STOP Prisoner Rape - New Jersey Chapter

A Preliminary Statistical Look

Stephen Donaldson July 1995

The extrapolations to the national incarcerated population contained herein are necessarily rough and subject to criticism. Their objective is less to provide a precise number than to alert readers to the gigantic dimensions of the problem, and for that purpose it makes little difference if they are off by a substantial margin; it's their order of magnitude that counts.

Adult Male Jails

The only known data on sexual assault in adult jails (short-term pre-trial, pre-sentencing, and misdemeanor sentence facilities) derives from a 1968 thorough survey of the Philadelphia jails by Chief Asst. District Attorney Alan J. Davis with the help of the police department, originally reported in Transaction and reprinted in Scacco's Male Rape (1982, AMS Press). Davis believed his study underreported victimization for a number of reasons.

Davis reported that 3.3% of all males who passed through the Philadelphia jails were sexually assaulted; of them raped (penetrated).

He noted that only 3.2% of the rapes his investigators uncovered were ever mentioned in official jail records. The true big-city jail incidence rate is probably twice as large as Davis' figure, but we'll be conservative and use it for national extrapolation. The latest data for jail populations reported by the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) indicates 435,000 adult males in 3,300 jails in mid-1994, with 8.8 million adult male "new admissions" per year. Applying the Davis percentage, we estimate that in 1994 there were 14,300 victims in the jails at any time and that 290,000 males were victimized in jail every year, 192,000 of them penetrated. Once turned out, a victim is earmarked for constant further assaults. With a repeat rate very conservatively estimated at every other day, and counting gang-rapes as a single incident, this gives at least 7,150 sexual victimizations a day in jails.

Overall, half of all jail residents in 1994 were unconvicted;

--44% were black,

--39% white,

--15% Hispanic (state prison residents were reported in 1991 as 46% black, 35% white, 17% Hispanic);

--in 1989 34% were 24 or younger and 43% between 25 and 34 (a median age of 25 was also reported); median schooling was 10 years.

--In 1994 only 22.5% were charged with violent offenses; 90.0% of all jail prisoners were male; average maintenance cost per day was $14,700 (nearly $30,000 in New York State).

--Sexual abuse victimization prior to incarceration was admitted by 4.6% of males in jail in 1989 (BJS).

Davis reported that the average age of jail rape victims was 21, of rapists 24 (all prisoners in the jails: 28); avg. weight of victims 141 lbs., of rapists 157 lbs.; avg. height of victims 5 feet - 8??ches, of rapists 5 feet- 9 inches; 38% of victims were charged with serious felonies, compared to 68% of rapists. Interracial rapes were 56% of the total. Groth reported that 80% of his small sample of incarcerated rapes involved gang-rape. All these figures are consistent with descriptive literature and my own observation.

Victims are more likely to be young, small, non-violent, first offenders, middle-class, not streetwise, obviously homosexual, not gang-affiliated, not part of the dominant ethnic group in that jail, without major fighting experience, and held in big-city jails. The more of these factors apply, the more likely the victimization. If most apply, rape becomes a probability.

Adult Male Prisons

The most recent and comprehensive data on prisons resulted from a 1994 survey of the entire Nebraska prison system by Cindy Struckman-Johnson (CSJ), reported in the Journal of Sex Research 33:1 (1996).

Of 452 male respondents in 3 prisons, 101 or 22% indicated they had been pressured or forced to have sexual contact against your will. Of these, 72 added written descriptions of the worst incident to their answers to the standard questions.

Results were close to the estimates made by both prisoners and staff. Rates at the medium/maximum prisons were estimated to be 2-3 times the rate at the minimum security prison.

Regarding frequency, a third of targets said they were victimized once only, 38% 2-5 times,14% said 11 or more times; average was 9 times; average number of different perpetrators involved was 4.4.

On the most serious act involved in the worst incident,

--52% of the males indicated anal sex,

--8% oral sex,

--14% genital contact, and

--14% attempts.

A single perpetrator was involved in half of the most serious cases; about 10% involved groups of six or more; average number involved in the most serious incident was 3.

They were about equally divided between strangers and acquaintances. Of those who wrote out descriptions, 42% were victims of gang rape.

Prison staff were reported as perpetrators in 18% of the incidents. Over three-quarters of these "most serious" incidents involved force tactics, the remainder pressure or unknown; the victim was injured in 32% of cases and a weapon was used in 27%.

The victims were 78% white (compared to 62% of Nebraska's prison population) and 18% black (33% of the population); 70% heterosexual, 26% bisexual, and 2% homosexual.

All but 13% of the victims reported serious bad effects on them, including 57% with depression, 37% with flashbacks or nightmares, 36% with suicidal thoughts, and physical injuries in 16%.

Half told no one about the incident; 23% told outsiders, 18% counselors/clergy, 10% medical staff, and 16% told administrative prison staff. Apparently few of these verbal reports to staff were passed up the chain of command. The main reasons given for non-reporting were fear of retaliation, staff attitudes, shame, and fear of protective custody.

Asked about solutions, prisoners (mostly non-targets) favored keeping likely targets segregated from predators, followed by sexual visits, teaching rape avoidance, more staff, penalties for perpetrators, and single cells; staff favored more staff hiring, followed by separation of targets from predators, single cells, better communication, penalties, avoidance training. Prisoners did not list protective custody as a solution, though many staff did.

Prior to CSJ, the best systematic survey of a prison was Wayne Wooden and Jay Parker's 1979-80 survey of a medium-security California prison, reported in Men Behind Bars (1982, Plenum Press, recently reissued in paperback).

They reported that 14% of all prisoners had been pressured into having sex against their will in that prison (prisoners who had learned as a result of rape in jail or other prisons to pair off with a protector as soon as they got to prison were probably not counted even though they were engaged in continuous unwanted sex).

This 14% figure, which the authors also believed to be an underestimate, broke down into 9% of heterosexuals (4% of blacks, 17% of whites, and no Hispanics) and 41% of homosexuals (27% of blacks, 65% of whites, and 35% of Hispanics). Average age of heterosexual victims was 23, compared to 29 in the prison at large.

A 1974-75 study by Daniel Lockwood of six New York State prisons found that 28% of the prisoners (half the whites and a fifth of blacks and Hispanics) had been targets of sexual aggressors, though only one admitted suffering a completed rape to the interviewer.

In Coxsackie, a state youth prison, Lockwood reported that 71% of the white youths had been targets (he did not report figures for other Coxsackie groups). Targets weighed an average of 15 lbs. less than aggressors.

Other studies which attempted to measure the incidence of sexual assault suffer from serious methodological problems and are of little use. According to all observers, the incidence rate is highest in maximum security institutions.

As of June 1994 there were 931.076 males in (1992) 889 adult male-only and 77 mixed-gender prisons in the USA (BJS). The prison incarceration rate (combining sexes) in June 1994 was 373 per 100,000, the second highest rate in the world. Only 28% of 1992 court commitments were for violent offenses; 22% of prison residents were 24 or under in 1991.

In order to estimate victimization in prisons, I have applied the estimated CSJ rates for minimum security (9% victimization, 2.8% penetration) and maximum security (23% and 15% penetration), and the CSJ total victimization (23%) and the Wooden-Parker figure (14%, which did not include attempts) for penetration for medium security. In 1990, 37.3% of male prison residents were in maximum, 49.4% in medium, 13.2% in minimum security (BJS). Taking the same security level percentages to the 1994 prisoner levels and factoring in Wooden-Parker's adjusted rate as noted, this gives us 80,000 adult male victims a year in maximum (52,000 penetrated); 106,000 in medium (64,400 penetrated), and 11,000 in minimum (3,500 penetrated), for a total of 197,000 adult male victims in prison (119,900 penetrated).

Few survivors manage to avoid becoming perpetual sexual targets once turned out; most end up protected by another male or a group in return for sexual and other services, often forced into prostitution. As none of this survival-driven sexuality is truly consensual, all such acts can be considered unwanted. Many victims, especially in jails and juvenile institutions, are in fact raped more than once a day until released. I have therefore been very conservative in assigning a repeat rate of every third day, and assume that a victim remains in the prison system for the whole year and that a vicim of past years continues to be so, which yields an estimate of 65.000 male sexual victimizations a day in prisons.

Female Adult Prisons

The only data on sexual assault against female prisoners derives from the CSJ survey of a women's prison. She found that 7.7% of the women (3 of 39) had been pressured or forced...to have sexual contact...against your will in that prison. Of the 3 victims, 1 reported an attempt and 2 reported genital touching; 1 reported a male perpetrator and 2 reported female perpetrators. In 1992 there were 46,595 female sentenced prisoners and in 1994 48,879 females in jails.

Extrapolation suggests 3,600 female victims now in prison. Of course, many more female prisoners have probably been sexually victimized prior to confinement.

Juvenile Centers

No survey of sexual assault in all-male juvenile facilities has ever been published. There is, however, a consensus that victimization rates are higher than in adult institutions, and probably dramatically so. A study of 6 coeducational training schools by Clemens Bartollas and Christopher Sieverdes (1989) reported that almost 10% of the residents are identified as sexual victims on site. They are usually 14- or 15-year-olds. It is in these gladiator schools that impressionable boys learn to think of rape as simply the way of life behind bars, the way to prove your manhood or lose it.

In 1990 there were 3,300 boy juveniles (under 18) in adult prisons and 10,800 boy admissions (applying 93% male percentage from 1987); 6,100 boys in adult jails (1994, using 90% male) and 53,000 boy admissions (1991). In 1989 there were 1,076 public juvenile facilities housing in 1991 51,282 boys (88% of the total were male); about 23,600 of these kids were in 199 long-term state juvenile facilities, which saw nearly 50,000 annual admissions.

Of these juvenile prison residents, 27% were held for a violent offense. Their average age was 15.7. Another 11,500 kids were in long-term local juvenile centers, with 44,500 annual admissions. Short-term centers held 16,000 juveniles, with 433,600 admissions a year. Average stay for juveniles in 1978 was 40 days for juvenile facilities, 15 days for adult facilities. In addition, 25,800 boys were held in privately-operated juvenile detention homes (1991).

I would estimate from these bases in the area of 15,000 annual rapes of boys in adult institutions and at least 30,000 in juvenile centers for a total of 45,000 boys a year. A stab at a daily rate would be 3,000 in adult facilities and 8,000 in juvenile centers for a total of 11,000 boys a day.


Adding all these figures together, we get a conservative estimate of 530,000 male victims behind bars annually, incl. 242,000 penetrated (plus around 5,000 female victims), and over 83,000 a day.

This estimate for incarcerated male victims may be compared with a BJS estimate of 160,000 annual rapes of unincarcerated persons of both sexes, and 152,000 attempts; and 173,000 other sexual assaults in 1993, based on household interviewing and no doubt also an underestimate.

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