Wisconsin Leads the Way On Fighting Prison Rape


Earlier this month, the Department of Corrections in Wisconsin announced on Wisconsin Public Radio that it would post statistics of sexual assault in prisons on the internet. Under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, 2003, all states must publicly post statistics of sexual assault in prisons. Wisconsin will become the first state to comply with the statute by posting these statistics online.

There is a currently a huge disparity between the number of allegations and the number of proven instances of sexual assault and misconduct that occurs within prisons. In Wisconsin, only one case of sexual assault and three cases of sexual misconduct were proved, opposed to 354 allegations. This sort of disparity in meting out justice highlights the alarming inadequacies of the current enforcement regime. The motivation behind posting statistics online is to raise awareness and change public attitudes about prison rape.

For example, don't drop the soap.

The phrase has been repeatedly used in popular culture to discuss sexual abuse in prison, especially in the context of male prisoners. There's even a video game to that effect. Somehow as a society, we exercise restraint and avoid making light of heinous acts such as rape against women or children. However, that restraint is not exercised as often with respect to prisoners who are victims of sexual abuse. This sort of humour perpetrates the idea that rape, a crime of power, is somehow less criminal, even sort of understood if it occurs amidst a community of people who are already on the wrong side of the law. Incidents of sexual abuse against women inmates are even absent from the popular discourse. It's imperative to address the ignorance and misconceptions about prison rape, in order to garner the public attention a problem of this proportion demands. Making information and data regarding such incidents is one step of achieving that goal. 

Prison is meant not to be retributive as much as reformatory. The assumption is that, once a person is released from prison, he can integrate into society as a productive citizen. If the people supposed to reform into productive citizens enter society as vcitims suffering from post-traumatic stress of the brutalities of sexual abuse, our reformatory process would have failed. The integration process is next to impossible when society does not recognise the severity of your trauma, because you're seen as a released bad guy. The malfunctioning integration process would eventually only lead to perpetuating the vicious cycle of crime within society, not to mention the state of distress of the victims.

Hence, increasing awareness through online statistics sheer numbers of sexual assault in prisons, the different kinds of offences, classified according to gender, age, and ethnicity would go a long way in exhibiting and conveying the enormity of a largely unseen problem with our criminal justice system. As of now, there exist annual or biannual reports by various governmental bodies, some of which are outdated. Organizations such as Just Detention International document individual stories of victims to raise awareness. 

Although the statute mandates that the information be publicly posted, which could be interpreted to mean via any media, the fact that Wisconsin is decided to put the statistics online is a move that opens up the system to extensive and immediate scrutiny by a dynamic and wide viewership, resulting in much more accountability. Moreover, if other states follow Wisconsin's example, a comparative analysis of different states with regard to prison rape and abuse would be available. A continuous analysis by the public will motivate officials and government to maintain basic human rights within correctional facilities, as opposed to larger social apathy at present.

However, this method of posting online statistics has potential for discrepancies. One is that the prison officials in charge of posting the information online could face possible conflicts between being transparent and protecting internal administrative interests. Also, it is essential that no personal details of prisoners be divulged while uploading statistical information in order to protect their privacy. 

But in a world with popular humour about prison showers and horrifying personal accounts of prison rape in equal measure, disseminating easily accessible information about this issue might just usher in the necessary shift in social attitudes.