The New York Review of Books had a piece the other day that caught my eye: David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, The Shame of Our Prisons: New Evidence, NYRB, October 24, 2013. Hence the title.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. As reported in the NYRB, they have released their third annual report of Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011–12.
Why do we care? Well this is what caught my eye in the NYRB piece.
“In our experience, many people do not take sexual abuse committed by women as seriously as abuse committed by men. . . . Rape by women is just as much of a violation as rape by men, and corrections authorities must start treating it accordingly.”
Not an unexpected statement, especially in light of research coming out over the last few years on the topic of women in power positions. But then,
“These studies confirm some of the most important findings from earlier surveys—among others, the still poorly understood fact that an extraordinary number of female inmates and guards commit sexual violence. They also reveal new aspects of a variety of problems, including . . . (3) the frequent occurrence of sexual assault in military detention facilities (emphasis added).”
This is the first time the study has sought to include information about military confinement facilities.
The statistics seems to contradict what we are told or have heard from clients. I have to admit to telling clients and families that military confinement facilities are pretty safe compared to civilian jails, unless you are a baseball umpire. I usually will say that Fort Lewis is the worst of the lot to be confined and Miramar and Charleston the best. It appears I’m right about Fort Lewis.
So, as reported by NYRB:
“On May 17 of last year, the same day that the Justice Department published a set of strong regulatory standards meant to help corrections authorities prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse in prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers, President Obama issued a memorandum ordering all other federal departments and agencies that operate confinement facilities to devise similar “high standards.” Findings from the “special confinement facilities” surveyed by the BJS show just how crucial that directive was.”
Military detention facilities also performed strikingly poorly in the new NIS. The Army’s Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility in Washington had rates of both inmate-on-inmate abuse and staff sexual misconduct that were more than double the national averages for jails or prisons. And the Naval Consolidated Brig in Miramar, California, had more than twice the national average of staff sexual misconduct for prisons, as well as a significantly above-average rate of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse.
The actual report notes on sexual misconduct:
Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility (Fort Lewis, Washington) (6.6%).
Naval Consolidated Brig (Miramar, California) (4.9%).
[Which are] more than double the average of prisons (2.4%) and jails (1.8%) nationwide.
Report at 6 (chart Report at 16). The report notes that only males were sampled at Miramar.
NYRB writes – about a not unusual transparency issue:
Nonetheless, the Defense Department’s reaction has, so far, been completely unsatisfactory—the worst of any of the departments and agencies to which the president’s directive applies. It convened a working group to begin discussing standards, but in contrast to the example set by the Justice Department, this was a closed process: no advocates for victims of sexual abuse were permitted to participate, the public received no notice of any measures the department might have been considering, nor were public comments invited. Finally, in February, the department decided not to create standards that would apply to all its detention facilities, but instead to let each separate branch of the military set its own standards. The different branches were given no deadline by which to complete this task and, with the exception of the Army, none seems to be taking it very seriously.
This devolution of response seems odd because I had always thought the Army was the single authority for military confinement issues.
Perhaps leaders of the Defense Department believe that the high rates of sexual victimization suffered by incarcerated and non-incarcerated service members are distinct problems. If so, they are mistaken—first of all, because it seems likely that the same characteristics of the military’s institutional culture account for the high frequency of sexual assault both inside and outside its jails, and second, more fundamentally, because the military has the same obligation to protect all its personnel from abuse, regardless of their status.
People do not simply lose their basic human rights when they are imprisoned [or accused].