Chris Grayling can ignore prison rape. Hundreds of victims have no such luxury


 

Today the Howard League published their long-awaited briefing on coercive sex in prisons, despite the best efforts of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to block their work.

It’s an important document which covers well the difficulties of research in this area, noting the difficulties in gathering reliable data at the best of times, but especially under a political regime which is brutally uncooperative. It does not shy away from the difficulties in categorising and defining coercive and abusive sexual activities, noting that as well as violent assaults, prisons are rife with subtle coercion, including prisoners choosing or being obliged to perform sexual acts to pay off debts, for protection or in exchange for tobacco.

Another important (and sadly very topical) point noted is that MoJ statistics do not record any data on sexual assaults or abusive acts committed against prisoners by staff, despite evidence from the US to suggest that this can be relatively commonplace and despite gutwrenching testimony of appalling sexual abuse by staff at young offenders institutions in particular. 

The full and true extent of rape and sexual abuse in prisons will remain unknown until the British government cooperates with detailed research into the question. For now, the Howard League report leans on research by Banbury (2004) which found that 1% of prisoners had been raped or sexually assaulted and 5% had experienced coercive sex. This would mean that in any one year there would be 1,650 in prison who had been sexually assaulted while inside. Many of those would have been victims of repeated attacks, so the number of actual assaults is likely to be many times higher.

The one firm statistic we have is the number of sexual assaults recorded by the authorities. Obviously this represents a tiny proportion of the whole, but it does provide us with a rough guide to the trends. Buried within the Howard League briefing is a deeply, deeply disturbing statistic: Last year the number of sexual assaults recorded in male prisons rose by 50%.

There are several possible explanations for this. It could be just natural statistical fluctuation. However a look at the pattern since 2000 shows that last year the figures were not just higher than the previous year, they were vastly higher than have ever been recorded before.

Men

A second possibility is that prisoners have become more willing to report sexual assaults to staff, or staff more willing to hear and process allegations. Certainly in the population at large, there has been a slight increase in reported rapes even while estimated rates of attacks (from reliable victimisation surveys) have been falling. However a large proportion of these reports are of historical allegations rather than recent events, and the extent of the rise is nowhere near that we see in prisons. I am also unaware of any widespread change in policies among prison management and staff towards sexual assault.

So if we are to apply Occam’s Razor, it would seem that the most likely explanation for a dramatic increase in recorded sexual assaults is that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of sexual assaults. This would be in keeping with everything we know about what is happening right now inside British prisons. Suicides rose by 64% last year. Serious (non-sexual) assaults rose by 30%, assaults on staff by 15%. It would be laughable to imagine sexual violence was the exception to this trend.

There are two distinct reasons for this. The first is simple: money. Since 2010, the government has slashed prison budgets by nearly a billion pounds, or 24% of its funding. This year alone, the budget per prisoner has been cut by £2,200. All of this over a period when prison populations have risen slightly.

This inevitably means more overcrowding and understaffing, but also devastation of any activities, services or amenities which help to make life bearable inside, or which help to rehabilitate and reform prisoners. The consequence is a prison estate racked with anger, frustration and hostility that is expressed not only in self-harm and suicide, but in externalised violence and abuse.

The second reason is, if anything, even more distressing, because it is so unnecessary. Justice secretary Chris Grayling is immersed in a vicious, pernicious and entirely ideological drive to make prison as inhumane and unpleasant as he can. Among numerous petty reforms, he has banned prisoners from receiving gifts from the outside such as books and magazines, spare underwear, even home-made cards and drawings sent in by prisoners’ young children. There is no economic or financial excuse for this. It is sheer vindictive cruelty, and the calamitous rise in prison violence of all types cannot be separated from these policies.

In 2007, Baroness Corston wrote her famous report into conditions for women prisoners. Since then, the extent to which her recommendations have been implemented remains questionable. Radical demands to significantly reduce the women’s prison population and close most women’s prisons altogether have been largely ignored. The number of women in prison has reduced only very slightly. Nonetheless all the evidence suggests that Corston did have an impact on the prevailing culture in women’s prisons. Unnecessary and degrading strip-searches were reduced. Contact and visiting arrangements with families and children were improved. Petty indignities in uniforms, hygiene and personal grooming were identified and phased out. Nothing especially spectacular or expensive was initiated, nonetheless, the impacts were felt.

Now look at the statistics for recorded sexual assaults in women’s prisons.

women

Another way to look at these figures is that in the six years prior to Corston, an average of 19 sexual assaults were recorded on prisoners every year. In the six years after Corston, the average number was nine. Last year, while recorded assaults on male prisoners rose by 50%, recorded assaults on female prisoners fell from six to only four.

I believe this shows that sexual assaults in prison are not an inevitable fact of life. A handful of modest, inexpensive reforms in the women’s estate has been accompanied by a dramatic decline in the number of sexual assaults committed. A raft of draconian, vindictive reforms to the men’s estate has been accompanied by an appalling, horrifying upsurge.

Chris Grayling is not responsible for those rapes. In prison, as anywhere else, responsibility for any rape lies with the rapist. However Chris Grayling is entirely responsible for creating a prison environment where a substantial increase in sexual assault, along with other violence and self-harm, was an inevitability. He has the privilege of being able to look away and pretend it is not happening. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of raped prisoners have no such option.

 

Comments

  1. A Hermit says

    There seems to be an attitude in society that views anything bad happening in prison as just a natural consequence of being in custody; even rape is accepted as part of the sentence as it were. That has to change.

  2. mildlymagnificent says

    Justice secretary Chris Grayling is immersed in a vicious, pernicious and entirely ideological drive to make prison as inhumane and unpleasant as he can. Among numerous petty reforms, he has banned prisoners from receiving gifts from the outside such as books and magazines, spare underwear, even home-made cards and drawings sent in by prisoners’ young children. There is no economic or financial excuse for this. It is sheer vindictive cruelty, and the calamitous rise in prison violence of all types cannot be separated from these policies.

    Vindictive? This is beyond all reason.

    One of the hardest things in prisons is to keep the general emotional temperature down. Men who smile when they wake in the morning and see their 4 year old child’s artwork on the wall are much more likely to be cooperative with staff and mild with fellow prisoners, less stroppy generally. Same thing goes for the satisfaction of having small gifts of books, socks and undies as reminders that someone out there cares about you. The higher the number of people with calmer behaviour, the better the prison.

    And those improvements in inmates’ moods and behaviour can be bought at no cost to the government and minimal effort by the prisons. So they’re banned.

    And along with the predictable rise in tensions comes a rise in suicide, self-harm and violence of all kinds, rape is … what? Just another sign that these people are depraved animals who can’t control themselves? I really don’t want to get inside the minds of people like this. Someone who has the power to do good, or at least better than his predecessors in this role, chooses to be worse than anyone thought possible.

  3. lelapaletute says

    Good article Ally. What’s happening in prisons is incredibly alarming and terribly sad. Chris Grayling’s ‘policies’ might have been drafted by a Dickensian villain.

    As you say, there is no excuse for rape – but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at the cultures that promote and facilitate it. As our prison system becomes increasingly punitive and brutalising (following on from the US model) then it is hardly surprising that the prisoners behave more brutally.

    If anyone has hitherto had a problem with the meaning/validity of the expression ‘rape culture’, look no further than the male prison system to find an extreme and concentrated example: both the direct, internal culture of the prisons – transactional attitudes to sex, hyper-patriarchal code of values, victim-blaming and shaming – and the more general cultural attitudes around prison rape – that it is somehow a legitimate subject for humour, or something the victims ‘brought on themselves’ because of other misdemeanours. This fosters a situation where rape on a large scale becomes inevitable, and victims have no faith that speaking up will result in anything resembling redress.

    Here’s hoping the report will stimulate some much needed reform and shine a light on this neglected problem.

  4. WM says

     ‘In 2007, Baroness Corston wrote her famous report into conditions for women prisoners. Since then, the extent to which her recommendations have been implemented remains questionable. Radical demands to significantly reduce the women’s prison population and close most women’s prisons altogether have been largely ignored. The number of women in prison has reduced only very slightly.’  

    Eh? Ally could I just draw your attention to this exchange here:

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/Justice/Women-offenders.pdf

    Q258 Andy McDonald:
    Do you accept that, before your appointment, the MOJ
    did not give women’s offending the attention required
    to maintain progress on the Corston recommendations?

    Helen Grant: No, I don’t accept that at all. I think
    there has been considerable movement on the Corston
    recommendations. The Government have accepted 40
    out of 43 of them. Michael at NOMS has implemented
    many of them. We have embedded gender-specific
    standards, training and initiatives right across the
    prison regime. 

    Also, I think I would rather object to your description of the situation here,
    on the basis that it makes it sounds as if the (Tory and Labour) governments have
    not devoted very significant time and financial resources to this matter,
    when the simple fact is that they have.

    Look at the account here, for instance:

    http://www.womensbreakout.org.uk/about-us/our-story/

    where it’s described how the government dedicated 15.6 million pounds
    towards alternatives to custody for women over just two years. Now I follow
    politics pretty closely, and I haven’t heard anywhere of similar levels
    of funding being given towards men. But if someone could cite a source
    from Google or whatever, I’d be most interested, because I just don’t
    believe that it has happened.

    On the actual levels of the drop in the female prison population, Grant
    talks in the discussion I linked to as having reduced it by 400 already.

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/Justice/Women-offenders.pdf

    And the above report states that

     Between 2007 and 2012 the average annual female prison population has fallen by 5%, against a rise in the total average annual prison population of almost 9%. A total of 9,832 women were
    received into prison in 2012, representing a 3% fall on the previous year, but a 17% fall
    since 2007. The number of women remanded in custody in 2012 was also lower, falling by
    9% since 2011 and by 28% since 2007.

    Lastly, you can read here on Julian Huppert’s blog that a plan is already underway
    to turn all women’s prisons into open prisons (or ‘resettlement prisons’), a plan also mentioned in a recent
    select committe, if you wish to look it up on BBC Parliament:

    http://www.libdemvoice.org/julian-huppert-writes-fixing-the-womens-prison-estate-36923.html

    So I do think that discrimination is a very major aspect to the whole situation,
    here. And to imply that the preferential treatment given to women is minor and trifling is,
    I would contend, misleading to say the least.

    .

  5. Ally Fogg says

    No, WM, I don’t really agree with much of that.

    Read the evidence Juliet Lyon and Frances Crook gave to that same committee, where they talk about all the commitments that were made but how little of it has been delivered due to lack of money.

    There was talk of a few million here and there on community residential units, such as those you link to, butt that is in the context of an overall budget for prisons of about £3-4bn and just for women prisoners of about £350m. The few millions being shuffled about for Corston proposals are against a context of cuts to the overall prison budget of £900m.

    Should also be noted that the main reason the Coalition has gone on with moving some women into secure community units is so they could turn women’s prisons into men’s prisons.

    So I’ll accept that there have been a few bits of paper shuffled around the accounts columns to help meet Corston commitments, but I stand by what I said in the OP, the real impacts of Corston were not down to radical changes in sentencing policy or rates of detention, but are much more about soft policies and culture.

  6. Ally Fogg says

    oh, and as for the LibDem article, come on mate.

    new open units for women will be trialled in HMP Styal before we look at rolling it out across the country.

    You’re not that gullible are you? Read what it says in the select committee hearing about available funds.

  7. Lucy says

    “Last year, while recorded assaults on male prisoners rose by 50%, recorded assaults on female prisoners fell from six to only four. I believe this shows that sexual assaults in prison are not an inevitable fact of life”

    What it shows is that women, even the most violent ones, aren’t very sexually violent. Something that should give pause to a couple of your other hypotheses about female behaviour.

    What it does not show is that male behaviour is similar.

  8. Thil says

    Is there any reliable research to back up Grayling’s “sparer the rod” philosophy because it sounds totally counter intuitive to me?

    I would have thought that denying prisoner’s cards from their children and books wouldn’t make prisoners particularly more likely to behave well in prison. I would have thought the former would make them a lot more likely to feel emotionally disconnected from their children and thus the responsibility not to end up back in side that comes with them. I would have thought the latter would make prisoners with poor reading skills less inclined to improve them and thus less likely to get a legitimate job on the outside

  9. Lucy says

    “Last year the number of sexual assaults recorded in male prisons rose by 50%.

    There are several possible explanations for this. It could be just natural statistical fluctuation…
    A second possibility is that prisoners have become more willing to report sexual assaults to staff, or staff more willing to hear and process allegations.

    There are two distinct reasons for this. The first is simple: money.

    The second reason is, if anything, even more distressing, because it is so unnecessary. Justice secretary Chris Grayling is immersed in a vicious, pernicious and entirely ideological drive to make prison as inhumane and unpleasant as he can. ”

    A third possibility is that more sex offenders are in jail.

  10. Ally Fogg says

    What it shows is that women, even the most violent ones, aren’t very sexually violent. Something that should give pause to a couple of your other hypotheses about female behaviour.

    No Lucy, it really doesn’t.

    If everything else was equal you would expect women to make up about 5% of the recorded sexual assaults.

    As it is, from 2001-2007 they were responsible about 13% of reported sexual attacks (122 out of 941) and in 2008-2013, even including the most recent two years where the gap was huge, they still accounted for 6.8% of all recorded sexual assaults. (48 out of 705)

    And bear in mind that MOJ does not include alleged attacks on prisoners by staff, so all those were female perpetrators.

    So on the face of it, women prisoners are more likely to sexually assault each other than male rates (although in reality I think that is highly likely to be down to higher reporting in women’s prisons, if I’m honest)

  11. Ally Fogg says

    A third possibility is that more sex offenders are in jail.

    That, on the other hand, is a good point I hadn’t considered. Let me think on that one!

  12. mildlymagnificent says

    A third possibility is that more sex offenders are in jail.
    That, on the other hand, is a good point I hadn’t considered. Let me think on that one!

    I’m not so sure. Look at the figures you included in the OP.

    This would be in keeping with everything we know about what is happening right now inside British prisons.
    Suicides rose by 64% last year.
    Serious (non-sexual) assaults rose by 30%,
    assaults on staff by 15%.

    It would be laughable to imagine sexual violence was the exception to this trend.

    The large increases in all forms of reported violence might be a statistical anomaly – pretty unlikely looking at the consistency across categories. More importantly, it would indicate, if the trend is confirmed, that any increase in rapes attributable to and increasing number of prisoners convicted of sexual assaults would be a minor contributor to the total.

  13. Ally Fogg says

    Yes, at most it would be a partial factor, MM.

    However I’ve just checked and over the past five years the number of people in prison for sexual offences has risen from about 8,000 to about 10,000.

    It is true that such prisoners are more likely to commit sexual offences against other prisoners, but also more likely to be victims of sexual offences themselves (whether as punishments, or simply because they tend to be housed in VP wings where such assaults are more common).

    But of course if this was a major part of the explanation we would have expected to see a slow and gradual rise in tandem with the prison population, not a sudden spike in 2013.

  14. says

    What it shows is that women, even the most violent ones, aren’t very sexually violent. Something that should give pause to a couple of your other hypotheses about female behaviour.

    A hypothesis which has some weaknesses when we look at US statistics on sexual abuse in prisons and jails. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that female inmates are more at risk of sexual abuse from fellow inmates than male inmates are from fellow inmates.

    The male prison with the highest prevalence of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse was Northwest Florida Reception Ctr. (FL) where 9.8% of inmates reported at least one inmate-on-inmate incident in the last year.

    The female prison with the highest prevalence of inmate on inmate sexual abuse was Mabel Bassett Corr. Ctr. (OK) where b15.3% of inmates reported at least one inmate-on-inmate incident in the last year..

    The average inmate-on-inmate victimization over all male prisons were 1.7% while it was 7.2% over all female prisons.

    While 3 male prisons had inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization rates over 9% twelve female prison facilities had inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization rates over 10% (page 12 in report)

    There were about 6 co-ed prisons of the 230+ surveyed. Most of them had a inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization rate less than 1.4%, but one (Maine Correctional Center) had 6.1%.

    There were 230 prisons surveyed. 44 of them were female prisons, 8 of them were co-ed and the remaining were male prisons.

    Appr. 25% of female prisons had an inmate-on-inmate victimization rate at 10% or higher.

    Appr. 1.7% of male prisons had a inmate-on-inmate victimization rate at 9% or higher. None had a inmate-on-inmate victimization rate at 10% or higher.

    None of the co-ed prisons had inmate-on-inmate victimization rates higher than 7%.

    So the question is whether there is an inherent difference between US and UK women when it comes to perpetrating sexual violence against fellow inmates when incarcerated or whether the UK prison system is better at protecting female prisoners from fellow inmates than the US prison system is.

    Source: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/svpjri1112.pdf

  15. WM says

    @6 Ally, I haven’t got the foggiest why you should reckon that Juliet Lyon and Frances Crook should be dispassionate, independent witnesses. Quite simply, they’re not! 🙂 Juliet Lyon, for starters, has a highly strident feminist agenda to her thinking, which clearly gives much higher priority to the needs of women over men. For instance, you will recall that Philip Davies asked the House of Commons Library to research independently the issue of whether women were treated any more harshly than men in the criminal justice system. He debated those figures on Radio 4 with Lyon, and she didn’t appear to recognise any of those findings at all, basically attempting to assert dogma in the face of objective facts.

    It’s quite possible that Lyon and Crook would never be happy with the levels of funding available to women offenders but that’s surely neither here nor there. The truth is that no-one from any of the three main parties has expressed any opposition to this scheme of turning the women’s estate into resettlement prisons, and since it’s already underway, there’s no reason to think it won’t happen – just as the thirty or so ‘women centres’ have already materalised, with no objections in the political sphere whatsoever.

  16. freja says

    People, including me, usually only remember to comment when there’s something to disagree with, so I just wanted to say: Great article Ally, and well said. We need more of this kind of focus on the problem.

  17. ANONYMOUS334 says

    >Chris Grayling is not responsible for those rapes. In prison, as anywhere else, responsibility for any rape lies with the rapist.
    I would say that responsibility can be shared without being reduced for either person.
    Even if we disagree on that he’s definitely responsible for the suicides and psychological damage from people being put in isolation after he made standards harsher. http://prisonuk.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/basic-regime-and-mental-health.html
    Now he’s trying to get rid of the inspectorate http://prisonuk.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/is-writing-on-wall-for-nick-hardwick.html

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