A Letter on Rape in Prisons

David Kaiser in the New York Review of Books:

To the Editors:

Jason DeParle’s thoughtful and wide-ranging overview of American incarceration policy and its consequences hardly mentions rape in detention. Yet this is not a rare or trivial part of life behind bars. Neither is it, as some believe, an inevitable one.

Prisoner rape has been largely ignored: by journalists, advocates, policymakers, and researchers. The available data therefore, especially on its frequency, are not very good. Still, it is possible to have some notion of the problem’s magnitude. Recent studies of prisons in four midwestern states suggest that approximately 20 percent of male inmates are pressured or coerced into unwanted sexual contact; approximately 10 percent are raped. Rates of sexual abuse in women’s facilities, where the perpetrators are most likely to be male staff, seem to vary more by institution but are as high as 27 percent of inmates.

Since the US now incarcerates more people than any other country, both relative to population and in absolute terms, these percentages translate into horrifying real numbers.

More here.