MoJ block research into rape and sexual abuse in British prisons

September 15, 2014 11:44 am

An independent Commission on Sex in Prison set up by the Howard League Penal Reform today published a report showing that as many as 1,650 prisoners may have been sexually abused while serving their sentences.

The League said the Commission’s research into the issue has been hampered by a lack of co-operation from Chris Grayling’s department. An attempt to interview current prisoners was blocked by the MoJ, meaning researchers had to rely on testimony from former prisoners who had completed their sentences.

The Commission, which comprises eminent academics, former prison governors and health experts is the first-ever independent review of sex behind bars in England and Wales. The results of its interviews will be published next year.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) conducts a survey with prisoners as part of the inspection process and prisoners are asked whether they have been sexually abused by another prisoner or by prison staff. HMIP data show that 1 per cent of prisoners report being sexually abused in prison. Interviews of former prisoners carried out ten years ago in England and Wales produced similar findings, with 1 per cent reporting they had been raped and 5.3 per cent reporting they were victims of coerced sex.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Pena Reform, said: “Prisons are meant to be safe places where the law is enforced, not places where people are under threat of sexual violence and rape”.

The Commission’s briefing paper also includes MoJ data showing the number of recorded sexual assaults in prison rose in 2013 and is now at the highest recorded level since 2005 and notes that there are no policies in place to provide guidance to staff on how to support prisoners who report sexual abuse.

Grayling is facing growing questions about the deterioration of prison conditions under his watch. And cuts in staffing levels and an overcrowding crisis will only make it more difficult for prisons to stop sexual assaults from taking place.

A spokesman for the MoJ told The Independent: “The proposal for this research from the Howard League was rejected following consultation by National Research Committee. There were mainly concerns about the value of the research and how it would be conducted”.

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