Enhancing our Understanding of Sexual Assault in Youth Facilities: Individual and Facility Level Correlates

Posted by Darlene Conroy
March 08, 2017

Written by Allen J. Beck, Ph.D., Senior Statistical Advisor, Bureau of Justice Statistics and Jessica Stroop, Statistician, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In 2003, when Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), it required the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to “carry out, for each calendar year, a comprehensive statistical report and analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape” from a sample “not less than 10 percent of all federal, State and county prisons” (P.L. 108- 79).

To meet this requirement, BJS worked with juvenile justice, prison, and jail administrators and other stakeholders throughout the nation. While much has been learned about rape and sexual assault in the nation’s juvenile correctional facilities since 2003, the Act requires BJS to continue its data collection efforts.

The National Survey of Youth in Custody (NSYC-3) is the third collection of these data, and will begin in juvenile facilities in late fall of 2017. In previous surveys, a large number of juveniles have been interviewed, including more than 9,000 in 2008-09, and 8,700 in 2012. Findings from these surveys show that juveniles have high rates of sexual victimization when compared to incarcerated adults in prisons and jails. In 2012, about 9.5% of juveniles reported some type of sexual victimization that was perpetrated either by another youth (2.5%) or staff (7.7%). BJS has published these findings and others in detailed reports available on its website: https://www.bjs.gov/

A key requirement of the Act is for BJS through youth self-reports to provide a listing of facilities ranked according to the prevalence of sexual victimization. In response, BJS developed procedures in which data are collected directly from youth in a private setting using audio computer-assisted self-interview (ACASI) technology with a touchscreen laptop and an audio feed to maximize confidentiality and minimize literacy issues. The NSYC-2 was conducted in 2012 in a random sample of 273 state-owned or –operated juvenile facilities and 53 local or privately operated facilities that held adjudicated youth under state contract. In addition to facility-level estimates, the NSYC-2 provided state-level estimates. State-level rates were particularly valuable in states comprised of small facilities that were too small to provide reliable estimates. Since 2012 the number of youth held in juvenile facilities has dropped sharply. To meet the requirements of the Act, BJS has modified the sampling procedures and reporting criteria to better provide estimates for the largest facilities and for facilities state-wide.

The purpose of the NSYC has always been to measure the prevalence and incidence of sexual victimization; however, the Act has also challenged us to better understand sexual victimization. In July 2016, BJS published additional analyses of that looked at facility- and individual-level correlates of sexual victimization. Findings from that analyses showed that facilities with higher rates of sexual assault do not have enough staff to monitor what takes place in the facility, have higher levels of gang fights and tend to house youth in multiple living units. The full report is available on the BJS website.

These analyses, along with a stakeholder workshop held in Washington, DC in April 2016 and other outreach efforts, have provided the basis for development of new questions for the NSYC-3. The intention of the new items is to help us better understand youth-on-youth victimization and staff sexual misconduct, including more detail on the circumstances surrounding the reported incidents. NYSC-3 will include a detailed incident report that asks youth about their most recent experience. It will also include a more detailed facility survey, which will separately identify additional characteristics of facilities that have higher or lower rates of sexual victimization.

When administered later this year, it will be the first time the NSYC will be conducted since the release of the PREA standards. NSYC-3 will determine the impact the standards have had on the prevalence of sexual victimization, the type of incidents, the reporting behaviors of victims, and the response by correctional staff when incidents occur. As a consequence, in addition to ranking facilities, a focus of the next NSYC will be to measure the impact of these standards and other efforts, to see if the incidence of sexual assault has changed.

A pilot test of the NSYC-3 is being completed in spring 2017, and will be followed by a test of the Spanish language version in early summer. National data collection in facilities is scheduled to occur in late 2017, once the survey has been approved by the Office of Management and Budget. The first report from NSYC-3 is expected in late 2018 or early 2019.