The purpose of the National Inmate Survey (NIS) is to gather data on inmates' experiences within the state and federal judicial system. It is part of the Bureau of Justice Statistics Prison Rape Statistics Program (PREA). The primary data gathered as part of this program is on the prevalence of sexual assault and rape in correctional facilities. The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA; P.L. 108-79) requires a 10 percent sample of correctional facilities to be listed by incidence of sexual assault, with a minimum of one prison and one jail facility in each state.
A secondary purpose is to report on an inmate's criminal history, the facility conditions and events experienced during incarceration, and on the person's mental health prior to and during incarceration. The data in this particular study focuses solely on these secondary purposes. The data file does not contain data on sexual assault and rape during the respondent's stay in prison.
Inmates are randomly assigned to receive either a survey of sexual victimization or an alternative survey. Facility staff, nor the interviewer, know which survey is randomly assigned to the inmate. Although respondents are randomly selected to one particular survey the only modules that respondents were asked to complete for this study were on the topics of veteran status, criminal history, facility climate, and mental health.
The survey typically takes an inmate 35 minutes to complete. The interviewer began the survey using the computer asking for basic background information. The remainder of the interview was conducted in private where the inmate interacted with a computer administered
questionnaire using a touchscreen and synchronized
audio instructions delivered via headphones. The interviewer either left the room or moved away from the computer while the inmate completed the interview.
Between February 2011 and March 2012, 233 state and federal prisons were randomly selected across the nation. Of these 233 total facilities there were 164 state male facilities, 41 state female facilities, 21 federal male facilities, and 7 federal female facilities. A total of 73,873 inmates were selected during data collection. A total of 43,156 inmates ended up participating in the survey. Of that total, 41,822 completed the modules for criminal history, facility climate, and mental health. About 90 percent of the respondents completed the modules through the sexual victimization survey while the other 10 percent completed the same modules through the alternative survey.
Please refer to the codebook for details about the study sampling provided by the Principal Investigator.
Inmates age 18 or older held in state or federal prison.
Questions from the NIS-3 included in this data file are from five of the sections of the larger questionnaire:
- Section A: Inmate Demographics - race, ethnicity, education, relationship status, sexual history, sexual orientation
- Section B: Criminal History - reasons for serving time in jail, total time spent in jail
- Section V: Veteran Status - branch and wars served in while in the military
- Section S: Facility Climate - rating of facility staff, interactions with other inmates, experiences with assault, injury, and theft while in jail
- Section R: Mental Health - past 30 days, last 12 months, and lifetime experiences with aspects of mental health such as depression and anxiety
- Section M: Interview Debriefing Items - interviewer's assessment of respondents effort, understanding, and experience during the interview
The last section of the data file are derived variables created by the Principal Investigator.