Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Feelings of Safety Inside Prison among Male Inmates with Different Victimization Experiences

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Feelings of Safety Inside Prison among Male Inmates with Different Victimization Experiences

Article excerpt

Correctional facilities have a responsibility to take "reasonable measures" to preserve and protect inmate safety. The extent to which people inside prison feel safe from victimization is explored using a sample of approximately 7,000 adult male inmates housed in 13 prisons. The majority of male inmates reported no victimization in the past 6 months and that they felt safe, especially from sexual abuse and assault. Levels of feeling safe diminished for inmates who experienced victimization. Inmate perceptions of safety varied between facilities. Variation in perceptions of safety among harmful situations and between facilities provides useful information about inmate safety and ways to improve it (n = 104).

Keywords: victimization; prison; safety; sexual assault; male inmates

Inmates are threatened in prison. . . . An inmate may feel chronically unsafe or relive unassimilated traumas time and time again. He may feel unsettled, tense, unsure, and hurt. (Toch, 1977, p. 176)

Incarceration deprives liberty from those who are incarcerated and, in so doing, imposes a duty of protection on the government entity invoking it. The duty of protection required of penal institutions is articulated in Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil Rights and Political Rights (ICCPR ), an international treaty ratified by the United States. According to Article 10, "[a]ll persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person" (Rodley, 1999, p. 286). Rarely, however, is this international standard appealed to by people who are incarcerated in the United States or assumed by their correctional entities. Instead, these groups look to the U.S. Constitution for protection and guidance. Although the Constitution does not literally guarantee humane treatment of incarcerated persons, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment" in ways that impose a duty of protection on the government for the people who it incarcerates. According to the Supreme Court's ruling in Framer v. Brennan (1994):

The Constitution "does not mandate comfortable prisons," Rhodes v. Chapman , 452 U.S. 337, 349 (1981 ), but neither does it permit inhumane ones, and it is now settled that "the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment." Helling , 509 U.S., at __ (slip op., at 5). In its prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishments," the Eighth Amendment places restraints on prison officials, who may not, for example, use excessive physical force against prisoners. See Hudson v. McMillian , 503 U.S. 1 (1992). The Amendment also imposes duties on these officials, who must provide humane conditions of confinement; prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care, and must "take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates (emphasis added), " Hudson v. Palmer , 468 U.S. 517, 526-527 (1984). See Helling , supra , at __ (slip op., at 5); Washington v. Harper , 494 U.S. 210, 225 (1990); Estelle , 429 U.S., at 103. Cf. DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services , 489 U.S. 189, 198-199 (1989).

According to Framer v. Brennan , once a government entity deprives a person's liberty through incarceration, it has a responsibility to take "reasonable measures" to preserve and protect the inmate's personal safety. The extent to which people inside prison are kept safe has been the focus of numerous high-profile investigations led by Human Rights Watch, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, and the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. Reports released by these groups have confirmed the expected: prisons are dangerous places and victimization is common (Human Rights Watch, 2001; Commission on Safety and Abuse, 2006 ). These reports document instances of rape, sexual abuse and intimidation, beatings of inmates by inmates and staff, misuse of force by officers, extortion and so forth. …

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