The first report from a new commission into sex in prisons shows a hidden area of denial of sexual relationships.
The incidents that have been uncovered show breaches of guidelines, dangerous behaviour left undealt with and no consistent practice across prisons.
The report has highlighted the culture of ignoring the issue of sex in prisons, and the dangers that brings.
One of the issues that arose is that managers of prisons are ignoring that the inmates would have sex because they are not homosexual and therefore do not provide them with protection.
Officially, sexual relationships between prisoners – as well as between staff and inmates – are prohibited. But prisoners should have free access to protection and condoms must be supplied if prisoners are thought to be at risk of contracting HIV or another STI.
A specific incident of the harm this can cause is when a homosexual HIV-positive inmate who was having unprotected sex with another prisoner was refused condoms by jail staff when he requested them.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick has said that this is a potentially harmful breach of guidelines.
The revelations provided to the commission by Mr Hardwick in to sex in prisons has caused a stir amongst campaigners to look in to the ignored topic, as he has highlighted that the biggest problem is the attitude of the prison staff.
This is likely to be due to the discretionary nature given to the topic. Although HM Prison Service says consensual sex in jail is illegal, this is because a cell is a “public places”:
The Prison Service Instruction 47/2011 regarding prisoner-discipline procedures states:
There is no rule specifically prohibiting sexual acts between prisoners, but if they are observed by someone who finds (or could potentially find) their behaviour offensive, a charge… may be appropriate, particularly if the act occurred in a public or semi-public place within the establishment, or if the prisoners were “caught in the act” during a cell search.
But if two prisoners sharing a cell are in a relationship and engage in sexual activity during the night when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, a disciplinary charge may not be appropriate.
Therefore relationships between prisoners tend to be dealt with on a discretionary basis.
It has also brought attention to the lack of prevention of non-consensual sex between inmates.
Between 2007 and 2012, six inmates died in sexually related incidents in the UK prison system.
The commission was given an example of this from a prison in 2008, when a prisoner who had been convicted of rape of an adult male murdered his cell mate. This was following previous sexual assaults in the prison on other inmates as well as concerns of grooming which had meant that he should not have been sharing a cell as he is a risk to other prisoners.
The reason cases like this go under the radar is because there is not a good enough procedure set up to help them.
Solicitor Nick Wells, who has represented several sexual abuse victims in prisons, told the commission that the internal process of making a complaint is so complicated and time-consuming that often prisoners either give up or are released before their case makes it to the outside.
An academic study of 200 ex-prisoners found that 91 per cent said they had been coerced sexually, but the Prison and Probation Ombudsman logged just 108 complaints between 2007 and 2012.
The study also showed that 1% of prisoners said that they were currently being sexually abused, rising to 2-3% among prisoners who were disabled.
Inmates should not be made to suffer like this; they still have their human rights and the issues they face are being hidden away and ignored.
Chris Sheffield, chairman of the Commission into Sex in Prison, said:
We know very little about sex in prison. No one knows how many people are sexually assaulted in prison every year, or whether some prisoners are having underage sex, perhaps putting their health or their partner’s health at risk.