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Bureau of Justice Statistics Recognized for Studies on Prison Rape
June 5, 2014 Posted by

Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and its data collection agents received the 2014 Policy Impact Award from the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) for their innovative and salient efforts to measure sexual victimization in correctional facilities under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA).

AAPOR, a leading association of survey research professionals, stated in the award citation, “the findings, and their extensive publicity, have triggered special investigations by governors and state legislatures and immediate changes in policies and plans of action. Findings from the project are now cited extensively in training for correctional administrators on how to prevent and respond to prison rape. Without these data, national standards for best practices to eliminate rape and other related violence among prisoners could not have been promulgated.”

BJS has released 14 separate reports on prison rape since 2004. Television, print media, researchers and public interest groups extensively covered the findings at local, state and national levels. Coverage included 32 articles in newspapers and magazines and a series of four articles in The New York Review of Books.

AAPOR selected the PREA team for its outstanding work developing a state-of-the art, multi-measure, multi-mode approach that relied on both victim self-report surveys and administrative records. When Congress passed the PREA bill in 2003 it required BJS to measure sexual victimization in correctional facilities and publish rankings of facilities with the highest and lowest rates of sexual victimization. At that time there was no infrastructure for such a data collection and there was little agreement on a methodology that would generate accurate estimates. Both inmate self‐reports of sexual victimization and reports from facility administrators were considered high risk for both over-reporting and underreporting of incidents.

“We had to develop a complex statistical infrastructure that would enable us to measure a very sensitive issue that was far more nuanced than we knew,” said Allen J. Beck, BJS Senior Statistical Advisor and program lead. “The prison rape data collection represents a 10-year effort to build a program for accurately measuring the prevalence of sexual victimization in the nation’s more than 7,600 correctional facilities covered under PREA,” he added.

The BJS-led team actively reached out to all stakeholders as it developed survey protocols, measurement strategies and reporting criteria. The team established definitions of sexual victimization that would hold true for each survey and facility, addressed complex human subject concerns such as protecting respondents from retaliation by other inmates or facility staff, set statistical standards for defining high-rate facilities and developed a plan for disseminating the findings. Almost immediately upon release, the BJS data led to several direct policy or program actions at local, state, and federal levels.

The PREA statistics program includes four separate collections: the Survey on Sexual Violence, the National Inmate Survey, the National Survey of Youth in Custody, and the National Former Prisoner Survey. These combined surveys reach a level of data collection not seen previously. They assess the incidence of sexual victimization in correctional facilities through victim self-reporting, survey facilities’ administrative records, reach out to ex-offenders now living in the community, and survey youth held in juvenile and adult facilities.

The PREA effort shows the effectiveness of combining the talents of BJS and four major data collection agencies―RTI International, Westat, NORC at the University of Chicago, and the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition to Allen J. Beck, BJS principal staff involved in the PREA research were former BJS statisticians Paige M. Harrison, Paul Guerino and Christopher J. Mumola. Among the data collection agencies, the principal staff included David Cantor, John Hartge and Tim Smith at Westat; Marcus Berzofsky, Rachel Caspar and Christopher Krebs at RTI International; Candace Johnson at NORC; and Greta Clark at the U.S. Census Bureau.

Allen J. Beck accepted the 2014 Policy Impact Award from AAPOR on behalf of the PREA team at the annual AAPOR conference in Anaheim, Calif. on May 17.

Dr. Beck is also a former recipient of the Attorney General’s Award for his work on PREA.

Visit www.bjs.gov for all BJS PREA-related reports and documents and additional information about BJS’s statistical publications and programs.

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