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Prison Rape: An Overlooked Community Issue

For over a decade, Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Fowler, both Associate Professors of Criminal Justice in the Department of Criminal Justice and Social Work, have focused their research on the problem of prison rape. Drs. Blackburn and Fowler have also consulted with state and county criminal justice agencies regarding the issue of correctional victimization. They have co-authored numerous academic articles on this topic and have co-edited a textbook on prisons entitled, Prisons: Today and Tomorrow. Most of their research has been conducted inside prisons and jails - focusing on the prevalence and impact of prison rape among male and female inmates in Texas. A list of their publications can be found below. 

It is likely prison rape doesn't cross your mind very often. If it has, it is most likely in relation to a storyline or character you have seen on television or in film or in some other context such as a joke. Unfortunately, prison rape is not just something portrayed in the media and it is far from being funny. Sexual victimization is not and should not ever be considered an expected part of prison life. Although it is recognized that prison rape has long been a problem in U.S. correctional facilities, victims of prison rape were only recently taken seriously after numerous legal hearings and publications such as No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons by Human Rights Watch in 2001 documented cases of such victimization. Following these events which garnered attention to the issue, in 2003, then President George W. Bush signed into law the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

Within legislation, Congress sited numerous reasons for the law including, but not limited to, (a) mentally ill and young, first-time inmates being at a higher risk for victimization, (b) victimization often goes unreported and therefore victims receive inadequate treatment and support, (c) HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are spread through prison rape, (d) prison rape begets more violence inside and outside of prisons, (e) and "victims of prison rape suffer sever physical and psychological effects that hinder their ability to integrate into community and maintain stable employment upon their release from prison... [making] them more likely to become homeless and/or require government assistance.". Therefore, it is not only the inmate who is impacted by his or her victimization, their families, and the community are also negatively impacted by the problem and long-term consequences of prison rape. Healthcare costs associated with prison rape are also a concern. Offenders may be unaware of their health status coming out of prison and, if they have been infected with sexually transmitted disease, they may go untreated and even potentially pass the infection on to other community members unintentionally. The psychological impact of prison rape is another consequence that goes overlooked. Once the offender returns to the community, they may want to put their past behind them but such a traumatizing event is likely to impact them even post-release. 

In addition to the below list publications, the National PREA Resource Center makes numerous readings available to those who are interested in learning more about this issue through their Library webpage. The Center for Public Service and Community Research within the College of Public Service at UHD encourages readers who are interested to check out these links and further readings to learn more about this community issue. 

Related Publications by Dr. Ashley G. Blackburn and Dr. Shannon K. Fowler

Blackburn, A.G., Fowler, S.K., & Pollock, J.P. (eDS.). (2014). Prisons: Today and Tomorrow (3rd ed.) Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett. 

Blackburn, A.G., Fowler, S.K., Mullings, J.L., & Marquart, J.W. (2011). When Boundaries are Broken: Inmate Perceptions of Correctional Staff Boundary Violations. Deviant Behavior, 32(4), 351-378. Available on line:

Blackburn, A.G., Fowler, S.K., Mullings, J.L., & Marquart, J.W. (2011). Too Close for Comfort: Exploring Gender Differences in Inmate Attitudes Toward Homosexuality in Prison. American Journal of Criminal Justice. 36(1), 58-72. Available online: doi: 10.1007/s12103-010-9099-6

Fowler, S.K., Blackburn, A.G., Marquart, J.W. & Mullings, J.L. (2010). Would They Officially Report an In-Prison Sexual Assault? An Examination of Inmate Perceptions. The Prison Journal, 90(2), 220-243. Available online: doi: 10.1177/0032885510363387

Fowler, S.K., Blackburn, A.G., Marquart, J.W. & Mullings, J.L. (2010). Inmates' Cultural Beliefs About Sexual Violence and Their Relationship to Definitions of Sexual Assault. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 49(3), 180-199. Available online:

Blackburn, A.G., Mullings, J.L., & Marquart, J.M. (2008). Inmates as Jurors: Examining How Sexual Victimization and Rape Mythology Acceptance Impact Punitiveness. International Journal of Crime, Criminal Justice and Law, 3(1), 61-79. 

Blackburn, A.G., Mullings, J.L., & Marquart, J.W. (2008). Sexual Assault in Prison and Beyond: Toward an Understanding of Lifetime Sexual Assault among Incarcerated Women. The Prison Journal, 88(3), 351-377. Available online: doi: 10.1177/0032885508322443