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Humanitarian Reform and Biracial Sexual Assault in a Maximum Security Prison

NCJ Number
Urban Life Volume: 5 Issue: 4 Dated: (January 1977) Pages: 417-437
L Carroll
Date Published
21 pages
Humanitarian reforms of prison social structure have eroded custodial authority and altered convict social organization, transforming prison into an arena for acting out racial conflict through sexual assault.
Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI), with an average daily population of 200--22 percent of which was black and 78 percent of which was white, was studied from 1970 to 1971. Data were gathered through participant observation, countless conversations, and analysis of prison records. Informants confirmed that there were 40 or more sexual assaults per year, with 75 percent or more involving black aggressors and white victims. Assaults were acts of open, direct, and violent aggression closely akin to homicide, and they reflected hard and soft sell techniques (terrorizing, threats, and proffered friendship leading to homosexual activities). Once available, the white 'punks' could be taken advantage of by anyone in the entire black population. These biracial sexual assaults can be interpreted as displaced racial aggression. With the humanitarian reforms that have changed prisons in the 1970's, prisoners have extensive freedom. Correctional officers, confused in their conflicting roles as custodians, treatment personnel, and guards, have developed a sense of anomie and seek to gain the prisoners' compliance through friendship, favors, and by overlooking violations of institutional rules. The biracial sexual aggression practiced by inmates and tolerated by guards contributes to the cleavage and conflict already inherent in race differences. Thus, inmate solidarity increases among blacks, who celebrate their historic American culture, fight off the oppression of 300 years, and bank together in a culture of black nationalism. Whites have lost their sense of solidarity since guards stopped being hostile, and they can find cohesion among groups of only three or four persons at a time. Older, respected whites can find a symbiotic bond with blacks and share in homosexual assaults of white prisoners. To reduce this racial hostility, treatment insitutions must place increased reliance on small-scale therapeutic communities. Thirty-two references are provided.


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