Introduction Prisoner Abuse is one of the biggest problems faced by the society. It is one serious..


Prisoner Abuse is one of the biggest problems faced by the society. It is one serious problem in many countries worldwide. There are many kinds of abuse experienced by incarcerated men and women, with sexual abuse being the most serious case since the perpetrators is not only fellow inmates but jail guards and prison staff also. Overpopulation is also one form of abuse since the needs of the prisoners are not properly given due to the scarcity of resources brought about by huge population.

Drugs and drug abuse are is still prevalent in the prison world. Drugs have been noted to have a detrimental effect to prisoners the impact which may last for a lifetime. These kinds of abuse should be given due punishments because the convicts, no matter how serious their crimes are, still deserve to receive treatment that is rightfully accorded to a human being.

More and more inmates are stepping inside jails every year. Majority of them experience extreme abuse that even leads to death of some unfortunate inmates. It is saddening that these experiences of prisoners are hindered by many factors. They cannot demand for justice because their behaviors and emotions are controlled by authorities over them. There are also times when their complaints are not acknowledged since they are already imprisoned due to heavy crimes. This problem however needs to be solved since the effect of the abuse is not only physical; it also affects the sociological and psychological aspect of human beings.

However, prisoner abuse is an unfortunate phenomenon that can still be prevented and controlled. Everyone is entitled to fight for his or her human rights. This also includes even the prisoners who are convicted with a crime, and they should not be denied of these rights.

Defining Prisoner Abuse

Prisoner abuse happens to incarcerated men and women through mistreatments. Incarcerated individuals suffer twice the punishment given to them because of abusive jail guards, jail employees, and co-prisoners. One of the ways in which inmates suffer abuse is through torture. As cited in the Human Rights website, torture in prison is defined as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity (Fathi, 2008).

Violence among prisoners by fellow prisoners or jail guards and employees is also rampant. It is a great problem that should be addressed immediately. Prisoners of all cultures, races, ages, and social status experience abuse at some points of their lives in prison.

The socioeconomic status and cultural background have a significant influence in the impact of prison violence. Poor prisoners are more likely to experience abuse because they cannot afford to hire attorneys to defend the kind of life they have in prison. Those who are not natives of one country are inclined to have hesitation when calling out for help because they are not speaking in that country’s language (Richie, 2000).

Forms of Prison Abuse

Prisoner abuse comes in various forms, all of which cause harmful effects to male and female inmates. It comes in the form of physical, psychological, sexual and verbal.

Physical Abuse

Physically, the prisoners are abused through hitting and continuous beating. Physical abuse may also manifest as forced work assigned to the victims which is not a part of their punishment when they are convicted. This also includes depriving them of their basic needs such as food and clothing by cruel jail employees. The growing population of corrections may also be considered as form of physical abuse. Due to the large population that results in scarcity of resources, the prisoners do not receive an adequate amount of their basic needs (Idaho Observer, 2006).

One of the most controversial and disturbing issues regarding prisoner abuse is the ultimately degrading treatment of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq by American soldiers. A report made by Higham and Stephens (2004) at the Washington Post narrates how the Iraqi detainees were physically violated:

Previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq describe in raw detail abuse that goes well beyond what has been made public, adding allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets (Higham & Stephens, 2004).

Many of the prisoners who experience physical abuse, particularly those in the Abu Ghraib, are treated like animals. Prisoners are also out of touch with the real world. Their socialization is hindered by many factors. They do not have the capacity to fight back since they are already convicted for the crimes that they made. Other cases of physical abuse go as far as the prisoner’s death.

Verbal Abuse

There are also instances of verbal abuse to prisoners. They are called imbecile, idiot, moron, and other nasty words by jail guards in order to humiliate them (Higham & Stephens, 2004). Higham and Stephens (2004) add that “some of the detainees described are being abused as punishment or discipline after they were caught fighting or with a prohibited item” (Higham & Stephens, 2004).

According to the Idaho Observer (2006), the guards tend to think that the inmates always do something wrong. One of the guards admitted that if they catch the prisoners’ lips moving, they assume that the latter are not telling the truth (Idaho Observer, 2006).

Words that are usually thrown by jail guards to inmates are often harsh and hard to take. These words are more discriminating and humiliating. There are also instances when prisoners who commit mistakes in front of their fellow prisoners are being shouted at by jail guards and employees. These are really improper ways of treating prisoners because it damages their self-esteem and has bad effect on their mentality (Higham & Stephens, 2004).

Psychological Abuse

Discipline is far different from torture. However, some jail authorities resort to using psychological abuse and mask it as a method of discipline for prisoners. This happens to prisoners by means of taunting, white noise, and not allowing them to sleep. Such cases of psychological abuse may lead to mental disorders. There are also threats given out to prisoners which cause paranoia and mental and emotional torture. Drug usage in prison may also lead to psychological disorders (Idaho Observer, 2006).

One good example of psychological abuse in prison is cited in the May 2006 Idaho Observer report. The said report states that the abuse in the prison may manifest subtly. Instead of inflicting physical harm on prisoners, they are being abused by toying with them psychologically and emotionally. For instance, the jail employees leave the lights on for 17-and-a-half hours straight (4:30 in the morning to 10 in the evening). The guards also disturb the prisoner’s sleep by pointing the flashlights on the latter’s faces every 60 minutes or so, slamming the doors, and speaking loudly (Idaho Observer, 2006). Obviously, lack of sleep will cause one’s mind not to function properly. This kind of maltreatment in prisons is still rampant until today.

Sexual Abuse

The most popular abuse among prisoners is sexual abuse. There are many cases of forced sexual intercourse inside corrections. This abuse leads to diseases like AIDS and HIV. Sexual abuse is done by forcing prisoners to have sexual encounter with jail guards, jail employees and even their co-inmates. Sexual abuse is not only limited to prison guards and employees. It also occurs inside jail bars, the co-inmate being the perpetrator. Male to male sexual encounter occurs because they don’t have any choice but to satisfy their sexual needs by abusing their fellow male inmates. On the case of female prisoners who were sexually abused, lack of power hinders them to report the incident. There are times when sexual abuse to female prisoners occurs with the consent of the victim. However, this is still a violation of the law (Idaho Observer, 2006).

Types of Prison Abuse

Cases of maltreatment and mistreatment inside corrections take place when jail guards, any prison employee, or co-prisoner does something inappropriate to other prisoners. It comes in many abusive forms depending on the type. Although something bad is done by the inmate it is still improper to treat them like animals. It is still a case of abuse of power by jail personnel and a violation of human rights.

Drugs in Prison

Using illegal drugs, drug trafficking and other drug related cases cause individuals to be imprisoned. To end the promulgation of drugs, the drug pushers are detained in jails. However, the issue on drugs does not end here. Some correctional tolerate the use of drugs among prisoners. Others are forced to use it while those who are already users before entering the bars continue to use it. Addiction among inmates of the prohibited drugs is also attributed to stress that they experience in such environment (Uchtenhagen, 2007).

Because of drugs being trafficked in jails, inmates who used to use drugs mildly prior to being imprisoned may become highly addicted to drugs. On the other hand, those who do not have any history of drug use may turn out to be drug users as their method of coping with stress and depression (Managing Drugs in Prison, 2007). Source of prohibited drugs are jail employees, jail guards, and those inmates who still have contacts on drug suppliers outside.

Other causes of drug abuse inside prison are related to other types of abuse. When one prisoner is abused sexually, he/she is bribed by things like drugs to avoid complaining about the incident. Those prisoners who are users of drugs being incarcerated are blackmailed by using the victim’s personal cravings to drugs to get their consent and agree to be molested. Those prisoners who are weak are being bullied and forced to use drugs by those who are superior inside their cells (Managing Drugs in Prison, 2007).

The effects of drug abuse to prisoners are really pervasive. They cannot act and think normally because of substance abuse. Their relationship with each other is also affected as well as their relatives outside the prison environment (Managing Drugs in Prison, 2007).

Overpopulation in Prison

Every year, more and more people are being incarcerated because of many reasons. Some are guilty of their crimes while others are victims of injustice. The increase in the number of prisoners equates to greater demands for resources and space inside the prison vicinity. However, the inmates are being abused by corrupt prison personnel who ask help from the government to aid the scarcity of prison resources like food, beds and others. In some cases, normal and mentally ill prisoners are combined in one place which makes the situation worse. Prisons which are overcrowded are, more often than not, unsafe as they warn of a riot erupting any time (Idaho Observer, 2006).

One of the reasons for prison overcrowding is the incarceration of pregnant women. Women who are giving birth in prisons also increase at the same time. The problem here is not only the condition of the female prisoner but the condition of the infant being born in that kind of environment. The problem arises before and during the delivery since medical support is also inaccessible inside prisons.

Sexual Abuse in Prison

In some cases of sexual abuse in prison, bribery is included to avoid reporting the bad incident made to prisoners. Those who were abused are given cigarettes, drugs, clothing, access to telephone and other prison privileges in replace of sexual encounters. Offering goods to prisoners makes the sexual abuse possible because prisoners crave things that they only experience outside.

Food and drugs are commonly used to perpetrate the abuse. Threats is also involved when forced sexually abuse is done. However, sexual abuse perpetrated by female inmates does not fall in the context of rape. This is because there is no force used to perform the abuse. “Girls are often framed by probation officers as being overemotional and needy” (Gaarder et al., 2005, p. 578).

Male rape is a common thing inside prisons, but as for female prisoners, the enemy is not their fellow prisoners but much worse. They are the male prison guards and correctional staff. Female prisoners who are sexually coerced by jail guards give in because of fear. Sexual abuse is also used in most prisons to cover up more serious problems like drug addiction and carrying of deadly weapons behind bars. There are also cases when sexual abuse serves as the key to escape from jail. Correctional employees assist the escape of female prisoners with whom they have sexual involvement (Human Rights Watch 1996).

The problem of sexual abuse among women prisoners is much worse precisely because of their sheer number. Research shows that the United States has earned the distinction of incarcerating the most number of prisoners. Most of these prisoners are women and their number is increasing dramatically at a fast rate. According to studies, since 1980, the number of women entering U.S. prisons has been raised to almost 400%, which is roughly double the incarceration rate increase of males. According to current statistics, nearly “half of all female prisoners have experienced some form of sexual abuse prior to incarceration” (Human Rights Watch 1996).

The most common sexual abuse in prison always incorporates violence in it. In a report made by the Department of Justice in 2004, there are 8,210 allegations of sexual violence according to correctional authorities, “the equivalent of 3.2 allegations per 1,000 inmates and youths incarcerated in 2004” (Department of Justice 2005). When violence is mixed with sexual abuse, it is really damaging on the part of the victim. There are physical disabilities that may occur, including broken bones and joints, skin injuries, and many more. The worst cases of prison rape lead to the death of prisoners.

Rape cases also happen to male prisoners. There are male prison guards and correctional staffs that take advantage of the authoritative power and force male prisoners to have sex intercourse with them. Then they disguise their revolting act, by pretending as protectors of the prisoners. It often involves group of prisoners in order to scare the target prisoner to be raped. It is a setup made by having group of prisoners bully the victim and threatening him with body harm. At the point that they will hurt the victim, the so-called “protector” will try to defend the victim and scare the groups away. In order to repay the savior (a jail guard, a jail staff or a co-inmate), the inmate will be asked to do favors and be repaid sexually.

Causes of Prison Abuse

Abuse of power is the main reason why there is such thing as prison abuse. Those who are in authority take advantage of their power and demands many things from others. Such dominance causes abuse and torture to poor convicted criminals trapped behind bars. The lack of courage to speak for the truth and shout for justice is also a reason why the abuse is done over and over to prisoners. Cases of sexual abuse are included in this example and cited in the Human Rights Watch website. These are the words of a male prisoner who was raped inside the institution. As he recalls:

“I’ve been sentenced for a D.U.I. offense. My 3rd one. When I first came to prison, I had no idea what to expect. I’m a tall white male, who unfortunately has a small amount of feminine characteristics. And very shy. These characteristics have got me raped so many times I have no more feelings physically. I have been raped by up to 5 black men and two white men at a time. I’ve had knifes at my head and throat…There is no supervision after lockdown” (Human Rights Watch 2006),

When a prisoner looks appealing among the rest, there is a great chance of being molested by prison guards. Some prisoners use their charms to have access to other things like phone calls and extra food during meal times (Human Rights Watch 2006).

Effects of Prisoner Abuse

The effects of prisoner abuse can last a lifetime. The trauma and depression can be inculcated in the minds of prisoners who were physically, psychologically, verbally and sexually abused and leave them scarred permanently.

Those who were brutally abused through physical means have traces of scars and bone injuries that cannot be treated anymore. There are also cases of physical abuse when one inmate is forced to have a tattoo by their fellow inmates. The denial stage comes in when they are visited by their relatives and ask what happened to them. They will try to hide the fact that they are abused by people who should have looked after them and just discipline them instead of giving them torture. Most prisoners are afraid of telling the truth because harder punishments will be given to them by their perpetrators (Men in Prison, 2008).

Mental illnesses are also developed as years go by inside prisons. This is because the wide spread of drug abuse is rampant. It is obviously known that prohibited drugs cause malfunction in the brain. Other diseases like STDs (Sexually Transmitted Disease) and AIDS are attributed to sexual abuse inside prisons. This is the reality in the prison system which has been institutionalized in the society—a kind of system that contributes to the perpetuation of violence inside prisons (Men in Prison, 2008).

Prisoner abuse also has sociological effects on the prisoner. The traumatic experience causes fear and trauma that will make him separate himself from everyone. The issue of women inmates giving birth to their child is also included because of prisoner abuse. The child is automatically separated from the mother once born inside the prison. In effect, the child may grow up without the necessary care and attention which is expected to be given by the biological mother.

There are even cases of pregnant prisoners who are raped by prison guards. Such sexual abuse is really unbearable for the victim and their families. It does not only impact the prisoners but the institution as a whole. The reason why they are incarcerated is for them to be disciplined and not to be tortured and abused (Acoca & Austin, 1996). Sexual abuse makes the institution not credible in disciplining the prisoners. Instead, they themselves should be incarcerated as well.

When prisoners experience abuse, the effects can last a life time. The nightmare will forever haunt them and may lead to mental incapacitation or death at the worst. Those who experience sexual abuse and accumulate diseases find themselves committing suicide than suffer the illness daily. On cases of female prisoners who are raped, there is greater possibility of being pregnant. Being mentally ill is also an additional risk of being sexually abused (Acoca & Austin, 1996).

Rights of Prisoners

Although a person is found guilty of a crime, there is still no reason for him/her to be abused inside prisons. There are several studies showing various changes regarding situations of prisoners. Most of the said report involve abuse without due punishment given to the perpetrators. Everyone has the right to seek for justice even if you are already set behind the bars. Inmates do not deserve any kind of abuse inside the correctional. They are placed there to be rehabilitated and disciplined, not to be punished twice for their misdeed.

According to the report made by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice, prison population in the United States has grown to 2 million inmates (Longley, 2007). The said research also shows that the escalating number of inmates heightens the problem of sexual abuse while incarcerated. Such demands about this problem should no longer be ignored; preventive measures need be done eradicate this problem.

The rights of prisoners as cited in the Human Rights Website (2008) are based from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1992. These rights address the following:

(1) All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

(2)The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation (Fathi, 2008).

ICCPR also guarantees prisoner who were abused that there are remedies at hand to counter such violation of their human rights. The said covenant includes the following:

(a) To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity;

(b) To ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy;

(c) To ensure that the competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted (ICCPR, Art. 2, sec. 3, as cited in Fathi, 2008).

Solutions to Prison Abuse

Aside from the rights and privileges mentioned above, there are a variety of solutions to end this abuse among prisoners. There are organizations and government groups that help victims of prison abuse. There are also preventive measures that can be followed so as to stop the occurrence of any kind of abuse. People against prisoner abuse are comprised of individuals who seek for justice for those abused prisoners.

One of the organizations that have been fighting for inmate rights is the People Against Prison Abuse, organization established in 1994 to help inmates and their family. The said organization aims to assist the families and friends who are currently imprisoned (People Against Prison Abuse, 2008). It attempts to address the following concerns:
The tax being paid by taxpayers over the past several years are said to be spent more on prison inmates than public education but it is not visibly seen.
The medical care of inmates
Overcrowding is always ignored which should not become a norm.
Mentally ill prisoners are not properly taken care of and are often abused by guards because they are not trained on how to deal with such conditions.
The physically challenged inmates do not have the medical care, equipment, and/or facilities to enable them to be a functional human inside the prison system

(6)The vast number of industrial prison complex staff (wardens, guards, and medical staff) commit worse crimes than majority of inmates so they should be punished. (People Against Prison Abuse, 2008).

The aforementioned concerns are few of the many appeals of people who want justice for prison abuse. It is also important to support organizations like this to make all people aware and to convince the government to “investigate conditions within our prisons and to pass legislation to protect prisoners from abuse” (Stop Prison Abuse, 2008).


It is saddening to note that the judicial system which is supposed to protect the oppressed likewise offers no solution to this problem as it would consider this problem as an internal matter and would rather allow prison officials to handle this matter amongst themselves. The indifferent attitude of the correctional officials to one inmate raping another is likewise depressing. It renders much harmful effects on the condition of the prisoner and the credibility of justice.

Prisoner abuse is indeed a pervasive in penal institutions. This problem however is preventable and controllable if preventive measures will be enacted and the government will responsibly address the issue. The response need not be limited to their strict punishment as avoidance measures may be instituted as a matter of prison policy. “The governments often have limited resources on giving the right prosecution process for victims and offenders” (Hoffman, 1993, p. 1552).

Prisoner abuse should be given immediate action so that it will never happen again. Abuse of authority should not be tolerated. This is a serious problem needed to be solved immediately. Not only because the victim is already convicted, but because the victim is a human. Every human being has indelible rights. Conviction for a crime no matter how heinous it is will not strip him or her of these rights.


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submitted to the Charles E. Culpepper Foundation. San Francisco, CA: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Hoffman, Paul (1993). The Feds, Lies and Videotape: The Need for an Effective Federal Role in Controlling Police Abuse in Urban America. Southern California Law Review, 66, 1522.

Higham, S. & Stephens J. (2004). New Details of Prison Abuse Emerge. The

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It’s Not My Problem. (2008) Men Stuff Organization. Retrieved April 30, 2008 from:

Longley, R. (2007). U.S. Prison Population Tops 2 Million. Retrieved April 30,

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People Against Prison Abuse. (2008). People Against Prison Abuse. Retrieved April 30, 2008


Richie, Beth. (2000). Exploring the Link Between Violence Against Women and Women’s

Involvement in Illegal Activity. U.S. Department of Justice. Research on Women and Girls in the Justice System.

Stop Prison Abuse. (2008) Stop Prison Abuse. Retrieved April 30, 2008 from:

Uchtenhagen, A. (2008). “Drug Prevention Outside and Inside Prison Walls.” Joomla!.

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