The Nastiest Part of a Prison Sentence: Rape

Under a consent decree in 1992 brought by female prison guards who claimed they were denied hiring and promotional opportunity offered males, Delaware opened its guard positions without regard to the gender of prisoners.  It didn’t just result in women guarding men, but men guarding women as well.  A disaster ensued.

Martelli and current union president Geoff Klopp said guards are often the prey of convicted criminals who covet sex with captors to use it as leverage for prison jobs, extra food or other benefits.

Martelli said male guards, many whom are “23 or 24 years old and have never had sex,” are vulnerable in a women’s prison. “You’ve got a bunch of girls walking around buck naked or in towels, laying in bed with another girl. There was a lot of that going on.”

Some prisoners, he said, “find a way to manipulate these guys,” such as offering to perform oral sex in return for cigarettes or a phone. I’m surprised more girls haven’t come up pregnant.”

Doesn’t your heart just break at those young, virginal boy guards being enticed by those nasty criminal vixens? And no doubt, there was some of that, as people in prison tend to get imaginative to get favors and contraband.  Yet the problem of women prisoners seducing male guards is nothing compared to the problem of guards raping prisoners.

For a long time, raping female prisoners was considered an inside job perk. After all, they were convicted criminals. Nobody cared about them. They were nothing more than warm bodies, to be used and abused. And who was going to stop them?

There was a laundry list of stumbling blocks for women prisoners to do anything about being raped.  Obviously, there was the problem of proving that it occurred, since it was a prisoner’s word against a guard’s.  Absent physical proof, ranging from a prophylactic to pregnancy, the guard wins.

But just making the accusation was asking for trouble, possibly huge trouble. Alleging sex occurred was just as much a risk for the inmate as the guard.

Smith said Delaware was one of the last states that made it a crime for inmates to have sex with each other or prison employees. That law subjected inmates to possible prosecution, which made them less likely to file complaints against guards that abused them. The law was changed in 2010 so that only guards can be charged in a sexual liaison. However, an inmate can still be charged for forcing another inmate to have sex.

Even then, someone in the institution had to give a damn. That wasn’t always the case, with prison officials who just didn’t give a damn that male guards were raping female prisoners.

And complaining, in itself, could make an inmate a trouble maker, meaning that their next stop is the hole. Or worse.

“There is a ton of coercive power that an individual can exert without proper supervision,” Daley said. “When that power is largely unchecked, that puts inmates in an incredibly vulnerable situation. Sexual misconduct also degrades the security in a prison. If they are able to abuse inmates, they are likely to bring in contraband. If you are sexually abusing someone you are not doing your job, which is security.”

Stopping prison rape isn’t easy.  Naturally, legislators figured they could end the problem by passing a law that said don’t do it, and poof, problem solved.

Part of Washington’s decade long climb in sex-abuse complaints can be explained by the 2003 federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which, among its reforms, required prisons to improve how they track complaints of sexual misconduct by staff. Prisons nationally saw a jump in reports — showing the problem of staff-perpetrated sexual misconduct has been more common than previously realized.

The prisoners realized it. The only people who didn’t realize it are the people whose job it is to run systems where people don’t get raped. They were shocked.

The stories are rampant, and always have been. Some prisons are using video in an effort to address the problem, though there are always places out of the camera’s eye, and staff figure it out quickly enough.  And then there is the fact that prosecutions are rare and punishment lenient at worst.

That prisoners aren’t sex toys for demented guards doesn’t require explanation. That they have been, and continue to be, doesn’t require much discussion. Whether prisons can effectively create a culture where guards stop raping prisoners has yet to be shown.  And it’s unclear that they really want to, or that anybody gives a damn about prison rape.  It’s sick and wrong.  Judge, when you sent that young woman to prison, did you intend to include rape in your sentence?

H/T Mike Paar

14 thoughts on “The Nastiest Part of a Prison Sentence: Rape

  1. REvers

    It could be worse. The guards could be doing internet postings of nude pics of the prisoners.

  2. Keith

    ” Yet the problem of women prisoners seducing male guards is nothing compared to the problem of guards raping prisoners.”

    Both situations are rape of prisoners. That one seems like a choice may say more about what some will do in harsh environments to survive.

    1. SHG Post author

      You’re on a slippery slope. One thing people sometimes forget is that a lot of people in prison are there for a really good reason; they’re criminals. They do criminal things. They lie, cheat, steal and manipulate. Doesn’t make them monsters, but it doesn’t make them angels either.

      1. Keith

        Gotcha. So, basically, if you score an rating higher than say, a 6 on the angel detector, you get some kind of intervention?

  3. losingtrader

    Disappointed, Scott . I logged on to SJ today hoping for another vampire study or vampire rights discussion, and all I got was your daily cops shooting people discussion, and prison rape. I’ll have to head over to Dreamin’ Demon now to get my fix.

    1. SHG Post author

      Maybe I start Zombie Wednesday? But you gotta admit, the vamp story made a pretty good point, right? Well, I really like it, anyway.

      1. losingtrader

        Back from my fix (James Blair Shot Neighbor In Face, Ran Over Her With Lawn Mower),.

        Yes , absolutely.
        I even sent it to a well-respected freelance writer I know.
        I was hoping he’d do a followup, but I guess he’s not seeing any angle to go with his pieces in Scientific American, Science, and Smithsonian.

  4. Greg

    Wouldn’t the common-sense solution be to stop having male guards in female prisons? You say, “Whether prisons can effectively create a culture where guards stop raping prisoners has yet to be shown.” I would say that all of history and experience suggest that it is nearly impossible to create such a culture. I know that England has had more than one scandal involving male guards raping female prisoners. Is there any country in the world where men guard women and rape is not a problem?

    1. SHG Post author

      More importantly than “common sense,” it would be rational. But employment discrimination law being what it is, and there being far more male prisons than female, it’s another instance where differing interests clash. Clearly, the interest of non-discrimination against corrections officers by gender is more important than prisoners not being raped.

    2. L

      “Is there any country in the world where men guard women and [prison] rape is not a problem?”

      Is there any country in the world where men guard anyone and prison rape is not a problem?

      Is there any country in the world where anyone guards anyone and prison rape is not a problem?

      And if the answer to either of those questions is ‘yes,’ then can we please send our wardens to that country to figure out what they’re doing that we’re not?

  5. Marc R

    I used to think female prison guards hated me or that them trading me a visitor pass for my bar card and DL was like asking walking into a restaurant 30 seconds before closing. I’ve learned over the years that some guards get a level of make attention outside anything they’ve ever experienced. And a male with a prison sentence isn’t biologically going to fight many women off.

    That’s why custodial sex is per se rape. The power dynamics refuse an objective way to determine consent. And other practical reasons.

    I haven’t had many females in prison (vs jail) but I imagine their CO stories are more horrific based and less “guess what I’ve been doing” stories. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way it’s a jailer-inmate relationship and while the sex itself could theoretically be consensual, it makes perfect legal sense that it’s rape. Regular relationships can be rough; these are just predator prey deals and the intended prey easily can be the predator.

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