Prison, jail staff rarely face legal consequences after sex abuse of inmates, report finds

  • Tami Abdollah
  • January 31, 2023
  • USA Today

Sexual victimization of adult inmates is an ongoing problem in U.S. jails and prisons, with thousands of victims of inmate-on inmate abuse and staff-on-inmate abuse during 2016 through 2018, according to a special report by the U.S. Department of Justice released Tuesday.

The report comes as the federal prison system has faced scrutiny for repeated incidents of inmate sexual abuse by staff, including by a warden and chaplain at a high-profile Northern California prison.

In December, a jury found the former warden Ray J. Garcia guilty of seven counts of sexual abuse of three female inmates and one count of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Garcia, who headed the Dublin, Calif. all-female prison, was the highest ranking official from the Bureau of Prisons to be convicted of such crimes.

“It is taken for granted that rape is inevitable inside prison — and that the people who endure this violence somehow deserve their fate,” said Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, a spokesman for the Los Angeles-based organization Just Detention International, which seeks to end to sexual abuse in all forms of detention.

“The violence is so normalized, and so engrained in our society that prisoner rape jokes are common even now, in the post MeToo era … No matter what crime a person has committed, rape is not part of the penalty.”

Here are some highlights from the report:

Sexual misconduct is underreported; staff perpetrators often female

  • Staff sexual misconduct was underreported by inmates: Only about a quarter of incidents were reported by the victim and nearly 20% of the substantiated incidents were uncovered during an investigation or monitoring.
  • The majority of substantiated sexual misconduct, or 67%, was perpetrated by female staff; male staff perpetrated about 69% of substantiated incidents of sexual harassment.
  • Most of these perpetrators were under the age of 40 and white. And about half of their victims were also white. These staffers were usually employed full-time as correctional officers or supervising staff for longer than six months.
  • The vast majority, or nearly 83%, of inmates who perpetrated nonconsensual sex acts against other inmates, were male.

Prison and jail staff are rarely held legally accountable

Overall allegations of sexual abuse rose 14% from 2015 to 2018, according to an earlier 2021 report on the same data set by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report, however, only looked at “substantiated” incidents, which means that the incident was investigated and found to have occurred based on a preponderance of evidence.

For these substantiated – and reported – incidents, only about 38% of staffers faced any legal action.

The report also noted that 20% of staff perpetrators of sexual misconduct in jails were convicted, pled guilty, sentenced or fined — that’s compared to 6% of staff perpetrators of such incidents in prison.

Lerner-Kinglake noted that an overwhelming number of reports are still unsubstantiated, but that given the risks involved in making such a claim against correctional staff, “it just defies logic that only 5% of reports of staff sexual abuse are valid.”

He added: “What kind of message does it send when incarcerated people are bravely speaking out, only to learn that their reports are dismissed? And, even worse still, what does it mean that even in cases where reports are substantiated, so few staff are being held accountable?”

Video surveillance holes in jails, prisons enable inmate victimization

The report found that half of inmate-on-inmate and staff-on-inmate sexual abuse occurred in areas that weren’t under video surveillance.

In the case of the former warden, Garcia, such “dead spots” in video surveillance were crucial aspects of his case. The incidents of abuse he engaged in were conducted outside of areas where there was any or functional surveillance video.

Originally posted here