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]. 

10 Responses to “Is it safe–what’s it like in the Brig?”

  1. ExTC says:

    I can’t speak for the incidents of sexual assault at the Fort Lewis brig, but if you’ve ever been there, it’s not hard time. It’s old for sure , circa 1950’s, and cold, but not hard time. They have extensive programs of dog handling, carpentry and a tremendous outside working program. Very Northwest green. Prisoners, minimum custody for sure, drive tractors and farm lots of produce.  Beats Charleston and Miramar’s inside world of concrete. Confinement stinks but the Fort Lewis brig is adult day care, where you can play Xbox and work out In a pretty good gym. 

  2. Bridget Wilson says:

    Dunno. Maybe I am naive, but Club Miramar is not exactly San Quentin or even CIW. Have done some pretty good battles to negotiate time @ Miramar v. some other facilities. Yeah, it is concrete, but as prisons go…

  3. some TC says:

    Given recent experiene with sexual assault surveys and statistics, it should be clear to all of us that how things are defined matters. Isn’t it often the case that a basic assumption is that prisoners are incapable of consenting because of the power dynamics involved? It makes a difference to me if we’re talking about what would otherwise be consentual–brig staff are usually pretty young and inexperienced (at least in the brig I frequent) and they aren’t really career correctional officers.

  4. Joseph Wilkinson says:

    I went to the Bureau of Justice Statistics website  to 

    see whether they were still publishing the parallel report – Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities (as opposed to by prisoners themselves).  It looks as if they stopped publishing those in 2008.     And that’s a shame. 

    The most recent one of those suggests that only 13% of prisoners’ allegations were “substantiated,” and the substantiated military claims were running 1 per year (not 1 percent per year; one incident per year). 

    The outrage in the report is about anonymous self-reporting by prisoners, and as the report itself admits:

    “Since participation in the survey is anonymous and reports are confidential, the survey does not permit any follow-up investigation or substantiation of reported incidents through review.  Some allegations in the NIS-3 may be untrue.”



  5. John O'Connor says:

    Joseph Wilkinson,
    Anyone  who has ever sat through an unsworn statement knows that people convicted by court-martial never lie.

  6. Joseph Wilkinson says:

    Oh, yes, I quite forgot that.  Also that prisoners never resent prison authority, would never answer an anonymous survey falsely just to make the prison look bad, and never ever ever play the victim card.  And life is a glorious cycle of song, a medley of extemporanea, and love is a thing that can never go wrong, and I am Marie of Romania.
    Seriously, though, the 2008 Correctional Authorities report also shows much lower rates of sex assault reported to prison officials (as opposed to “reported on anonymous surveys”), especially in the military system, and that strikes me as highly suspicious in light of the military clemency system.  I’ve had a client get 10 days off a 90 day sentence because they didn’t let him talk to his wife on the phone for 45 days (bureaucratic error; there was no malice in the affair).  Imagine what a man anally raped in the prison would’ve gotten…
    On the other hand I know that prisons can and will punish false allegations of anything against anyone as an infraction against prison discipline — so there is a genuine incentive not to report a minor incident that can’t be proven — but a serious rape with physical injuries and an exchange of DNA-rich bodily fluids…that would be easy to prove and clemency gold.  Has anyone here seen it?  (Not a rhetorical question. I haven’t, but I haven’t seen it all.)
    And I wish the post-2008 DOJ hadn’t stopped reporting the other data.  If you look at the 2008 “reported by correctional officials” report I linked to, it lists the earlier reports the department had put out (including the “reported by inmates” reports) on page 8.  But the 2012 “reported by inmates” report no longer lists the prior reports…as if they didn’t want people to notice they’d stopped reporting the more believable numbers from correctional officials.  And the author of the angry NYBR piece didn’t notice, that’s for sure.

  7. Joseph Wilkinson says:

    I have to eat my last words because they do list the prior publications on page 40 of the 2011-12 report.  In fact the PRE Data Collection Activities 2012 report says there was supposed to have been a “Reported to Correctional Authorities” report released in December 2012, but I haven’t been able to find it.

  8. Joseph Wilkinson says:

    (and that was supposed to have been a report of 2009 data; so while they aren’t hiding the fact, the DOJ does seem to be keeping current on anonymous prisoner allegations but not prison official findings…though I suppose there should be a little lag since it takes more time to substantiate an allegation than to answer a survey).

  9. Lieber says:

    I don’t know…it seems to me that the incentives to make a false report are a heck of a lot less in an anonymous survey…that’s exactly when people are most likely to tell the truth.
    (of course the classic problem with DoD surveys — and why I never fill them out — is that they ask so many detailed unit/MOS questions that they’re not anonymous in the slightest)

  10. Joseph Wilkinson says:

    Depends on the motive.  If the motive is to “get the prison staff in trouble” then the anonymous survey is the perfect place for it…especially if the person is in the habit of playing the victim when he can get away with it.
    Prisons can and do punish “false statements to the prejudice of another” so there is a disincentive to make a false claim there, at least if it’s provably false.  Judging by the 2008 report, prison officials found about 7/8 of the reports they received to be false anyway; so heaven knows what the percentage is for “anonymous reports that have no consequences.”