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Survey of High Risk Inmate Behaviors in the Oregon Prison System

NCJ Number
Paul Bellatty Ph.D.; Don Grossnickle
Date Published
June 2004
22 pages
This study examined the high-risk behaviors found among inmates in the Oregon prison system.
Individuals who engage in high-risk behavior are more likely to have hepatitis or HIV than those who do not engage in such behavior. If incarcerated, these individuals are likely to continue this behavior without the use of precautions, and may continue to do so after returning to their communities. Therefore, minimizing the spread of contagious disease within Oregon’s prison system will most likely provide long-term benefits to the community. The goals of this research were to estimate the incidence of high-risk inmate behaviors and estimate the incidence of sexual assault in Department of Corrections (DOC) institutions. The high-risk behaviors surveyed included: receiving a tattoo, giving a tattoo, receiving a body piercing, using IV drugs, and being involved with sexual activity, either consensual or nonconsensual. The study involved a random sample of inmates from each participating DOC prison completing a one-page questionnaire. The total number of male respondents was 236, and the total number of female respondents was 97, for an overall response rate of 95 percent. The data were extrapolated to the male and female prison populations for the entire Oregon prison system. Analysis of the data found that for male inmates about 800 receive tattoos, about 300 provide tattoos, 350-400 had a body piercing, about 250 use IV drugs, and 400-550 were sexually involved, of which about 150 were non-consensual. For female inmates, the survey revealed that about 35 receive tattoos, 5-30 receive body piercings, 10 or fewer use IV drugs, 50-70 are sexually involved, and virtually all female sexual activity is consensual. In addition, the data showed that at least 75 percent of the tattooing, about 70 percent of the body piercing, 80-85 percent of the IV drug use, and about 95 percent of the sexual activity occurred in the medium/maximum prisons. The survey also found that up to 175 sexual assaults occur in Oregon prisons each year, representing approximately 1.6 percent of the inmate population. The study shows that high-risk behaviors are not common within the Oregon DOC, however, more high-risk activity occurs in the higher custody prisons. The study also reveals that DOC’s current sanctions and security measures are effective in limiting participation in high-risk activities. Nonetheless, inmates engaged in these activities pose a risk to other inmates and the community after release. 4 tables and Addendum: Institutional Response to Federal Legislation “Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003”