[Pnews] Sexual Victimization of the Mentally Ill in Prisons

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 18 10:56:53 EDT 2013

Weekend Edition October 18-20, 2013

*Hell on Earth*

  Sexual Victimization of the Criminally Insane


Jan Brewer is the governor of Arizona and one of her three sons, Ronald, 
was charged in 1989 with sexual assault and kidnapping of a Phoenix 
woman.  He was diagnosed suffering schizophrenia and, in 1990, was found 
not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to the Arizona State Hospital 
in Phoenix where he has been housed for the last two decades.  Brewer is 
one of the lucky mentally ill or criminally insane people in the U.S. 
not forced to live out their sentence in a state jail or federal prison.

A 2006 report for the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice 
Statistics (BJS), "Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail 
Inmates," estimated that 1.25 million people suffering from mental 
health problems were inmates in U.S. prisons and jails.  This is a 
four-fold increase from the BJS's 1998 estimate of 283,000 incarcerated 
inmates with a mental illness.

Two recent BJS studies spotlight the horrendous conditions faced by the 
criminally insane in the American prison gulag.  They reveal that U.S. 
prisons have become the dumping ground for an increasing number of 
mentally ill people and, more troubling, these people are subject to 
widespread and repeated sexual victimization.  Prisons are coming to 
increasingly resemble hell on earth, a postmodern version Dante's 8^th 
level of Hell, Malebolge, an amphitheatre-shaped pit in which panderers, 
pimps, seducers and others are whipped, ducked in boiling pitch and 
their feet licked by flames.

* * *

In March 2013, CBS's primetime Sunday news program, "60 Minutes," 
featured an exposé on prison conditions in Chicago.  It profiled Cook 
County Sheriff Tom Dart and argued, "with a shortage of mental 
facilities, jails have become the new asylums."  Sadly, the conditions 
found in Chicago are relatively humane compared to that found in prisons 
around the country.  This is the sad lesson suggested by two recent BJS 
reports: "Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 
2011--12: National Inmate Survey (NIS), 2011--12," prepared by Allen 
Beck and others; and "Report on Sexual Victimization in Prisons and 
Jails (RSV)," edited by G. J. Mazza.

The NIS findings are pretty alarming:  "In 2011-12, an estimated 4.0% of 
state and federal prison inmates and 3.2% 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."  It adds, "an estimated 3.6% of those 
identified with serious psychological distress reported inmate-on-inmate 
sexual victimization, compared to 0.7% of inmates with no indication of 
mental illness."

In real numbers, incidents of sexual victimization are significant.  The 
total U.S. incarcerated population is estimated at 2.3 million.  Using a 
3.5 percent victimization rate, about 80,000 men and women, boys and 
girls as well as those identified as LGBT or suffering a mental health 
disorder are subject to some form of sexual violence.

More enlightened prison systems offer inmates some form of mental health 
support.  The NIS found "more than a third of prison inmates (35.8%) and 
jail inmates (39.2%) said they had received some counseling or therapy 
from a trained professional for these problems."

Not surprising, those who saw a mental health professional were more 
likely to report being sexually victimized.  Inmate-on-inmate sexual 
victimization is 3 to 4 times higher among inmates who had received 
mental health counseling and 2 to 3 times higher among inmates who take 
prescription drugs.  The need for professional counseling is probably 
greater for those inmates subject to solitary confinement.

In 2005, the Supreme Court found in /Wilkinson v. Austin/ that "no study 
of the effects of solitary or supermax-like confinement that lasted 
longer than 60 days failed to find evidence of negative psychological 
effects."  The mental-health consequences from such confinement take 
many forms.  Inmates report an increase in problems sleeping, irrational 
anger, rage, lack of impulse control, confusing thought processes, 
hallucinations and depression, severe and chronic.  Suicide and 
incidents of self-harm or self-mutilation (e.g., swallowing razors and 
repeatedly smashing his/her head against the wall) increase.

"Report on Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails (RSV)" is an even 
more revealing indictment of U.S. prison system.  It provides detailed 
information about three so-called "High-Incidence Prisons."  Among the 
characteristics of those who are most victimized by inmate-on-inmate 
sexual violence those with the following characteristics: (i) being 
white or multi-racial, (ii) having a college education, (iii) having a 
sexual orientation other than heterosexual, and (iv) having experienced 
sexual victimization prior to coming to the facility.  Among the 
characteristics of those who are most victimized due to staff sexual 
misconduct included: (i) having a college and (ii) experienced sexual 
victimization before coming to the facility.

Three prisons deemed high-incident facilities were singled out.

Fluvanna is a maximum-security prison for women in Troy, VA.  It 
suffered a major scandal in 2007 when the former chief of security was 
charged with having sex with female inmates.  He was convicted the 
following year.  Current administration concedes it suffers from short 
staffing during critical early-morning and late-evening hours, when most 
sexual victimization takes place.

Allred is a maximum-security prison for men in Wichita Falls, TX.   
During the 2008-2009 period, its capacity was 3,682.   In 2009, 4,693 
inmates spent time at Allred; the average length of stay was 1,682 days, 
the longest stay was 5,306 days.  Did someone say overcrowding?

Elmira, located in Upstate New York, is a maximum-security prison for 
men. During the 2008-2009 period, its capacity was 3,682 and, in 2009, 
the total number of inmates who spent any time there was 9,396.  That 
year, two inmates committed suicide and 11 people attempted suicide.

The authors of the RSV study take up an advocacy voice, calling for 
system wide changes.  Knowingly, they insist:  "We know that sexual 
assaults can be reduced by changing attitudes toward potentially 
vulnerable populations, including female, LGBTQ, and physically frail 
inmates; paying close attention to institutional design and 
surveillance; providing offender education and staff training; improving 
operational policies and post orders; and monitoring adherence to 
established policies."

* * *

American prisons have become the new mental institutions, asylums for 
lost souls.  In /Madness and Civilization/, Michel Foucault notes that 
in 1656 the Hopital General was founded in Paris.  It was not a medical 
establishment, but a juridical institution seeking to instill moral and 
religious order in those so imprisoned.  While ostensibly aimed at the 
confinement of the insane, it also housed the unemployed or idle, 
prisoners and the poor.  The confined included those identified as "the 
debauched, spendthrift fathers, prodigal sons, blasphemers" and 

We've come nearly full circle in the last three-and-a-half centuries.  
As Rockefeller inspired lock-'em-up drug-related policies wane in the 
face of the mounting fiscal crises faced by local and state governments, 
nonviolent drug offenders are being replaced by the mentally ill.  The 
sad situation is that there are dwindling facilities for the civil 
confinement of those designated criminally insane or mentally ill.

Writing in the /New York Review of Book/ 
David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow point out, "the asylums where people 
with serious disorders could once receive care were mostly closed down 
by the end of the Reagan era."  They point out that a half-century ago, 
in 1955, there were 558,239 beds for severely mentally ill patients in 
public psychiatric hospitals.  Going further, they argue that, based on 
population growth, the number of beds should have been 885,000 by 1994.  
Sadly, the number of beds in public institutions were only 71,619 and 
"perhaps another 70,000" in private psychiatric hospitals.

The authors conclude, pessimistically, "Indeed, a visit to almost any 
prison or jail makes it distressingly clear that these institutions now 
house many of the people who need mental health treatment."  These 
prisons have become a modern-day hell-on-earth.

/*David Rosen* regularly contributes to the AlterNet, Brooklyn Rail, 
Filmmaker and Huffington Post.  Check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com 
<http://www.davidrosenwrites.com/>; he can be reached at 
drosennyc at verizon.net <mailto:drosennyc at verizon.net>./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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