Acts of Abuse: Sex Offenders and the Criminal Justice System

By Adam Sampson | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

A prison within a prison

The increase in the use of custody for sex offenders, together with the increase in the lengths of time they are spending in custody, has had a marked effect on the prison system. In 1981, there were just 1,110 convicted sex offenders in prison; by 1990, the number had risen to over 3,000. In 1981, sex offenders comprised 4 per cent of the sentenced prison population; by 1990, that proportion had gone up to 7 per cent.

With most offenders, an increase in numbers of that sort would not pose any significant difficulties to the prison system. However, sex offenders pose a very particular challenge to the prison system. The challenge is two-pronged: how best to protect offenders from attack, and how to employ the period in prison to reduce the possibility of reoffending. How the prison system has tackled these problems forms the subject of this chapter and the next.


A CULTURE OF ABUSE

It is commonplace for sex offenders to be on the receiving end of violence and abuse while in prison. That abuse takes many forms. For many prisoners and in many prisons, antipathy towards ‘nonces’ or ‘beasts’ is little more than an idea, one of those prison mores to which they automatically subscribe when they take on the role of ‘prisoner’. Few prisoners do more than pay lip-service to the idea. However, some prisoners actively persecute those convicted of sexual crimes. Verbal abuse is ubiquitous, with threats and taunts forming the normal verbal backdrop for life as a sex offender in prison. Food is adulterated: mashed-up cockroaches are stirred into stew or potatoes. Tea is a favourite target: ‘You can tell when they’ve pissed into it because it floats on top, oily-like.’ 1 Prisoners also find

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