The shame of incarceration: new evidence on sexual victimization

The power of data to combat denial and distortion is dramatically illustrated in “The Shame of Our Prisons:  New Evidence,” a review of studies carried in the October 24 issue of the New York Review of Books by David Kaiser, chair of the board of Just Detention International (JDI) and Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s executive director. Kaiser and Stannow say that the uniform denial of the widespread problem of prison rape has changed now that good data is available. The carefully conducted surveys by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reviewed by Kaiser and Stannow have found consistent findings: “The same factors that put inmates at risk of sexual abuse show up again and again, as do the same patterns of abuse involving race and gender, inmates and guards.” The data discredits the assertion by prison officials in recent years that inmates fabricate claims of sexual victimization in order to cause trouble.

Kaiser and Stannow report that the studies [Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011-12: BJS National Inmate Survey (NIS) and Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012: BJS National Survey of Youth in Custody (NSYC)] confirm important findings from earlier surveys (e.g., extraordinary numbers of female inmates and guards commit sexual

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Reduce ACEs by dismantling the “prison industrial complex”

prisonWhen I was a child growing up in Kentucky, my father made regular visits − usually at night − to the local jail to provide medical care to inmates. In one way or another, substances were the root cause of both their illnesses and their incarceration. My teetotaler father had other gritty experiences with alcohol, finding himself from a young age getting his beloved “Uncle Ed” out of the drunk tank over and over again.

Elements of these recollections from the 1950s and 60s are as universal today as ever — the impact of substance abuse on the individual, the ripple effect of addiction and incarceration on the family, imprisonment instead of treatment — but the explosion in the rates of incarceration in this country have created a crisis of proportions unthinkable in the post-WWII era. According to the Pew Charitable Trust report, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility, there are now 2.3 million

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