What are correctional institutions doing to address problems such as assaults, rape, sexual violence, and other criminal acts in correctional facilities? Explain the roles of the staff in eliminating these activities.

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First, please realize that not all prisons are taking the same steps to combat these problems.  Steps vary to some degree from state to state.  Second, please check in your text or class notes to see if there are specific answers your instructor will want to see.

In general, American prisons have been making attempts to reduce sexual and other violence at least since the passing of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA).  These attempts have not been as successful as might have been hoped.  In general, prisons are trying to reduce these activities through better screening of prisoners, through staff training, and through other changes in rules.  A great deal of emphasis is placed on staff because they are the ones most capable of having an impact on these problems.

Staff are central to the problems of prison rape and other crime in at least two ways.  First, staff can be the offenders in these offenses or can be helping the offenders in some way.  Second, staff can be complacent about or indifferent to the victimization of prisoners.  Because staff are so deeply implicated in these problems, they must also be the main focus of prevention efforts.

One thing that prisons are doing is trying to focus on keeping inmates who are at risk away from the inmates who are likely to victimize them.  This consists of evaluating inmates as they enter the prisons and using that information when deciding where to house the inmates.  For example, prisons are no longer allowing youths under the age of 18 to be housed with older prisoners.  By keeping vulnerable inmates away from potential aggressors, prisons hope to reduce the level of problems.

A second thing that prisons are doing is training staff to care more about the issue of sexual violence.  What prisons are trying to do here is to change the culture of their staff.  In the past, sexual violence has tended to be a joking matter for staff, as it is for many in the general public.  Prisons are training staff to see sexual violence as a real problem that must be addressed in hopes that the staff will be more aggressive about looking for signs that sexual violence is occurring or will occur.

Finally, prisons are implementing other rules.  Some prisons have tightened procedures having to do with visitation.  They are trying to reduce the amount of contraband being smuggled from visitors to prisoners.  The goal here is to keep weapons from being smuggled in.  Prisons are also screening their own staff more thoroughly.  Since much violence against prisoners is committed by staff, they are trying to ensure that they are hiring staff whose backgrounds suggest that they will not act in these ways.

Overall, most of the efforts that prisons are making in this regard have to do with staff.  This is because staff are the ones who interact with prisoners every day and the ones who generally have the authority to do things that would reduce the risk of sexual and other violence. 

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