National Archive of Criminal Justice Data

This dataset is maintained and distributed by the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD), the criminal justice archive within ICPSR. NACJD is primarily sponsored by three agencies within the U.S. Department of Justice: the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Ethno-Methodological Study of the Subculture of Prison Inmate Sexuality in the United States, 2004-2005 (ICPSR 4556)

Principal Investigator(s): Fleisher, Mark S., Case Western Reserve University; Krienert, Jessie L., Illinois State University


This study of prison rapes used an ethnographic, culturally relativistic methodology and was conducted between April 2004 and September 2005. The study was conducted in 30 correctional institutions, 23 men's and 7 women's, in 10 states. All 23 men's institutions were the highest-security level men's prison available in each state. When women's institutions were multi-security level and housed minimum, medium, and high-security inmates, they were selected from the highest-security level housing units within the institution. A total of 564 (409 male and 155 female) inmates were interviewed. The inmates to be interviewed were selected from the general prison population using a probability sample design. Average interview length was just under an hour. The sole mode of data collection was an open-ended, semistructured inmate interview. To ensure comparability of answers, surveys were designed with each query resting on a particular concept or variable. The same interview instrument was used for both male and female inmates. Questions were asked about inmate prison history, mental health, rape, social process, domestic violence and relationships, staff, institutional factors, and perception of social roles, and demographic information. Also included are lexical responses and free list questions such as "Why do inmates have sex with other inmates?"

Access Notes

  • One or more files in this data collection have special restrictions ; consult the restrictions note to learn more. You can apply online for access to the restricted-use data. A login is required to apply.

    A downloadable version of data for this study is available however, certain identifying information in the downloadable version may have been masked or edited to protect respondent privacy. Additional data not included in the downloadable version are available in a restricted version of this data collection. For more information about the differences between the downloadable data and the restricted data for this study, please refer to the codebook notes section of the PDF codebook. Users interested in obtaining restricted data must complete and sign a Restricted Data Use Agreement, describe the research project and data protection plan, and obtain IRB approval or notice of exemption for their research.

    Any public-use data files in this collection are available for access by the general public. Access does not require affiliation with an ICPSR member institution.


DS0:  Study-Level Files
DS1:  Quantitative Data - Download All Files (5.84 MB)
SAS    SPSS    Stata    ASCII   
ASCII + SAS Setup    SPSS Setup    Stata Setup   
DS2:  Male Inmate Interview Data
No downloadable data files available.
DS3:  Female Inmate Interview Data
No downloadable data files available.

Study Description


Fleisher, Mark S., and Jessie L. Krienert. ETHNO-METHODOLOGICAL STUDY OF THE SUBCULTURE OF PRISON INMATE SEXUALITY IN THE UNITED STATES, 2004-2005. ICPSR04556-v1. Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University [producer], 2005. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2006-12-21.

Persistent URL:

Export Citation:

  • RIS (generic format for RefWorks, EndNote, etc.)
  • EndNote XML (EndNote X4.0.1 or higher)


This study was funded by:

  • United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2003-RP-BX-1001)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:    correctional facilities, correctional guards, female inmates, inmate attitudes, inmate populations, inmates, male inmates, perceptions, prison conditions, prison security, prison violence, sexual assault, sexual attitudes

Smallest Geographic Unit:    none

Geographic Coverage:    United States

Time Period:   

  • 2004--2005

Date of Collection:   

  • 2004-04--2005-09

Unit of Observation:    individual

Universe:    All prison inmates, male and female, in high-security general population, nonfederal prisons in the United States from April 2004 through September 2005.

Data Type(s):    machine-readable text, and survey data

Data Collection Notes:

(1) Details on the treatment of interview text after collection, including cleaning and coding, can be found in the final report. (2) More information on the methods used to create the quantitative data file can be found in the codebook. (3) The inmate interview files are available through restricted access procedures in two ZIP files. The file contains the 409 interviews with male inmates and the Atlas/ti hermeneutic unit file, NIJ-206.hpr. File contains the 155 female inmate interviews and the Atlas/ti hermeneutic unit file, NIJ-206.hpr.


Study Purpose:    This study sought to uncover the cultural meaning of concepts linked to sexuality and rape using inmates' interviews to gather perceptions of contemporary prison social life and to transmit prison and race cultural history. The study did not gather rape prevalence or incidence data. The goal was to understand prison rape as a cultural concept, a cultural artifact, which inmates may know something about even if they had never been raped, threatened, or physically or sexually intimidated.

Study Design:    In order to explore symbolic, linguistic, and functional issues in inmate culture linked to prison sexual aggression, this study was conducted with an ethnographic methodology. Given the sensitive nature of research on prison rape and to increase the likelihood of a positive response from state corrections directors, it was decided that the study would be conducted with the consent of the American Correctional Association (ACA) and the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA). In order to meet this goal, an agreement of anonymity applying to regions, states, and institutions was reached with input from both agencies. The chairman of the Executive Committee of ACA sent an email letter to all members of ASCA, explaining the nature of the project and requesting cooperation. Next, two meetings were held with the ASCA research committee, explaining the research and responding to questions. The study was conducted in 30 correctional institutions, 23 men's and 7 women's, in 10 states. All 23 men's institutions were the highest-security level men's prison available in each state. When women's institutions were multi-security level and housed minimum, medium, and high security inmates, interview inmates were selected from the highest-security level housing units within the institution. Between April 2004 and September 2005, a total of 564 inmates, 409 males and 155 females, were interviewed. The inmates to be interviewed were selected from the prison general population using a probability sample design. Once selected, inmates were brought to interview rooms following a predetermined procedure. In each institution inmates were given a pass or had been placed on call-out the day before an interview. Inmates arrived and handed their pass to the liaison and waited to be picked up by an interviewer who escorted them to the interview room. All interviews were conducted in private rooms within the institution, outside of the view of correctional officers, other staff, other inmates, or other interview rooms. On a rare occasion, for institutional security purposes, correctional officer line staff were present in the general interview area. However, never was an institution staff member present in an interview room, nor physically close enough to hear interview content. Upon selection, inmates were told by institution staff they had been chosen for a research study. No additional information was provided to inmates by staff. Once inmate interviewees were settled in the interview room, interviewers identified themselves and began the informed consent procedure. The interviewer reviewed the approved Institution Consent Document paragraph by paragraph with each inmate. Interviewers stressed that the interviews were voluntary, that inmates could refuse to answer any question or questions, that they could end the interview at any time, and that early termination of an interview would not lead to a penalty implemented by the institution. Average interview length was just under an hour in length. The sole mode of data collection was inmate interviews an open-ended, semistructured inmate interview. To ensure comparability of answers, surveys were designed with each query resting on a particular concept or variable. The same interview instrument was used for both male and female inmates. The interview instrument was developed in a three-part process. First, a thorough analysis of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 was utilized to identify basic themes. Next, a thorough review of published prison sex and rape literature was conducted to ensure coverage of previously identified themes. Finally, detailed discussions of prison sexual culture, general violence, and sexual violence were conducted with a panel of former prison inmates comprised of one women and four men who had spent between 10 and 15 years in prison. Interview data were collected in near-verbatim transcriptions of inmate interviews. Interviewers typed question responses as close to verbatim as possible into a Microsoft Word interview template. All narratives were coded using the qualitative analysis program, Atlas/ti. The co-principal investigator made final decisions on coding. In an attempt to offer secondary, but quantitative data, data for some questions were pulled by hand from narrative responses and placed into SPSS. The co-principal investigator began this process by identifying which survey questions would likely yield quantifiable information. Answers for the selected questions were then taken from each raw interview by the co-principal investigator. In order to verify the entered data, SPSS data entry builder was used.

Sample:    High-security male and female institutions were targeted within each consenting state. All 23 men's institutions were the highest-security level men's prison available in each state. When institutions were multi-security level and housed minimum, medium, and high-security women inmates, interviewed inmates were selected from the highest security level housing units within the institution. Therefore, all 30 institutions contained high-security, general population inmates. Interviewed inmates came from the general prison population. Not included were special inmate populations including inmates in administrative detention, disciplinary segregation, hospitalized inmates, inmates in residential substance abuse units, inmates in mental health residential units or protective custody, non-sentenced inmates, inmates in transit units, and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detainees or deportees. In total, 409 male inmates and 155 female inmates were interviewed. To select a sample of general population inmates, procedures were based on practices used in classical population probability sampling in which a systematic sample is selected using a random start and a fixed selection-interval number thereafter. The number of general population inmates on an institution's sample roster was divided by the number of subjects required by the projected number of interviews conducted in a week. A staff member was asked to pick a number in the range of one up to the interval number. The first potential subject corresponded to that inmate numbered on the sampling roster. To select the second inmate, the interval number was added to the number of the first inmate selected. This pattern was continued until the minimum number of inmates was selected. Fifteen to twenty inmates per institution were then added to account for refusals, transfers, medical care, and other unexpected circumstances.

Weight:    none

Mode of Data Collection:    face-to-face interview

Data Source:

The data were collected from inmate interviews using an open-ended, semistructured interview.

Description of Variables:    The quantitative data file contains demographic variables on the respondent including sex, age, race, street sexual orientation, marital status, whether ever divorced, and number of children. Variables on the institution include whether conjugal visits are allowed, months on the current living unit, inmate count, and unit style. Inmate prison history variables include current conviction, current sentence, number of prior convictions, number of months in prison on current conviction, whether ever in federal prison or juvenile detention, time spent in federal prison or juvenile detention, number of times sent to "the hole", and why sent to "the hole". Mental health variables include treatment on the street, voluntary treatment in prison, past abuse, and street same-sex experiences. Variables pertaining to rape include knowing a rapist or rape victim who was killed, knowing a rape victim who committed suicide, if there is group or one-on-one rape, if rape is a big threat, effect of rape on quality of life, if the friends of a rape victim would retaliate, if a rapist is entitled to sex, if respondent knows for sure a rape occurred or has heard about a rape, if rape is the same as turning an inmate out, if there is rape folklore, and if another inmate has ever been attracted to the respondent. Staff variables include whether officers try to prevent inmates from having sex, if officers try to prevent rape, if respondent knows of cases of officers having sex with or raping inmates, if a transfer or going to protective custody will help an inmate being pressed for sex, if raped inmates report rape to officers, if reporting rape is considered snitching, if homosexuals have influence over officers, and if the respondent has heard officers talking about rape. Institutional variables include if the institution can protect you from rape and if rape guidelines are posted. Other variables include whether family terms are used in the institution, if couples date, if there is domestic violence, whether homosexuals have power or hold important jobs, and the respondent's perceptions on how many inmates out of 100 from the general prison population would be all-out gay, "on the down low", straight and not "on the down low", are men/studs or punks/femmes, and how many couples there might be. The qualitative interview files include the same variables but also include open-ended questions in areas such as why inmates have sex with other inmates, general attitudes towards sex and rape, descriptions of rapes the respondent knows or has heard about, family histories, details on questions about mental health treatment, same-sex experiences, relationships between inmates and officers, rape folklore stories, descriptions of rapists and rape victims, and terms used by inmates to describe those who buy sex, sell sex, and press others for sex.

Response Rates:    On average, two inmates per institution chose not to participate or to terminate the interview early.

Presence of Common Scales:    In Part 1, several Likert-type scales were used, and in Parts 2 and 3, none were used.

Extent of Processing:   ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Standardized missing values.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.


Original ICPSR Release:   2006-12-21

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