Prison Rape: How a difficult challenge is being addressed

NPR’s News & Notes recently had a segment addressing the harsh reality of rape in prison. In it host Farai Chideya spoke with a victim of prison rape, Keith Deblasio:

[W]hat tends to occur a lot of times in the prison environment is individuals who use threats, coercion to continue an assault relationship. In other words, it’s not quite what we see on “Oz,” where there’s a one-time. Those situations occur, but more common is the person who is in fear of their life who continues to submit on a regular basis. And that’s kind of, you know, what happened in my case, as this individual demonstrated that he was the leader of the Vice Lords, one of the two major gangs at the institution, and that he had even connections with staff that would allow him to do whatever he wanted to do and you just were not going to be safe. [...]

I think that there are many situations of consensual sex as well as just, you know, what borders between coercion and just bartering, you know. There’s a whole different environment inside a prison system, where there’s so many things denied to you and so many power positions within, you know, structures, that sometimes, whether it is an actual physical force, a coercion by threat, or coercion by, I need certain things to survive, or I need to feel protected, I need to feel comfortable, to then those who are completely consensual and those who may be, you know, prostituting within the institution to get cigarettes or whatever. So there’s the whole gamut of people who are exposed to infectious disease that way.

In 2003 Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act which has given prison authorities significant support in battling the problem. Deblasio says most prison authorities are working to stop it and my sense from working some with the Georgia system is that’s true. Less so, though, the public and the media.

Remember with me Ezra Klein in the LATimes noting that there’s nothing funny about prison rape:

Prison rape occupies a fairly odd space in our culture. It is, all at once, a cherished source of humor, a tacitly accepted form of punishment and a broadly understood human rights abuse. We pass legislation called the Prison Rape Elimination Act at the same time that we produce films meant to explore the funny side of inmate sexual brutality.

Occasionally, we even admit that prison rape is a quietly honored part of the punishment structure for criminals. When Enron’s Ken Lay was sentenced to jail, for instance, Bill Lockyer, then the attorney general of California, spoke dreamily of his desire “to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.’ “

One final point: we’re not talking about gay sex. Just as we have hopefully come to understand that rape is a crime of violence, it must also be understood that while this predatory sex as practiced in prisons include homosexual acts, these are not gay men in gay relationships.

These are coerced circumstantial acts. While it seems this should be obvious to anyone and everyone, I fear it’s not.

  

4 Comments

  1. The prison system is truly fucked up not just for the opportunity it fosters for prison rape, but also the fact that many gang leaders continue to function and operate out of prison. In Pelican Bay in CA the Mexican Mafia leadership is almost entirely behind bars yet continue to run drug operations and order hits from there. A few years ago there was an Aryan Brotherhood leader who was implicated in 44 separate murders including a federal judge. It should be noted he did this almost entirely from solitary confinement..

    Men such as this are why I think we should keep the death penalty around. Jeffrey Dahmer was dangerous, but not once you locked him up. Men like these guys are just as dangerous on the inside as they are on the outside, prison does not protect society from them.

  2. From Papillon (the book, not the movie): “In Colombia it's twenty years or death, nothing else.” There's actually much to be said in favor of such a system where hard-core crimes and criminals are concerned.

  3. Part of the 'lock em up and throw away the key' prevailing mentality is to also forget about what happens in prisons and ignore what happens when prisoners are released.

    Prison rape has become the subject of jokes, one of the few ways it's talked about at all. Unless a prisoner escapes, or there is a riot, our humungus prison system may a well be on some distant planet, for the amount of atention it gets.

  4. Prison is an entirely different, ultra macho subulture. When you walk into orientation, you are either predator or prey. The current residents can smell it. No matter what, you want to get acquainted with with your set – your race – right away and get the general low down. If you are white, you may have several options (Woods, Low Riders, etc.)

    But don't approach the AB without an invitation. The AB is highly feared because they don't just try to hurt convicts – they set out to kill them. They also operate as a kind of justice system within the system, ensuring that all of the child killers and rapists are well punished (guards don't get involved but don't prohibit it either). They somewhat look out for the non AB whites that have heart and can hold their own, and the AB would probably jump in on a sneak gang attack by blacks on such a non AB if the situation arose.

    If you're not a predator yet don't try to fake it – just try to learn the ropes and don't take any favors or loans from anyone because they will come back to haunt you when they come to collect. Try to avoid areas where you could be pushed out of sight or jumped. If they get you, dont make it easy so they will try somebody else next time instead of you. You shouldn't trust someone in prison until you have nown them for several years.

    If you did the crime, man up and do the time. You are now living with a cell block full of criminals, unmediated psychopaths, and sexual daviants. It's time find your inner toughness, take care of your own, and watch your back.

    If you could stop prison rape you could greatly reduce violent crime. Read “Monkey off My Back” by Jack Brown. He describes his lifelong staty in the prison system and how he met Clyde Barrow in the prison where he was raped. Clyde had been a petty car theif before that experience, but when he got out he bacame quite violent and killed several police and correctional officers.

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