Violence and Victims, Volume 24, Number 6, 2009
Feelings of Safety Inside Prison
Among Male Inmates With
Different Victimization Experiences
Nancy Wolff, PhD
Jing Shi, MS
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick
Correctional facilities have a responsibility to take “reasonable measures” to preserve and
protect inmate safety. The extent to which people inside prison feel safe from victimization
is explored using a sample of approximately 7,000 adult male inmates housed in 13 pris-
ons. The majority of male inmates reported no victimization in the past 6 months and that
they felt safe, especially from sexual abuse and assault. Levels of feeling safe diminished
for inmates who experienced victimization. Inmate perceptions of safety varied between
facilities. Variation in perceptions of safety among harmful situations and between facili-
ties provides useful information about inmate safety and ways to improve it (n = 104).
Keywords: victimization; prison; safety; sexual assault; male inmates
Inmates are threatened in prison. . . . An inmate may feel chronically unsafe or relive
unassimilated traumas time and time again. He may feel unsettled, tense, unsure,
and hurt. ( Toch, 1977, p. 176)
ncarceration deprives liberty from those who are incarcerated and, in so doing,
imposes a duty of protection on the government entity invoking it. The duty of pro-
tection required of penal institutions is articulated in Article 10 of the International
Covenant on Civil Rights and Political Rights ( ICCPR ), an international treaty ratified
by the United States. According to Article 10, “[a]ll persons deprived of their liberty
shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human
person” ( Rodley, 1999, p. 286). Rarely, however, is this international standard appealed
to by people who are incarcerated in the United States or assumed by their correctional
entities. Instead, these groups look to the U.S. Constitution for protection and guidance.
Although the Constitution does not literally guarantee humane treatment of incarcerated
persons, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel
and unusual punishment” in ways that impose a duty of protection on the government
for the people who it incarcerates. According to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Framer v.
Brennan ( 1994):
The Constitution “does not mandate comfortable prisons,” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S.
337, 349 ( 1981 ), but neither does it permit inhumane ones, and it is now settled that “the
treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are
subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment.” Helling, 509 U.S., at __ (slip op., at 5).
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Feelings of Safety Inside Prison 801
In its prohibition of “cruel and