April 16, 2001
1:15 AM   Subscribe

"Inmate rape has such an established place in the mythology of prison that references to confinement often call forth jokes about sexual assault. But while rape is accepted as a fact of prison life, the subject has received little serious attention and legal remedies are rare. Few prison rapists are ever prosecuted, and most prisons provide little counseling or medical attention for rape victims, or help in preventing such attacks." New York Times: Little Sympathy -- I don't know what this does for recidivism, but it doesn't sound like rehabilitation to me. What's a prison activist to do?
posted by sudama (46 comments total)
Well, for a start, buy 'Soap-on-a-rope'...
posted by resigned at 1:26 AM on April 16, 2001

Reminds me of this story from earlier this year about the guy who was deemed "too white and thin" to go to jail.
posted by pnevares at 1:35 AM on April 16, 2001

My, resigned, you sure did miss sudama's entire point right there.

Does anyone remember the prison rape scene from "The Shawshank Redemption?" I read the Stephen King novella that the movie was based on as well, and I hope I never get to the state where I would be capable of wishing that on anyone; that would be the day I lose my humanity.
posted by lia at 2:38 AM on April 16, 2001

Let the zillions of minor drug offenders out -- there are better ways of dealing with them -- and make room for private cells that allow prisoners space for the dignity and contemplation necessary to redemption. If you leave prisoners open to continual assault in addition to their official punishment, you might as well chain them up in the desert and leave them to the animals.
posted by pracowity at 4:25 AM on April 16, 2001

A number of years ago I was getting sent to me a prison newspaper, written and edited by prisoners, a fine paper indeed. I recall that one article specifically mentioned that prison rapes were allowed and tolerated as a form of helping to control the prisoners, establishing a hierarchy, and of letting prisoners an "outlet" for emotions.
There is a group that actively attempts to deal with this issue in American prisons but I don't recall the name or location.
posted by Postroad at 5:08 AM on April 16, 2001

It's worth revisiting Avagadro's post from that previous thread. Pretty chilling.
posted by lagado at 6:10 AM on April 16, 2001

Postroad - perhaps you're thinking of Stop Prisoner Rape, founded by Stephen Donaldson, RIP.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:02 AM on April 16, 2001

While I don't condone the activity, wouldn't the first step to stop this be being a productive member of society and not getting your butt thrown in jail?
posted by owillis at 8:26 AM on April 16, 2001

Ultimately, this just shows that society has no idea why we even have prisons anymore. It's much the same issue as the neverending battle over halfway houses and prison sentences sentences that we see. Prisons clearly aren't to reform. Nor, does it seem, that they are for mere punishment since felons are no longer considered to have paid their debt to society.
posted by shagoth at 8:57 AM on April 16, 2001

owillis, would you agree that innocent people do get sent to prison?
posted by Kikkoman at 9:36 AM on April 16, 2001

I think that rape and sexual assault in general are not treated seriously enough on a societal level.

I must admit to being baffled by the widespread opinions and sort of tacit acceptance surrounding institutionalized rape, specifically rape within jails and other places where youths and adults are incarcerated.

It's a given that such crimes are more prevalent in places where power issues and power struggles are such an integral part of survival. I'm puzzled though as to why there seems to be a sort of, if not "approval" then acceptance of such conditions. For example, if a criminal is seen to be getting an inadequate sentence, one often hears the sentiment expressed "don't worry, he will surely get what he deserves in jail"

Putting prisoners in positions where they take it on themselves to punish other prisoners seems to me to be giving them a role that they are totally unsuited for. It's not ok to me that prisoners are seen to be making up for glaring deficiencies in our justice systems by handing out their own form of "justice." They don't have the right to make those judgements.

Prisoners lose certain rights when they enter prison, but retain others. The right to personal safety is one of those. They lose freedom, but gain the right to be rehibilitated. Rape is not and cannot be seen as a reasonable punishment in any society. Rape is a crime. Why should it go unpunished because it occured withing an institution? Why should victims not be given help and counselling just because they are in jail? Aren't we trying to show prisoners that crime is wrong and if you commit a crime, you will be punished?

Of course, the idea that rape in prison often makes up for inadequate prison sentences is a myth. Rape in prison is about power relations, is unfair and arbitrary and incredibly cruel, leading to high rates of recidivism, suicide and depression, drug abuse, prostitution, and unproductive lives. There's often no help whatsoever for the victims and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. We as a society act in a totally blinkered way, as if these people, the perpetrators and victims alike, will never be released from prison, that this issue will never effect us, but they are, and it does, sometimes with devastating results, sometimes with a lifetime of petty crimes and misery and wasted lives.
posted by lucien at 10:02 AM on April 16, 2001

kikkoman, yes - but I would say that's a miniscule amount of people. The vast majority are in there for a reason.
posted by owillis at 10:07 AM on April 16, 2001

Of course they're there for a reason, owillis, but that reason can be anything from "someone fingered them to save their own ass" to "the cop read their license plate wrong" to "they're stone cold guilty". Even then, there are many stupid and unfair laws one may be guilty of breaking.

posted by Mars Saxman at 10:25 AM on April 16, 2001

I think there are many innocent people in jail including the millions of drug offenders. No money for a lawyer=No justice for you. Not white? You might as well start counting the days.
I realize prisons are way overcrowded but they should prosecute these rapists. It might help keep them behind bars a little longer.
posted by keithl at 11:00 AM on April 16, 2001

As far as drug offenders goes, you may think it's a silly crime (I do) but that doesn't give you the right to break that law.
posted by owillis at 11:02 AM on April 16, 2001

I realize prisons are way overcrowded but they should prosecute these rapists. It might help keep them behind bars a little longer

They should proscecute the rapists? Aren't they already in jail? What effect would adding 10 years to a 40 year term have?
posted by milnak at 11:22 AM on April 16, 2001

Well, for one thing, milnak, it would be enforcing the law.
posted by lia at 11:40 AM on April 16, 2001

Milnak, I guess when a prisoner murders another prisoner (hell, even a guard) we should let them get away with it. Come on, they're already IN jail. Brilliant.
Owillis, familiar at all with the concept of civil disobedience? Just wondering.
posted by Doug at 12:57 PM on April 16, 2001

As far as drug offenders goes, you may think it's a silly crime (I do) but that doesn't give you the right to break that law.

What does give you the right to break a law, then?

The law is just a threat. It is your own conscience you must live with.

posted by Mars Saxman at 1:25 PM on April 16, 2001

"One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."
posted by sudama at 1:56 PM on April 16, 2001

Owillis, the judge sentences convicts to punishment. Rape isn't part of the sentencing -- and is therefore unjust. What of the rapes in jail, for unconvicted arrestees? How about at juvenile facilities? Are those all right?

Even articles about male rapes downplay the problem with statements like "if rape in prison is included..." but conclude the sentence conceding that more males may be raped than females. Shocking. Chilling, even. This is a huge problem for society. Even if they somehow have this coming to them (an absolutely horrifying thought that I can't even imagine ascribing to a civilized person) you have problems from the aftereffects that will plague the country for years.

First, when we return these (mostly unconvicted) rapists to society, they keep the mindset that rape is an acceptable way to assert power and sexual control over other humans. Not a good thing, right?

Second, victims are at an increased risk of all sexually transmitted diseases, not least of which AIDS, due to the nature of such rape. Is that an acceptable consequence for you to deal with?

It's utterly disgusting that somehow this scourge could be an acceptable side effect of our prisons and jails. People should think. In general.
posted by norm at 2:40 PM on April 16, 2001

If a felony is wrong outside of jail then why should it be permnissible or acceptable inside prison?

Issue not addressed: many who are used as "women "over a period of time do in fact revert back to normal (or staright) sex when released, much as many military who took hard drugs during Nam gave them up after return to civilian life. But of course not all in the second instance.
posted by Postroad at 3:45 PM on April 16, 2001

Doug: Civil disobedience is one thing, taking a hit off of a bong is another.
posted by owillis at 4:01 PM on April 16, 2001

owillis said: While I don't condone the activity, wouldn't the first step to stop this be being a productive member of society and not getting your butt thrown in jail?

Oh, like how capital punishment is such a great deterent to murder? Rape is never acceptable, in any form, but the prision industry is growing like crazy in the US, and very few americans care what the conditions are like, since they've forgotten being in the wrong place at the wrong time could put them there for life.

"The truest measure of a society is how it treats its elderly, its pets, and its prisoners."
posted by mathowie at 4:16 PM on April 16, 2001

Thanks for your post, Lucien. Unfortunately, owillis, despite appearances to the contrary is with the vast majority of people on this topic.

Most people don't care what happens inside prisons because prisons are there to act as a deterrent to keep the rest of us going straight. Prison abuse "sends the message" to society, (how many times have I heard this stupid phase) not to break the law, to be good. And behold! it works! The majority aren't in prison!

This is, unfortunately, faulty logic and means that there is little need for even basic standards of dignity and humanity to be preserved and enforced.
posted by lagado at 5:27 PM on April 16, 2001

> While I don't condone the activity, wouldn't the first
> step to stop this be being a productive member of
> society and not getting your butt thrown in jail?

Yes, Oliver, we should all be good and the cops should all have the sense to arrest only bad people. But when your butt does end up in their hands, perhaps for DWB, the criminal justice system is responsible for your safety.

Consider this admittedly unlikely scenario, just for the sake of argument: the cops, cruising the streets, find and arrest a bad guy and throw him in the back of the car. Then the same cops in the same car on the same trip think they see you doing something illegal and throw you in the back of the same car.

In the back seat, the bad guy does something awful to you -- something worse than you supposedly did to get arrested -- on the way to the station and the police officers in the front seat don't even notice.

Would it be fair to blame you for being the victim of that crime? Wouldn't it be the fault of the police officers driving the car (and whoever else in the system let them do it)? Aren't the cops doing something awful? Would you accept as an excuse that they didn't have enough cars to transport you and the bad guy separately? And that they didn't notice what was happening in the back seat because they were too busy?

That's the sort of thing that happens at prisons -- awful, violent, evil men are tossed in with perhaps greedy or lazy or ignorant but otherwise fairly harmless guys. The bad guys stay bad and the fairly harmless guys, punished to despair by the bad guys, get much, much worse.

The blame for these secondary crimes falls entirely on the criminal justice system for not preventing them.
posted by pracowity at 10:49 PM on April 16, 2001

Look folks, contrary to what we see on TV, the majority of people are in jail for a reason. They committed an act, that we as a society have decided to punish them for. In most cases, their peers are the ones who decide the penalty.

Your actions are the ones that resulted in your incarceration. By that token, accept the consequence of your actions. Yes, prisons should create an environment where there is no "cruel and unusual punishment". In a perfect world, there are no prisons either.

But I'm sorry, prisoners are at the bottom of my list for society's most needy.

(yeah, I'm hardline anti-criminal. it has to do with Superman.)
posted by owillis at 11:02 PM on April 16, 2001

pracowity: love how you threw that racial red herring in there...
posted by owillis at 11:07 PM on April 16, 2001

owillis, I understand that prison is supposed to be about punishment, but rape is not an acceptable or humane form of punishment and shouldn't be tolerated/condoned. You're saying that it's perfectly fine in the confines of a penitentiary?
posted by mathowie at 11:20 PM on April 16, 2001

No, I'm not saying it should be tolerated or condoned, but what I am saying is that tends to come with the territory of being in jail and I'm not exactly losing sleep over it.
posted by owillis at 12:33 AM on April 17, 2001

--prison is supposed to be about punishment, but rape is not an acceptable or humane form of punishment and shouldn't be tolerated/condoned. You're saying that it's perfectly fine in the confines of a penitentiary?--

Since we kill killers, maybe we should ask the inmates who rape other inmates to limit their crimes to only those who've raped, or raped and killed, or raped and tortured, or sold drugs to somebody who, while high on those drugs raped, tortured and killed...or wait, maybe we could request that they not do all those things in society and not end up in prison in the first place.
certainly something could (should?) be done, in theory, to stop inmate rape. but let's get serious, here. these people are in prison in the first place because they don't care what is right or wrong. If the thought of prison didn't scare them, if the idea of getting raped themselves didn't scare them, what is supposed to be done? Give lethal injections to inmate-rapists? Yes, maybe counseling should be provided to the victims...but let's worry about making sure the innocent victims back in the non-lawbreaking sector of society get counseling first, hmm? and correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't there different prisons, and even sections of prisons, for varying degrees of crime-severity? that is where the term "maximum security" comes from, yes? so, in theory, inmates in jail for possession are not grouped with murders/rapists...there's a point there. I just no longer feel like pointing it out.
posted by freeride at 12:35 AM on April 17, 2001

I reread pracowity's post a couple of times but I keep missing the racial red herring.
posted by lagado at 4:58 AM on April 17, 2001

Methinks owillis was talking about "DWB" (driving while black).

I don't think that we (qua MeFi community or society at large) have a real sense of the purpose of incarceration. Indeed, at least within the United States, we have vacillated between prison as a place of rehabilitation and a place for prevent crime from occurring in our homes and streets. Those who see rehabilitation as vital to the mission of prison stress the need for libraries, diploma programs, counseling, and other means of personal support to make the prisoner a productive, law abiding member of society when he/she returns. Those that see separation as the primary mission of prison want of course to make the thought of incarceration so heinous that decent people would be deterred from crime through fear of donning the striped pajamas.

So where then is the balance? Certainly prisons should return people to society who will be less likely to commit crimes (and I fail to see how rape will yield a better person, despite having the fear of becoming violated again). However, there ought also to be some measure of punishment involved with prison as a part of bringing about penitence (hence penitentiary).

The problem that I see with creating and condoning deplorable prison conditions (not to mention the death penalty) in order to create a "fear of imprisonment" is that it presupposes that a person about to commit a crime will always make the lawful decision when balancing the benefit of committing the crime versus the consequences. At some point, it doesn't matter what the penalty is so long as there is the possibility of getting away with the crime (and no, more police officers won't help; crime occurs even in the most authoritarian societies where everyone is a de-facto informant.)

One last note, you can't have it both ways when you say "prisons should be so horrible that people will stay law-abiding" and at the same time assert "these criminals don't know the meaning of right or wrong and should be put-away-for-life/executed".
posted by Avogadro at 6:18 AM on April 17, 2001

Look folks, contrary to what we see on TV, the majority of people are in jail for a reason. They committed an act, that we as a society have decided to punish them for.

I'm curious where you get this knowledge. More to the point, I want to know why you're so confident it's true.

I'm sure most of the people in prison have committed some crime or other, but only because that applies to pretty much all of us. Is landing in prison really a matter of crime, or does it have more to do with bad luck?

Anyway, I don't see why committing a crime means you are no longer considered a human being worthy of society's protection. Does Lady Justice no longer wear a blindfold?

posted by Mars Saxman at 1:39 PM on April 17, 2001

say what you will about drug users, owillis, they don't deserve prison rape. for chrissake.

next time i don't pay a few speeding tickets and get hauled off to jail, i'll remember your kind words. not everyone who breaks a law is evil. i think pracowity hit the whole nail right on the head.

also, mad props to mars for whippin' out the Big Stick of Civil Disobedience. a very key point. where would any civil rights movements be if every time someone got thrown in jail, there were no restrictions on what other inmates could do to them? civil disobedience is necessary in a progressive society. it gets things done a lot faster than, say, talking about issues on an online forum... ;)
posted by pikachulolita at 2:58 PM on April 17, 2001

You say "bad luck", I say "oppression"... let's call the whole thing off.
posted by sudama at 3:20 PM on April 17, 2001

Mars - whether there are any hard numbers pro/con, I don't know - it's not my field of expertise. Of course if you go to a prison, everyone says their innocent...

What I am saying is, we all know the law - and its repercussions. Civil disobedience has its place, but those that practice it should fully expect to be prosecuted under current law.

If someone smokes marijuana and is caught, do you think a judge will go "well, we know its really not that bad for you so I'll violate the law and release you". No, you get punished based on the law and based on the attention you receive for the stupidity of said law, change occurs through democratic means (elections, legislation, etc).

You know the crime. You know the punishment. We are well aware of what goes on in jail. It is up to the individual to decide their fate.
posted by owillis at 3:27 PM on April 17, 2001

Before we start boo-hooing for the incarcerated, let us not forget why they're in there...
posted by owillis at 3:29 PM on April 17, 2001

What exactly are you even trying to say, Owillis? That prison rape is ok? I don't think you are. Are you trying to say that we shouldn't try to stop prison rape? I don't know. Cause if that's what you're saying, it's an entirely different conversation. All you seem to be saying is that people should expect to get raped in prison, based on what we all know occurs inside.
So, here's the real question: Should we try to end prison rape?
posted by Doug at 3:32 PM on April 17, 2001

posted by lagado at 4:59 PM on April 17, 2001

Owillis, I still don't understand why, even if you somehow wanted these people to be brutalized, why you wouldn't want to stop it because 98% of those in prison get released. If they are vectors of AIDS or professionally trained rapists it would seem to be a bad thing regardless. What is your problem?
posted by norm at 8:10 PM on April 17, 2001

Argh. What I am saying is: prison rape is bad. it shouldn't be allowed. regardless, it's gonna happen.

There is no need to throw money/resources at a "stop prison rape" program, when that cash could be used to stop crime against the innocent.

Comes down to this: there are about 1,000,000,000 more pressing issues in society than prisoners being raped.
posted by owillis at 9:18 PM on April 17, 2001

For the record, the phenomenon of prison rape is not confined to the US.
posted by aaron at 11:21 PM on April 17, 2001

"There is no need to throw money/resources at a "stop prison rape" program, when that cash could be used to stop crime against the innocent."

I guess I didn't make myself very clear in my first post. The thing is, (and this is one of the points I was trying to get across) if you don't agree that rape within prison is a bad thing because you are able to empathise with the victims of this crime, and regret the intolerable scale of human misery that occurs as a result, then far more prosaically, the cost to taxpayers is astronomical.

"There is no need to throw money/resources at a "stop prison rape" program, when that cash could be used to stop crime against the innocent."

Here's something that would help prevent crime in society (I can't quite bring myself to say "against the innocent" because the assumption that everyone who is not in prison is "innocent" seems somehow too simplistic) That would be if we as individuals and as a society, stopped tolerating rape in prison.

I just think, that if a prisoner is brutilised in this way, they are less likely to feel positive about getting their life into gear. They are far more likely, out of a mix of hopelessness, depression, low self-esteem, and simmering rage, to re-offend.
posted by lucien at 11:46 PM on April 17, 2001

I know mathowie dislikes me too posts, but lucien's last paragraph was everything I was planning to say, but better. When prison is just about punishment (i.e. you're locked away and lose x years of your life) and the prisoners are treated as less than human, what you get in the end are better trained criminals who have even less options than before they were locked away; when the focus is on rehabilitation, giving them reasons to fix their lives and not go back to prison.

"there are about 1,000,000,000 more pressing issues in society than prisoners being raped."

I disagree; when we've gotten to the point, as we have, when it's apparently okay to turn away from the brutalization of another human being, whether they're in prison or not, society is in deep fucking shit.
posted by lia at 12:09 AM on April 18, 2001

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