The Hurt Lockup

Rape is a nightmare for any victim, but when the victim is locked up with his or her rapist, it becomes a recurring nightmare with no escape.

Molly Prince is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked with sex offenders since 1996. As founder and president of Utah Prison Advocate Network (UPAN)—a nonprofit dedicated to improving prison life and supporting inmate families and friends—Prince knows only too well of inmates' struggles to cope. "When you are locked up, and you don't have any way to escape and protect yourself," she says, "I've got to believe that's one of the most helpless situations a human being can be in: to be in prison and be sexually assaulted repeatedly and not be able to do anything about it."

The effects of sexual victimization in detention are pervasive and devastating, with profound physical, social and psychological impacts, says Leslie Miller, sexual-assault response team coordinator at the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).

"I would dare to say victims suffer greatly because their ability to gain any control over their lives is close to nil," Miller says.

Prison is designed to remove power from an individual. "You are told when to wake up, eat and sleep," Miller says. "If you are a victim of sexual violence, you have literally lost all control over your existence. You have no way of escaping your perpetrator."

While sitting in a drab visiting room at the Utah State Prison, an inmate named "David" (who requested that his name be withheld for this story) claims he came to Utah to get away from using meth. Things didn't go well, however, and in June 2008, he was arrested for touching a 14-year-old girl at a water park. Six months later, the 22-year-old was sentenced to serve 1 to 15 years for several child-sex offenses. He served three years at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison before being transferred to the Utah State Prison in Draper.


A slender 5-foot-11, with watery blue eyes, David has a distinctly nerdish appearance. "I'm a child-sex offender, I'm small, and I'm weaker than other inmates," he says. That, he says, should have rendered him as a "Sigma" in the prison's personality-profile classification, which determines housing, someone who is essentially passive and easily victimized by predators. But his housing classification was "Kappa," meaning the guards characterized him as aggressive and lacking empathy, or a troublemaker. He was housed with other Kappas, who, contemptuous of his sex-offender status, beat him up, he says.

David learned that sex offenders only found acceptance if they "bought" it. He noticed sex offenders would take care of their cellmates, buy them a TV, perhaps, or provide sex.

After several years behind bars in Gunnison, David felt he was starting to fit in, that he could relax his guard. In July 2011, however, he was moved to a new cell with an inmate who was a serial rapist. Another inmate warned David that his new cellmate physically abused those he shared a cell with. What David later found out, he says, was that the 43-year-old also had a history of raping cellmates. A court filing by the prison, however, claims that David's cellmate had no complaints against him by other inmates.

One night, just days after David moved in, his cellmate attacked him twice. Each time after David was raped that night, his assailant stood by the emergency button used to communicate with guards, as if taunting him to push it.

As soon as officers opened the cells for the morning medication line, David told an officer what had happened and that he had an internal injury from the assault. David was transported to the hospital where a Sexual Assault Nursing Examiner (SANE) performed a rape kit, a deeply intrusive evidence-gathering process that includes intimate photographs. His bloody shorts were booked as potential evidence and a doctor tended his wounds. In a 2012 court filing, David detailed both physical and emotional injuries from being raped.

Rape is not a topic that is broached in prison. "Nobody talks about [rape] around here," David says. His eyes glass-over with unshed tears as he talks about the aftermath of the assault. "It was rough for a while," he says. He filed a complaint against his rapist, which was investigated by the prison's internal police, the Law Enforcement Bureau (LEB). The LEB sent the case to the Sanpete County Attorney, but no charges were filed.

Utah has taken positive steps in addressing sexual assault in the community, through recent legislation aimed at, for example, tackling the backlog in rape-kit processing. But when it comes to preventing the sexual assault of inmates in prison and jails, along with minors in juvenile-detention facilities, advocates say that Utah, along with three other states, took a huge step backward in May 2015 in declining to comply with the U.S. Department of Justice's rape-prevention guidelines of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

In November 2014, Leslie Miller with UCASA completed her training in auditing prisons and jails to PREA standards. Those standards include, she says, "guidelines that will help foster a safe environment for those incarcerated." She believes prisons and jails that implement PREA can mitigate sexual violence. "Inmates have access to physical and mental health services, they have access to confidential advocacy," she says. "They should have access to a thorough investigation, safe housing, and the best alternatives that will promote their safety and well being."

As communication director for Just Detention International, a nonprofit advocacy group formerly called Stop Prison Rape, Jesse Lerner-Kinglake says that the standards are "common-sense policy" and include educating all new prisoners about their rights and how to get help if they are under threat or sexually abused, along with developing partnerships with rape crisis centers in the community. "If an inmate is assaulted, they should have access to the same level of care available in the community."

So why does the state of Utah object to the federal guidlelines of PREA? Through a records request, City Weekly accessed a May 2014 letter the state submitted to the federal PREA Management Office at the Bureau of Justice Assistance in Washington, D.C. In the letter, Gov. Gary Herbert wrote that Utah is so concerned with prison rape "that we have evaluated carefully every line of PREA and the implementing regulations, and we have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, every recommendation that is good policy for Utah." Indeed, the prison acted on most of the recommendations "prior to the passage of PREA in 2003," Utah State Prison spokeswoman Brooke Adams writes in an email.

But, Herbert wrote, state administrators were opting out of PREA because of costs to audit the program in Utah correctional facilities and the fact that some guidelines could actually "undermine our efforts to eliminate prison rape." He cited a guideline that required officers of the opposite gender from inmates to announce their presence in a housing unit. That, he wrote, "can create dangerous situations for the officers and can create an opportunity for inmates perpetrating sexual assault to stop and hide their offenses."

In a November 2014 letter, an assistant attorney general with the Bureau of Justice Assistance responded that the guideline was simply to stop officers encountering opposite gender inmates while they were undressing, showering or using the toilet.

More than anything, the emails from the governor's office (produced in response to City Weekly's records request) shed light on Utah's long-standing dislike of federal mandates. In one email, Ron Gordon, the director of the Utah Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice, wrote to a state colleague about Utah's non-compliance, saying, "We do not support Congress overstepping its bounds and trying to legislate in every state."

Such political posturing, however, came with a price tag. States that opted out of PREA faced a 5 percent cut in federal grants relating to sexual assault issues. In Utah's case, that amounts to nearly $220,000 cut from $1.5 million in state funding received through the federal Violence Against Women Act. That's money that would have gone to victim assistance for rape survivors in the community, says Rape Recovery Center's executive director Holly Mullen. "Our state sometimes wants to act politically and work politically, but what they do can come back to hurt victims." She says the funding cut is "very troubling."

Miller and other rape prevention advocates aren't buying that Utah has implemented PREA in all but name alone. A 2012 report titled "Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails reported by Inmates," prepared by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), featured anonymous survey results of adults and minors in prisons, jails and detention centers across the country. Out of 233 state and federal prisons, Utah State Prison had the 11th highest rate of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization. While the national average for inmates reporting severe sexual assaults was 4 percent in prisons [and 3.2 percent in jails], in Utah, it was 5.6 percent.

That makes Utah's decision to opt out of PREA inexplicable to advocates. "It's incredibly disappointing that Utah is out of sync with the rest of the country," says Lerner-Kinglake with Just Detention International.

Records received from the prison and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's office show that Utah's inmates who broke the prison culture's code of silence to complain of assault, did so only to rarely ever see their assailants prosecuted in court.

Utah State Prison's inmate population is close to 7,000. Out of 87 sexual assault incidents at the prison between 2011 and 2014, 21 inmates filed complaints of rape. However, only one Utah prison inmate who complained about sexual assault out of 87 incidents saw his victimizer prosecuted in court, with the inmate pleading guilty to lewdness.

Utah and Idaho (also not in compliance with PREA) have been in discussions to develop a mutual auditing process, where each prison administration would audit the other, to ensure "we are doing all we can to keep offenders safe," an unnamed prison employee wrote in an email to the CCJJ's Gordon. The planned alliance, however, seems somewhat questionable given that the survey that ranks Utah State Prison as 11th on the inmate-on-inmate sexual-assault list has Idaho's Maximum Security Institution at No. 2.

The Utah State Prison faces serious challenges in attempting to address prison rape. Utah Prison spokeswoman Adams writes in an email that the Draper prison currently faces shortages of around 125 officers, while the Gunnison medium-security prison is down 19. In order to maintain a full staff, some officers either provide voluntary or mandatory overtime shifts. Three housing units have also been closed and inmates are being moved to other units or county jails.

Leslie Miller, Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault: “Victims of prison sexual assault “have literally lost all control” over their own existence. - NIKI CHAN/CW
  • Niki Chan/CW
  • Leslie Miller, Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault: “Victims of prison sexual assault “have literally lost all control” over their own existence.

Under these constraints, "It's got to be really, really difficult to make sure that everyone is protected," Prince, with the Utah Prison Advocate Network, says.

Some see rape as part of the penance for prisoners, especially sex offenders. But such perceptions fail to address the impact on sexual-assault victims and the fact that such inmates, upon release, will return to the community with their psychological and emotional wounds yet to heal. "We have to understand that those that are victimized in our detention facilities will one day get out and be members of society, and they'll be coming out dealing with this trauma of sexual assault," UCASA's Miller says.

In 2001, Human Rights Watch published "No Escape," a disturbing analysis of the brutal, degrading and unchecked nature of sexual assault in U.S. prisons. One inmate told Human Rights Watch that rape in prison is a daily occurrence and even where a prisoner engages in sexual acts without being forced, he "is still a victim of rape because ... deep inside, this prisoner (does) not want to do the things that he is doing but he thinks that it is the only way that he can survive."

Rape in prison, the report noted, has far less to do with sexual deprivation than the expression of power and control. "In the prison context, where power and hierarchy are key, rape is an expression of power. It unequivocally establishes the aggressor's dominance, affirming his masculinity, strength, and control at the expense of the victim's." One inmate noted in the report that the more oppressive the facility, "the higher the incidents of assaultive behavior in general."

Two years after the report was published, then-President George W. Bush signed into law the Prison Rape Elimination Act. It would take another 10 years before federal standards would be finalized in 2012.

The final standards included screening inmates for potential for victimization and using that information to house them, investigating all incidents of sexual abuse, performing rape kits, providing rape crisis advocacy to victims and ensuring ways to report both within the prison and to external bodies in order to maintain anonymity.

Sharon Daurelle was director of the Office of Victims Services at Utah Department of Corrections (UDOC) in the 2000s. While corrections officers across the country historically viewed inmates reporting sexual assault as attempts to manipulate their housing, Daurelle told the Deseret News in 2007, that inmates who report assault are likely to be telling the truth. "If you self-identify as a victim of sexual assault in the prison, you're really setting yourself up as a target for further victimization. You get labeled, and if you turn it in to authorities, you get labeled again. We have found, generally speaking, that if somebody comes forward with a report, and they've had to face all those other obstacles, it has some validity."

In early May 2015, national media revealed that Utah was one of four states not complying with PREA and the criticism of Utah's position stung. Emails obtained through a record request show that Jacey Skinner, general counsel to the governor's office, wrote to Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice's Ron Gordon that the state needed to explain what it was doing, "so that the story is not, as was tweeted by the ACLU earlier today, that we are a 'renegade state' that does not care about eliminating prison rape. The reason the governor has not sent a letter confirming compliance with PREA is detailed and based on conflicts with the state's own diligent efforts to prevent this unacceptable behavior in our correctional facilities."

Doug Fawson is a 32-year UDOC employee, working as victim-services coordinator and PREA coordinator for six years. In an emailed response to questions, Fawson said the prison established a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) in 2005 to respond to sexual-assault allegations. That same year, 75 staff members, including the SART team, received training from UCASA. The prison decided to shift its training in-house in 2008, the prison's SART team members taking over PREA training at the prison, Fawson writes. All correction officers have to do an annual online PREA training program.

PREA guidelines emphasize the need for confidential reporting. "We operate a free PREA telephone hotline," Fawson writes, the information for which is posted throughout the facility. Such is the prison grapevine, however, an ex-con tells City Weekly, that calling the hotline to report an assault without other inmates knowing is very difficult.

In addition to the hotline, Fawson writes, "any inmate may contact an officer, caseworker, volunteer or family member to make a report."

City Weekly requested copies of all sexual assault complaints filed by inmates over a five-year period. The prison instead provided sexual-assault survey forms generated by the prison for the year 2010 and Department of Justice survey forms from 2011 to 2014. The federal government requires annual survey data on sexual assault behind bars as part of PREA. The anonymous forms paint a bleak picture. (Data for this story was extracted from the DOJ forms.)

Between 2011 and 2014, according to figures supplied to City Weekly by the prison, there were 87 incidents of sexual assault. Fifty-nine incidents allegedly took place in Draper, and five in Gunnison. The reports show that 25 inmates were victims of nonconsensual sexual assault, which includes rape, object rape and forcible sodomy. Twenty-one complaints were made by the victims themselves.

Seventeen inmates received counseling and 21 had medical exams. Rape kits were done on only three inmates. Fawson wrote that a SANE nurse at the Family Justice Center reviews rape allegations and advises whether a rape kit is needed, based on the time frame between the event and the report as well as evidence preservation.

The documents list 81 perpetrators, although that number is muddied due to some instances of multiple assailants. There were 36 incidences of male-on-male assaults, and 13 of female-on-female reports.

Molly Prince, Utah Prison Advocate Network founder & president: "If you're an inmate, the value of your life is not the same as on the outside." - (COURTESY PHOTO)
  • (courtesy photo)
  • Molly Prince, Utah Prison Advocate Network founder & president: "If you're an inmate, the value of your life is not the same as on the outside."

The surveys identified three cases of staff sexual misconduct, one of which was described in the report as "a romantic relationship," while another—the only one of the three slated for prosecution—was labeled by a corrections' officer as "a sexual relationship between inmate and staff that appeared to be willing." Prison spokeswoman Adams writes in an email that, "Staff-on-inmate sexual assault is always a crime, even if claims are made that it was consensual. There is no need to prove lack of consent. We will always refer such cases for prosecution."

In total, the prison deemed 41 of the sexual assault incidents as voluntary, meaning that officers completing the surveys viewed them as consensual acts rather than assaults.

What makes prison rape so insidious, advocates say, is that within the coercive nature of prison or jail life, the weak obey the strong. That makes the very idea of consensual sex questionable. "Where prisoners feel unprotected and know in advance that their escape routes are closed, a narrow focus on consent is misguided," the Human Rights Watch report on rape in prison noted. "In other words, the relevant inquiry in evaluating sexual activity in prison is not simply 'did the inmate consent to sex?' but also 'did the inmate have the power to refuse unwanted sex?'"

Forty-four perpetrators were sanctioned by prison officials and typically were moved to higher security levels in the prison, including solitary, according to survey forms. However, 34 victims were also moved to other parts of the prison or to other facilities, 11 of which were sent to administrative segregation, also know as solitary and restrictive housing. The fear of being moved to solitary is one reason several advocates cited for why many inmates do not report sexual assaults. But, prison spokeswoman Adams disagrees, noting that, "Very seldom, if ever, is it necessary for an inmate who has alleged a sexual assault to be moved to restrictive housing."

Reporting a sexual assault in prison can be a profoundly isolating experience. A complainant could become labeled with a "snitch jacket," slang for a reputation as an informant. It also pins a target on their backs for further assaults. UCASA's Miller, who worked for Corrections for 20 years, says staff could label a complainant as a troublemaker. Much like assault victims in the free world, "you're putting your own emotional and mental health at risk of not being supported or believed," she adds.

Miller says the numbers from the data request seem not only significantly under-reported but also raise the question, "What is the benefit of reporting? If you are truly being harmed, the numbers tell me that nothing happens. If nobody's being held accountable for causing harm, then why report, why put yourself out there?"

Everything boils down to safety, UPAN's Prince says. "In prison you really don't have a lot of places to hide." If your victimizer is powerful—either physically or through supplying drugs—he will learn that an inmate is talking because people are either afraid of him or he controls the distribution of contraband in his block. "For victims to report rape in prison," Prince says. "I think it's terrifying for them, they're really putting their future on the line."

"If you do report [that you've been raped at the prison], you're going to have a lot more anger if you don't get some kind of justice, if the person is not held accountable," Prince says.

Inmates face a different scale of values than those outside the prison walls. "If you're an inmate, the value of your life is not the same as on the outside," Prince says. "Somebody kills you, they are not going to get the same sentence as if it was out here and they kill you. The same thing goes for rape." Combine that with the stereotype of prisoners not being good witnesses and that sexual-assault cases prosecutors say are difficult to win, it's hardly surprising that very few rape victims in prison see their assailant held accountable.

Just Detention International's Lerner-Kinglake says the rate of referrals of sexual assault complaints is typically very low, "absent a slam-dunk case," he says. "The vast majority of cases are found to be unsubstantiated and also ones that are substantiated, there is very often no follow-up consequences."

Prison spokeswoman Adams, however, points to a different reason for why so few cases reach court. "The primary reason that reports end up not being sent on for screening is because the inmate declines to pursue a prosecution," she writes— basically, not wanting to go to court. "For these inmates, a primary objective is ensuring their own personal safety by being housed away from an alleged perpetrator." For those inmates who do want to pursue prosecution, the prison contacts prosecutors. "It is the DA's call whether to pursue criminal charges," she adds.

Inmates are far more likely to get a judicial reckoning if allegations are proven that staff, rather than inmates, molested them. In response to record requests made to Corrections and the Salt Lake County District Attorney asking for the number of prison sexual-assault cases referred for prosecution in the 2011-14 time frame, City Weekly learned that a total of 17 cases were screened with prosecutors in Salt Lake, Sanpete and Weber counties. Of those cases, the Salt Lake County DA prosecuted only one inmate-on-inmate case and declined six others.

But it prosecuted five cases of staff-on-inmate sexual-abuse allegations while declining only one. Sanpete and Weber counties declined three cases, and Sanpete dismissed one.

The only inmate-on-inmate sexual-assault case the Salt Lake County DA prosecuted was a charge of forcible sexual abuse. The prison inmate charged with the crime took a plea deal to a reduced charge of lewdness, after confessing to prison investigators that he touched the prisoner's genitals whom he sat next to in the cafeteria. "I just wanted to touch him to get aroused," the inmate told a prison investigator, according to the charging document.

In David's case, pressing charges against his alleged assailant yielded little in the way of justice.

On Feb. 27, 2014, more than two years after his cellmate raped him, David was pulled out of his cell for a meeting with a prison investigator and the Sanpete County Attorney Brody Keisel.

David says Keisel told him the state wasn't going to prosecute his former cellmate, despite the state having DNA evidence that the assault took place. David recalls Keisel telling him, "As always with these incidents, just because there is DNA, it doesn't mean it wasn't consensual. The defense is going to be, 'Yes, we did have sex, but it was consensual,' they will say."

Keisel explains that the long gap between David filing his complaint and the prosecutor deciding not to pursue it in court was due to an administrative glitch. That decision, Keisel says, was ultimately based on lack of evidence. "I'll say, right now, it may very well have happened just the way he explained it," Keisel says. But in terms of the burden faced by the prosecution and the amount of evidence available, "it came down to (David)'s word against [the alleged assailant's], plain out."

UCASA's Miller says one PREA guideline recommendation that would have helped David, but which as yet is not available at the prison, is external confidential advocacy, primarily through an agency such as the Rape Recovery Center (RRC). "Non-judgmental support helps survivors tremendously as they recover from this traumatic event," Miller says. She questions the confidentiality of the counseling David received from the prison.

Prison spokeswoman Adams writes that the prison is working on establishing a relationship with an external advocacy group. One issue, however, is who will pay for it. The RRC hotline number will be added to posters being prepared for housing units, along with the PREA hotline number. Adams says calls to RRC will be confidential. Calls to the PREA hotline, on the other hand, are "reviewed" by the shift commander who sends the information to Fawson. Inmate calls to the PREA hotline are "not monitored as in the sense of other calls to the prison," says Adams.

Another PREA guideline focuses on screening inmates for vulnerability. While David's criminal complaint against his former cellmate did not gain traction in the state court system, he's had more success pursuing a civil rights lawsuit against the prison before U.S District Court Judge Clark Waddoups, focusing on what he argues is his wrongful classification that housed him with a predator, subjecting him to "cruel and unusual punishment."

Prison spokeswoman Adams wouldn't comment on David's civil suit but did acknowledge that the prison classification system—which dates back to 1987, and, she writes, "is used to predict institutional behavior of all kinds"—is currently being evaluated by a prison classification-systems consultant.

David recently completed his sex-offender treatment program and is awaiting his parole rehearing next year. Upon release, scheduled for April 2017, he hopes to return to his home state of California and go to college.

With a new prison set to be built near the Salt Lake City International Airport, one question for those designing the new facility might be how the facility could be designed to prevent sexual assault. Adams simply noted, "We believe a new prison will provide increased security and safety for all inmates."

For now, sexual-assault victims are left to fall back on their own resources and address their trauma the best they can upon release. Mullen with the Rape Recovery Center says she can envision paroled inmates who experienced sexual assault in prison but who received little support or professional help to address the trauma he or she suffered, "more easily returning to crime and violence on the outside." In the face of a perceived threat, "acting out against others or self-harm may seem rational to this person," she says. When trauma is left "unresolved or dismissed or ignored by others, the victim simply can't heal. That doesn't bode well for the victim or for the community."

While PREA standards may seem rudimentary, Miller says they are better than nothing. "My overall impression is I'm a proponent for PREA." Faced with Utah being one of four states refusing to adopt federal standards, she shakes her head. "I don't think 47 states can be wrong." CW



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