An Analysis of Statutes Criminalizing Correctional Officer Sexual Misconduct With Inmates

AuthorCraig Hemmens,Mary K. Stohr,John R. Turner,Melissa A. Kowalski,Xiaohan Mei
Date01 January 2020
Published date01 January 2020
Subject MatterArticles
The Prison Journal
2020, Vol. 100(1) 126 –148
© 2019 SAGE Publications
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0032885519882611
An Analysis of
Statutes Criminalizing
Correctional Officer
Sexual Misconduct
With Inmates
Melissa A. Kowalski1, Xiaohan Mei2,
John R. Turner3, Mary K. Stohr3,
and Craig Hemmens3
The 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) mandates that U.S. state
correctional systems regulate and reduce staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct
in state correctional facilities. As data on correctional officer sexual
misconduct are limited and its legal definition varies across states, this
study utilized statutory analysis to document how staff sexual misconduct
is defined and how it is punished across state correctional systems. The
most notable finding is that although all 50 states have statutes designed to
protect incarcerated persons from being sexually victimized by correctional
staff, they are far from uniform.
correctional officer, sexual misconduct, statute, PREA
1The College at Brockport, State University of New York, USA
2California State University, Los Angeles, USA
3Washington State University, Pullman, USA
Corresponding Author:
Melissa A. Kowalski, Department of Criminal Justice, The College at Brockport, State
University of New York, Albert W. Brown Building 231, 350 New Campus Drive, Brockport,
NY 14420, USA.
882611TPJXXX10.1177/0032885519882611The Prison JournalKowalski et al.
Kowalski et al. 127
Imprisonment is painful for inmates, even without the threat or experience
of being sexually victimized (Johnson, 2002). Yet, the sexual victimization
of inmates by correctional officers is an unfortunate reality in some cor-
rectional institutions (National Institute of Corrections [NIC], 1996). The
U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO; 1999) reported that the three larg-
est correctional systems in the United States—the Federal Bureau of
Prisons, the California Department of Corrections, and the Texas Department
of Criminal Justice—had approximately 506 allegations of staff sexual
misconduct. Of these cases, 92 were determined to be legitimate, and most
implicated offenders either resigned or were terminated. Despite these
reports, the study of correctional officer sexual misconduct in correctional
institutions was widely ignored prior to the 1990s (Human Rights Watch,
1996; Layman, McCampbell, & Moss, 2000).
Over the last decade, research demonstrates that a substantial number of
inmates have been victimized by correctional staff. For example, the National
Inmate Survey (NIS) reported that from 2008 to 2009, 2.8% of state and fed-
eral inmates and 2.0% of jail inmates had sexual contact with staff (Beck,
Harrison, Berzofsky, Caspar, & Krebs, 2010). In the report updated for 2011
to 2012, 3.2% of jail inmates and 4% of prison inmates informed they had
been the victims of sexual assault by either staff or other inmates (Beck,
Berzofsky, Caspar, & Krebs, 2013).
Undoubtedly, one of the most significant pieces of legislation regarding
correctional settings’ sexual misconduct was the passage of the Prison Rape
Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003. It was the first law passed in the United
States concerning prisoner assault in general (Smith, 2008). Under PREA,
prison systems are expected to utilize a standard definition of prison rape for
the purpose of collecting data to better understand sexual misconduct in cor-
rectional settings. This law also requires the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
to collect information on sexual assaults in both youth and adult correctional
facilities. Notably, PREA’s creation raised concerns that included the under-
reporting of incidents by victims, threats to facility security, insufficient staff
training, and the potential danger to the public once abused inmates returned
to the community (PREA, 2003).
Before PREA was implemented, the extent to which state prisons and the
federal prison system were addressing sexual violence is unknown (Zweig,
Naser, Blackmore, & Schaffer, 2006). Furthermore, prior to PREA, few state
departments of corrections proactively addressed sexual violence in their pris-
ons and/or did not have a prevention program in their facilities (Human Rights
Watch, 2001). In fact, a substantial number of inmates disclosed their

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