Crime and Justice  
4.4 Percent of Prison Inmates Sexually Victimized, Says BJS Report

By Suzette Lohmeyer
September 1, 2010

Prison_Victim_Graph.jpg

Thirteen percent of male prison inmates and 19 percent of male jail inmates who reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, said they were victimized in the first 24 hours of imprisonment, according to the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics report on sexual victimization in prisons and jails. Nationwide, 4.4 percent of male and female prison inmates and 3.1 percent of jail inmates surveyed between 2008 and 2009 said they had been victims of sexual abuse.

The BJS report includes rates of sexual victimization by inmates and facility staff, as well as likelihood of victimization based on gender, race, age, education level and sexual history and orientation. The survey, conducted between October 2008 and December 2009, was given to 81,566 inmates ages 18 or older.

Data on prison inmates are part of The State of the USA's draft set of crime and justice measures. Use the interactive chart below to compare different types of victimization among inmates:


Here are highlights via the report, "Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2008-09":

Prevalence of Sexual Victimization

  • An estimated 4.4 percent of prison inmates and 3.1 percent of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months. Nationwide, these percentages suggest that approximately 88,500 adults held in prisons and jails at the time of the survey had been sexually victimized.
  • About 2.1 percent of prison inmates and 1.5 percent of jail inmates reported an incident involving another inmate. An estimated 1 percent of prison inmates and 0.8 percent of jail inmates said they had nonconsensual sex with another inmate (the most serious type of acts), including unwilling manual stimulation and oral, anal, or vaginal penetration.
  • About 2.8 percent of prison inmates and 2.0 percent of jail inmates reported having had sex or sexual contact with staff. At least half of the inmates who experienced staff sexual misconduct (1.8 percent in prison and 1.1 percent in jail) said that they willingly had sex or sexual contact with staff.

Variations in Victimization Rates

  • Female inmates in prison (4.7 percent) or jail (3.1 percent) were more than twice as likely as male inmates in prison (1.9 percent) or jail (1.3 percent) to report experiencing inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization.
  • Sexual activity with facility staff was reported by 2.9 percent of male prisoners and 2.1 percent of male jail inmates, compared to 2.1 percent of female prisoners and 1.5 percent of female jail inmates.
  • Rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization in prisons and jails were significantly higher among inmates who were white or multi-racial compared to blacks, inmates with a college degree or more (compared to those who had not completed high school), a sexual orientation other than heterosexual to heterosexual, and who had experienced a sexual victimization before coming to the facility compared to those who had not.
  • After controlling for multiple inmate characteristics, rates of reported staff sexual misconduct were lower among white inmates (compared to black inmates), lower among inmates ages 25 or older (compared to inmates ages 20 to 24), higher among inmates with a college degree (compared to those who had not completed high school), and higher among inmates who had experienced sexual victimization before coming to the facility (compared to those who had not).

Circumstances Surrounding Victimization

  • Among inmates who reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, 13 percent of male prison inmates and 19 percent of male jail inmates said they were victimized within the first 24 hours after admission, compared to 4 percent of female inmates in prison and jail.
  • Inmate-on-inmate victimization in prisons and jails was most commonly reported to have occurred between 6 pm and midnight: more than 40 percent of victims reported this time period.
  • Most victims of staff sexual misconduct were males; most perpetrators were females. Among male victims of staff sexual misconduct, 69 percent of those in prison and 64 percent of those in jails reported sexual activity with female staff. An additional 16 percent of prison inmates and 18 percent of jail inmates reported sexual activity with both female and male staff.
  • Among inmates who reported staff sexual misconduct, nearly 16 percent of male victims in prison and 30 percent of male victims in jail said they were victimized by staff within the first 24 hours, compared to 5 percent of female victims in prison and 4 percent of female victims in jail.

Facility Rankings

  • Eight male prisons, two female prisons and six jails were identified as "high rate" facilities based on the prevalence of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization; four male prisons, two female prisons, and five jails were identified as "high rate" based on the prevalence of staff sexual misconduct. Each of these facilities had a lower bound of the 95 percent-confidence interval that was at least 55 percent higher than the average rate among comparable facilities.
  • Seven male prisons and four female prisons (but no jails) were identified as "low rate" facilities based on a small percentages of inmates reporting any sexual victimization by another inmate or staff and a low upper bound for the 95 percent-confidence interval around the rate. Among the 167 prisons and 286 jails in the survey, six prisons and 28 jails had no reported incidents of sexual victimization.
  • Except for a 6 percent rate of sexual victimization in the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks (Leavenworth, KS), rates in the five surveyed facilities operated by ICE, three operated by the U.S. Military, and two facilities in Indian country were lower than average rates in state and federal prisons (4.4 percent) and jails (3.1 percent).

(Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2008-09 PDF)

Suzette Lohmeyer is a staff writer and producer for State of the USA.

Data visualization by Anthony Calabrese, a State of the USA Web producer.

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