One in eight (12%) minors in juvenile detention facilities were sexually assaulted in 2008-2009 (p. 3, Table 1). Of 3,220 assaults, 2,730 incidents (84%) were committed by a member of the facility’s staff (p. 3, Table 1). Perhaps even worse is the fact that the Department of Justice says that “violent sexual assault in juvenile facilities was relatively rare and facility staff, for the most part, did not victimize juvenile offenders” (Report on Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Detention Facilities, p. iii). Amanda Hess, who blogs about ‘sex and gender, in work, in bed and on the street’, wrote about how upsetting this is earlier this week.
Taking youth out of their support networks, isolating them from everything they know and surrounding them with other people who have gotten into the prison system isn’t really a great recipe for rehabilitation. Add sexual victimization on top of that, and its no wonder that one-time involvement in the prison system often leads to repeat offenses. Prisoners aren’t coming out ready to reintegrate into society.
There are better ways to do it, Norway being the example of choice. The guiding principle of their system is that treating prisoners well makes it easier for them to reintegrate into society afterwards. Makes sense to me. Check out the relatively new Halden Prison to get a glimpse.
Sadly, Canada is much closer to the US than Norway. Prisons are not great places – sexual assault is only one of the many atrocious things that go on behind bars without too many people raising the alarm. Injection drug use, and transmission of HIV, TB and hepatitis are just some of the other things that happen. We aren’t doing anyone any favours by maintaining this status quo.