DOJ report: Only 38 percent of prison staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct results in legal action

Linda De La Rosa
Greg Nash
Linda De La Rosa, formerly incarcerated in a Federal Bureau of Prison faculty in Lexington, Ky., tears up as she testifies during a Senate Subcommittee on Investigations hearing to discuss an 8-month investigation into sexual abuse of women in Federal prisons on Tuesday, December 13, 2022.

Only 38 percent of incidents of a prison staff member engaging in sexual misconduct against an inmate resulted in legal action over a three-year study period, according to a new Department of Justice (DOJ) report. 

The report from the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics covered the number of reported incidents of sexual victimization from 2016 to 2018. Authorities reported 2,229 such incidents conducted by staff members and 2,666 conducted by inmates during that period. 

The report states that authorities recorded 1,598 staff members who perpetrated sexual misconduct, while 716 staff members perpetrated sexual harassment. Two-thirds of those who engaged in sexual misconduct were female, while almost 70 percent of those who engaged in sexual harassment were male. 

Sexual misconduct from staff members resulted in their discharge, firing or contract not being renewed only 44 percent of the time. Staff members who sexually harassed inmates were reprimanded or disciplined 43 percent of the time. 

About 80 percent of the perpetrators were full-time staffers, while 17 percent were contractors. A majority of the staff members who engaged in sexual misconduct, 64 percent, were correctional officers or supervisory staff, while 13 percent were maintenance or facility support staff and 10 percent were medical or health care staff. 

The DOJ report comes after a bipartisan report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released in December showed that employees for the Federal Bureau of Prisons abused female prisoners in at least two-thirds of the federal prisons over the past decade. 

“Let me be absolutely clear: this situation is intolerable,” Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), chairman of the subcommittee, said at the time. “Sexual abuse of inmates is a gross abuse of human and Constitutional rights and cannot be tolerated by the United States Congress. It is cruel and unusual punishment that violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and basic standards of human decency.”

The bureau’s report showed legal action against staff members only happened in less than 5 percent of incidents of sexual harassment. 

Half of the nonconsensual sexual acts that an inmate did on another inmate resulted in some type of legal action. 

A report from June 2021 from the bureau showed the number of allegations of sexual victimization rose significantly after 2012 following the issuance of national standards to prevent, detect and respond to rape in prison, but the number of substantiated incidents based on a preponderance of evidence only slightly increased.

Tags Bureau of Justice Statistics DOJ Jon Ossoff Justice Department legal action prison sexual misconduct sexual harassment

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