The LGBTQ prisoner organization Black and Pink released the results of its 2014 Prisoner Survey this month. Black and Pink sent a 133-question survey to 1,118 prisoners around the United States to determine how LGBTQ prisoners compare to non-LGBTQ prisoners, and the results aren’t good. These results are important considering that more than one in a hundred Americans are in prison, and LGBTQ people face discrimination in terms of health care, sexual assault and other abuses.
While you should read the entire report for a sobering look at America’s prisons as experienced by LGBTQ people, these stats shocked us the most.
On sexual abuse:
- Respondents were 4 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general prison population.
- All survey respondents have experienced strip searches. In answer to the question regarding how many times they have been strip searched, answered ranged anywhere from 1 to 50, 250, 500, “millions,” “every day in 12 years,” and “too many to count.” One respondent wrote, “who the heck keeps track of all that?” This means that, despite the declared intentions of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), 100 percent of prisoners have experienced sexual violence by prison staff.
- Prisoners are nearly three times more likely to have committed sexual assaults on LGBTQ prisoners than prison staff. However, of those who report having been sexually assaulted by a prisoner, 76 percent also report that prison staff intentionally placed them in situations where they would be at high risk of sexually assault from another prisoner.
On being out:
- 70 percent of respondents experienced emotional pain from hiding their sexuality during incarceration/throughout their interactions with the criminal legal system.
- 78 percent of transgender, nonbinary gender, and Two‐Spirit respondents experienced emotional pain from hiding their gender identity during incarceration/throughout their interactions with the criminal legal system.
On solitary confinement:
- Over a third of respondents have been disciplined for engaging in consensual sex, and of those, nearly two thirds have been placed in solitary confinement as punishment for consensual sexual activity.
- 85 percent of respondents have been in solitary confinement at some point during their sentence; approximately half have spent 2 or more years there. Altogether, respondents have spent a total of 5,110 years in solitary confinement.
- Black, Latin@/Hispanic, mixed‐race, and Native American/American Indian respondents were twice as likely to have been in solitary confinement, at the time of the survey, than white respondents.
- Respondents with a mental illness diagnosis were more likely to be in solitary confinement at the time of the survey and more likely to have ever been in solitary confinement than survey respondents without such a diagnosis.
The report also offers solutions on a short-term, intermediate and long-term scale — the most wide-ranging of these is the abolishment of prisons and policing. In terms of solutions working within the system, they include:
- End prisoner strip searches. Our data indicates that queer prisoners are strip searched repeatedly. However, this bodily invasion is a form of sexual assault and should not be common practice among prison officials. The security benefits of strip searching do not outweigh the sexual trauma experienced by prisoners subjected to this practice.
- Hold all prison staff accountable (including clear pathsto termination) who harass or physically/sexually assault prisoners. Expand policies that hold staff accountable who are on duty when prisoners sexually assault one another. Prison staff set the tone of the prison environment. As such they should be held accountable for the harm they perpetuate. Respondents have experienced many forms of harm by prison staff, and if there were greater accountability for those staff, the harm may decrease.
- Eliminate solitary confinement. A wealth of evidence shows the long‐term detrimental effects of solitary confinement; it is considered a form of torture by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Solitary confinement is also used as a tool of control over LGBTQ prisoners, especially transgender women and cisgender gay men. 85 percent of respondents have been held in solitary confinement at some point during their sentence.