the public officer willfully and intentionally deprived the prisoner of his right.
International laws likewise provide ample protection to the condition of prisoners while inside the prison system. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of which the United States is a signatory clearly provides that all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. ” Indeed, all these laws affirm the basic principle that even prisoners do have rights under the law. Sexual Abuse in Prison At the outset, it is important to distinguish among the different circumstances of rape that happen within the four corners of the prison.
Rape accompanied with violence is one of the more commonly known sexual abuses that happen in prison. Ordinarily, when we talk about prison rape, what comes into mind is a gang of prisoners approaching a lone prisoner from behind and raping him. According to the Department of Justice, in the 2004 alone , an estimated 8,210 allegations of sexual violence were reported by correctional authorities — the equivalent of 3. 2 allegations per 1,000 inmates and youths incarcerated in 2004. (“Almost 2100 sexual violence incidents took place in the nation’s correctional facilities during 2004”)
It must be stressed that when rape is accompanied by physical force and violence, things usually turn out ugly for the rape victim. He may suffer broken neck, dislocated shoulders, hips, and dislocated fingers. Things could get really bloody that there have been inmates who have been recorded to have died after a forcible rape. In an article in Houston Chronicle entitled “Mother Probes Son’s Death in Prison,” Randy Payne a 23 –year old white inmate was attacked by a group of about 20 inmates within a week after arriving at the Texas Prison.
He later died of head injuries. Allan Turner) Indeed, forcible rape is such a common scenario inside prison that it may happen in any part of the prison. It could take place inside the shower, bathroom, washroom, and in sleeping areas. Forcible rape must however be distinguished from other forms of sexual abuse that also happens inside prison which is considered as most common and which takes place everyday in prison. This is called the coerced sex. In this scenario, no violence or force takes place but the victim willingly submits to the sexual favors by other inmates.
It does not however follow that if sex was not accompanied by force or violence, the inmate has given his consent to have sex with the other inmate. It must be stressed that the prison system is a very coercive environment such that it very difficult to ascertain whether the victim has indeed agreed to consensual sex. This is similar with the confession obtained by police officers to a crime suspect while the latter is being held under their custody. In the same manner as there could be no voluntary confession in this scenario so is the case of consensual sex among inmates behind bars.
The following are the most common reasons why consensual sex is very rare in prison. They explain why it is possible that even if the inmate has submitted himself to sex, the same is still considered as rape. The first is that the inmate becomes indebted to his other inmate because of some needs. Inside prison, there is widespread use of drugs. For some inmates they may not have the money to buy drugs or even food from other inmates. Another prisoner feigning to want to befriend this inmate offers him drugs for free. This “free offers” may include cigarettes, food, water, or even an extra pillow.
For some time, this other inmate will make it appear that he merely wants to befriend this other inmate. Later on, he will ask that all these debts be repaid. If the inmate does not have the money then sexual favors might be asked in return. Another scenario is when another inmate poses as a protector of the victim. In this scenario, the group of inmates will set up their victim by threatening the victim with bodily harm and injury. At the point when they are about to hurt their victim, this “protector” will scare the other group of inmates away.
This constant threat he receives from the other groups make the victim fear these inmates. He is then forced to befriend the other inmate who acted as his protector. They later on become close and they become friends. After the frequent protections, the inmate will not ask that his favors be repaid sexually. Male rape is not only a common thing inside prisons, as for female prisoners, the enemy is not their fellow prisoners but much worse. They are the male prison guards and correctional staff. The problem of sexual abuse among women prisoners is much worse precisely because of their sheer number.
Research shows that the United States has earned the distinction of incarcerating the most number of prisoners. Most of these prisoners are women and there number is increasing exponentially. According to studies, since 1980, the number of women entering US prisons has risen by almost 400% roughly double the incarceration rate increase of males…According to current estimates, at least half of all female prisoners have experienced some form of sexual abuse prior to incarceration…” (“All Too Familiar: Sexual Abuse of Women in State Prisons”, 1996)
It must be stressed that this form of sexual abuse against female prisoners is worse because here the correctional officials not only become remiss in their duty to protect the inmates but they also violate the moral and legal obligation to them. Also, the male prison guards and correctional staff commit their crime with impunity using not only force but their supreme authority to give these women goods or deny them certain privileges depending on whether they “consent” to have sex. Lack of Response of Prison Officials The problem of prison rape in our penal institutions is indeed immense.
Though there have been high-profile cases involving sexual abuse in prison, this problem is far from being resolved. The fault lies in not just one person or institution but in our indifferent attitude to this problem. Society perhaps may think that convicted prisoners deserve this condition inside prison. Surprisingly we will notice that prison and correctional officials are not severely punished for their transgressions. While some have been found guilty, most of the time, the punishment imposed on correctional officials would involve their reassignment to other penal institution and suspension for up to 30 days.
They consider this as an administrative matter. The judiciary which is supposed to protect the oppressed likewise offers no solution to this problem as they would consider this problem as an internal matter and would rather allow prison officials to handle this matter amongst themselves. The indifferent attitude of our correctional officials to one inmate raping another is likewise depressing. Their action on this matter will mainly be limited to transferring the prisoner to another penal facility.
I believe that the problem of sexual abuse will be reduced if not prevented not necessarily by punishing prison officials. The response need not be limited to their strict punishment as avoidance measures may be instituted as a matter of prison policy. Most of the time, this problem happens because the prisoner does not know what to expect in prison. He has no knowledge what happens inside prison and he does not know what to do in case something like this happens. In some states, particularly North Carolina, initiatives have been made to prevent rape by an inmate against another by conducting inmate orientation.
Among the topics discussed in this orientation are not only the house rules and the day to day activities of the inmates but also information that rape may happen while they are inside the prison and tips on how to avoid getting rape. They should be prepared on the possible tricks that their fellow inmates may play on them and they should be advised to refuse any offers for food and drugs that they may later on be asked to repay. Secondly, prisoner classification should be given priority by prison officials. It must be stressed that in most prisons the hard core prisoners are mixed with first timers.
When this happens the new comer becomes easy target by them. Thus, classification of prisoner and separating those newcomers from the others will provide a good alternative against rape. Thirdly, I believe we should start changing our attitudes on the issue of prison rape. This is not just an administrative misconduct but a grave offense. This issue should therefore be addressed seriously and swiftly. If a complaint is received that prison officials has raped an inmate, investigations should be made and he should immediately be prosecuted and criminal charges should be immediately filed.