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Governors and legislature can build walls, correctional authorities can write prohibitions until the world is indeed as level as a Kansas wheat field, but they cannot stop men from thinking about sex, from masturbating, nor, from other avenues of sexual expression." From anonymous prisoner testimony, Money & Bohner (1980:262).
Wilkinson (2003) states that the society that exists within the prison setting incorporates, but distils, the same aspects of human sexuality which life and culture 'on the outside' experiences, namely influences of social, behavioural, psychological, physical and attitudinal behaviours and inputs. The author's professional practice brings him into regular contact with male prisoners. Understanding their sexualities, their expressions and the consequences of societal denial of prisoner sexuality, such a fundamental human characteristic, is a matter of priority to the author. This assignment intends to explore the concepts and relationships between sexuality, and the prison environment with specific reference to conjugal visitation. The author wishes to contribute and widen the debate around conjugality, to involve opinion formers at all levels of the prison service and particularly to incorporate those embarking on a career in care and custody. Further the author would wish to include those involved in prison policy making.
Debate exists in the literature as to whether conjugal visits are considered appropriate, effective or desirable, and is caught within the dichotomy of a societal need to both punish and rehabilitate prisoners. This dichotomy is recognised by Seymour (2003) and many others. Here Seymour also indicates that society, at its most radical, accepts rape as an
appropriate component of punishment for prisoners. This is demonstrated within Bell's (2006) article on 'deserving it', as part of the punishment for their crimes.
Persuading society of the need to facilitate conjugal rights for prisoners is no easy task. As McClure (2008: 60) succinctly puts it "State sanctioned prison sex makes people squirm..." This finds resonance in Wilkinson (2003, citing Burstein), equating rejection of conjugal visits for prisoners in some societies as expressions of their relatively puritanical and conservative attitudes to sex, in comparison with those of more liberal societies. The author reflects that societal acceptance of conjugal visiting may be more easily facilitated if the term 'conjugal' were dropped in favour of 'private' or 'family' visiting. Language and terminology is important, the negative, sometimes salacious connotations of conjugal visits (with its narrow focus on sex as an act, Macmillan Dictionary, 2010), without the wider focus of the conjugal 'relationship' (Oxford Dictionaries 2010)
Hensley et al (2003) report the lack of research on either prisoners who sexually abuse each other, or of any institutional influences which may affect the reporting of such statistics. Wyatt (2006: 610, citing Stemple) indicates that prison authorities may be disinclined to permit academic research into this area, regarding it with "scepticism and distaste..." Inevitably the high cost of large scale independent research is a likely contributor to the lack of literature. Funding constraints are also likely to account for the fact that the literature, where it exists, is usually American in origin. While transferability and generalisation may be an issue, it seems reasonable to the author to contend that prisoners in this country share many commonalities of experience with their foreign counterparts.
In custodial settings within the United Kingdom (UK) sexual behaviour is forbidden by prison rules (National Aids Map, 2010 citing HM Prison service) as "consensual sex in prison is illegal because prison cells are public places". Here a sexual offence is deemed to have occurred as legalised sexual activity can only take place in private. This is an anomalous situation in comparison with much of European and international prison practice (James 2009, Wyatt 2006), where conjugal visitation, to varying categories of prisoners, is often permitted (Wyatt 2006). Pollock (2010) queries the UK 's inconsistency with much of European prison practice and was informed by a Ministry of Justice spokesperson that, denying conjugality by restricting freedom of association maintains both public confidence and imprisonment effectively. Furthermore, that increasing prison population meant resources had to be channelled towards the aims of the National Offender Management Service. Here the spokesperson acknowledged that although conjugal visitation was permitted in much of Europe, the UK has no current plans to harmonise this position, stating that conjugal visiting would require practical and cultural changes.
Asserting the legal case for conjugality, some have sought to employ Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (1948), which was adopted into UK law by way of the Human Rights Act (2000). This may give some scope in the future for a legal right to conjugal visits for prisoners, but is yet to meet with success in this regard. James (2009) acknowledges that a successful appeal under this Act will necessitate demonstrable argument, showing that sexually distorted cravings arise from the lack of conjugality. Thus far authorities in this country have successfully defended their position, as this part of the
Act has only "qualified right...Government or pubic authority that has broken the right must show that they were justified in doing this". (Environmental Law Centre----)
On reflection it has become clear to the author that prisoner sexuality can be expressed as a continuum, at one end expressed by solitary expression (masturbation), through non-exploitative, consensual homosexual relationships and forms of prostitution. It may be said that at the other end of this scale comes sexualised expressions of pathological behaviours, those that are defined within the constructs of coercion, threatening behaviour, aggression and violence. At its pathological zenith, this is manifested in rape (Edwards 2003). It is important to separate these behavioural distinctions within the overall discussion of prison sexuality. The misrepresentation of the sexuality of prisoners is suggested by considering Soble (2009: 116) who cites Nagel's "...theory of psychologically perverted sexuality" in evoking the concept of the self-consciousness implicit in human sexuality. Here the need for reciprocal arousal between the participants is paramount. Wilkinson (2003), states that as prisoners sexual behaviour is an expression of the customs within the social order of inmate society and that these behaviours (sexual aggression and rape) are not necessarily a product of sexual deprivation, rather a "survival strategy" (Wilkinson 2003:11). From a psychological perspective Maslow (1999: vii) describes the principal components of the survival mechanism as "...self interest, sexuality and aggression". Significant is Seymour's (2003) citing of Tomsen (2002) with the persuasive argument that masculinity is empowered in the prison setting by dominance over and sexual submission by, vulnerable men. This view is supported by Seymour (2003) who argues that dominance, expressed through violence, is a by-product of cultural hyper-masculinity, perpetuated by the
hierarchical and institutional structure of prisons. This results, according to Knox (2006, citing Ristock & Julien 2003) from the heterosexist and homophobic ideology that traverses society and reaches into institutions.
Soble (2009) describing Nagel's theory on 'perverted sexuality' provides the author with the insight that consensual homosexuality is 'normal' sexual behaviour within Nagalian terms. Indeed, it is the only 'normal' sexual expression in UK prisons, where heterosexual sexuality and conjugal visits are forbidden. To the author it is a somewhat sad irony to realise that though theoretically normalised, homosexuality in prisons exists within an ethos of overarching hegemonic masculinity that governs prison settings and their subculture. Knox (2006 p3) makes the "don't ask, don't tell" concept meaningful to the author with the explanation that it is the "heterosexist discourse..." (Knox 2006 p3) within institutional settings which, through the removal of overt discrimination (the need to be seen as treating everybody equally) results in a false (heterosexual) 'equality'. This within the setting of the prison institution leaves homosexuality marginalised. It is the same hegemony that coerces and forces those subjugated by it to make casualties of those who consider themselves heterosexual, to perpetrate, and become victims of, homosexual assault.
The author reflects that prisoners sexuality, expressed through need, gratification and repercussion subsists within Foucault's contention that institutional power, formed from cultural, historical and political considerations (Bracken 2005) , whether expressed through legislature, judiciary, religion, politics, education or the media ( as examples of the "terminal form power takes", Markula-Denison & Pringle 2006:34,citing Foucault 1978),
is the controlling mechanism. Whether or not one ascribes to Foucault's 'anti-naturalistic' contention that sexualities exist only as 'labels' dictated by power, the author contests that prisoners categorize themselves (alongside almost everybody else) in terms of their own perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or transexuality within social constructivism. From the author's perspective, Crabtree's (2009) contention that sexual demarcation through the use of orientation descriptors (labels) is contrary to that of constructionalist theory is persuasive. Crabtree's (2009 citing Spinelli) acknowledges constructionalist theory's contention that "separationist stereotyping" (Crabtree 2009 p255) has little meaning within the lived reality of most people, but argues that ignoring 'labels' jeopardises professional counselling, discrimination experienced by clients and may prevent a comprehensive investigation of sexual identity. Soble (2009) cites both Freud's and Reich's consideration that freedom from civilization's authority, conventions and restrictions is key to understanding human sexuality. The author considers that the political implications for prisoners of such theoretical epistemology of this approach are magnified in that we are all 'sexual prisoners' within this discourse. How much deeper then is the imprisonment of the sexuality of prisoners, further subjugated in their own sexuality, as prisoners of the imprisoned? The suppression of sex, examined within the dynamics of sex and power exists within Foucault's (1979, p6) statement that "If sex is repressed, that is, condemned to prohibition, non-existence and silence, then the mere fact that one is speaking about it has the appearance of a deliberate transgression." Sexuality, within a discourse of a triptych edict of "taboo, non-existence and silence" exists within Foucault's (1979, p5) description of "modern puritanism..." clearly manifests itself powerfully within the prison setting.
Conjugality in the prison setting has two distinct potential benefits. Firstly, it is advocated by those who work within community support organisations that permitting conjugal visits reduces recidivism rates (Sullivan 2003, Wilkinson 2003, Bennetto 1996, Carlson & Cervera 1991). Carlson & Cervera (1991: 279, citing many) contend that "The stability of the marital relationship is important because it is the single best predictor of successful release from prison". From the author's perspective conjugality is persuasively demonstrated by Carlson & Cervera's (1991:284) recognition of its "helping to nurture a fragile marital relationship through the disruptive separation of incarceration". Although this quotation's use of 'marital' may not be entirely suitable to the current debate around conjugal visits, it does give rise to the sense of support couples and their families can engender and share during imprisonment and after release through the privacy that is afforded to them. Wilkinson (2003) contests Carlson & Cervera's (1991) assertion, arguing that conjugal visitation benefits only already stable traditional families.
Indeed Wilkinson (2003) makes a spirited rebuttal of conjugal visiting, claiming a host of impediments, both ideological and practical. Here Wilkinson (2003) claims everything from potential violence to prisoner's partners, increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unwanted pregnancies, legal liabilities, discrimination claims and most tellingly for the author, a paradigm swing towards a harsher environment for prisoners. This Wilkinson (2003) advocates is extremely unpopular amongst taxpayers on the grounds that the financial cost of the associated 'privileges' (tobacco and other recreational costs) is met at their expense. Wilkinson (2003) claims that public opinion wishes to limit privileges which only profit prisoners. This ignores the evidence given above which
describes less recidivism, which all of society benefits from, as well as evidence from Sullivan (2003) and Carlson & Cervera (1991) which highlights the benefits to the prisoners' partners and children of conjugal programmes, in helping to prevent family breakdown. Wilkinson's (2003) numerous examples in countering the claim for conjugal visiting is understood by the author within the construct of Wilkinson's likely perspective, whose role is that of a senior prison administrator, making him an obvious and easy candidate for objectification as a 'pillar' of authoritative power in Foucaultian terms (described by Drori and Meyer 2006), someone who in the author's opinion, may fall prey to the will of 'public opinion'. However to balance this personal opinion the author acknowledges Bennetto (1996 citing Fairweather), then Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland in stating in his annual report that a Canadian programme of conjugal visits may make Scottish prison institutions "peaceful", but again stops short of public endorsement, referring again to oppositional public opinion.
Public opinion is significantly influenced by the media. Pollock's (2010) article (in a limited circulation prisoner magazine) which highlighted and questioned the fact that UK prison policy refuses conjugal visits conflicts with much of Europe. The 'Sun' newspaper's report of 17th May 2010 entitled "Lag demands jail sex visits" castigated Pollock's (2010) article using demeaning and derisory language. This report focused on Pollock's conviction for drug dealing rather than his call for conjugal visiting rights. Crucial to the issue of public opinion formers is The 'Sun' newspaper's average daily circulation figure, which is more than seven and a half million readers (NMA citing NRS, 2010). The difficulties for
those attempting to influence public opinion to introduce conjugal visits should not therefore be underestimated.
Wilkinson's claim of the risk of STI transmission and unwanted pregnancy in prison conjugality visits can be countered with Struckman-Johnson et al's (1996) assertion that prison services (such as sexual health clinics) can provide strategies for support (Newton & McCabe 2008), information, testing, and condom distribution (although this is fraught with questions of legality, as evidenced by National Aids Manual 2010) . The author argues that sexual health professionals could also take a disclosure role, alerting visiting partners of risk regarding their own sexual health, whilst also recognising the dilemmas that surround client confidentiality.
Concerns regarding the potential for increased levels of smuggling that conjugal visiting may afford prisoners are reported by Hensley et al (2002 citing Bennett 1989). Whilst the author has some sympathy with those who consider that conjugality would promote, in particular, drug smuggling, the author agrees with Hensley et al (2002 citing Bennett 1989) that vigilance, searching and specifically, in the author's opinion, body scanners (such as those used in airport security) could be employed most effectively.
There is evidence from recent research studies which advocates the efficacy of conjugal visits to prisoners in the prevention of prisoner sexual assault. However, this is contested (Wyatt 2006, citing Hensley et al). Here, Wyatt (2006) advocates that despite institutional and individual opposition academic researchers consider conjugal visits to be an important
factor in preventing prison rape. However, the lack of a substantial body of evidence proving conjugal efficacy provides those antagonistic to reform with justification. They often repeat the assertion that the only evidence for male rape statistics invariably comes from prisoners self- reporting, described by Wilkinson (2003), with the assertion that prisoners are untrustworthy sources. Wyatt (2006) contests this, stating that prison authorities frequently underestimate the magnitude of male rape for many reasons, including the impact of coercion in sexually abuse - so avoiding more obvious signs of violent rape, prisoners fear reporting rape and "snitching" (Wyatt, citing Hassine 2006: 580 and further validated by Struckman-Johnson et al 1996, citing Eigenburg). Society's ambivalence towards prison rape victims (mentioned earlier), according to Wyatt (2006), may find its expression in unreceptive legislative authorities, law enforcement agencies and prison officials and result in underreporting. Bell (2006) concurs, stating that in the United States of America many prison warders and administrators are indifferent to the plight of sexually abused prisoners.
Wyatt (2006, citing Gray-Ray) reports that the argument for conjugal visits is undermined by reliability concerns, as prisoner response rates to surveys is typically low and sample studies usually small-scale. This gives rise to concerns that transferability and generalisation of the interpretation of the data may be inappropriate. Response rates to surveys may be compromised by the literacy attainment of the prisoners, which are typically lower than that of the general population (Wyatt 2006, citing Gray-Ray). Struckman-Johnson et al (1996) recognise that attempting to overcome this problem with personal interviews is understandably fraught with difficulty. The interview setting (Wyatt
2006, citing Kunselman et al), results in prisoners doubting confidentiality (Wyatt 2006, citing Human Rights Watch and Struckman-Johnson et al), the fear of prosecution if admitting to perpetrating male rape perhaps and most obviously the embarrassment for prisoners in discussing being raped (Wyatt 2006, citing Gray-Ray).
Although there are clearly many problems in attaining reliable statics in sexual assault in prison, there is no doubt that it happens and that its consequences are too frequently traumatic. James asserts that sexual assault in prison leads to "unquantifiable sexual damage from which many struggle to recover" (James 2009). Daniel and Fleming (2005), state that the trauma of coercive sex and male prison rape is evidenced amongst psychiatric factors in some prisoners committing suicide. This trauma can be explained in Foucault's terms, cited by Bevir, 2000) who asserts that people construct their own sense of normality by assessment of their sexual relationships, which results in any 'abnormality' engendering or a sense of sin. Wyatt (2006: 589 citing Hassine) discusses the resultant "severe psychological trauma", and long lasting consequences. According to Bell (2006) male rape victims find it exceptionally difficult to cope with this most serious sexual assault, stating that it's particularly hard to cope with its aftermath as culturally men understand that they are not meant to be cast as victims.
According to Wyatt (2006) contemporary studies indicate that conjugal visiting programmes lessen the incidence of male prison rape. This builds on much earlier research where conjugal visit schemes were shown to reduce incidence of sexual assault in prison (Bernstein 1977). Hensley (2002, citing Hensley et al 2000) states that seventy four percent of inmates considered that conjugal visits reduces homosexuality in prisons (importantly
however, this statistic does not quantify the amount of consensual homosexual behaviour within it).
There is little evidenced literature, but some personal accounts, of the detrimental outcomes of coercive or violent sexual encounters in prison. Resultant suicide (or attempt) alongside long term mental health problems should not be ignored.
More research is needed to ascertain the benefits of conjugal visits in prison to reduce male rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in order to convince prison authorities (and other powerful groups within society) of its worth to prison individuals, their families and wider society as a whole.
The author is aware that the UK Prison Service operates a Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) programme. This is described by Her Majesty's Prison Service (HMPS) (2004) as a programme where "suitable prisoners are released for precisely designed and specific activities, which cannot be provided in prison service establishments". Application requests are routinely considered for the maintenance of family ties. At present this privilege is only extended to the 'lowest risk' prisoners. Whilst the author recognises the risks in broadening the ROTL programme, these justifiable concerns need to be weighed thoughtfully against the benefits that conjugality could afford. ROTL could be used to 'circumnavigate' negative public opinion to conjugal visiting, without significant change to stated prison policy.
In spite of Foucault's rejection of labels of sexuality, contesting that they are a power construct, there can be no doubt that people's sexuality, whatever individuals perceive it to be, must be protected and promoted. To this end the author considers the protection and promotion of sexual wellbeing would be better served within the prison setting by the introduction of conjugal, or perhaps more socially acceptable 'private visits'. The debate in the UK around sexuality is improving, albeit very slowly. The protection of the rights of people s sexuality is widely acknowledged and discussed by most (but excludes some religious) spheres of power. Within the prison environment the debate around protecting prisoners from sexual coercion and aggression needs to take place as a first step towards desperately needed improvement. The debate around conjugality (in this country) is yet to be had. As a society we may reasonably be judged by our treatment of those we imprison. From a philosophical standpoint we need to debate as a society whether our current emphasis on punishment not rehabilitation, is truly in our best interests. A debate around sexuality, its abuse and conjugality may form part of the answer.