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How Dangerous Is Jail?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on
We hear horror stories all the time about jail, from jokes about sexual assault to real cases of inmates dying in jail cells, and most of us are fine assuming the worst things imaginable happen behind bars. But even people who have been convicted of crimes should not be subjected to additional violence while incarcerated. So how safe or dangerous are our jails and prisons?

Inmate Safety

Fortunately, the Bureau of Prisons keeps accurate statistics on assaults that occur on inmates, assuming, generously, that all assaults are reported. While the assault rate can vary depending on the level of security of the prison (maximum security prisons have a higher rate than minimum security facilities), the latest numbers show the overall rate of serious assaults in all prisons is 1 per every 5,000 inmates each month. In 2013, there were an estimated 1,574,700 people in U.S. jails and prisons. That means about 315 serious assaults occur each month in jails, about 10 per day. And that's just the "serious" assaults. Less serious assaults happen at a rate of around 6 per month for every 5,000 prisoners. These "224" assaults include assaults causing grievous bodily harm, and, given the same prison population, occur around 60 times every day. So do inmates have any options when they're injured in jail or prison? Reporting assault to prison authorities may not always sound like the best choice. And given the limitations on suing private prison employees, it may seem like they have no choice at all. But victims of abuse or mistreatment while incarcerated could:
  • File a CRIPA Complaint: The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) allows inmates to report incidents of abuse and rights violations to the Department of Justice (DOJ);
  • File a Section 1983 lawsuit: Abuse in prison, like police brutality, could be a violation of an inmate's civil rights under the Fourth, Eighth, or Fourteenth Amendment;
  • File a state tort claim: Some tort laws regarding negligence or battery could provide injured inmates some legal recourse.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of assault or abuse while in jail or prison, you should report the incident, and possibly contact an experienced criminal attorney near you. Related Resources:
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