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Conjugal Visitation Reduces Sexual Offenses in Prison

Update Date: Mar 23, 2012 02:35 PM EDT

A new study shows that in states where conjugal visits are permitted, there are significantly fewer instances of rape and other sexual offenses between inmates.

At present, there are two opposing theories of the causes of sexual violence. The feminist perspective asserts that sexual violence is motivated primarily by an offender's desire to exert power and control over another individual. Therefore, according to this theory, conjugal visitation should have little or no effect on sexual offenses in prison. In contrast, sexual gratification theory argues that the ultimate motivation for sexual violence is to achieve sexual gratification. Therefore, based on this view, conjugal visitation should reduce sexual violence in prison.

Stewart D'Alessio and his colleagues from Florida International University in the US put the two theories to the test, and analyzed data for the 50 US states from 2004-2006 from a combination of sources - the Directory of Adult and Juvenile Correctional Departments; Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities; and an article published in Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law - to explain the relationship between conjugal visitation and the amount of sexual offending between inmates. They compared the number of yearly inmate-on-inmate sexual offenses reported to prison officials, (including non-consensual sexual acts and abusive sexual contacts) between states that allow conjugal visitaion and those that do not permit the practice.

The study found that the rate of sexual violence was significantly lower in states where inmates are allowed conjugal visits: 57 incidents per 100,000 inmates compared with 226 incidents per 100,000 inmates in states where that the practice is not allowed. This finding supports sexual gratification theory rather than the feminist perspective.

The authors comment, "The observed negative effect of conjugal visitation on sexual offending suggests that more states should consider allowing conjugal visitation as a means to attenuate sexual violence in prison. Conjugal visitation has also been reported to promote family bonding, better inmate discipline and post release adjustment and socialization."

The study is published online in Springer's American Journal of Criminal Justice.

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