TRENTON, N.J. – Women inmates in New Jersey's prisons are twice as likely to be raped and nearly six times more likely to be otherwise sexually abused by other inmates than their male counterparts, according to a new federal study.
The study, published in the most recent edition of the Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of The New York Academy of Medicine, reports that about one in five female inmates said they've been either raped or abused while in prison. It also found that New Jersey's male inmates were more likely to be sexually abused by prison staff than by other inmates.
While the study's lead author said the survey of 7,500 inmates showed sex abuse in state prisons was relatively rare, she added that it was an unfortunate reality for some prisoners.
"The bad news is that sexual assault and inappropriate touching that has sexual overtones is part of life for some inmates held in New Jersey prisons," said Nancy Wolff of the Center for Mental Health Services and Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers University.
The study, which was taken from June through August of 2005 and asked prisoners about incidents going back six months, showed that prisoners of either gender under the age of 26 were at a higher risk of being abused than older inmates. But the results also came with a caveat: There was no way to verify the abuse claims, and because less than half the prison population responded, the study may have been influenced by a failure to include the experiences of the others.
The results of the survey are in stark contrast to the number of allegations of sexual misconduct the state Department of Corrections reported to the federal government for the same time period.
There were 26,353 inmates in New Jersey state prisons in 2005. But federal data shows the state Corrections Department reported 12 allegations of staff sexual misconduct and said only three were substantiated. Likewise, the state said there were three allegations of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse and said none of those allegations had been substantiated.
The study reports that more than 21 percent of female inmates said they were sexually victimized while in prison. Nearly 8 percent said they were abused by staff.
About 20 percent of female prisoners reported being abused by other inmates, compared to an average of 3.5 percent of male prisoners who reported such abuse.
More than 3 percent of female prisoners reported being raped by inmates, compared to 1.5 percent of men who reported being raped by other inmates.
Nearly 2 percent of women and men said they had been raped by a staff member.
Depending on the prison, anywhere from 3 percent to 6.4 percent of men reported being sexually abused by other inmates. Prison staff were accused of nearly 4 percent to 12 percent of abuse of male prisoners.
"The Department of Corrections was pleased to participate in the survey because our goal has always been to provide a safe and humane environment for inmates," said Deirdre Fedkenheuer, a department spokeswoman.
Initial results of the survey were first available in March. Fedkenheuer said that as a result, the department has used more than $500,000 in federal grant money to train staff about sexual abuse, develop an inmate orientation video that is now mandatory for all new inmates, study safer prison designs and purchase additional security cameras at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women — the state's only women's prison — in Clinton.