Saturday, June 27, 2009

Commission: Probationers, immigrant detainees may be subjected to sexual abuse

The problem of prison rape has been widely discussed and decried, but a major new report (pdf) almost six years in the making by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission says the problem can also occur in community corrections settings, mostly as a function of coercion by probation and parole officers:
As in other correctional settings, courts have found that sexual abuse in community corrections violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. As a result, community corrections agencies, like prisons and jails, have a special responsibility to protect the people they supervise. Courts also have determined that the authority staff have over the individuals they monitor makes a truly consensual sexual relationship impossible. Community corrections agencies are accountable for sexual abuse incidents, regardless of whether the circumstances in which the abuse occurred were under the direct control of the agency or a separate organization working under contract with the agency. Anyone in a supervisory position can be held liable for abuse. For example, in Smith v. Cochran, Pamela Smith was in jail but participating in a work release program. Her supervisor on the job sexually assaulted her, and the court ruled that important “penological responsibilities” had been delegated to him.

Although individuals under correctional supervision in the community may experience sexual abuse at the hands of other supervisees, the dynamics of supervision make them particularly vulnerable to abuse by staff. Coercion and threats carry great weight because individuals under supervision are typically desperate to avoid being incarcerated. Staff also have virtually unlimited access to the individuals they supervise, sometimes in private and intimate settings. In Ramsey County, Minnesota, for example, a male community corrections officer visiting a former prisoner’s apartment to discuss her failure in a drug treatment program instead requested and had sex with her.
The report notably also called for more research into the issue of rape among the ever-growing number of immigration detainees:
In the 15 years from 1994 to 2009, the number of immigrants held in detention pending a judicial decision about their legal right to remain in the United States increased nearly 400 percent. For the 2009 fiscal year, ICE has budgeted enough money to detain 33,400 people on any given night and more than 400,000 people over the course of the year. The population of immigration detainees includes adults, thousands of “unaccompanied” children, and whole families confined together.

The prevalence of sexual abuse among immigration detainees is unknown and has yet to receive the attention and research it merits, but accounts of abuse by other detainees and staff have been coming to light for more than 20 years. Many factors—personal and circumstantial, alone or in combination—make immigration detainees especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. One of the most pervasive factors is social isolation. Individuals are often confined far from family or friends and may not speak the language of other detainees or staff. Those who have already suffered terrifying experiences in their home countries or in the United States can be almost defenseless by the time they are detained and may even expect to be abused.
I must admit I'd never considered those particular aspects of the issue, but I'm glad the commission did.

Meanwhile, thanks to the Prison Rape Elimination Act, we've recently gotten the first estimates of national prevalence rates for in-custody rape: In large national survey, according to the report, about 4.5% of inmates US prisons and 3.2% in local jails said they'd been victims of sexual assault while incarcerated within the prior 12 months. "Approximately 20 percent of all victims said that they had been physically injured during the course of the abuse." In jails, in particular, some categories of inmates were much more likely to be abused:
Women were more likely than men to be sexually victimized (5 percent compared with 3 percent). Rates were higher among younger inmates: 4.6 percent among respondents 18 to 24 years old, compared with 2.4 percent among respondents 25 years and older. Nearly a fifth (18.5 percent) of inmates who identified as homosexual and 9.8 percent who identified as bisexual or “other orientation” reported being sexually victimized, compared with 2.7 percent of heterosexual inmates. ...

Youth confined with adults also are at high risk of sexual abuse. In 2005, for example, individuals under the age of 18 made up less than 1 percent of all inmates in U.S. jails.64 Yet 21 percent of all victims of substantiated incidents of sexual abuse involving jail inmates that year were under the age of 18
See additional coverage from the Washington Post and the New York Times.


Anonymous said...

01:57 You used the phrase "a show of solidarity." That phrase brings back memories of the radical left in the sixties.

A current group called Solidarity has this belief:

“The struggle for revolutionary democracy cannot win unless it becomes a struggle against the dictatorship of capital and its class collaboration. Therefore, in order to win the struggle for democracy, it should lead directly to the struggle for the seizure of power by the workers and poor peasants and for socialism. There is no ‘third way’."

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Daeus, private prisons do not have a monopoly on wretched conditions.

I couldn't help but notice the heat spell in Texas.

Does anyone know if the places where children are kept there provide some air conditioning?

Or would that be considered coddling criminals too?


gravyrug said...

4:26, I don't know about the places housing children, but I do know several Texas prisons have very limited air conditioning (administrative offices and visitation areas, not much else). Temperature is a very real issue both in winter and summer.

Anonymous said...

Ahma thank you for the inspirational speech. No details to share, huh? I continue to believe that private prisons can provide a huge savings to the taxpayer and humane for the prisoners.

Anonymous said...

Uh, actually anon 7:26 he has got plenty of them.

"Please visit our website for further information:"

Although, you didn't provide any.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:26 writes: "I continue to believe that private prisons can provide a huge savings to the taxpayer and humane for the prisoners."

Just like at this private prison, huh? In addition to the site listed by 8:26, the blog Texas Prison Bidness covers the beat pretty well.

I do agree, though, with 4:26 that private prisons do not have a monopoly on wretched conditions.

Anonymous said...

Privately run prisons are just a good idea.

This article surveys a wide range of studies and concludes that privately run prisons offer quality of service which is equal or superior to state run prisons at a lower cost.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:19 - I'm not always opposed to using private facilities when they can provide services unavailable in state lockups or to resolve logistical capacity problems. But don't kid yourself, the cost savings are mainly because they skimp on services and cherrypick less dangerous prisoners.

Private prisons underpay their guards, often dangerously understaff their facilities, and privatization has frequently been a source of scandal. Just to take one example, see the links related to the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut) in this post. We have lots of actual, real-world experience with private prisons in Texas, pro and con, we don't need some think-tanker from Pennsylvaniala to tell us what's what.

scott said...

How can the State take you into custody if they can't secure the safety of your person? Seriously, there should be no way to compel anyone to enter conditions where rape and assault are likely.

These places should be reported to the authorities and condemned. The truth of that and the absurdity proves the absurdity of this gov't.

Our judges, and politicians are awfully smug when they dismiss such charges. "How dare you, wee subject tell me I have no clothes?"

When we default on our debt, and our gov't can't pay the cops, keep a list of the especially venal, corrupt politicians and officials--they're the first we'll eviscerate.

It's funny, point out their larded organs to them as they bleed out. That fat, the waste they took for themselves is there, fattening their gut, choking their hearts. Point that out to them, they knew their excess would kill them one way or another.

Don't they deserve such justice? Don't they really? To send non-violent offenders to such conditions? To tell someone they can't manage their own affairs, and for not getting the proper stamp, someone will condemn a man to such inhumane conditions. The really smug ones think they deserve a thanks.

Jackie Buffalo said...

Nearly the entire four years that I was on probation, from April 2004 - May 2008, my son and I were victims of harassment. Some of this was sexual harassment. My son was afraid that one goon who stalked him was a pedophile. I filed complaints absolutely everywhere. I took the correspondence, in person, to the courthouse to leave with the court supervisor and a copy with the court coordinator. Not a word in response. After my arrest, for contempt of court (operating a website), my probation officer inquired about the material on my site. I told him that we were being harassed by a constable and his buddies. I told him that one of those buddies was a Rowlett firefighter who drove up to me and started to masterbate. I told my officer, very clearly, that this was sexual harassment. I told him my son and I were being harassed. He told me that I needed to be careful what I told people. He told me that I needed to be careful of what I told him. Then he transferred out a couple of months later. But nothing was ever done. No one would even help my child, who was very sick at the time until he finally ended up hospitalized for the majority of 2008, having to be fed by IV for 8 months.
As my attorney succinctly said, when you are on probation you have 'limited rights'. I dare say you have none.

Anonymous said...

But don't kid yourself, the cost savings are mainly because they skimp on services and cherrypick less dangerous prisoners.

Grits I like the word "mainly". Are you admitting that some of the savings could come from a more efficient use of resources? It shouldn't be hard to accept the conclusion that the private sector can be more efficient.

As for the guards, I would simply say that correctional officers are over paid because they have the ability to sway politicians, just like public school teachers. If private prisons can be more flexible in how they pay their employees, I suspect their cost advantage will increase.

As far as safety goes, you have picked a few dramatic scandals to highlight, but this doesn't prove that on average private prisons are more dangerous.

And even if they were, wouldn't the solution be to increase regulation of private prisons, rather than stamp out this great innovation?

Anonymous said...

"...wouldn't the solution be to increase regulation of private prisons, rather than stamp out this great innovation?"

Wouldn't that sort of defeat the purpose of saving the government all that money?

If they are such nifty places perhaps you should go on a fact finding mission in one for a while. You could go undercover - say as an inmate maybe.

Explain the fight after fight because the guards can't/won't keep control. The lack of commissary. The unsanitary conditions. The unfit food. The delays in getting medical attention.

I'm sure it would be a great comfort to know that you would be residing in one of man's greatest innovations.

And no I don't have any neat statistics to cite. I was just there.