Technology Used to Assess Incidence of Sexual Assaults on Inmates

As part of the first nationwide effort to assess and reduce the incidence of sexual assaults among prisoners in state and federal correctional facilities, RTI International has been awarded $2.6 million through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics to develop a touch-screen computer survey to collect private information from inmates across the United States.

From RTI International :

RTI Technology Used to Assess Incidence of Sexual Assaults on Inmates

As part of the first nationwide effort to assess and reduce the incidence of sexual assaults among prisoners in state and federal correctional facilities, RTI International has been awarded $2.6 million through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics to develop a touch-screen computer survey to collect private information from inmates across the United States.

The study, mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, will use technology RTI pioneered to increase the accuracy of information provided by people being interviewed on sensitive topics. The technology, called ACASI (audio computer-assisted self-interview), has been used for interviews focusing on abortion, drug use, HIV risk behaviors and sexual behavior.

Survey participants use headphones connected to a laptop computer to listen to pre-recorded questions and then enter their responses directly into the computer. Studies have confirmed that survey participants are more willing to report sensitive behaviors using this technology than through traditional interviewing methods.

”Ensuring the safety of inmate participants and protecting the privacy of the data they provide are essential to the success of this project,” said Rachel Caspar of RTI International’s Survey Research Division, who is principal investigator on the project. ”The technology being used and the survey design will allow us to address both these issues.”

In addition to the increased privacy and confidentiality introduced by ACASI, RTI is designing the survey so that it takes an equal time to complete for all participants. Without this safeguard in place, an inmate who takes a long time to complete the interview might be assumed by other inmates or staff to have reported experiencing sexual assault. This, in turn, could compromise the privacy and safety of that inmate and put him or her at increased risk of victimization.

Researchers also plan to use data collected to identify facilities with a low occurrence of sexual assaults and the factors that work to reduce such incidents.

RTI co-principal investigator Chris Krebs said the ultimate goal of the survey is to find ways to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault in correctional facilities by identifying inmate and situational characteristics that increase risk.

”By enacting the PREA legislation, Congress has recognized that inmates have a right to be safe from this kind of victimization to the extent that it can be prevented,” Krebs said. ”RTI’s work to develop an appropriate interview instrument for the survey will make an important contribution to future prevention efforts.”

In addition to developing the ACASI instrument, RTI is charged with conducting a field test of the full methodology with approximately 2,500 inmates (both male and female) in as many as 25 correctional facilities around the country.

Once testing is complete, federal officials plan to conduct a full-scale national survey in up to 900 correctional facilities annually beginning in 2006.

RTI News Media Contacts

Email: [email protected]

Kathy Pitts: 919-990-8388

Patrick Gibbons: 919-541-6136

PO Box 12194

Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-2194

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