So. One might be wondering why, in recent days, I've been making the odd pointed comment about Texas prisons and their attitudes toward their prisoners.
One might, indeed.
AMARILLO – Garrett Cunningham refers to it only as "the incident," the five or 10 minutes that forever changed the way he saw himself. Four years ago, Mr. Cunningham said, a state corrections officer raped him near the showers of a prison. Afterward, the inmate lay in bed, weeping. "When I was awake, I thought about wanting to die, because I didn't want to live with this," said Mr. Cunningham, 33.
Since 2000, at least 129 Texas prisoners, including Mr. Cunningham, have alleged that they were raped or had had sexual contact with corrections officers, according to state records. Allegations of inmate-on-inmate rape are even more frequent and appear to be increasing. Overall, the number of reported sexual assaults in Texas prisons has increased 160 percent, to 609 in 2004 from 234 in 2000.
Inmate advocates -- who have launched a nationwide legal campaign against assaults and the complacency that they say allows them to flourish -- say that the problem is greater than the statistics show, with the situation in Texas acute.
"I really have become convinced over the last three years or so that Texas is the prison-rape capital of the country," said Margaret Winter, a lawyer who represents two inmates who sued the prison system. "When prisoners report it, they are ignored, laughed at and often punished." [...] But some who have studied prison rape believe that even the rising numbers don't capture its prevalence.
"Recurrence is the great fear" if they report it, said Cindy Struckman-Johnson, a University of South Dakota psychology professor who has studied inmate rape incidents in Midwestern prisons. "They fear harm by perpetrators, poor treatment by staff, and shame and embarrassment."
Mr. Cunningham, who went to prison on a probation violation, said all those factors influenced his decision to keep quiet. "He [the corrections officer] told me he'd have me sent to another prison, where this would happen to me all the time from gang members," Mr. Cunningham said. "That he could have me killed in there."
[...] At least three other inmates and former inmates reported that Mr. Chaney raped them at the Luther Unit in Navasota. [...] The former guard is charged with two counts of improper sexual activity and one count of aggravated sexual assault. Prosecutors said they intend to bring another sexual assault case, involving a former inmate from Garland, to a grand jury this month. In November 2001, another inmate reported that Mr. Chaney had sexually assaulted him. He was able to save semen on a handkerchief, and an analysis later showed it belonged to Mr. Chaney, court records show.
This even goes beyond the previously noted tendency for Texas prisons to tolerate and sometimes encourage prisoner-on-prisoner rape. Although it is the sort of outgrowth one would expect. After all, this sort of thing happens in womens' prisons, so why wouldn't it happen (albeit probably somewhat less frequently) in a men's prison?
Here's the thing to consider: whether in prison or outside, men tend to report being raped only when the physical damage is too great to deal with on their own, when they are simply too badly hurt to do otherwise. In prisons, people tend to hide greater degrees of physical damage than they would on the outside, because it's far more likely that the rapist or his friends will take some sort of revenge against them if they report it. So, if anything, sexual assault would be far more underreported inside prisons than it is outside.Posted by iain at January 26, 2005 03:11 PM