(A version of this article was published August 17, 2003, in The Gainesville Sun)
The recent rape of a male college student in the Alachua County Jail, while sad and regrettable, is a fact of life in the jails and prisons across the nation. Estimates place these rapes at 240,000 per year. A number that is going no place but up.
A casual hunt on any Internet search engine for “prison rape” will produce more material than can be absorbed in a single sitting. Google alone lists about 488,000 sites.
The one type of prison rape not listed or discussed anywhere is the number of correction officers raped. It only takes one rape in some 20 years of service to come down with a case of hepatitis or AIDS. This will most likely be transferred to the partner before it ever shows up in normal testing.
The overall rate of confirmed AIDS among the nation’s prison (jails not included) population (0.52%) was about 4 times the rate in U.S. general population (0.13%) in the year 2000. This represents the best guess in an environment where extensive testing is in no one’s best interest.
Prison rapes are only a symptom of a far greater problem. Make no mistake; prison rape has its own consequences that are problems in themselves.
Cases in point: about 20% of the inmate population is 24 years or younger. That means for the most part they will reach their majority and/or mature in jails and prison with role models from within the inmate population.
You can expect each inmate to sire between 1 and 4 children in their lifetime. That means about a million children being born to a parent who matured in the jails and prisons of our nation where rape was a common practice or experience.
If each of the 2 million inmates in the jails or prisons of our nation sires 1 to 4 children and the recidivism rate remains at about 67%, then we can expect the state to become actively involved in raising and/or financially supporting an additional 2 to 8 million kids over the next generation.
Trends indicate the very nature of the prison problem and population is changing. Over half of the increase in prison population since 1995 is due to an increase in the prisoners convicted of violent offenses. These include murder, negligent and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, sexual assault, robbery, assault, extortion, intimidation, criminal endangerment, and others.
This speaks directly to the core problem that prison rape is a symptom. The problem is the institutionalization of our society and warehousing of the problems. We warehouse our problems and expect them to resolve themselves on their own.
Kids are considered a problem and are warehoused in foster homes, nurseries, camps, special programs, day care centers and pre-school schools. The face of the warehouse is often altered with full time sitters, au pairs, nannies and the like. Later kids are passed to government schools where they are again warehoused for the most part in buildings with metal detectors on the doors and 10 to 12 armed deputies patrolling the corridors.
It is hard to call these warehouses schools when the graduation rate hovers around 60% after 12 years of education. Every year since 1993, an average of 53.7 percent of our high school graduates who enrolled in our junior colleges have required remedial studies in reading, writing and/or math to prepare them for regular SFCC [Santa Fe Community College] course work .
The University of Florida Athletic Association recognizes this as a fact of life and has budgeted $1.93 million this year for tutors, advisers, computer labs and oversight for UF’s 460 student-athletes.
We have truly become a nation where the village is raising the child. This is a trend that began over a generation ago with the advent of the Great Society and Camelot.
A lot of very learned papers have been and will be written attesting to the merits of the Village, Great Society, Camelot and the like. However, the most powerful indictment is a simple statement: the prison population has gone from 139 inmates per 100,000 population in 1980 to 476 inmates per 100,000 population in 2002. That translates into over 2,000,000 men women and children in the jails and prisons of our nation today.
The consequences are very clear no matter how you argue the 10,000 this-and-that’s of the likes of the Village, Camelot or the Great Society: at this moment 1 in 34 Americans is under the direct supervision of government be it in prison, parole or probation. One in 20 Americans can expect to do prison time in their life.
We have choices on how we are going to deal with this problem. We can deal with the problem or we can ignore the problem and speak to the symptoms.
It appears the political, religious, cultural and intellectual leaders of Florida in general as well as the City of Gainesville and Alachua County in particular opted to speak to the symptoms rather than the problem.
Alachua County is in the process of doubling its capacity to conduct criminal court proceedings while letting education and child-related issues atrophy on the sidelines. There is no doubt that a new county jail will be required and built with the same sense of alacrity as the new courthouse was built.
Rape — be it in the jails, prisons or on the streets — is destined to become a rite of passage for our youth if we don’t do something.
— K.C. Walpole