The Howard League For Penal Reform is a charity dedicated to improving prisons, the justice system and crime prevention. As part of their work, they commission research into aspects of life in the prison system and one of their ongoing concerns is the Commission on Sex in Prison which is the first large scale review of sex in prisons in England and Wales.
As prisons are deemed public places, sex in prison is technically unlawful, but previous research suggests that sexual activities are undertaken in the prison environment. There is little evidence on how to best manage the sexual health needs of prisoners, or how relationships developed in prisons should be managed within the prison system.
So far, two interim reports from the Commission have been produced. In 2013 they released their first report on Consensual Sex Amongst Men In Prison and in the last week, have released their first report on women prisoners entitled Women In Prison: Coercive and Consensual Sex. Further reports on coercive sex in prison and healthy sexual development in prison are planned in the future.
The report makes valuable reading. According to the Howard Leagues own statistics, this week in the UK there are 85,469 people in prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales. This is made up of 81,521 male prisoners and 3,948 female prisoners. 1,229 children are currently in custody, with the split on gender being highly skewed towards the male population, with only 65 girls in this population. Although only 0.002% of the adult population is in prison custody, this population changes over time, with offenders being released after serving their sentence. It is probable that medical professionals will provide healthcare for not just those in prison, who access secondary care through the NHS, but also those who have been released or currently progressing through the justice system. It is therefore important that care providers are familiar with the special needs of prisoners and a detailed report on sexual behaviour in prison is valuable to us.
The most recent report makes harrowing reading in places, detailing the high levels of sexual abuse experienced by women offenders prior to detention, and the risk of sexual assault for those remanded in custody from the prison population, including the specific risk of assault from other prisoners to locate drugs concealed internally, and evidence for coercive sexual activities between staff and prisoners. The report highlights that the sexual health needs of women and men are different, and that specific guidance on relationships between women in prison for staff is required.
The final findings of the report will not be revealed for some time yet, and hopefully will go some way to assisting us professionals in providing better care for this particular group.