A new Justice Department study shows that allegations of sex abuse in the nation's prisons and jails are increasing–with correctional officers responsible for half of it–but prosecution is still extremely rare.
The report, released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, takes data collected by correctional administrators representing all of the nation's federal and state prisons as well as many county jails. It shows that administrators logged more than 8,000 reports of abuse to their overseers each year between 2009 and 2011, up 11 percent from the department's previous report, which covered 2007 and 2008.
It's not clear whether the increase is the result of better reporting or represents an actual rise in the number of incidents.
Allen Beck, the Justice Department statistician who authored the reports, told ProPublica that abuse allegations might be increasing because of growing awareness of the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act.
"It's a matter of speculation, but certainly there's been a considerable effort to inform staff about the dangers of sexual misconduct, so we could be seeing the impact of that," said Beck.
The survey also shows a growing proportion of the allegations have been dismissed by prison officials as "unfounded" or "unsubstantiated." Only about 10 percent are substantiated by an investigation.
But even in the rare cases where there is enough evidence to prove that sexual abuse occurred, and that a correctional officer is responsible for it, the perpetrator rarely faces prosecution. While most prison staff shown to be involved in sexual misconduct lost their jobs, fewer than half were referred for prosecution, and only 1 percent ultimately got convicted.