News & Resources: Prison Sex & Prison Rape

Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Policy and Prison Sex


I. Consensual Sex and the Prison Environment

  • a) Women:
  • b) Men
  • c) Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming
  • d) HIV and Public Health Consequences of Ignoring Prison Sex
  • e) General (Prison Sexual Culture Men’s and Women’s)

II. Sexual Victimization (Includes BJS Reports / Rates of Nonconsensual Sexual Activity)

  • a) BJS Reports
  • b) Sexual Victimization Studies

III. Prison Policies and Effect on LBGTQ+ Inmates – Post PREA

IV. Conjugal Visitation

V. Other Research

I. Consensual Sex and the Prison Environment

a) Women:

1. Prison Sexual Relationships and Post-Release Psychological Functioning

A. R. Quinn (2018). The effects of prison sexual relationships on post-release psychological functioning among former female inmates (Order No. 10822695). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. Ph. D. Dissertation. Chicago School of Professional Psychology. (2073873424).

Study examines the effect of a prison sexual relationship on post-release psychological functioning amongst former female offenders. Sampled 50 former female inmates who had served at federal, state, and county correctional institutions online via Qualtrics.

Expands on the work of Jackson and Warren in a classification of the most prevalent types of inmate sexual relationships: abstinence, bartering, consensual, predator, and victim.


(1a) there will be a statistically significant effect of inmate sexual relationships on post-release overall psychological functioning;

(1b) there will be a statistically significant effect of inmate sexual relationships on post-release anxiety

(1c) there will be a statistically significant effect of inmate sexual relationships on post-release depression

(1d) there will be a statistically significant effect of inmate sexual relationships on post-release somatization (somatization defined as “the extent to which participants were troubled by physical and emotional complaints, such as pains in the heart or chest.”)

A statistically significant difference in post-release overall psychological functioning was expected “among females who were involved in a bartering relationship, females who were engaged in a consensual relationship, and females who were not involved in any kind of relationship.”

Results indicated that sexual relationships among inmates did not impact post-release psychological functioning significantly, (“with the exception of post-release somatization”).

2. Taxonomy of Female Sexual Behavior in Prison

A. Pardue, B. A. Arrigo, & D. S. Murphy. “Sex and sexuality in women’s prisons: a preliminary typological investigation.” The Prison Journal 91.3 (2011) 279–304.

Presents a taxonomy to describe the range of sexual behavior found in women’s prisons. The scope of sexual activities in a female correctional institution are examined and then the authors describe proactive approaches to sexual victimization in women’s prisons. The authors outline future research directions regarding sexuality and sexual abuse treatment including programming and policy strategies.

3. Inmate Attitudes Toward Lesbian Relations

T. A. Severance. “The prison lesbian revisited.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 17.3 (2004) 39-57.

In-depth interviews with 40 incarcerated women volunteers were conducted to explore their experiences with same-sex relationships in prison. Some condemned same-sex relationships but others became involved in them for companionship and other reasons. While some women saw their involvements as limited to prison, others were questioning their sexual identity and thought they might continue the same or other same-sex relationships on the outside.”


  • The literature (Greer, 2000, Owen, 1998, and Hensley et al. 2002) estimated that between 1/3 and 45% of women inmates are sexually active while incarcerated
  • Greer, 2000, identifies motives for sexual activity among female inmates including “loneliness, economic motivation, curiosity, and peer pressure.”
  • Many women reported that same-sex relationships were common.
  • Two women identified as lesbian before incarceration and other women who had admitted to having consensual prison sex had only been involved in heterosexual relationships.
  • The most common reasons cited for participating in same-sex relationships were loneliness and curiosity.
  • Many women express confusion about their own sexual identities or claim that they are only “trying out” relationships with women because they were used to abusive relationships with men.
  • Finally, when inmates leave prison, they are often forced to choose between being homosexual or heterosexual. Some inmates said that they would try to occasionally write or stay in touch with their “prison girlfriend,” but many viewed the relationships as purely situational.

4. The Characteristics and Motivations Behind Female Prison Sex

Christopher Hensley, Richard Tewksbury & Mary Koscheski. “The characteristics and motivations behind female prison sex.” Women & Criminal Justice 13.2-3 (2002) 125-139.

5. One Southern Female Correctional Facility

M. Koscheski & C. Hensley. “Inmate homosexual behavior in a southern female correctional facility.” American Journal of Criminal Justice, 25 (2001) 269-277.

Survey of 245 female inmates at a southern correctional facility. Variables associated with same-sex sexual behavior include prior homosexual behavior, younger age, and amount of time already served. Interestingly, “Younger convicts, those serving more time, and those placed in higher security levels were more likely to have had homosexual experiences prior to incarceration.”

6. Female Masturbation

C. Hensley, R. Tewksbury, & M. Koscheski. “Masturbation uncovered: autoeroticism in a female prison.” The Prison Journal 81 (2001) 491-501.

7. Lesbianism in Female vs. Coed Juvenile Facilities

A. M. Propper. “Lesbianism in female and coed correctional institutions.” Journal of Homosexuality 3 (1978) 265-274.

Abstract: Questionnaire responses from 13- to 17-year-old girls in four all-female and three coed institutions were used to determine rates and causes of institutional homosexuality. Rates were as high in coed as in single-sexed institutions. The overall rates of homosexuality for all seven institutions were 14% for “going with or being married” to another girl, 10% for passionately kissing, 10% for writing love letters, and 7% for having sex, beyond hugging and kissing, with another girl. The data suggest that previous homosexuality, often experienced in other correctional programs, explains much of the variance in institutional homosexuality.

8. Situational Homosexuality as Adaptation

D. A. Ward & G. G. Kassebaum. “Homosexuality: A mode of adaptation in a prison for women.” Social Problems, 12 (1964) 159-177.

Seminal study making a distinction between “true” homosexuality and situational homosexuality. Interviewed prisoners about pre-prison and post-prison sexual orientation.

b) Men:

Consensual Sex Among MSM and MTF Transsexuals in LA County Jail

C. H. L. Iii, T. K. Gideonse, & N. T. Harawa. “An examination of consensual sex in a men’s jail.” International Journal of Prisoner Health 14.1 (2018) 56–62.

This study uses secondary data from a qualitative study that examined sexual behaviors, HIV attitudes, and condom use among male-to-female transgender women and “men who have sex with men (MSM)” housed in a protective custody unit in the Los Angeles County Jail. This study is limited by a small sample size, secondary data, and the fact that the inmates surveyed came from a highly specialized unit which can’t be assumed to represent a general jail setting.

The protective custody unit is called “keep-away designation 6G,” abbreviated to K6G and is made available only to those who self-identify as gay, bisexual, or MTF transgender at jail entry.


  • Participants estimated that 75-90% of people in the K6G unit have regular sex
  • Some participants admitted to not using condoms and it would seem that engaging in unprotected sex is a relatively common activity. The prison officially distributes condoms as a risk-reduction strategy, but prisoners were only allowed one per week (apparently that was at the time of data collection and now more condoms and lube are provided).
  • Around 30% of inmates in K6G were HIV positive, though inmates estimated a higher proportion of 50%
  • Many of the transgender women interviewed said that K6G was a protective environment for them because the inmates were not “attracted to women.”
  • True HIV harm reduction programs in prisons are not universal and condom distribution programs occur even less frequently


  • Increase the availability and accessibility of condom distribution programs, regardless of sexual orientation and facility designation (gay, general population, protective housing)
  • Explore peer-driven strategies in condom distribution and HIV education regardless of sexual orientation
  • investigate the feasibility of offering HIV PrEP”
  • Consider providing HIV and STI screening prior to release for all individuals who spend more than a pre-specified number of weeks in custody”

2. Incarcerated Bisexual Black Men

S. Mackenzie, E. Rubin, & C. Gomez. “‘Prison is one place you don’t want your sexuality’: Sexuality, desire and survival among incarcerated behaviorally bisexual black men in the United States.” Champ pénal / Penal Field 13 (2016).

Interviews with 48 formerly incarcerated “behaviorally bisexual” black men who spent time in the California prison system. Black men who have sex with men (MSM) are imprisoned more frequently than white MSM reflecting the “twin epidemics” of HIV and incarceration affecting black men (Wohl, 2012). Utilizes Goffman’s theory of “total institution” which structures prison life, removing a prisoner’s outside identity and which “creates deference and powerlessness in accordance with stringent systems of time, space, and the body” (section 14). Uses secondary data from the MASI Study, which interviewed a sample of 59 bisexual (cisgendered) black men in the Bay Area from 2009-2011. This study focuses on the 48 men who were formerly incarcerated. Of this sample, 31% were living with HIV.


  • 51% of the respondents reported sexual activity while incarcerated and 49% reported that they were not sexually active in prison
  • Those who reported sexual activity in prison described long-term partnerships (“including protection from sexual violence” section 29), transactional sex, and sex for pleasure; these perspectives were not necessarily mutually exclusive.
  • In almost every circumstance, the respondents reported that the prison guards knew about the occurrence of sex in their units (responses included ignoring, tolerating, commenting, occasionally supporting relationships, transferring gay-identified prisoners to specific units, and “having sex with prisoners themselves”)
  • Many prisoners (it does not say how many) reported not having access to condoms during their incarceration
  • Around ¼ of the men who had sex in prison described being in long-term relationships based on love or companionship, but this was more common in men who were serving longer sentences. Most respondents described county jail as “much more permissive and hypersexual,” and as a place “where sex for trade” was common (Section 35).
  • Shacking up” – many men described the practice of having a sexual partner for intimacy and protection, especially as a survival mechanism for younger and smaller men
  • Respondents who were considered “masculine looking” had more opportunities to appear heterosexual and many would perform masculinity and to keep a lower profile
  • Many respondents “talked about the importance of fighting back or standing up so as to not be seen as weak” when faced with threats or coercion
  • Some men abstained completely to avoid drawing attention to themselves, especially to guards
  • Very few respondents perceived instances of rape or sexual assault as a crime that should be reported and instead saw it as more of a “reality either to be avoided or to engage in as a social status ‘rite of passage’” (50).

3. Administrative Reports of Prison Sex

R. Tewksbury & D. P. Connor. “Who is having sex inside prison?” Deviant Behavior 35.12 (2014) 993–1005.

  • Examines consensual prison sex through the lens of administrative reports and included 620 adult male inmates continuously incarcerated in one Midwestern state. In this sample, 3% of inmates received at least one disciplinary infraction for sexual misconduct
  • Involvement in sexual activity was predicted by general prison misconduct, which suggests that inmates who broke one rule and got caught were willing to defy others.
  • Demographic characteristics of inmates who were sexually active were not significantly different from those who were not
  • The authors recommend allowing prisoners to have access to an alternative and viable sexual outlet
  • This number seems small to me and the method (looking through disciplinary reports) not conclusive

4. Protective Pairing in Men’s Prisons

R. Trammel. “Symbolic Violence and Prison Wives: Gender Roles and Protective Pairing in Men’s Prisons.” The Prison Journal 91.3 (2011) 305–324.

This article examines the “protective pairing” as a form of prison violence, in which men protect other inmates in exchange for sex. Inmates who are considered weaker or more feminine are at an increased risk of violence. This article studies formerly incarcerated men to examine how they defined sexual abuse and gender roles in prison. Interviewed 40 male parolees from San Diego, Riverside, and Orange County for a qualitative study. Questions included sexual activity in prison, reporting of rape (or lack thereof), and exchanging sex for protection.


Respondents described prison sex as a common occurrence even for men who consider themselves straight. Some mentioned that men get into “protective pairing” relationships out of the fear of harassment or assault and consider it a trade-off for protection (p. 313-314). 44% of respondents admitted that they personally knew someone in a protective relationship. They present protective pairing as a “viable option for men who cannot take care of themselves” or who are otherwise seen as weak. No respondents admitted to being in a “protective pairing” relationship but they agreed that some people seem to “choose” this option.

Some respondents described the relationships like “girlfriends” where the “feminine” inmate would volunteer to do chores as well as trade sex for protection. Others claimed that it is easy to “stop rape from happening” so they assume any “prison wife” relationships are fully consensual (318). Men who are victimized were often blamed by respondents in the study for not fighting back.

Men in the study indicate that inmates who have been victimized are considered easy targets so for some, perhaps “the enemy you know is more comforting than the enemy you do not know” (319). Inmates are forced to either fight back or to find a way to deal with their victimization within the inmate code.

5. Norms of Masculinity in North Carolina Prisons

M. K. Hefner (2009). Negotiating masculinity within prison (Order No. 1464698). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304963309).

Interviews conducted with 14 male inmates in two North Carolina prisons. Found that security level has a greater impact than race on the ways men negotiate masculinity.

6. Consensual Homosexual Activity in Male Prisons

C. Hensley. “Consensual Homosexual Activity in Male Prisons.” Corrections Compendium 26.1 (2001) 1–4.

Brief literature review about research on consensual sex in prison. Hensley claims that many inmates underreport because they don’t want to appear weak.

August 1998 – May 1999 – qualitative face-to-face interviews conducted with 174 male inmates at a minimum, medium, and maximum-security prison in Oklahoma. Participation was voluntary and the 174 inmates represent a 58% response rate.


  • 78.7% of the respondents identified as heterosexual, 8% characterized themselves as homosexual, and 13.2% identified as bisexual
  • A breakdown of results appears in the chart below
  • Inmates in the maximum-security facility were more likely to engage in consensual homosexual activity. They were also much more likely to have had homosexual experiences prior to prison.
  • Around 18% of the sample reported that they had a male sex partner at the time of the interview
  • The authors did not find a tremendous difference in homosexual behavior pre- and post-incarceration. But the rate was about 25-50% higher for each category of sex and type of prison.

6. Masturbation and Consensual Sex Within a Male Maximum Security Prison

C. Hensley, R. Tewksbury, & J. Wright. “Exploring the dynamics of masturbation and consensual same-sex activity within a male maximum security prison.” The Journal of Men’s Studies, 10.1 (2001) 59–71.

Administered surveys to 142 inmates in a Southern correctional institution concerning consensual homosexual activity and masturbation, its prevalence, frequency, and amount. Found that educated inmates were more likely to masturbate in prison than less educated inmates and that white inmates were more likely to engage in consensual homosexual activity than inmates of color. Finally, those who did not identify as Protestants were more likely to engage in same-sex sexual activities in prison.

7. Prison Sex and Post-Prison Sexual Behavior

Edward Sagarin. “Prison homosexuality and its effect on post-prison sexual behavior.” Psychiatry 39.3 (1976) 245-257.

The article describes three classes of male prisoners who engage in sex: in the lingo of the time, “fairies” (men who were gay before prison and are often willing participants), “punks” (men who were straight before prison, but due to youth or smaller size are easily intimidated or forced into regularly taking a passive role), and “jocks” or “jockers” (straight men who through superior size or strength are able to force or intimidate others into taking the passive role with them). Sagarin interviews five “jocks” some time after their release: all had returned exclusively to heterosexual sex and expressed nothing but contempt for the male partners they had in prison. They did not view their conduct in prison as rape, but construed their victims’ lack of violent resistance as meaning that “they really liked it.” He also interviews four “punks” who reported changing to a gay orientation after first being introduced to it against their will in prison. He rejects theories based on discovery of a “latent homosexuality,” and draws no conclusions about how frequent an experience this is, as he met all four of these men through gay contacts. For his interviewees, it was more a matter of becoming inured to others’ social perceptions of their identity, perhaps combined with some difficulty in keeping female partners after incarceration.

c) Transgender / Gender Non-Conforming:

1. Statutes and Policies.

D. Routh, G. Abess, D. Makin, M. K. Stohr, C. Hemmens, & J. Yoo. “Transgender Inmates in Prisons: A Review of Applicable Statutes and Policies.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 61.6 (2017) 645–666.

2. Inmate Sues for the Right to Consensual Sex in Prison

K. Picard. “Sex Cells.” Seven Days 26 (Feb. 2014) 34-35.

A gay transgender inmate sues for the right to consensual sex in a Vermont prison. The article consists of an interview with Martin Morales, a 24-year-old biological male and trans woman serving a “12-25-year sentence for an armed home invasion.” She admits to seeking out “emotionally and physically intimate relationships” with prison partners and even crediting some inmates for teaching her about “healthy relationships that don’t involve drugs, alcohol, self-mutilation, domestic abuse, or shame.”

Morales has sued the Vermont Dept. of Corrections for the disciplinary reports she has been issued claiming that she is developing “prosocial relationship skills that will benefit [her] once [she] is released back into society.” However, this case has an unlikely chance of success due to PREA’s “zero tolerance” policies.

3. Protective Isolation of Trans Persons in Prison

C. T. Duarte (2012). Investigating the experiences of transgender/gender variant individuals who have been incarcerated: Issues, policy, and practice (Order No. 1511255). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. MS Thesis. Northern Arizona University. (1020124355).

Interviewed 14 transgender/gender variant people who had been incarcerated about their experiences, perception of safety and fear, as well as their experiences of gender identity in society at large. This researcher concludes that gender variance continues to be punished by labeling those who do not fit into the binary as “deviant” or “sick,” meaning transgender/gender variant inmates are placed in protective custody or isolation in prison. Argues that isolation serves to further punish and erase transgender people from society.

Ch. 3: Policy, Practice, and Procedure in Correctional Facilities and Transgender Identity

Because prisons house transgender people according to his/her biological sex, transgender inmates are at risk of rape, sexual assault, discrimination and compromised safety and health.

Describes PREA’s unintended consequences for transgender inmates, causing transgender people to be isolated. Solitary confinement or protective custody prevents these inmates from finding social support or participating in employment in the facility. Labeling transgender identity as a mental disorder means that it is not protected federally, meaning transgender inmates do not receive the same access to health care, programs and services afforded to other inmates. Though the numbers are difficult to estimate, transgender inmates are overrepresented in prisons.

4. National Transgender Discrimination Survey

J. M. Grant, L. A. Mottet, J. Tanis, J. Harrison, J. L. Herman, & M. Keisling. “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.” National Center for Transgender Equity, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Surveyed 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming Americans through online or paper means. Attempts to collect data about the discrimination people who are trans or gender non-conforming face and present data points and suggestions to policy makers.

  • 16% of respondents who had been to jail or prison reported being physically assaulted and 15% reported being sexually assaulted.“(6)
  • 35% of respondents who served time in a jail or prison reported being harassed by other inmates, and 37% reported harassment by prison staff (166).
  • African American respondents reported higher rates of physical and sexual assault in prison (158), with MTF respondents experiencing the highest rates of assault
  • 12% of those who had been in jails and prisons reported experiencing a denial of routine healthcare and 17% reported denial of hormones
  • Treatment in prison and by police varies by race, with African Americans and Latino people receiving the longest sentences and with a greater rate of abuse

5. Trans Inmates in Pennsylvania

P. Emmer, A. Lowe, & R. Barrett Marshall. “This is a Prison, Glitter is Not Allowed: Experiences of Trans and Gender Variant People in Pennsylvania’s Prison Systems.” Hearts on a Wire Collective.

Distributed a survey to over 100 transgender or gender variant people currently in or recently released from 12 prison facilities in Pennsylvania. 59 usable surveys were returned. 54 respondents were placed in men’s prisons and 5 in women’s.

Relevant Findings

  • Housing and Isolation: 69.5% of respondents reported being housed in the general population, 17%, protective custody, 6.8% in restricted housing “the hole” (19)
  • In PA, the “z code” is often applied to LBGTQI prisoners, placing them in administrative segregation (Single celled confinement, often with limited time out of the cell) (19)
  • The Hole” refers to solitary confinement, punitive isolation, and restrictive housing unit (RHU). 66.1% of respondents reported being sent to “the hole” at least once during incarceration. Reasons for solitary confinement included protection, facility ignorance where to put a transgender inmate, protection, retaliation for grievances, punishment for fighting (22)
  • 33.9% of participants reported living with HIV/AIDS (27)
  • Sexual harassment and assault by staff – 44.1% of respondents reported sexual harassment, and 27.1% (16 respondents) reported sexual assault by staff members. 11 respondents reported that sexual assault by inmates was encouraged or permitted by staff (31)
  • Sexual harassment and assault by inmates: 72.9% of survey respondents reported being sexually harassed by inmates and 44.1% reported being sexually assaulted. 16 of these respondents indicated that staff members failed to intervene (33)
  • Sex in prison: 86.4% reported being sexually active in prison. 68.6% reported having either condoms or some way to prevent the transmission of HIV and STIs (though those methods were often found items). Condoms were available to inmates in Philadelphia County jails through a grassroots campaign (36-37)

6. Trans Man in a Women’s Prison

N. Corner (2019). Crime of Passion: ‘I’ll F**k Whoever I Want’ – Trans Man Reveals Sex-Mad Life in a Woman’s Prison.” The Sun (Jan. 24, 2019).

The Sun sheds light on the unusual circumstance of a U.S. inmate who identifies as the only transgender male in an all-female institution. He has not yet gone through with reassignment surgery, resulting in his placement in the women’s prison. In a television series, the trans man tells all about the “sex-crazed women” inside these prisons. His account of what is going on behind bars exemplifies how the policies banning consensual sexual relations among prisoners do little to nothing to deter inmates from pursuing and participating in sexual relationships.

7. Transgender and Intersex People in New York State Men’s Prisons

Sylvia Rivera Law Project, “It’s War in Here:” A Report on the Treatment of Transgender and Intersex People in New York State Men’s Prisons (2007).

Prison Placement and Housing:

  • Protective custody units – for people at a higher risk of violence or harassment, for additional punishment, and for “those who are seen as more likely to commit violent acts towards others” (p. 16).
  • Prisoners have reported that it can provide a “safe refuge from the violence of other prisoners,” but more often, it increases isolation and leaves prisoners more susceptible to harassment and violence at the hands of correctional officers. (p. 16)
  • It restricts access to vocational and recreational programs (pp. 16-17)
  • Inmates (in the general population) report being harassed daily by inmates and staff members and that rape and violence are common occurrences. They report little accountability for prison staff. Many trans prisoners report unnecessary forced strip searches and disproportionate punishments. (17-21)

8. Prison Placement and Isolation of Transgender Inmates

R. Edney, “To Keep Me Safe from Harm? Transgender Prisoners and the Experience of Imprisonment.” Deakin Law Review 9.2 (2004) 327–338.

Significant aspects of transgender lives are ‘erased’ by dominant institutional practices,” making trans people increasingly vulnerable in a prison environment.” (327). Examines those practices including housing by biological sex, the use of administrative segregation, and the lack of access to hormones or adequate medical treatment.

Examines the Supreme Court case Farmer v Brennan (1994). Biological sex, rather than inmate’s conception of gender determines prison placement, and the self-concept of “the transgender person appears to have little, if no weight, in the decision of classification.” Transgender prisoners face higher risks of rape and violence (cites Human Rights Watch No Escape 2001 report). Transgender prisoners also face inadequate medical care as most prisons do not provide access to hormones, or if they do, the access is limited due to “freeze frame policies” (335).

Protective Housing / Administrative Segregation:

  • protection” does not always guarantee safety, and often it isolates the inmate. This practice can result in psychological trauma, suicidal ideation, and an increased risk of violence against officers (333)

d) HIV and Public Health Consequences of Ignoring Prison Sex:

1. International Perspective on Condom Provision in Prison

B. Moazen, K. Dolan, R. Bosworth, P. Owusu, P. Wiessner, H. Stoever, (2019). Availability, coverage and barriers towards condom provision in prisons: A review of the evidence.

  • United Nations Development Program/WHO guideline on “HIV prevention, treatment and care in prisons” included interventions such as condom programs, prevention of sexual violence, HIV testing, counseling, treatment, care, and support, among others
  • Example of Australia’s issues of image in mandating the availability of condoms. Condom provision was found to have no increase in “prevalence of consensual or non-consensual sex, or other high-risk behaviors like IDU [injected drug use]” (p. 9). Condoms , lubricant, and a condom-use-manual were made available for free in vending machines
  • Opinion via US researchers has been that prison condom programs are not the ethical obligation of the US prison healthcare system, “despite the need to reduce the burden of HIV/AIDS,” (p. 13)
  • The UK’s prison system does not distribute condoms to prisoners, despite prison policy saying they should be provided to those who need them. Instead, prisoners are expected to ask for the condoms and out themselves, potentially inviting discrimination and punishment for breaking prison rules. (p.15)
  • Prisons should use “indirect ways” to distribute condoms such as vending machines or putting the condoms in a known (and discrete) place (p. 17).
  • Prison authorities “are recommended to launch routine monitoring and evaluation programs” to evaluate condom distribution programs.

2. Psychosocial Aspects of Prison Sex

J. Horley, “Sexuality and Sexual Health in Prisons.” Sexuality & Culture 23.4 (2019) 1372-1386.

This article is from the perspective of a prison psychologist who draws from a psychosocial theory of sexuality. Incarceration changes the sexual landscape and Horley argues that “temporary” or “situational homosexuality” does not reflect consensual prison sex. Horley calls to adopt a constructionist position that views sexuality as a cultural creation – ie, the prevalence of homosexuality in a prison among men who label themselves as “straight”(3). He argues that prison sexuality should be looked at as dynamic and more “governed by psychosocial conditions than locked into place by biology”(8). Prison presents situations which can be labeled “high-risk from a sexual health perspective,” which underscores the importance of STD and HIV risk reduction for incarcerated people(5). Prisons are beginning to allow condom access, but this change is slow in the making.

Sexual assault in prison is linked to health effects such as depression and PTSD as well as STD infection. Conjugal visits have been shown to have consistent, but limited positive effect on inmates for whom this is allowed –“reduced depressive symptoms, reduction in rule breaking, and reduced recidivism”(6).Horley argues that many sexual assaults in prison occur through prison gangs, out of anger at a particular group of people, or a fear of seeming weak (alternatives would “soften the individual and make him or her vulnerable to more aggressive associates”) (8). Many inmates who identify as heterosexual apply a feminine identity to a partner to maintain their “masculine” identify (10).

Horley calls to move the psychological and social issues in inmate sexual health to the forefront for prison authorities and policy-makers in hopes that they can adopt a “broader view of inmate health that includes psychosocial concerns such as a healthy sense of sexual identity or selfhood” to bring about these provisions to promote inmate sexual health (11).

He claims that conjugal visitation might reduce assaults, though admits that further research is needed.

3. International Perspective

AVERT (2019). Prisoners, HIV and AIDS.

Article examines the causes behind the high rate of HIV among incarcerated people including the lack of condoms, sharing needles, and lack of access to antiretroviral treatment and HIV prevention and harm reduction programs. According to the article, the global incarcerated population is increasing, as is the prevalence of HIV, which they estimate to affect about 20% of inmates. Transgender women are disproportionately affected because they are more likely to experience homelessness or participate in sex work. A total of 58 countries – or around 30% of countries in the world – provide condoms in prisons. This includes prison systems in Western Europe, North America, Australia, Indonesia, Iran, South Africa and parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. But they are not available in most US prisons.

4. HIV Education in US Prisons

P. Valera, Y. Chang, & Z. Lian. “HIV risk inside U.S. prisons: a systematic review of risk reduction interventions conducted in U.S. prisons.” AIDS Care 29.8 (2017) 943–952.

HIV is 5 times more common in prison populations than among all US adults (moreover, that figure only accounts for known cases found in pre-prison HIV testing). This article reviews studies on HIV prevention interventions in US prisons from 1980-2014.

Relevant findings

  • Many states report having peer education programs in place about HIV transmission, however few to none include harm reduction approaches (for example, providing clean syringes or making condoms freely available)

5. 2015 BJS Statistics on HIV in Prisons

L. M. Maruschak & J. Bronson. (2017). HIV in Prisons, 2015 – Statistical Tables. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

This study provides a glimpse of the HIV rates by state and could possibly be compared to prison systems that provide condoms and those that do not. However, the CA condom law was signed in 2014, so more recent numbers are needed. The HIV rate in prison is 5 times that of the general population.

  • CDC recommends opt-out HIV screening at the time of prison admission

    • 15 states reported that they tested all prisoners for HIV (in 2015, 34% of prisoners were admitted in states that conducted mandatory HIV testing) (p. 5).

    • 17 states reported opt-out HIV testing

  • The rate of HIV among state and federal prisoners (in 2015) was 1,297 per 100,000, with the numbers of state prisoners with HIV declining every year

Prisoners who had HIV as a percentage of custody population (p. 10)
















New York










* Condoms provided to prisoners in major county prison systems, then as a state law in 2014

** Condoms provided to prisoners since 1987

6. Condoms in San Francisco County Jail

G. Lavender. “California Prisons Aim to Keep Sex Safe, Albeit Illegal.” National Public Radio (January 21, 2015).

In a San Francisco county jail condoms are provided free of charge for inmates of the all-male facility. This is not an uncommon practice in prisons in this county, but across the state of California and the rest of the country it is against state law for prison inmates to engage in sexual relations. Yet sex still goes on and contributes to the spread of HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections. This report discusses efforts to come up with a plan to provide condoms in prisons across the state.

7. Unsafe Prison Sex and Threats to Public Health Post-Release

J. Krienert, J. Walsh & L. Lukasz. “Alternatives to abstinence: the practice of (un)safe sex in prison.” Criminal Justice Studies 27.4 (2014) 387-401.

The risks of unsafe sex in prison compound when the former inmate re-enters the community. There is an increased risk of disease transmission and unprotected sex in the weeks following release from prison (p. 390). This study uses qualitative data from a NIJ study (Fleisher & Krienert, 2006) involving interviews with inmates about prison sexuality and violence. “Disease and disease prevention were mentioned hundreds of times without deliberate prompting by interviewers,” (p. 393).

Argues that prisons and jails often provide the first STI diagnosis for people and should be better utilized for risk reduction upon release. According to the author, condom pilot programs are a step in the right direction, but intake and pre-release STI testing coupled with providing condoms would be a more comprehensive solution.

Trends from the interviews:

  • Respondents guessed high estimates for the population of HIV positive prisoners (80-90%) (393)
  • Indicated frustration about the lack of testing and screening (and what asking for testing would imply about you. Fear of discrimination) (393)
  • Respondents also report “trying to persuade correctional officers or staff members to provide condoms” and often the condoms come from officers or staff who smuggle other contraband (394). Some reported that volunteers and visitors also occasionally provide condoms.
  • Improvised methods such as reusing found condoms (on outside work duty), using rubber gloves, plastic bags or other items are common (394-5). Some reported educating others or common knowledge about where to get gloves and how to make the barrier.
  • Many inmates reported a process of behavior observation of potential partners and requiring some kind of proof of disease status. Others chose a long-term, monogamous partner (395).
  • Myths remain, however, regarding cleaning with a disinfectant or that withdrawal before ejaculation prevents HIV/AIDS

8. Condoms Available to Prisoners in Only Three States

J. Watson, “Condoms Now Available to Prisoners in Three States.” Prison Legal News (Sept. 2016) 56.

California legislation signed in 2014 allows prisoners access to condoms. Los Angeles County’s jail system has provided condoms for a decade. This article does not mention how the condoms are provided, for example if they are in vending machines or if prisoners have to ask guards or staff for them.

9. Condom Access Pilot Program in California

K. D. Lucas, J. L. Miller, V. Eckert, R. L. Horne, M. C. Samuel, & J. C. Mohle-Boetani. “Risk, Feasibility, and Cost Evaluation of a Prisoner Condom Access Pilot Program in One California State Prison.” Journal of Correctional Health Care, 20.3 (2014) 184–194.

Sexual activity is prohibited in California prisons, and corrections officers or prison staff often express fears about condoms being used to smuggle in contraband or used as a weapon if the prison were to start providing condoms.

At the time this article was published, condoms are distributed in jails in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC; in state prisons in Mississippi (for conjugal visitations only, discontinued after 2014) and Vermont. However, the article does not specify if they are distributed in an anonymous manner that would actually encourage use.

This study examines a one-year pilot project in which condoms were made available from a vending machine in a California state prison. Prison inmates and staff were provided with an anonymous survey before and after the pilot which asked about condom access, “preferred avenues for obtaining condoms,” and any incidents of misuse or negative consequences.

After the pilot, staff members said that condom distribution should either happen during a medical visit (or through the medication dispensing system) or from a dispenser that is not in a conspicuous area.

The study concluded that condoms can be distributed to inmates in a general population, medium security prison without an increase in smuggling contraband or “violent or sexual misconduct.” However, it does not investigate the actual use of condoms or the impact on rates of HIV or other STIs.

10. Correctional Officer Attitudes toward Condoms in Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail

W. J. McCuller & N. T. Harawa. “A Condom Distribution Program in the Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail: Sheriff Deputies’ Attitudes and Opinions.” Journal of Correctional Health Care 20.3 (2014) 195–202.

K6G unit of Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail – inmates in this unit are men who have sex with men, whether gay, bisexual, or trans. Inmates get one condom per week (though it seems that the condoms are not distributed discretely or anonymously). This study is made up of interviews with the unit’s staff (10 staff members). They were asked about their position, familiarity with the K6G unit and population, knowledge of and attitudes about the condom distribution program, beliefs about sexual activity in their unit, concerns and suggestions.


All but one staff member felt that the program should continue, even though sex in the unit is not allowed. An interview noted that inmates used available items such as “latex gloves and food wrappers” for protection before the unit began distributing condoms (p. 197). All staff members acknowledged that sex has occurred in their unit and will continue to occur, though their estimates varied greatly. There were mentions of condoms being used as “balloons, pillows, or hair ties,” but no signs of “malicious or dangerous uses,” though study participants admitted that improper disposal could be a hazard.

Interestingly, none of the staff members felt that condom distribution should be expanded to the general population. One interviewee said “They don’t have no business having sex. They’re supposed to be straight men.” (p. 199). However, because sexual activity in prison is illegal (posted on signs everywhere), many of the staff members said that they feel like they’re sending a mixed message to inmates by supporting the condom distribution program.

11. Australian Study Shows Condoms Do Not Result in More Inmate Sex

T. Butler, J. Richters, L. Yap, & B. Donovan. “Condoms for prisoners: No evidence that they increase sex in prison, but they increase safe sex.” British Medical Journal: Epidemiology 89 (2013) 377–379.

Surveyed 2,018 male prisoners in New South Wales and Queensland. In NSW, condoms are freely distributed in prisons, and in Queensland, none are distributed. The two Australian states combined house about 60% of the nation’s prisoners. The rates at which prisoners reported sexual activity were close. 5.8% of NSW prisoners reported sexual contact with another inmate, compared to 8.8% of Queensland prisoners. For consensual anal sex – 3.3% in NSW, and 3.6% in Queensland and for sexual coercion, 2.4% for NSW and 2.9% for Queensland. The study found that providing prisoners with condoms does not directly correlate with an increase in sexual activity, consensual or otherwise. This study was self-reported, and it is possible that prisoners may have under-reported consensual sex and sexual assaults (p. 378).

12. Punishing Consensual Sex in Prison Undermines Efforts to Control HIV

S. Webb.Male Gay Prisoners Who have Consensual Sex Behind Bars Face Being Separated and Disciplined.” Daily Mail (September 9, 2013).

Prisoners in the U.K., as in other countries, are a high-risk group for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In the U.K., safe-sex practices are not explicitly discussed in prisons, condoms are not provided, and prisoners who are sexually involved are separated and almost always disciplined. The problems resulting from these policies extend beyond prison walls. Once inmates are released they bring with them STI’s and disease that was contracted during their sentence.

13. Sex and Condom Use in a Sexual Minorities Unit

N. T. Harawa, J. Sweat, S. George, & M. Sylla. “Sex and condom use in a large jail unit for men who have sex with men (MSM) and male-to-female transgenders.” Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 21.3 (2010) 1071–1087.

Rates of incarceration are especially high among men who have sex with men – 1 in 4 MSM “aged 23-29 years who were surveyed in six U.S. urban centers reported having been imprisoned or jailed for at least 24 hours in their lifetimes” (1072). This study examines the K6G unit (Los Angeles County), a protective custody unit for MSM and male-to-female transgender inmates. Condom distribution occurs once a week and inmates line up to receive one lubricated condom per person.109 inmates participated in a computer assisted survey regarding incarceration history, HIV/STD diagnoses, sexual behaviors (pre and during incarceration), condom use and attitudes. Then, follow-up in-person interviews were conducted with 17 survey participants.


  • 53% of inmates reported having sex during prison. Though there are signs that say “sex in prison is a felony” posted, inmates report that there are many spaces within the dormitory that offer privacy, especially because many respondents mentioned that thorough walk-throughs only occur during the day (1078)
  • Most respondents answered that they had sex for “pleasure or recreation,” but some (13%) mentioned exchange sex. Transgender inmates were more likely to report this practice than cisgendered men (28% vs 10%) (1079)
  • Those who reported abstaining from sex gave the lack of privacy, little interest in casual sex, perceptions of HIV/STD risk, and to avoid problems (1080).
  • 75% of inmates reported at least one act of unprotected anal sex and 49% of all anal sex reported during the respondents’ current incarceration were unprotected (1080), but 65% of inmates who reported having anal sex in prison reported using condom – however, I suppose they did not use condoms consistently or use and access may have varied depending on unit and institution.
  • Reasons for not using condoms: “perceived HIV seroconcordance with one’s partner (50%), a dislike for the way condoms feel (26%), and difficulty maintaining an erection with a condom (18%). Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol played little role (2.6%)” (1080). Also, some inmates in the qualitative issues discussed that sex happens in prison when the opportunity arises and there is not much time to plan to bring condoms.
  • Other reasons stated point to issues with the condom program including running out of condoms (32%), not being able to get a condom from the program (13%), and not receiving lubricant with the condoms (8%) (1081)
  • Qualitative interviews revealed a discussion of how some inmates felt jaded by a life of hardships and felt resentment and bitterness about their disease status, unwilling to take an active role in protecting other from infection (1082).
  • “The percentage of sexually active survey respondents who engaged in unprotected anal sex in custody did not differ by HIV status (73% for HIV-negative, 76% for HIV-positive participants, p5.813), and 53% of those with HIV reported at least one incident of unprotected anal sex with an HIV-antibody negative or unknown status partner” (1082)
  • Interviews implied that the frequency and timing of the condom distribution program (having to line up and receive one condom in person)
  • Half of the reported in-custody sex acts were protected, which indicates that condom distribution is working, but improvements need to be made to the delivery

14. The First Condom Machine

Mary Sylla, Nina Harawa, Olga Grinstead Reznick, “The First Condom Machine in a US Jail: The Challenge of Harm Reduction in a Law and Order Environment.” American Journal of Public Health 100.6 (2010) 982-985.

A pilot program in which a free condom-dispensing machine is installed in the San Francisco county jail. The San Francisco County system had offered condoms on an in-person basis (1 at a time) since 1989. Found (through interviews with inmates) that awareness of condom availability and uptake increased but sexual activity did not. Those who self-identified as HIV positive, or at an increased risk for HIV infection reported “higher program utilization than those who self-identified as heterosexual or HIV negative.

15. Arguments Against Condoms

R. Fullilove. “Condoms in Prison: The Ethical Dilemma.” AMA Journal of Ethics 10.2 (2008) 110-12.

Reveals the reasoning of prison officials who continue to deny condoms to prisoners. Questions whether or not US prisons are sites that lend themselves to high rates of HIV transmission. Claims that prisons should do more to test and treat HIV rather than to assume that condom distribution will solve the problem.

16. Public Health

J. D. Tucker, S. W. Chang, & J. P. Tulsky. “The catch 22 of condoms in US correctional facilities.” BMC Public Health 7 (2007) 296.

This article makes the following arguments to justify a scalable and feasible next step in the prevention of HIV/STIs among inmates: condoms are a basic and essential part of HIV/STI prevention, HIV/STI transmission occurs in the context of corrections, and several model programs show the feasibility of condom distribution in prisons. A lower end estimate for HIV incidence among incarcerated applied to 2,000,000 new inmates annually results in thousands of new HIV infections acquired each year in corrections that could be prevented with condoms in corrections facilities. Programs from parts of the United States, Canada, and much of Europe show how programs distributing condoms in correctional facilities can be safe and effective. Public health and corrections officials must work together to ensure that condoms and broader sexual disease prevention programs are integrated into US jail and prison health systems.

17. CDC on HIV in Georgia Prisons

Center for Disease Control (April 2006). HIV Transmission Among Male Inmates.

This CDC report discusses HIV transmission among male inmates of the Georgia prison system over 13 years. The report notes the role of consensual sex among inmates, as well as prison rape, as contributors to the spread of HIV among prisoners.

e) General (Prison Sexual Culture – Men’s and Women’s):

1. False Allegations by Inmates

A. Alonzo. “Allegations of Sexual Relations at Jail Unfounded.” Reno Gazette Journal (October 10, 2018).

A key aspect of the difficulty of prison life is the prohibition on sexual relationships. Prisoners cannot legally give consent and yet sexual interaction occurs within jail walls but is largely unreported. The incident reported here, about alleged consensual sex reported by a fellow prisoner allegedly seeking revenge and in turn getting attacked as a snitch – suggests some of the complicated dynamics at work.

2. Global Prison Trends

Penal Reform International (2018)Global Prison Trends, p. 20 [pdf]

Globally, criminalized homosexuality results in a disproportionately LBGTQIA prison population. A US study reported that LBGTQIA youth were “over-represented in the criminal justice system, faced bias in court decisions regarding pre-trial detention and sentencing, and were at higher risk of being placed in solitary confinement or segregated units”

3. Higher Incarceration Rates for Sexual Minorities

I. H. Meyer, A. R. Flores, L. Stemple, A. P. Romero, B. D. Wilson, & J. L. Herman. “Incarceration Rates and Traits of Sexual Minorities in the United States: National Inmate Survey, 2011-2012.” American Journal of Public Health 107.2 (2017) 267–273.

Used data from the 2011-2012 National Inmate Survey. Analyzed responses to two questions (1) Do you consider yourself to be heterosexual or ‘straight,’ bisexual, or homosexual or gay [or lesbian, for women]?” and (2) “Before you entered this facility, had you had sex with men only, women only, or both men and women?” Inmates were categorized as LGB (same sex behavior before entering the facility) and MSM and WSW (for those who did not identify as LGB). Inmates who did not identify as LGB and reported no same-sex-partners before incarceration were categorized as straight.


  • Of the male respondents in jails, 6.2% reported being a “sexual minority” (3.3% gay or bisexual and 2.9% reported MSM – sex with men before arrival at the facility but did not identity as gay or bisexual (p. 269)
  • Of the male respondents in prisons, 9.3% were sexual minorities (5.5% gay or bisexual men and 3.8% MSM) (p. 269)
  • Of the female respondents, in jail – 35.7% were sexual minorities (26.4% lesbian or bisexual and 9.3% WSW) (p. 269)
  • Of women in prison, 42.1% identified as sexual minorities (33.3% lesbian or bisexual and 8.8% WSW) (p. 269)
  • Sexual minority men and women were more likely than straight people to be incarcerated for violent sexual and nonsexual crimes “rather than crimes related to property, drugs, or parole violations” (p. 270).
  • Lesbian and bisexual women were more likely to be sentenced to a longer period than a straight woman (p. 270)
  • Gay or bisexual men but not MSM were more likely “than were straight men to have sentences longer than 10 years in prison.” (p. 270)
  • Sexual minority men and women were significantly more likely to have been in disciplinarily, administrative segregation or solitary confinement, which affects mental health and psychological distress (p. 270)
  • Sexual minorities were at an increased risk for sexual assault by staff or other inmates. However, staff sexual victimization was not higher for lesbian, bisexual, or WSW than straight women (p. 271).
  • Sexual minorities are more likely to be disciplined for attire and gender expression rule-breaking than straight peers (p. 272)

4. Consensual Sex Among Prisoners

J. W. Borchert, “Controlling Consensual Sex Among Prisoners.” Law & Social Inquiry: Journal of the American Bar Foundation 41.3 (2016) 595-615.

The decriminalization of homosexual relations in the U.S. has not reached prisoners, who are barred from engaging in consensual sexual relations. “[P]risons continue to regulate sex in much the same way they have been doing since the 19th century,” notes the author, sociologist Jay W. Borchert. “Nationwide, prisons bar consensual sex among prisoners, and those who violate this policy face severe punishment, including administrative segregation. Interviews with prison officials from twenty-three states uncover beliefs linking consensual sex with violence that places the overall security of the prison at risk. While supporting LGBT rights and the decriminalization of same-sex sex in society, officials insist that prisons are not suited for similar change. This article explains why prison officials have been so committed to this policy and argues that the time has come to reconsider prison regulation of consensual sex.”

5. Prison Sex from the Standpoint of Rational Choice Theory

A. N. Terry. “Sexual Behavior in Prison Populations Understood Through the Framework of Rational Choice and Exchange Theory.” Inquiries Journal 8.1 (2016) 3-31.

Besides satisfying physical urges, why would prisoners seek out sexual relationships with each other? The author of this article uses rational choice and exchange theories as explanations. “Inmates appear to weigh the costs and benefits associated with engaging in sexual relations with the primary motivations being increased access to commissary and/or other tangible goods in addition to companionship,” the author argues. “Additionally, some inmates agree to sexual actions as a form of protection and group solidarity. The literature suggests that regardless of the combination of motives, inmates engage in rational decision making when weighing the pros and cons for exchanges involving sexual behaviors.”

6. Prison Sex in the UK

Howard League for Penal Reform (2016), Sex in Prison: Experiences of Former Prisoners.

The Howard League for Penal Reform, founded in 1866, is a London-based charity serving the U.K. that aims to cut prison populations while reducing crime and fostering safer communities. From 2013 to 2016, their Commission on Sex in Prison published in-depth research and reporting on prison sex in the U.K. Their final report, written by Dr. Alisa Stevens (Criminology, Southampton), summarizes the results of interviews with a convenience sample of 26 former inmates who volunteered participation. 8 of the 24 male respondents reported participation in consensual prison sex; five were gay or bi-sexual before prison, two discovered a preference for sex with men while in prison, and one was straight before and after prison, but participated as an active partner with gay men while in prison. 42% of the sample were in prison for sex offenses against children. The report does reveal a more tolerant, non-interventionist attitude on the part of prison staff toward consensual sex in the UK, as well as the ready availability of condoms and soft-core pornography in many (but not all) British prisons.

7. Institutionalized Indifference

M. Johnson. “Institutionalized indifference: Rape with a view.” Journal of Prisoners on Prisons 23 (2014) 11–30.

A personal essay “autoethnographic approach” about a former inmate’s experiences with institutional indifference while in a medium security institution. The author identifies as a gay, Latino man who did time in a medium security county facility in Southeast Louisiana. He was identified as gay at the time of booking and was housed in the L2 unit, for gay and trans prisoners. He was sexually assaulted by an older man in a holding cell while awaiting the results of his trial and eventually an officer heard the commotion and stopped the assault. He reported the incident and never heard anything back, feeling shame in reliving the experience. He felt like he had little recourse after the assault and no way to challenge the correctional system’s lack of response.

The author compared his experience to the existing literature on prison rape (mostly Hensley, et al; Tewksbury et al) and found that the experience was similar in that correctional officers did not follow up on the report of sexual assault and that he experienced discrimination from staff for being a gay man.

8. The Prevalence of Prison Sex Among LGBT Inmates in the US

J. Lydon et al. (2014). Coming Out of Concrete Closets, A Report on Black & Pink’s National LGBT Prisoner Survey.

Black & Pink is a Boston-based group that produces a newspaper for close to 10,000 LGBTQ inmates nationally and critiques the U.S. prison industrial complex. A survey of over 1000 of Black & Pink’s inmate correspondents offers one of the largest sample sizes available for this population. Among the key findings, some 70% of respondents had been sexually active while in prison and some 2/3rds have at one point been placed in solitary confinement as punishment for consensual sexual activity.

9. Former UK Prison Officer on Sex In Prison

A. Vidal, “Women Prisoners: Sex in Prison is Commonplace, the Male Inmates Just Hide it More than the Girls.” Daily Telegraph (Feb. 26, 2014).

A former prison officer outlines her views on the Howard report. Vidal writes about how sex behind bars is fairly commonplace and outlines what can be an abusive power dynamic between guards and prisoners.

10. Social Construction of Sexuality in Prison

L. E. Gibson & C. Hensley. “The social construction of sexuality in prison.” The Prison Journal 93 (2013) 355–370.

Using data collected from 142 male inmates in a Southern maximum-security correctional facility, the purpose of the present study was to examine whether engaging in sexual behavior affects a change in the sexual orientation of male prison inmates. Applying a social constructionist theoretical approach, the influence of several sociodemographic and situational variables on the change in sexual orientation was also examined. The only statistically significant variable associated with a change in sexual orientation was engaging in homosexual behavior. Inmates were more than 52 times more likely to change their sexual orientation if they engaged in homosexual activity while incarcerated, supporting the social constructionist approach.

11. A South African Perspective

Africa Regional Sexuality Resource Center, Negotiating Sexual Experiences within the Confines of a Prison (n.d.).

The Africa Regional Sexuality Resource Center (ARSRC) includes prisoners among the groups it researches and advocates for. In a featured article, ARSRC presents a different way of handling the reality of sex among prisoners. Inmates are encouraged to discuss issues of masculinity and femininity and how these factors contribute to the prevalence and quality of sexual activity within prisons. Notably, they find that non-consensual sex is infrequent in maximum security prisons.

12. Prison Guards’ Attitudes Towards the Prevention of Sexual Contacts Between Inmates

Coelho, C., & Goncalves, R. A. Prison guards’ attitudes towards the prevention of sexual contacts between inmates. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 49.4 (2010) 361–374.

Portuguese research project – international perspective. Considers this issue with an eye towards recidivism and re-entry into the community because Portugal has no life sentences or death penalties. This study surveyed 192 Portuguese prison guards (all male) on a 10-term Likert scale about the role of guards in preventing sexual assault and in consensual sexual contact.


  • Majority of guards were in favor or preventing sexual contact between inmates, especially nonconsensual. They are significantly more willing to prevent forced sexual contact vs consensual (p. 367).
  • 74.2% of respondents admitted “being aware of the existence of consensual sexual contacts between inmates, but only about half of them were able to estimate the number of consensual sexual contacts they were aware of” (368)
  • 52.1% of guards acknowledge the existence of forced sexual contact between inmates, and only about half were able to quantify this occurrence (33.3% aware of one situation, 31.3% of two, 18.5% of three or four, and 16.7% of five or more) (368)
  • This leads to the question if the guards’ evaluations of consensual sex are truly accurate – just because something is not clearly violent does not make it consensual, etc. What if there is more covert coercion or threats?
  • Negative attitudes towards sex offenders prevail, which may lead to guards contributing indirectly to their victimization or not intervening to protect them

13. A Review of Empirical Studies

C. Hensley & R. Tewkesbury. “Inmate-to-inmate prison sexuality: A review of empirical studies.” Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 3 (2009) 226–243.

In this review, the authors seek to provide readers with an understanding of not only what researchers have uncovered about inmate sexual behavior and the dynamics of institutional sex but also how this field of inquiry has developed and evolved. The discussion that follows is divided into four primary sections, male and female inmate consensual homosexual behavior and male and female inmate coerced sexual activity.

14. Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Society

Regina Kunzel. (2008). Criminal intimacy: Prison and the uneven history of modern American society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

From a review by Robin C. Henley

Regina Kunzel examines the role that prison sex had on the development of a “modern” understanding of sexuality. By illuminating the “unexpectedly plural, varied, and contradictory sexual world” of American prisons, she draws attention to the inadequacies of a binary construction of sexuality (6). In the end, Kunzel challenges historians to think more critically about the homo/heterosexual binary, and instead understand sexuality as a more complex construction that more closely reflects Alfred Kinsey’s sexual continuum. Kunzel explores the physical space of incarceration, arguing that the solid concrete walls between freedom and incarceration really acted as porous avenues of cultural exchange. Drawing on sources from prisoners, reformers, prison authorities, journalists, physicians, and psychiatrists, she demonstrates that prison sex had a significant contribution to the development of sexual norms. What becomes clear is that not only is the larger culture affecting attitudes on sex inside prison, but that the reverse is happening as well.”

II. Sexual Victimization (Includes BJS Reports / Rates of Nonconsensual Sexual Activity):

a) BJS Reports:

The definitions of the terms the BJS studies use to describe sexual victimization are as follows:

Sexual victimization

all types of sexual activity, e.g., oral, anal, or vaginal penetration; hand jobs; touching of the inmate’s buttocks, thighs, penis, breasts, or vagina in a sexual way; abusive sexual contacts; and both willing and unwilling sexual activity with staff.

Nonconsensual sexual acts

unwanted contacts with another inmate or any contacts with staff that involved oral, anal, vaginal penetration, hand jobs, and other sexual acts.

Abusive sexual contacts only

unwanted contacts with another inmate or any contacts with staff that involved touching of the inmate’s buttocks, thigh, penis, breasts, or vagina in a sexual way.

Unwilling activity

incidents of unwanted sexual contacts with another inmate or staff.

Willing activity

incidents of willing sexual contacts with staff. These contacts are characterized by the reporting inmates as willing; however, all sexual contacts between inmates and staff are legally nonconsensual.

Staff sexual misconduct

includes all incidents of willing and unwilling sexual contact with facility staff and all incidents of sexual activity that involved oral, anal, vaginal penetration, hand jobs, blow jobs, and other sexual acts with facility staff.

1. Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates (2008-2009)

Allen Beck, Paige Harrison, Marcus Berzofsky, Rachael Caspar, Christopher Krebs. Sexual victimization in prisons and jails reported by inmates. (2008-09). US Department of Justice – Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Audio computer-assisted self-interview or a paper form administered to 76,459 inmates, including inmates in “state and federal prisons jails, ICE facilities…military facilities…and Indian country jails.” (Beck et al, 6). An estimated 4.4% of prison inmates and 3.1% of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization (Beck et al, 5).

See Appendices 1-3 (page 25-26) for the survey’s wording regarding coercion, pressure, and physical force.

Inmate-on-Inmate Victimization:

This study includes certain dynamics of victimization including

  • being bribed or blackmailed,
  • offered protection,
  • or threatened with harm or a weapon.

Types of pressure or force outlined in this study include:

  • persuaded/talked into it;
  • bribed/blackmailed;
  • given drugs;
  • offered protection;
  • offered to settle debt;
  • threatened with harm/weapon;
  • physically held down/restrained
  • physically harmed/injured

(Beck et al, page 21)

Percentage of victimized inmates who were threatened with harm / weapon:





Total victimized: 25,312 *

4,774 *




* 2.1% of state and federal prison inmates reported an incident with another prisoner, leading to an estimated 30,100 nationwide





Total victimized: 8,611*





* out of the 1.5% of jail inmates (estimated to 11,600 nationwide) who reported an incident with another inmate

** means “significant at the 95%-confidence level, when compared to male victims”

Percentage of inmates who were physically held down/restrained




Total victimized: 25,312*







Total victimized: 8,611*




Percentage of inmates who were physically harmed/injured:




Total victimized: 25,312*







Total victimized: 8,611*





Circumstances surrounding inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization surveyed include:

  • Length of time after admission to facility,
  • time of day,
  • location of incident,
  • injuries,
  • if the inmate had ever reported an incident.

Staff Sexual Misconduct

According to this survey, around 2.8% of prison inmates and 2.0 of jail inmates reported sexual contact with staff. 1.8% in prisons and 1.1% in jails reported that they willingly had sexual contact with staff. This survey found that most victims and perpetrators of staff sexual misconduct were of the opposite sex.

  • Among the 39,121 male prison inmates who had been victims of staff sexual misconduct, 69% reported sexual activity with female staff; an additional 16% reported sexual activity with both female and male staff… In comparison, among the 2,123 female prison inmates who had been victimized, 72% reported that the staff perpetrator was male (Beck et al, 24).
  • 16% of the male inmates who were victims of staff sexual misconduct reported sexual activity with female and male staff while 19% of the female prison inmates who had been victimized reported both female and male perpetrators.

Circumstances of sexual misconduct by staff include:

  • Number of reported willing and unwilling incidents of staff sexual misconduct;
  • Type of coercion or force (without pressure or force; pressured; force/threat of force)
  • When it first happened (with regards to admission into facility)
  • Time of day
  • Where occurred
  • Was the victim injured
  • Did the victim ever report an incident?

Sexual Victimization Reported by Former State Prisoners (2008)

Allen Beck & Candace Johnson. Sexual victimization reported by former state prisoners. U.S Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. May 2012.

Surveyed 17,738 former state prisoners under active supervision (required to contact parole authority) in a computer / audio-assisted self-interview. Interviews from an additional 788 former prisoners (randomly selected) were included from the survey test sites (total participants = 18,526). This survey is based on a sample of parole offices and not prisons, so this does not provide conclusive evidence about facilities.

This study describes the type of coercion and injury as well as variations by sex of former inmates and individual-level and facility-level characteristics. The inmates were also surveyed on whether or not they told anyone about the incident, if not, why not, how they felt about the incident post-release, and HIV status.

Relevant findings:

  • 9.6% of former state prisoners reported one or more incidents of sexual victimization during their most recent period of incarceration (in a jail, prison, or a post-release community treatment facility). This amounts to 2,096 of the 18,526 participating former state inmates. This 9.6% estimated nationally totals to 49,000 former state prisoners who had experienced sexual victimization
  • Of this total, 5.4% (estimated nationally to 27,300) report an incident with another inmate and 5.3% (estimated 27,100) report an incident with staff
  • 1.8% experienced one or more incidents in a local jail
  • 7.5% in a state prison
  • .1% while in a post-release community-treatment facility

9.6 vs 4.4% – higher rate: (9.6%) reported vs the 4.5% in the 2007 NIS-1 and the 4.4% in the NIS-2 potentially reflects a longer exposure rate. The former inmates surveyed in the NFPS averaged 39.4 months served vs the average of 7.9 months in the NIS-2. Rates of sexual victimization tended to increase with the length of time the former inmate had served (Beck and Johnson 18).

Force and injury:


Number of victims

27,300 (total victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization)

18,700 (experienced nonconsensual sexual acts)

Threatened with harm or weapon



Physically held down or restrained



Physically harmed/injured



  • The most common injuries were anal or vaginal tearing, severe pain, or bleeding (12%) and chipped or lost teeth (12%) (Beck and Johnson, 12)

Staff sexual misconduct

Number of victims

Willing activity


Unwilling activity


Threatened with harm or weapon



Physically held down or restrained



Physically harmed/injured



  • Half of victims of staff sexual misconduct said they had been offered favors or special privileges; a third had been persuaded or talked into it; a quarter had been bribed or blackmailed” (13). Though many inmates who experienced staff sexual misconduct reported the activity as “willing,” this study found that 62% of those who reported willing activity also reported coercion by offers of special privileges, followed by persuasion, then bribes or blackmail. (13)
  • 16% of victims reporting unwilling sexual activity with staff reported being physically injured compared with 2% of those who reported “willing” sexual activity

Breakdown by sex:

  • Females reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization at 13.7%, while males did so at 4.2%. This discrepancy is larger when measuring nonconsensual sexual acts, “An estimated 10.5% of females reported such incidents with other inmates, compared to 2.7% of males” (15).
  • The rate of “willing” sexual activity with staff was 4.8% for males and 2.6% for females, while unwilling sexual activity was 1.1% for males and 2.5% for females


  • Two thirds of victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization said they reported at least one incident to facility staff or someone else” (30).
  • 22% of unwilling victims of sexual activity with staff compared to 3% of “willing” victims, said they had reported an incident to facility staff or someone else” (30).
  • The study details the most common reasons for not reporting and the facility responses by type of incident

Sexual Victimization in Local Jails Reported by Inmates (2007)

Allen J. Beck & Paige M. Harrison. Sexual victimization in local jails reported by inmates. U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report.

This survey was administered to inmates through an audio computer-assisted self-interview. 40,419 jail inmates participated in this survey and 1,330 reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization. “The estimated number of local jail inmates experiencing sexual violence was 3.2% for all jail inmates nationwide” (Beck and Harrison, 2). The survey screened for sexual activities initiated by inmates or staff and asked if the respondent was forcer or pressured. For the nature of the questions and methodology for measuring sexual victimization, see page 10.

Relevant findings:

  • Female inmates were more likely to report sexual victimization (“estimated 5.1% of female inmates compared to 2.9% of male inmates said they had experienced one or more incidents of sexual victimization” (Beck and Harrison, 6).
  • About 4.6% of inmates ages 18 to 24 reported being sexually assaulted, compared to 2.4% of inmates age 25 and older” (ibid).
  • Differences in sexual victimization found among inmates based on their sexual orientation and past sexual experiences. “Inmates with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual reported significantly higher rates of sexual victimization” (ibid).
  • Prior sexual assault – “Inmates who had experienced a prior sexual assault were about 6 times more likely to report a sexual victimization in jail (11.8%) compared to those with no sexual assault history (1.9%). (ibid)

Staff Sexual Misconduct:

  • Of the 3.2% estimated total for local jail inmates experiencing sexual violence, 2% is reported as perpetrated by staff.
  • 1.3% of those who had experienced sexual misconduct by staff considered it “unwilling activity” and 1.1% considered it “willing”
  • Staff-on-inmate sexual victimization: “nearly 62% of all reported incidents of staff sexual misconduct involved female staff with male inmates” (Beck and Harrison, 7)

From table 8, page 7

Threatened with harm or a weapon:


All incidents – number of victims: 12,100

Nonconsensual sexual acts – number – 5,200




All incidents — number of victims: 15,200

Unwilling activity — number of victims: 10,400



Physically held down or restrained:


All incidents — number of victims: 12,100

Nonconsensual sexual acts — number — 5,200




All incidents — number of victims: 15,200

Unwilling activity — number of victims: 10,400



Physically harmed or injured


All incidents — number of victims: 12,100

Nonconsensual sexual acts — number — 5,200




All incidents — number of victims: 15,200

Unwilling activity — number of victims: 10,400



Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates (2007)

Allen Beck & Paige Harrison. Sexual victimization in state and federal prisons reported by inmates. U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report.

National Inmate Survey of 146 State and Federal prisons conducted with a computer assisted questionnaire and followed audio instructions. Limited reports of sexual victimization to incidents that occurred at the sampled facilities 12 months prior to the date of the interview and inmates who had served less than 12 months were surveyed about experiences since they arrived at the facility.

Wording of “nonconsensual sexual acts” and use of force:

This study measures the rates of nonconsensual sexual acts but does not break down the circumstances of those incidents (i.e. whether or not this incident would fit into the legal definition of rape). The survey questions mention the use of pressure with or without physical force but do not mention specifically the threat of violence or use of a weapon. The closest it gets is in Table 4, where the total percentages of inmates who report sexual assault involving physical force, pressure, and injury are listed.

  • Inmate-on-inmate sexual assault involving physical force: 1.3%
  • Staff-on-inmate sexual assault involving physical force: .9%
  • Inmate-on-inmate sexual assault in which the victim is injured: .5%
  • Staff -on-inmate sexual assault in which the victim is injured: .3%

23,398 inmates participated in the 2007 survey and 1,109 reported one or more incident of sexual victimization. The national estimate of State and Federal inmates experiencing sexual violence is 4.5% of US prisoners.

Expressed as a rate, nationwide an estimated 123 incidents of sexual victimization per 1,000 inmates held in State and Federal prisons were reported by inmates,” but this excludes “unwanted touching by other inmates and wiling sexual contacts with staff.” By this estimate the authors arrive at “an estimated 49 incidents of inmate-on-inmate nonconsensual sexual acts per 1,00 inmates and 75 incidents of unwilling sexual contacts with staff per 1,000 inmates” (Beck and Harrison, 5).

Staff Sexual Misconduct:

Makes up 2.9% of this survey’s 4.5% rate of State and Federal prisoners reporting sexual victimization.

1.7% of this activity is described as “unwilling activity” and another 1.7% is described as “willing activity,” which is still legally defined as nonconsensual.

b) Sexual Victimization Studies:

1. Fear of Rape in Prison

Lauren O’Neill Shermer & H. Sudo, H. “Fear of rape from behind prison walls.” International Journal of Prisoner Health 13.2 (2017) 68-80.

Fear of rape could manifest in two ways, according to the authors – 1) Inmate could become more dangerous and violent — become an aggressor in order to protect himself, or 2) may become isolated or withdrawn, inadvertently appearing more vulnerable. Routine activity theory states that when three conditions converge (motivated offender, suitable target, and lack of a capable guardian), crime is more likely to occur (p. 69). Would-be prison offenders know the target’s routine activities and which corrections officers are more vigilant or would be absent (p. 70). A “motivated offender…can easily spot a suitable target who appears to always be away from other inmates and off on their own,”(70).

New inmates may be more frightened of sexual violence because staff may have discussed it during orientation and told them that it was “just part of prison life” (71). This perception that rape is common may encourage inmates to adopt “self-protection” tactics to intimidate would-be rapists. Overcrowding in facilities can also impact fear and violence as the officers’ level of control will decrease as the number of inmates increases. When prisoner’s believe that their quality of life does not matter and that change in prison is impossible, feelings of fear and stress-induced violence increase (Wolff and Shi, 2009, qtd. on page 72).

This study uses secondary data collected by Fleisher and Krienert (2006) — 30 facilities in 10 states, all of the highest security level. Sample included 564 high security, general population inmates. Inmates were asked to discuss whether they were worried about the possibility of prison rape. 18% of the inmates responded that they are worried about rape (73). Inmates were asked if they knew about a rape in the facility, 17% responded yes (73).

  • 62% of inmates said officers try to prevent rapes
  • 25% said they had heard officers talking about rape in the facility
  • 16% said there were rape guidelines posted on bulletin boards around the facility — could imply to inmates that the facility takes sexual assault seriously or that it occurs often
  • 31% of inmates responded yes to a question asking if they believed the system can protect him/her from rape and 69% said no
  • Being male, being a violent offender, and having been treated for a mental health issue — associated with a significantly increased likelihood of fear of rape,”(73)
  • bisexual or homosexual inmates are more fearful of rape (74)

This analysis found that the greatest risk factors for fearing rape while in prison include being male, being treated for a mental health issue, and hearing about rape while in prison (75). Emphasizes the importance of correctional officers not using fear tactics to orient new inmates and use this fear to manipulate inmates. The perception of a facility and its occurrence and dealing with rape is more real to many inmates than the actual risk of rape (77).

2. Risk Markers for Sexual Victimization in Prison

J. Warren & S. Jackson. Risk markers for sexual victimization and predation in prison. New York: Routledge, 2013. DOI: 10.4324/9780203081174

Chapter 3 – Sexual Behavior of Incarcerated Men and Women


  • Non-contact predatory acts — includes sexual comments, cat-calls, and sexual orientation comments, body comments and physical proximity. These acts are more common than contact predatory sexual acts, which include unwanted kissing, unwanted exposure, forced removal of clothes, patting, rubbing, oral sex, vaginal and anal penetration (p. 35-36).

  • Acts against inmates: Males – 4.5% reporting perpetrating non-contact predatory sex and .03% reporting contact predatory sex. Females — 2.7% non-contact predations and 0% reporting contact sexual predation against another inmate (36)

  • Acts against staff – 8.7% of male inmates reported engaging in non-contact predatory sex with staff members and 2.8% involving contact, while females reported a rate of non-contact sexual predation at 1.1% and 0% of contact predation.

  • Cumulative totals – Cumulatively — 11.5% of male inmates reported perpetrating non-contact predatory sex and 4.2% reported contact predatory sex. Female inmates reported a rate of 2.8% for perpetuating non-contact sexual predation and 0% for contact sexual predation. Motivations reported included “humiliation,” and to gain status (37)

  • Protection: “of the twelve male inmates who reported contact predatory behavior, five reported concerns about HIV infection and three of these five individuals reported using some type of protection” (38).


  • Acts by inmates: Males — 12.5% reported non-contact sexual victimization by another inmate and 5.9% reported contact sexual victimization. 22.4% of female inmates reported non-contact sexual victimization and 6.6% of contact sexual victimization (40).

  • By staff: Males — 6.6% reporting non-contact victimization and 2.4% reporting contact sexual victimization by staff members. Females — 11.5% non-contact and 2.7% reported contact sexual victimization (40).

Circumstances of Victimization:

  • A quarter of both male and female victims reported that they experienced prior sexual victimization suggesting that sexual predation vulnerability could be “cumulative at least for some inmates” (42)

  • Cells, dorms, and showers were the most common location reported – and these are usually the least-supervised places (42)

  • Most incidents were not reported — “¼ of male inmates and 1/10 of female inmates reported the incident to a correctional officer or a prison official” (43).

Bartered sex:

  • Male inmates — 12.5% reporting non-contact bartered sex and 10.1% reporting contact and female inmates 8.2% of non-contact sexual acts and 4.9% reporting contact bartered sexual activity. This was more common with inmates but occasionally involving staff (45).

  • Inmates of both genders reported that they offered sexual favors for privilege from staff, money/goods/canteen/drugs/alcohol, and an increase in power and status. However, male inmates were significantly more likely to seek privileges from prison staff (50% of males and 7.1% of females) (p. 45)

  • Protection: “Nearly half of male inmates and one fifth of female inmates reported that they did use some type of protection during the sexual contact that occurred” (45).

Consensual sex:

  • With another inmate: Male inmates — 14.2% reported non-contact consensual sex and 5.9% contact consensual sex. Female inmates — 39.3% non-contact consensual sex and 26.2% contact consensual sex (47).

  • With staff: Male inmates — 24.3% — non-contact; 17.4 — contact. For female inmates, 13.7% reported non-contact consensual sex and 2.7% contact consensual sex with staff (47).

  • Protection: 35% of males and 40% of females report using some type of protection


  • About ½ of inmates become involved in non-contact or contact sexual “exchanges or encounters with inmates, visitors/others, or members of the prison staff” (52).

  • Self-report of predatory actions towards staff could be overreported due to the “wish to maintain a heterosexual identity” combined with “a possible interest in demonstrating their ability to dominate institutional staff” (52).

  • Rates of victimization were higher than those reported by Beck and Harrison (2007-2008) and Wolff et al. 2007 — however this study involves a smaller sample, a 16—point scale to identify specific behavior, and in-person interviews (contradicts the assumption that anonymity promotes more disclosure) (52-53)

  • These results highlight the need for condom availability

3. Inmates’ Willingness to Report Sexual Assault

S. K. Fowler, A. G. Blackburn, J. W. Marquart, J. L. Mullings. “Would they officially report an in-prison sexual assault? An examination of inmate perceptions.” The Prison Journal, 90 (2010) 220–243.

28 states provide education to inmates on how to make a report (anonymous options exist), and 20 states provide information on reporting incidents that have happened to other inmates.

Self-report questionnaire issued to 912 inmates in a large Southern prison system (499 men and 436 women).

  • Measured self-report of sexual assault by asking “If you were the victim of a sexual assault while in prison, how likely would you be to report it to staff?” Respondents selected from the following response categories: (a) Depends, (b) Definitely not report it, (c) Probably not report it, (d) Probably report it, and (e) Definitely report it.

  • Measured “recommended reporting” by “Another inmate forcibly sexually assaults your friend” and response categories for this statement were (a) Deal with it privately, (b) Ask other friends to help you out, (c) Report it to staff at a later time, and (d) Report it to staff immediately,” while respondents were instructed to mark the answer they would give to a friend. (227-8).

  • Defined abusive sexual contact as: intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person without his or her consent (228).

  • Defined sexual assault as: nonconsensual contact between the penis and vulva, penis and anus, the mouth and penis, mouth and vulva, or mouth and anus (228).


  • 38.9% of inmates report knowing a victim of prison sexual abuse and 16.8% report knowing a victim of sexual abuse in prison in the past year

  • 38.6% of inmates describe themselves as a “victim of violence in the past year,” though this does not specify sexual violence

  • Increases in time served decreased respondents’ perception of self-reporting. “For every year served, there is a 2.7% decrease in the likelihood that an inmate would self-report her or his own victimization” (232).

  • Variables that affect an inmate’s decision to report an assault —

    • age (older inmates are more likely to self-report), (234)

    • being heterosexual (heterosexual inmates were less likely than homosexual and bisexual inmates to recommend reporting for others, but more likely to state that they would report their own victimization, (234)

    • being male — “male inmates were 81% less likely to recommend reporting than female inmates,” perhaps because of “inmate code” emphasizing not being a snitch (234).

    • Those who had internalized rape myths measured on the IRSB scale (Inmate Rape-Supportive Beliefs scale developed for this study) resulted in a decrease in the likelihood of recommending reporting (234).


  • Most inmates indicated that they would definitely report sexual victimization and those who had never been sexually victimized in prison were “significantly more likely to respond that they would officially report if they were so victimized” (235).

  • The majority of inmates would recommend that a friend that he or she report a sexual assault to correctional staff immediately

  • Homosexual and bisexual inmates were less likely to intend self-report (236)

  • Rape-supportive beliefs (higher IRSB scores) were a predictor in recommended reporting indicating less empathy for victims or less likely to consider certain situations sexual assault (236).

4. Self-Report Data on Inmate-on-Inmate Sexual Assault in [a California] Prison

V. Jenness, C. L. Maxson, J. M. Sumner, & K. N. Matsuda. “Accomplishing the Difficult but Not Impossible: Collecting Self-Report Data on Inmate-on-Inmate Sexual Assault in Prison.” Criminal Justice Policy Review, 21.1 (2010) 3–30.

Study of sexual assault in California post-PREA. The authors attempt to set an example for future prison research by detailing how they secured support from high-level prison administrators to administer in-person interviews. The focus of the study was to collect self-reported data from prisoners and official data from the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) on inmates housed in the general population and adult transgender inmates housed in a single California prison. The majority of the article deals with the methodology and how they were able to make this study happen despite the administrative challenges of prison research (answer — it helps greatly to be part of a research group commissioned to study the effects of PREA).

Interviews were conducted face to face with 370 inmates from a sample drawn from 7 CA prisons (yielded 361 usable interviews). Questions focused on “daily prison life, emotional health, fear of victimization, perceptions of sexual and nonsexual victimization in prison, personal victimization, opinions on safety and reporting, demographics, gang affiliation, and past and current incarcerations” (p. 16).

Consent in sexual activity was determined in a number of ways, including a question designed to capture sexual conduct done for bartering, protection, and other pressures: “What about sexual things [with other inmates while incarcerated] that were perhaps not against your will, but you would have rather not done?” (18). Similar to Struckman Johnson & Struckman Johnson (2000 — Midwestern Prison Facility, “worst case” event), the study included a chance for inmates to describe the “worst event” for those who reported experiences of sexual or nonsexual victimization. “Of all the things that have happened to you… what was the worst [sexual is specified if inmate reports sexual violence] thing that has ever happened to you while incarcerated?” (p. 18).

Found that 4.4% of randomly selected inmates in California reported being sexually assaulted by other inmates while in prison.

5. The Myth of Prison Rape – Sexual Culture in American Prisons

M. S. Fleisher & J. L. Krienert. The myth of prison rape: sexual culture in American prisons. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.

From a review by Diana Pehlić:

Diana Pehlić. “The cultivation of sexual violence inside prison walls.” The Journal of Sex Research, 48.6 (2011) 601.

Fleisher and Krienert combine their criminal justice and research backgrounds to explore the meaning of rape and sexuality inside American prisons from the inmate’s perspective. With the help of former inmates, they carefully assembled a “theoretically grounded interview instrument” to collect cultural information about prison sexuality. They then gathered a systematic sample of 564 inmates from 30 prisons (23 male and 7 female) across the nation and completed in-depth interviews regarding male and female inmates’ perceptions of sexuality and rape.”

Discusses a variety of aspects of prison sexuality, including “undergoing ‘prisonization,’” different sexual roles and sexual cultures, what it means to be a victim or rapist, how inmates protect themselves, and prison safety in general.”

The authors distinguish prison culture from the outside culture for the reader, “illustrat[ing] that what free society defines as ‘rape’ is often called ‘sex’ in the sexual culture shared by inmates. The authors explain that inmates’ reasoning in determining if an act is rape depends on context. For example, in men’s prisons, if the ‘victim’ was in debt, the ‘rapist’ may demand sex as repayment. Prison sexual culture does not view such an instance as rape; rather, the ‘victim’ did not handle the debt properly and, thus, ‘got what he deserved.’ Most cases of what free society would call rape are a result of negative interactions between the ‘victim’ and ‘rapist,’ leading to negative outcomes (i.e., rape) ‘for which prison sexual culture has no sympathy.’”

6. Prison Warden Attitudes Toward Prison Rape Since PREA

A. Moster & E. Jeglic. “Prison warden attitudes toward prison rape and sexual assault: findings since the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).” The Prison Journal 89 (2009) 65-78.

To date, there has been only one study conducted that examines wardens’ attitudes toward prison sexual assault, and it was completed before the implementation of PREA. It found that a majority of the wardens surveyed reported that their prison rape and sexual assault policies were considerably less effective than staff training and increased inmate supervision. The current study replicates the prior study in a post-PREA environment.

7. Requests for Assistance in Inmates’ Letters to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission

R. Tewksbury & M. J. Mahoney. “Sexual victimization and requests for assistance in inmates’ letters to the national prison rape elimination Commission.” Federal Probation 73.3 (2009) 57.

Measuring Victimization Inside Prisons: Questioning the Questions

N. Wolff, J. Shi, & R. Bachman. “Measuring victimization inside prisons: questioning the questions.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 23 (2008) 1343–62.

Claims that each study that purports to measure prison rape actually ends up measuring different acts of sexual victimization and violence – i.e., coercive vs threatening, vs attempted or completed. Author argues that questions about physical or sexual victimization have been “idiosyncratic” and have generated rates of victimization that are difficult to compare across studies. This study uses questions based on the NVAW study (National Violence Against Women) with a sample of 7,443 inmates from a single state (12 male facilities and 1 female facility). This sample contained 6,879 men and 564 women.

The questions were adapted from the NVAW survey and measured violence in terms of the past 6 months to attempt to represent the tendency of inmates to move facilities (p. 1351). Participants received four general questions, e.g. “have you been sexually assaulted within the past 6 months?”

Additional questions to specify the types of sexual violence were used, for example “During the past 6 months, has (another inmate or staff member) ever … touched you, felt you or grabbed you in a way that you felt was sexually threatening or made you have sex by using force or threatening to harm you or someone close to you” (1352).


  • Specific questions about “specific types of behavior” produced victimization rates 1.1 to 9 times larger than the general questions (1354). This led to a range of rates for sexual victimization for male inmates from 1.7% to 10.7%, “depending on whether respondents were asked if they had been sexually assaulted in the past 6 months by another inmate or whether they had experienced various types of sexually explicit (and abusive) behavior by another inmate or a staff person during that same time period” (1354).

  • The rates for female inmates were between 2.5% and 26.4%, again, depending on the questions

  • Many respondents answered “no” to the generalized question about sexual assault and “yes” to specific descriptions, highlighting the importance of wording questions when it comes to descriptions of sexual and physical victimization

  • Attempts to compare prison violence with rates in the general population

8. Low Confirmation Rate for Reports of Sexual Violence in the Texas Prison System

J. Austin, T. Fabelo, A. Gunter, & K. Mcginnis. “Sexual violence in the Texas prison system.” PsycEXTRA Dataset (2006).

This study presents a qualitative analysis of approximately 1938 officially reported (between 2002 and 2005) incidents of sexual assault and observations of the prison environment at seven selected prisons. This research attempts to describe victim and perpetrator attributes and the circumstances surrounding each event. Objectives include

  1. better understanding of “the number and nature of sexual assault allegations being made in one of the nation’s largest prison systems”

  2. Understanding how the Texas Safe Prison program operates and its impact on sexual assault within the Texas prison system

  3. Seeing what lessons could be learned to further reduce the number of sexual assaults in Texas and in other systems

According to the article, in 2004, the rate of occurrences of prison sexual assault In Texas was 3.95 per 1,000 prisoners (the article states that this Texas rate is about 500 to 600 a year) which is nearly four times the national rate of 1.05. Texas has the highest reported number of incidents, but one of the lowest substantiation rates nationally. The authors claim that in Texas there is an apparent increase in reporting, but because “a significant number of the allegations made by prisoners are not reported in a timely manner and have no independent witnesses to the allegation,” there are problems in “attempting to sustain an allegation” (Austin et al, iv).

Reported Allegations and Substantiation Rates:

Chart is a compressed version of the one found on page 11 featuring the most populous states. Data is from 2004. See Table 1 for the full chart.



Rate Per 1000

Substantiation Rate









New York








* California reported 23 incidents of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence for a rate of .14, and claims to have substantiated all incidents (Austin et al, pg 10).

Texas Safe Prison Program — 2001 program enacted as part of TDCJ’s funding intended to limit the occurrences of inmate-on-inmate sexual assault.

  • The definition of sexual assault under the TX Safe Prison Program involves some acts that do not fall under the TX Penal Code criteria for prosecution:

Forcing another person, by violence or threats of violence, to perform a sexual act (a sexual act is any intentional contact between the genitals, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of one person and the genitals, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, buttocks, mouth, or hands of another person), sexual fondling, or sexual assault with an object. The term Sexual Abuse includes the acts relating to sexual assault as described in the Texas Penal Code. “

The TX Safe Prison Program includes the following best practice elements:

  • Protocol to guide investigations as well as specialized training for investigators and prosecutors
  • Policies to promote accountability among inmates who commit sexual violence
  • Crisis intervention and mental health care for victims
  • Classification systems to identify potential aggressors and victims
  • Technologies and equipment to reduce opportunities to victimized
  • Expanded use of specialized housing and placement options
  • Prevention training for prisoners and staff
  • Computer database tracking allegations of sexual assaults including classifications codes to identify potential perpetrators and victims

Analysis of allegations from 2002-8/31/2005

  • 1,938 officially reported sexual assaults that occurred in TX prison systems from 1/1/2002-8/31/2005

  • Seven facilities were selected for site visits, which included

  • A review of the location of alleged incidents and issues,
  • Review of operational practices in place at the time of the reported incident
  • Interviews with supervisory staff

Possible explanations raised – Why were so few allegations sustained?

  • Possibly, this higher rate of incidents can be attributed to increased reporting due to the Texas Safe Prisons Program’s “aggressive policy” (Austin et al. 10).

  • Lack of evidence: The nature of allegations accepted as nonconsensual sexual activity including incidents of oral sex only which often occurs “without injuries noted,” but still with the threat of violence. Allegations prior to 1999 required physical or visible evidence to be considered, so acts that occur without injury may have not been reported (Austin et al 31).

  • Prisoners who have experienced sexual violence are often removed from the general population and placed in protective custody – perhaps this deters people from reporting

  • Culture of indifference” correctional systems traditionally ignoring sexual assault and allowing it to occur by not taking preventative action – i.e., prison officials are aware of a sexual assault but don’t intervene (pg 15).

  • High burden of proof Factors that indicate whether the case is sustained

    • The delay in prisoner reporting — the majority of the cases that were sustained were reported on the day or within two days of the assault (pg 35).

    • Location where the assault occurred (includes consideration of witnesses) — there were few witnesses in the majority of cases, as 2/3 of reported cases of sexual assault occurred in an inmate’s cell, shower or bathroom area, and far fewer occurring in common areas (pg 35).

    • Evidence collection: in “abusive sexual conduct” situations, or when an incident is reported several days or weeks later, there will likely not be available evidence. Approx. 50% of sustained cases included evidence from a rape kit or forensic exam, and rape kits and forensic exams were performed in only 20% of all alleged sexual assaults (pg 36). The most common reason cited for not completing a rape kit or forensic exam is time lapse from incident date to reporting date (See page 37 for tables that offer the most common reasons).

Other Relevant Findings:

  • Incidents are much more likely to occur in a cell
  • Incidents reported immediately or within 2 days, or where rape kits or forensic exams were performed have a higher chance of being sustained
  • Assailants have served more time in prison than victims on average
  • Units housing longer-term prisoners with higher custody levels have higher rates of allegations than other facilities
  • Units housing populations with mental illness or intellectual/developmental disabilities have higher rates of inmate-on-inmate violence, and higher rates of use of force in relation to population size (pg 49).

9. A Comparison of Sexual Coercion Experiences Reported by Men and Women

C. Struckman-Johnson, & D. Struckman-Johnson. “A comparison of sexual coercion experiences reported by men and women in prison.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 21.12 (2006) 1591–1615.

Comprehensive study attempts to compare experiences of sexual coercion between incarcerated men and women. Studied 10 facilities leading to the same sample of men found in #7 (below) of 1,788. The women’s sample consisted of 263 inmates from three prisons in three midwestern states. Inmates filled out an anonymous questionnaire that allowed them to describe the perpetrator(s), tactics, and sexual acts as well as to rate their reaction from a scale of 1-7 (it was not upsetting — it was very upsetting) and lasting emotional or physical consequences (Struckman-Johnson & Struckman-Johnson 1596). A deficiency of this study is the relatively low participation rate: inmates who experienced sexual coercion may have been more likely to return surveys than those who had not.

  • Of the 1,788 male respondents, 382 (21%) answered yes to the question

asking if they had ever experienced an incident of pressured or forced sexual contact against their will while incarcerated in their state” (page 1598)

  • 51 (19%) of the female respondents answered yes to this question

Characteristics of the Incidents:

  • 38% were physically held down by the perpetrator (of both men and women apparently, see page 1603)

  • A greater percentage of men than women received threats of harm, were harmed, and had a weapon used against them (1603).

  • 76% of men’s “worst case” incidents were forced (respondent checked at least one force tactic) compared to 65% of women’s “worst case” incidents (ibid).

  • More men (54%) than women (28%) reported a worst-case incident that involved rape (1605).

  • Some evidence supporting that homosexual men may have been targeted — 2% of the respondents identified as homosexual, 5% of the male victims identified as homosexual. Then, “for women, 11% of the return sample identified as homosexual compared to 16% of the victim sample” (1609).

  • For both men and women, most reported having been victimized more than once (men — averages 9 times and women averaged 4 times) (1609).

  • Found that men are more likely to have greater force used against them, to endure more physical harm, and to have been forced to engage in oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse (1611)

Staff / Inmate:

  • Female inmates were nearly equally likely to be victimized by other female inmates (48%) as by staff (43%) while “one fifth of men were victimized by prison staff, which sometimes included female employees (1610).


  • More women (67%) than men (51%) told someone about their worst case incident, but only 22% of the men and 34% of the women reported it to prison staff (1606).

10. Prison Rape in Context

I. O’Donnell. “Prison rape in context.” British Journal of Criminology, 44 (2004) 241–255.

Uses older sources (from the 70’s — 2004) to discuss the position race relations have in prison sexual assault. Describes the US as a more violent society than the UK, by analyzing the homicide rate and rate of reported rapes. Asserts that prison staff commonly encourage violence by implementing a “divide and conquer” strategy (p. 251). Argues that guards’ views on rape, especially if they believe that inmates “deserve it” contribute to a culture that allows the most violent prisoners to continue with violence, especially if it serves the guards by dividing the inmates.

11. Sexual Coercion Rates in Seven Midwestern Prison Facilities for Men

C. Struckman-Johnson & D. Struckman-Johnson. “Sexual coercion rates in seven midwestern prison facilities for men.” The Prison Journal 80.4 (2000) 379–390.

This study assessed sexual coercion rates in seven prison facilities for men in midwestern states through written surveys. Usable surveys were returned by 1,788 inmates (25%) and 475 staff (25%) of the total population of staff and inmates surveyed. Staff and inmates received different surveys. About 140 of the surveys were not considered “usable” because they were “incomplete, prankish, or grossly inconsistent,” and “many inmates sent back a letter instead of a survey” (Struckman-Johnson & Struckman-Johnson 383). A deficiency of this study is the relatively low participation rate: inmates who experienced sexual coercion may have been more likely to return surveys than those who had not.

Definitions — Coercive Sexual Contact vs Rape

Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson defined coercive sexual contact as the “occurrence of pressured or forced sexual contact against one’s will.” They differentiate between sexual coercion “such as genital fondling and failed attempts at intercourse” and “completed rapes — forced oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse” (page 380). They claim that “completed rapes are infrequent,” citing studies by Lockwood (1980) in which 28% of 89 inmates had been the target of “sexual aggression,” but only one inmate was reportedly raped (380). Nacci and Kane (1983) and others found that the percentage of inmates who were raped in the sense above ranged from .3% to around 1.1%.

Questions Surveyed:

Inmates in this study were asked “Since the time you have been in a (name of state) prison, has anyone ever pressured or forced you to have sexual contact (touching of genitals, oral, anal, or vaginal sex) against your will?” Then as a follow up question, if “yes or not sure — list all of the (name of state) facilities where it happened, how many times it happened in each facility, and the years you were in each facility.”Finally, inmates were asked “if you have been pressured or forced to have sexual contact while in prison, please describe what happened in the rest of the questions. If you have been forced or pressured to have sexual contact more than once in prison, describe the one time that was the most serious or harmful to you.”

The following questions asked about the circumstances of the sexual contact and the outcome and the inmates were asked to write a description of the event. This was to help assess the instance of rape which the authors further distinguish from sexual coercion and to narrow it down to the “worst case incident,” which was the one the survivor found most serious or harmful (382).



  • Of the 1,788 respondents, 375 (21%) responded that they had experienced at least one incident of pressured or forced sex while incarcerated in their state.
  • Of those inmates, 285 (16%) had reported being sexually coerced in their current facility (383).


  • 240 inmates (14% of the 1,788) described a worst-case incident that occurred in their present facility (383). However, it is important to note that “many inmates chose to write about an incident that took place at another facility, even though they had experienced sexual coercion in their present facility” (383).
  • This percentage narrows when one looks for “incidents that would meet a legal definition of rape,” (involving use of force and resulted in oral, anal, or vaginal sex) to 7% or 131 inmates.


  • According to this survey, the percentage of incidents that involve staff averaged around 20%

12. Sexual Assault and Coercion among Incarcerated Women: Excerpts from Prison Letters

L. F. Alarid. “Sexual assault and coercion among incarcerated women prisoners: Excerpts from prison letters.” The Prison Journal 80.4 (2000) 391–406.

Qualitative study addressing sexual coercion and sexual assault among female prisoners sourced from letters sent by one female inmate over a 5 year period. Alarid highlights the following themes:

a) female apathy toward sexual coercion and assault — it occurs between prisoners but is reported at a low rate. The inmate (writing the letters) attributes this to many women not recognizing coercion and having a history of sexual assault, or other nonconsensual sex who may be “desensitized” when it occurs to them (p. 395).

b) female sexual aggressor — According to Velmarine (the letter writer), many women go along with sexual relationships for companionship and to make time go faster. She claims that some women accept these relationships more passively (p. 396). Velmarine sets up a dynamic of “femmes” vs “studs,” where effeminate-looking heterosexual women are favored by correctional staff over masculine-looking women and protected in fights. Then, “femmes” can attempt to control “studs” by creating stories to tell to correctional officers, resulting in a disciplinary report for the “stud” (p. 398).

c) Velmerine’s description of her own sexual harassment and rape

d) institutional factors that contribute to coercion

  • According to Velmarine, who spent 5 years in 5 prison units, institutions with open dormitory-style housing had a greater occurrence of sexual assault than areas with one or two-person cells. She also described how in “restriction” dorms, sexual assault and coercion was rampant. Velmarine describes the “restriction” dorms as places where inmates are placed temporarily when they lose their privileges and are allowed no TV, games, or outside recreation time (p. 401).

  • Finally, in Velmarine’s letters, correctional officers often stigmatize women who are sexually assaulted or worse, encourage other inmates to engage in sexual activity (p. 402).

III. Prison Policies and Effect on LBGTQ+ Inmates – Post PREA

1. Investigation, Litigation and Settlement Ends Segregation, Mistreatment of LBGTQ Prisoners at California Jail

D. Gilna, “Two-Year Investigation, Litigation, and Settlement Ends Segregation, Mistreatment of LGBTQ Prisoners at California Jail.” Prison Legal News (May 3, 2019).

Discusses McKibben v. McMahon, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:14-cv-02171-JGB-SP, a federal class-action lawsuit against the San Bernardino County Sheriff, given final approval by the federal district court on Feb. 28, 2019. The settlement allowed $1.1 million in attorneys’ fees and a $950,000 fund to compensate segregated GLBTQ inmates for being deprived of the same program benefits available to the general jail population. This may provide a precedent and model to use for similar cases in other jurisdictions where any kind of “protective custody” results in inmates being deprived of program participation.

2. Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Incarceration

C. Wakefield & A. L. Spivak. “Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Incarceration.” In K.D. Dodson (Ed.), Routledge Handbook on Offenders with Special Needs. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2018.

Discusses issues faced by LBGTQ inmates from a prison administration standpoint, including the various forms of “situational homosexuality” versus being a LBGTQ-identified person. Argues that MSM and WSW may be “less visible to fellow inmates and staff and may vehemently reject accusations of LGBTQ status for a variety of reasons.”(164) Analyzes the history, the demographics (using NIS and BJS data), and the history of scholarship on LBGTQ prisoners including the impact of housing, staff attitudes, and health issues.


PREA is not evenly implemented – “only 11 state correctional systems had obtained certifications, while an additional 34 gave assurance of intent to pursue compliance as of the original deadline (May 15, 2015). (172). However, PREA does expressly forbid the use of solitary confinement indefinitely. Solitary confinement can increase the risk of “experiencing misconduct from staff members, as well as reducing the likelihood of witnesses to help corroborate mistreatment and discrimination” (173).

K6G and the limitations of segregation — 1) Exclusion of bisexual inmates meant that some were not able to receive the protective housing 2) K6G inmates wore a different color uniform, making a return to general population unsafe. 3) Those who were accepted into K6G went through interviews with officers who “tested them on stereotypically gay information,” and those who fit the officers’ view of a gay person were accepted into the unit to some exclusion.

Some counties and prison systems including San Francisco County have recommended housing inmates by gender identity. More research needs to be done to evaluate this policy.

Correctional Staff:

Negative attitudes towards LGBTQ inmates can lead to indirect effects in which staff members either place or allow inmates to be in situations where they would be “at high risk of being sexually assaulted” (Eigenberg 2000, Lydon et al, 2015, p. 174). Staff members may “place gay men and transgender women in feminine roles, expecting them to be receptive to other inmates’ sexual advances,” which could lead to lax documentation and reporting (174).

Health Issues:

HIV testing and protection is extremely limited and many facilities test upon intake but do not enforce or rarely engage in testing before an inmate is released (175). “As of 2015, half of states allowed for transgender inmates to continue HRT, and 13 states allow inmates to begin HRT while incarcerated” (175, Routh et al, 2015).

Best practices mentioned include:

  • Become PREA compliant (as most states are not)
  • Support HIV prevention programs through condom access and testing
  • Better housing policies for gender nonconforming or non-heterosexual inmates and ensure equity in services in protective housing
  • Provide staff training on how to handle the needs of LBGTQ inmates and establish written policies regarding LBGTQ inmates
  • Provide complete medical care
  • “Reconsider the rationale for banning consensual sex”

3. Segregated Housing Units

R. M. Labrecque. “Specialized or Segregated Housing Units.” In K. D. Dodson (Ed.), Routledge Handbook on Offenders with Special Needs. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2018.

This article focuses on assumptions made about segregated confinement (that it increases security) and the research which suggests that isolation is not an effective deterrent. The author advocates for interventions that allow the correctional officers to work from a more therapeutic mindset, using rehabilitative efforts. The author calls for more research that could push the trend towards a less punitive environment.

This article, however has very little mention of LBGTQ inmates because segregated housing policies are common but vary between prison systems.

  • SHU (segregated housing unit) — inmates remain in a single cell for up to 23 hours a day. – personal contact, access to educational or vocational services, including medical and mental health services, are limited.
  • Used for 3 reasons – disciplinary segregation, administrative segregation (“when it is believed an inmate’s presence in the general population may cause a serious disruption.”) or when an inmate demonstrates “a chronic inability to adjust to the general population.” (71). Protective custody is used to separate vulnerable inmates from the general population for safety concerns (includes “sex offenders, confidential informants, former law enforcement officers, those with serious medical conditions”)
  • Research on this topic often fails to separate the different kinds of segregation and researchers instead study “solitary confinement”
  • Segregation does not seem to reduce antisocial or criminal behaviors and could increase violence (Morgan et al, 2016, Pizarro, Stenius, & Pratt, 2006; Pizarro, Zgoba, & Haugebrook, 2014). (cited on page 72).
  • Inmates with mental illnesses are overrepresented in segregated housing, perhaps unsurprisingly (75)

4. LBGTQ Prison Policy, Queer Visibility, and Prison Violence

B. Jones. LGBTQ prison policy, queer visibility, and prison violence (Order No. 10280208). University of New Hampshire, MA thesis (2017). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1925028681).

Questions whether “queer visibility” drives violence against queer prisoners by examining the relationship between “(1) queer visibility, (2) LGBTQ prison policies that are supportive or repressive of LGBTQ identity and behavior, and (3) physical and sexual violence against LGBTQ prisoners perpetrated by other prisoners and by prison staff.” Data comes from the 2014 Black & Pink National Prisoner Survey. Finds that violence against LGBTQ prisoners varies according to prison policies imposed disproportionality on LGBTQ prisoners. Repressive policies are associated with higher predicted odds of violence against LGBTQ prisoners and vice versa with supportive policies.

5. Being Out in Prison

Maura McNamara, “Better to be out in prison than out in public: LGBTQ prisoners receive more constitutional protection if they are open about their sexuality while in prison.” Tulane Journal of Law and Sexuality 23 (2014) 135

This article examines the avenues available to LBGTQ prisoners to challenge discriminatory treatment. LBGTQ inmates suffer disproportionally in prison as targets of sexual and physical abuse, “as victims of discriminatory visitation rights; third, on their limited access to any sexuality-related literature” (p. 137). Visitation rights can be determined by prison officials and LBGTQ inmates may face issues with a visitation from a same-sex partner who is not considered a family member or relative (141). Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment — claims are “difficult for prisoners to win because the parameters of their rights are largely undefined” and prison guards can easily justify their choices as upholding the rules or under the framework of equal protection (138). Finally, US courts have held that “deprivation of the rights of LGBTQ prisoners is acceptable when the deprivation serves a legitimate penological interest.” Author claims that an inmate may gain greater constitutional protection by being openly LBGTQ. McNamara argues that LBGTQ prisoners who are assaulted physically or sexually must show that the prison failed to act, resulting in cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment by showing

  • deliberate indifference to the safety of the inmate by disregarding a known substantial risk (the higher risk of LBGTQ+ inmates to assault)
  • Inmates who are “out” may have “have a greater chance of proving an officer’s subjective knowledge of risk as required to satisfy a finding of deliberate indifference” (149).

The author goes on to argue that a 14th Amendment Equal Protection angle can stand up against discriminatory policies that deny LBGTQ prisoners visitation rights as well as access to publications and LBGTQ literature.

6. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and the Importance of Litigation in its Enforcement: Holding Guards who Rape Accountable

E. A. Reid. “The prison rape elimination act (PREA) and the importance of litigation in its enforcement: Holding guards who rape accountable.” The Yale Law Journal 122.7 (2013) 2084-2104.

7. Inmate and Correctional Staff Opinions on How to Prevent Prison Sexual Assault

D. Struckman-Johnson, C. Struckman-Johnson, J. D. Kruse, P. M. Gross, & B. J. Sumners. “A Pre-PREA survey of inmate and correctional staff opinions on how to prevent prison sexual assault.” The Prison Journal 93.4 (2013) 429–452.

Inmates with “rape-supportive beliefs” (i.e. That those who are raped, showed weakness, or owed others) were less likely to define acts of sexual violence as rape and to report incidents to staff (Fleisher and Krienert, 2009 — cited on p. 432). A PREA-based solution studied by Sisco and Becker (2007) involved a training video on sexual assault, which many inmates saw as “a joke” and ineffective (432). Study issued by Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson in 1994 in 10 midwestern prison facilities (n= 1,094 inmates and 373 correctional officers).

The most popular prevention ideas are as follows:

  • Classification — separate vulnerable inmates from predators – ranked #1 for inmates and #3 for staff.
  • Allow inmate sexuality — #2 for inmates and #10 for staff — this included allowing conjugal visits, allowing pornography, and legalizing consensual sex
  • Hire better and more staff — #4 for inmates and #2 for staff
  • Improve prison security – #5 for inmates and #1 for staff – lockdowns, zero tolerance for sex, making rounds and not being lax (“doing their job” p. 443). Inmates favored hiring more “caring,” qualified, and honest staff (p. 444)

Many inmates advocated for “avoidance” strategies such as fighting a would-be assailant as well as “keeping to yourself,” which staff probably should not implement (p. 444)

8. Physical Victimization of Male and Female Inmates Compared

N. Wolff & J. Shi. “Type, Source, and Patterns of Physical Victimization: A Comparison of Male and Female Inmates.” The Prison Journal 89.2 (2009) 172–191.

Issued an audio computer-administered survey as well as face to face interviews with inmates in administrative segregation or other specialized units. Respondents were 7,000 male inmates and 560 female inmates (12 male prisons and one female prison from a single state). Respondents were asked questions about physical victimization adapted from the National Violence Against Women and Men Survey.

The survey studied experiences and fears of various types of victimization and included questions of sexual assault by inmates or staff and “being pressured into performing sex acts on other inmates, and HIV or hepatitis infection. Other questions measured how safe inmates reported feeling in certain parts of the facility including one’s cell, the yard, the shower, etc. The analysis excluded inmates who reported sexual victimization only (around 400 respondents, p. 187).

Results (p. 179-180)

  • Of male inmates who had experienced physical victimization (the most common types were theft or being hit, punched, physically attacked), 6.4% felt unsafe from sexual assault by other inmates, 4.5% by staff, and 4.1% from “being pressured into performing sex acts on other inmates.
  • Of female inmates who had been physically victimized by other inmates, 8.5% felt unsafe from being sexually assaulted by other inmates, 6.6% from being sexually assaulted by staff, 4.6% from being pressured into sex acts by other inmates
  • Of males and females who had been physically victimized, 18.8% and 24.2% respectively, felt unsafe from HIV or hepatitis infections
  • Female inmates are more likely to report victimization (183).
  • Male inmates are “more likely to report the victimization if perpetrated by staff than by another inmate” (183).

9. Rethinking Prison Sex: Self-Expression and Safety

B. V. Smith. “Rethinking prison sex: Self-expression and safety.” Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 15 (2006) 185-234.

Analyzes the effects of the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the ways that prison policies limit “self-expression and autonomy.” States that allowed sexual self-expression among inmates can further the goals of the Prison Rape Elimination act and prison officials can better utilize limited energy and time to prevent and address coercive and nonconsensual sexual contact.

10. Wardens’ Perception of Prison Sex

C. Hensley & R. Tewksbury. “Wardens’ perceptions of prison sex.” The Prison Journal 85 (2005) 186-197.…

Anonymous questionnaire of 226 wardens from state-operated prisons asking questions about wardens’ knowledge of sex in their institutions, consensual or coerced. The study found that wardens generally believe sex to be uncommon in their institutions, whether consensual or otherwise. The study involved the following variables, gender, race, sex of prison, and inmate to officer ratio and related them to the estimates of the proportion of inmates involved in consensual sexual activity.

11. Correctional Officers and Their Perceptions of Homosexuality, Rape, and Prostitution in Male Prisons

H. M. Eigenberg. “Correctional Officers and Their Perceptions of Homosexuality, Rape, and Prostitution in Male Prisons.” The Prison Journal 80.4 (2000) 415–433.

Officers may influence inmates’ response to prison rape through reporting, failing to report if what they observed was seen as consensual homosexual activity. Some officers may be able to recognize inmates who have been through sexual trauma and take preventative actions, while others may use the threat of sexual violence to enforce control.

They may threaten to assign inmates to cells with known sexual predators as a way to gain compliance from those inmates who are less confident in their ability to protect themselves or officers may use housing assignments to reward predators who otherwise agree to “stay in line,” or “tolerate coercive sexuality as part of a divide-and-conquer strategy – finding that sexual assaults facilitate division among inmates making them, as a group, more manageable” (p. 416).

In this study, surveys were administered to 391 correctional officers (209 returned) at a Midwestern DOC in 1991.


  • 73% of officers believed that most of the inmates who were engaging in sexual activity were heterosexual men “responding to sexual deprivation.” 68% believed that sexual orientation is dynamic (p. 424).
  • 93% of officers indicated that inmates exchange sexual acts for goods and protection “of their own free will”
  • 96% of officers said that it was sometimes difficult to tell if inmates were being forced to participate in sexual activity or if they were willing partners
  • Many officers (85%) suggested that they should do everything in their power to prevent consensual sex acts or sexual assaults
  • About 40% of officers “did not think they should talk to inmates about the risk of sexual assault, and 36% did not believe they should discuss consensual sexual acts with inmates in an attempt to discourage this behavior” (p. 428).
  • Officers in this study were far more likely to have written a disciplinary report for prostitution and consensual sexual acts than to have written a report for rape
  • Officers reported that about 18% of inmates were raped in prison and that “15% of the population were rapists”(429).
  • Many officers reported not responding when they felt that consensual activity was occurring, but this does not account for sexual assaults that occur without violence

IV. Conjugal Visitation

1. The End of the Mississippi Experiment with Conjugal Visitation

D. H. McElreath, D. A. Doss, C. J. Jensen, M. P. Wigginton, S. Mallory, T. Lyons, D. W. Jones. “The end of the Mississippi experiment with conjugal visitation.” The Prison Journal 96.5 (2016) 752–764.

Details the historical context of the practice of conjugal visitation in Mississippi, relying heavily on Columbus B. Hopper’s work (see summary below). Originally, conjugal visits were put in place to control violence and “enhance submission,” maximizing work done by black inmates (758). In the 1980s, the Mississippi correctional system expanded to two major facilities, 15 regional facilities, and 5 which were privately operated, each of which allowed conjugal visitation.

Public support varied and it was often challenged as an “unnecessary and unearned privilege,” as well as for its cost (759). In 2014, only 155 of the over-22,000 inmates in the Mississippi prison system were allowed conjugal visits (759). Inmates were allowed 1 hour, a private area and “issued soap, tissues, sheets, pillowcases, and condoms” (759). Christopher Epps, Commissioner of the Mississippi DOC unilaterally ended the program.

Recent violence at the Parchman facility (2019-20), where it was first pioneered, suggests ending the program has not had a positive effect.

2. Mississippi First to Begin Conjugal Visits, Latest to End Them

D. Reutter. “Mississippi First to Begin Conjugal Visits, Latest to End Them.” Prison Legal News (January 11, 2016).

Mississippi ended the practice of conjugal visits in 2014 after making the rules to participate increasingly stringent. In the last 20 years, inmates had to be married, “have a clean prison record for the previous six months and be housed in a medium or lower security prison. Only 155 of the 22,000 MDOC prisoners participated in 2013.” Visits were called Extended Family Visits and could last for 24 hours. “MDOC continued hour-long conjugal visits. Such visits are hardly romantic.” Mississippi DOC Commissioner Christopher B. Epps cited “budgetary reasons and ‘the number of babies being born possibly as a result.” “You are in prison for a reason. You are in there to pay your debt, and conjugal visits should not be part of the deal.” Currently California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington allow conjugal visits.

3. The Effect of Conjugal Visitation on Sexual Violence in Prison

S. J. D’Alessio, J. Flexon, & L. Stolzenberg. “The Effect of Conjugal Visitation on Sexual Violence in Prison.” American Journal of Criminal Justice 38.1 (2012) 13–26.

  • Research has shown that conjugal visitation can reduce violence and sexual victimization among inmates (Wyatt, 2006) and promote better post-release outcomes (Wyatt, 2006, Carlson & Cerveza)

Study uses longitudinal data from sources including the Directory of Adult and Juvenile Correctional Departments, Beck & Harrison, 2005, 2006, 2007, and Wyatt, 2006. Analyzes the 5,330 inmate-on-inmate sexual offenses reported to prison authorities during the three-year period in the 50 US states. Beck and Harrison’s definitions of nonconsensual sexual acts and abusive sexual contacts are used.

California, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, and Washington allowed conjugal visitation at the time of the study period.


  • Found the rate of sexual violence in states which allow conjugal visitation to be 57 incidents per 100,000 inmates, and in states which do not allow it, 226 per 100,000 inmates
  • Sexual violence increased as prison populations increased (which makes sense since it indicates closer quarters and a larger staff to inmate ratio, so staff are more stressed)

4. Male Rape in US Prisons: Are Conjugal Visits the Answer?

R. Wyatt. “Male rape in US prisons: Are conjugal visits the answer?” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 37 (2006) 579–614.

Analyses the occurrence of prison rape, PREA, the effects, and the factors that contribute to its occurrence including overcrowding and the lack of legislation or consequences for those who rape. Wyatt claims that conjugal visits can help maintain inmates’ family relationships and help to decrease the rate of prison violence, citing evidence from countries that allow conjugal visits. Furthermore, she argues, prisoners are able to maintain their “emotional support systems” which will help them upon release. Conjugal visits “encourage and promote normal family behavior, a critical component of the rehabilitation process” (600).

At the time that this article was published, both Mississippi and California had conjugal visitation programs for inmates that focus on “promoting family stability” and allow inmates visits with their families and children in cabins on the prison grounds. Prison officials and guards tend to agree that these programs decrease violence and serve as behavioral incentives. Countries including Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, and Egypt allow for conjugal visits and officials attest to the visits as a powerful incentive to reduce violent behavior, however there does not seem to be direct research on the rates of sexual assault in countries which allow conjugal visits.

In the US, criticisms include the cost, safety issues, and the fact that implementing conjugal visitations may not reduce prison rape (the assumption is that prison rape is about power rather than sexual gratification). At the time of publication, the 5 states that allowed conjugal visits required inmates to receive HIV and STD testing before being allowed visitation. Further research is needed to determine if conjugal visits actually reduce the occurrence of prison rape with a diverse array of prison systems and increase response rates.

5. Inmate Attitudes toward the Conjugal Visitation Program in Mississippi Prisons

C. Hensley, S. Rutland, & P. Gray-Ray. “Inmate attitudes toward the conjugal visitation program in Mississippi prisons: An exploratory study.” American Journal of Criminal Justice 25.1 (2000) 137–145.

At the time of the study, minimum and medium security inmates were able to participate in conjugal visits if they met certain standards including providing legal proof of marriage and a record of good behavior. 126 male and 130 female inmates agreed to participate in a self-reported study. The study estimated that 7% of the prison populations studies (350 inmates) participated in conjugal visits, but 53% of survey respondents reported that they did (p. 141).

Survey respondents were asked the following questions and marked the extent to which they agreed.

  1. Should inmates married during incarceration receive conjugal visits?
  2. Should inmates in maximum security units receive conjugal visits?
  3. Should inmates with an incarcerated spouse receive conjugal visits?
  4. Inmates should use birth control during conjugal visits
  5. Staff should monitor conjugal visits.
  6. Conjugal visits reduce tension in prison
  7. Conjugal visits reduce same-sex activity in prison


  • Participants in the conjugal visitation program are less likely than nonparticipants to advocate for conjugal visits and for the use of birth control, as well as to agree that the option reduces tension, same sex activities, and should be motored by staff.
  • Found that most of the coefficients are not significantly related to each other
  • White inmates are less likely than minority inmates to argue that married inmates should receive conjugal visits, but are more likely to respond that conjugal visits reduce tension in prison
  • Married inmates are more supportive of allowing maximum security inmates to be eligible for conjugal visitation
  • Criticism of conjugal visitation include fairness to inmates who are not married, access to birth control (Mississippi made condoms available during conjugal visitation at the time of this study)

6. The Evolution of Conjugal Visiting in Mississippi

Columbus B. Hopper. “The evolution of conjugal visiting in Mississippi.” Prison Journal 69.1 (1989) 103-109.

Explores the history of conjugal visitation in Mississippi, from its origin as a mechanism to control black inmates and incentivize their labor, since they were not paid in money. The practice was done on an informal basis from the opening of Parchman Farm in the early 20th century to the ’70’s, when it was expanded to include female inmates and reexamined with more oversight to promote “family stability” (105). At the time this article was published, inmates worked their way up to conjugal visits with “good behavior” and about 1/3 of the prison population at that time was able to participate in conjugal visitation.

Inmates were surveyed in 1963 and 1984 about the functions of conjugal visits. The most common answers were “keeping marriages together, reducing homosexuality, keeping inmates under control, and making inmates work harder.” However, the majority saw the visits as a way to maintain marriage and family relationships. About 10-12% of single prisoners “resented” the fact that conjugal visits were only available to married inmates (107). The “small surveys of public opinion,” Hopper concludes that the practice has endured dwindling, but still fairly steady public support in the 30 years he has conducted this survey (107-8).

During the AIDS epidemic, condoms were made available (for sale) and “recommended as part of safe sex practices” (108). Hopper claims that Mississippi took a proactive approach in the face of conservative attitudes.

7. Family Reunion and Improved Discipline

J. Howser, J. Grossman, & D. Macdonald, “Impact of Family Reunion Program on Institutional Discipline.” Journal of Offender Counseling Services and Rehabilitation 8 (1984) 27-36.

From the abstract: “the present research examines the impacts of a specific program (the Family Reunion Program) operated by the New York State Department of Correctional Services on inmate discipline. This research found that this program appears to have a positive impact on encouraging inmates, who were originally disapproved for program participation due to disciplinary infractions, to improve their institutional behavior.”

8. Conjugal Visitation at Soledad

J. Q. Burstein. Conjugal visits in prison: psychological and social consequences. Lexington, MA: Heath, 1977.

From a review by Lee H. Bowker, Contemporary Sociology 7.3 (1978) 289-290. Retrieved from

Provides “a history and an evaluation” of the program at Soledad Correctional Training Facility in California for minimum and medium security inmates. Burstein conducted detailed interviews with 40 inmates, 20 of whom participated in the visitation program (qualified inmates participated in a a minimum of 3 visits for a 4-month period). The program “seemed to be associated with decreased recidivism, but this finding may only be taken as suggestive because of the small size of the study and the fact that the comparison and experimental groups were not randomized or precisely matched” (290).

V. Other Research (uncategorized)

Marksamer, J., & Tobin, H. J. (2014). Standing with LGBTQ prisoners: An advocate’s guide to ending abuse and combating imprisonment. Washington, DC: National Center on Transgender Equality.

Ricciardelli, R., Grills, S., & Craig, A. (2016). Constructions and negotiations of sexuality in Canadian federal men’s prisons. Journal of Homosexuality, 63(12), 1–25. doi:10.1080/00918369.2016.1158010

Shay, G. (2013). PREA’s elusive promise: Can DOJ regulations protect LGBTQ incarcerated people. Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law, 15, 343.

Blackburn, A., Fowler, S., Mullings, J., & Marquart, J. (2011). When Boundaries are Broken: Inmate Perceptions of Correctional Staff Boundary Violations. Deviant Behavior, 32(4), 351–378.

Blackburn, A. G., Fowler, S. K., Mullings, J. L., & Marquart, J. W. (2010). Too Close for Comfort: Exploring Gender Differences in Inmate Attitudes Toward Homosexuality in Prison. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 36(1), 58–72. doi: 10.1007/s12103-010-9099-6

Blackburn, A. G., Mullings, J. L., & Marquart, J. W. (2008). Sexual assault in prison and beyond toward an understanding of lifetime sexual assault among incarcerated women. The Prison Journal, 88(3), 351–377. doi:10.1177/0032885508322443