Government Survey Sheds Light On Sexual Abuse In Prisons

The federal government has issued new and startling information regarding the prevalence of sexual assaults in state and federal detention facilities. According to a first-time national inmate survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated total of 60,500 inmates have been sexually assaulted in the past year. Two Colorado prisons participated in the survey, which was administered to randomly chosen facilities across the country.As Colorado Confidential reported in October, data on the prevalence of sexual assaults in penal institutions is lacking due to limited government studies and the reality that not all inmates report such incidents. But under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act passed by a Congress in 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics was required to “develop a new national data collection on the incidence and prevalence of sexual assault” in correctional institutions, including inmate surveys of no less than 10 percent of all “federal, state, and county prisons, and a representative sample of municipal prisons.”

On Sunday, Dec. 16, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released results for the first survey conducted under the new legislation. The agency administered questionnaires to 146 state and federal prisons in April and August of this year, asking inmates about sexual abuse that had taken place in the past 12 months. Previous bureau reports have been based on administrative records or complaints of sexual assaults, rather than anonymous inmate surveys.

At the Fremont Correctional Facility in Canon City, Colo., survey results showed that an estimated 5.2 percent of inmates at the facility had been assaulted in the last year. The state’s High Plains Correctional Facility, a privately run medium security facility for adult females in Brush, Colo., also showed an estimated 5.9 percent of inmates had been assaulted in the last year.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics survey results also reported numbers showing that the majority of sexual violence at Fremont took place on an inmate-to-inmate basis, while at High Plains, the results showed more staff-on-inmate sexual abuse. Fremont contains a population of approximately 1,500 prisoners, and High Plains has 232 inmates, according to the state Department of Corrections.

The survey was restricted to adult confinement facilities and did not include immigration detention facilities, juvenile facilities, or half-way houses.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at

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