The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA; Public Law 108-79) requires the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to carry out a comprehensive statistical review and analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape for each calendar year. BJS’s review must include, but is not limited to, the identification of the common characteristics of both victims and perpetrators of prison rape; and prisons and prison systems with a high incidence of prison rape. Analysis must—
- be based on a random sample, or other scientifically appropriate sample, of not less than 10% of all federal, state, and county prisons, and a representative sample of municipal prisons; and include at least one prison from each state
- use surveys and other statistical studies of current and former inmates from a representative sample of federal, state, county, and municipal prisons; and ensure the confidentiality of each survey participant
- provide a list of institutions in the sample, separated into each category and ranked according to the incidence of prison rape in each institution; and provide a list of any prisons in the sample that did not cooperate with the survey.
PREA applies to all correctional facilities, including prisons, jails, juvenile facilities, military and Indian country facilities, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. Due to the sensitive nature of violent victimization and potential reluctance to report sexual assault, estimates of the prevalence of such acts do not rely on a single measure. Thus, BJS developed the National Prison Rape Statistics Program (NPRSP), a series designed to collect multiple measures of the incidence and prevalence of sexual assault. No data collection existed that could be used to fully respond to the requirements in PREA. BJS, with the aid of correctional practitioners, researchers, and special interest groups, developed, tested, and revised each collection prior to full national implementation. For these reasons, the data collections have been rolled out consecutively rather than concurrently, and each collection is in a different stage of implementation.
NPRSP includes four separate data collection efforts: the Survey of Sexual Victimization (SSV), the National Inmate Survey (NIS), the National Survey of Youth in Custody (NSYC), and the National Former Prisoner Survey (NFPS). Each of these collections is an independent effort and, while not directly comparable, provides various measures of the prevalence and characteristics of sexual assault in correctional facilities. Incidents reported to or observed by correctional or medical officials collected in the SSV administrative records survey may be an underrepresentation of actual incidents. Allegations made anonymously by inmates and youth in the NIS, NSYC, and NFPS may be an overrepresentation of actual incidents, although it is possible this overreporting is offset by some victims who, despite the protocols enacted to assure confidentiality and encourage reporting, remain fearful of retribution or ridicule and fail to report sexual victimization. For additional information, see the corrections data collections.
Data collections vary in scope, burden, and frequency of collection (see individual data collection descriptions for more information). Generally, BJS collects data both from administrative records and from interviews with prison and jail inmates. All data collections must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prior to fielding, which takes several months. Collections must be resubmitted for approval every 3 years (sooner if there are changes in the data collection). For data that are collected through inmate interviews, there must also be an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to protect human subjects (prior to OMB submission), and individual jurisdictions may require additional reviews prior to participation.
All data collection is voluntary. Without a specific mandate by Congress, no jurisdiction is compelled to participate in our data collections; individual surveys are conducted only with persons granting formal consent to participate. Most jurisdictions choose to participate because the information is helpful for policy and practice and may be used to allocate funding. It takes time to achieve a complete enumeration, particularly in times of staff shortages and budget cuts in many levels of government.
Administrative collections are sent out close to the reference date in the survey and are due to BJS 2 to 3 months later. Most respondents submit the data on time, but for various reasons, other jurisdictions take longer to submit the data. BJS staff or contractor staff work with jurisdictions to obtain the necessary information, which can take an additional 3 months.
After data are collected, they must then be cleaned, weighted (in the case of sample populations), and analyzed. BJS staff has several methods of release, including a formal report, statistical/electronic tables, or a summary brief. All data are fully verified prior to release. Keeping in mind that each data collection is different and the times may vary significantly depending on the collection of interest, provided below is an average data collection and processing timetable:
Collection, 5–6 months (from reference date) for administrative surveys; 8–12 for interview surveys
Cleaning/weighting, 1–2 months for administrative surveys; 3–6 for interview surveys
Analysis/verification, 2–12 months, depending on survey type and complexity of analysis
Preparation to disseminate, 2–3 months
Jails are locally operated short-term facilities that hold inmates awaiting trial or sentencing or both, and inmates sentenced to a term of less than 1 year, typically misdemeanants. Prisons are longer-term facilities run by the state or the federal government that typically hold felons and persons with sentences of more than 1 year. Definitions may vary by state.
Caution must be used when using trend data, as definitions and reporting capabilities change over time. Some changes in definitions are due to BJS initiatives to improve counting (such as separating out state inmates held in private facilities or local jails), some may be driven by the Office of Management and Budget (such as changes in racial and ethnic definitions), and some may be noted by the reported jurisdiction (such as noncitizen inmate counts, including those who were foreign-born).
Whenever possible, BJS notes these differences and encourages users to check footnotes within tables and jurisdiction notes within reports to better understand why comparability can vary from state-to-state or year-to-year.
Note: When you see a sharp increase or decline in a year-to-year count, it is recommended to verify there was no change in definition or counting method.
Terms & Definitions
Outcomes of investigations
Substantiated allegation means the event was investigated and determined to have occurred, based on a preponderance of the evidence (28 C.F.R. §115.72).
Unfounded allegation means the investigation determined that the event did not occur.
Unsubstantiated allegation means the investigation concluded that evidence was insufficient to determine whether or not the event occurred.
Sexual victimization as reported by adult correctional and juvenile justice authorities
Inmate-on-inmate or youth-on-youth sexual victimization involves nonconsensual sexual acts or abusive contact with a victim without his or her consent or with a victim who cannot consent or refuse.
Nonconsensual sexual acts are the most serious victimizations and include—
- contact between the penis and the vulva or the penis and the anus, including penetration, however slight
- contact between the mouth and the penis, vulva, or anus
- penetration of the anal or genital opening of another person, however slight, by a hand, finger, object, or other instrument.
Abusive sexual contact is less serious and includes intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person. Incidents in which the contact was incidental to a physical altercation are excluded.
Sexual harassment by another inmate includes—
- repeated and unwelcome sexual advances
- requests for sexual favors
- verbal comments, gestures, or actions of a derogatory or offensive sexual nature.
Staff-on-inmate or staff-on-youth sexual victimization includes both consensual and nonconsensual acts perpetrated on an inmate by staff. Staff includes an employee, volunteer, contractor, official visitor, or other agency representative. Family, friends, and other visitors are excluded.
Staff sexual misconduct includes any consensual or nonconsensual behavior or act of a sexual nature directed toward an inmate by staff, including romantic relationships. Such acts include—
- intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks that is unrelated to official duties or with the intent to abuse, arouse, or gratify sexual desire
- completed, attempted, threatened, or requested sexual acts
- occurrences of indecent exposure, invasion of privacy, or staff voyeurism for reasons unrelated to official duties or for sexual gratification.
Staff sexual harassment includes repeated verbal comments or gestures of a sexual nature to an inmate by staff. Such statements include—
- demeaning references to an inmate's sex or derogatory comments about his or her body or clothing
- repeated profane or obscene language or gestures.
Sexual victimization as reported by youth in juvenile facilities
Sexual victimization includes any forced sexual activity with another youth (nonconsensual sexual acts and other sexual contacts) and all sexual activity with facility staff.
Nonconsensual sexual acts include any forced sexual acts with another youth and all sexual acts with facility staff involving contact with the penis and the vagina or anus; contact between the mouth and the penis, vagina, or anus; penetration of the anal or vaginal opening of another person by a hand, finger, or other object; and rubbing of another person's penis or vagina by a hand.
Other sexual contacts only includes kissing on the lips or another part of the body, looking at private body parts, being shown something sexual—such as pictures or a movie—and engaging in some other sexual act that did not involve touching.
Staff sexual misconduct includes all sexual activity with facility staff, including contact with the penis and the vagina or anus; contact between the mouth and the penis, vagina, or anus; penetration of the anal or vaginal opening of another person by a hand, finger, or other object; rubbing of another person's penis or vagina by a hand; kissing on the lips or another part of the body; looking at private body parts; being shown something sexual, such as pictures or a movie; and engaging in some other sexual act that did not involve touching.
Staff sexual misconduct excluding touching includes sexual activity with facility staff involving contact with the penis and the vagina or anus; contact between the mouth and the penis, vagina, or anus; penetration of the anal or vaginal opening of another person by a hand, finger, or other object; and rubbing of another person's penis or vagina by a hand.
Forced sexual activity includes sexual activity between youth and facility staff as a result of physical force or threat of physical force; force or pressure of some other type (e.g., threatening with harm, threatening to get the youth in trouble, pressuring the youth, or forcing or pressuring in some other way); and in return for money, favors, protection, or other special treatment.