9 key findings & 4 recommendations from the Commission on Sex in Prison report

Prisoners talk frankly about sex behind bars

Sex in prison


The Commission on Sex in Prison published its fifth and final briefing paper today called Sex in prison: Experiences of former prisoners.

The Commission was established by the Howard League for Penal Reform and includes eminent academics, former prison governors and health experts.

LIVE BLOG: our coverage starts at 10am today

Below are the key findings and recommendations from the report.

The report by Dr Alisa Stevens, Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Southampton, features accounts from 26 former prisoners speaking about their experiences of sex behind bars.

The experts tried to interview current prisoners, but the Ministry of Justice would not grant access.


9 highlights from Commission on Sex in Prison report

  1. Porn and masturbation: there was a tacit acceptance by prison staff of both pornography and masturbation. There is no prison rule prohibiting sex between prisoners, but most prison staff do not allow prisoners to have sex.
  2. Coercive sex: Most interviewees thought that coercive sex rarely occurs in British prisons, but three male interviewees said they had been raped by other prisoners. Three others had been threatened with rape by other prisoners. But rape in prison is certain to be significantly under reported.
  3. Prison staff: guards were sometimes aware of sexual activity, but exercised their discretion not to intervene. Prisoners ‘caught in the act’ or considered by staff to be behaving inappropriately could be charged with a disciplinary offence.
  4. Gay and bisexual men: most were “fairly” or “totally” open about their sexuality, but were discreet about their sexual activities. They usually had sex in the cell of one of the participants or in the showers, but some men who shared cells had sex at night.
  5. Gay for the stay: Some men who identified themselves as heterosexual participated in same-sex activity, but did not acknowledge this. Heterosexual men who engage in sexual activity with men ‘out of necessity’ do not think it affects or alters their sexual identity.
  6. “Sexual favours”: prisoners who were poor or who became indebted to others – typically as a result of drug habits or gambling losses – would offer “sexual favours” in lieu of payment or in return for money to buy things they wanted.
  7. “Grooming”: vulnerable individuals who were socially isolated and lacked external financial support were often targeted or “groomed” for sex, which was only offered as a commercial exchange.
  8. Safe sex: the availability of condoms varied from prison to prison. Some sexually active men were refused condoms while others were able to obtain them, but often in circumstances which did not allow for any privacy.
  9. Number of sexual partners: interviewees had between one and 35 partners in prison.



4 recommendations from Commission on Sex in Prison report

  1. National survey “urgently required”: the report recommends an independent survey fully supported by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) to understand better the scale of consensual and coercive sex in prison.
  2. Better policies: Coherently formulated and consistently applied policies are urgently needed. These must prioritise the protection of prisoners vulnerable to coerced sexual activity or unsafe sexual practice, and staff must be told which are practical and enforceable
  3. Healthcare: prisoners should receive equivalent healthcare services to those available in the community.They should also have easy and confidential access to condoms and other forms of protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  4. Training: prison staff need training and clear guidance on how to respond to consensual sexual activity and how to pro-actively prevent and respond to sexual assault cases.



4 more reports from the Commission on Sex in Prison

Here are the Commission’s previous four reports:

  1. Consensual sex among men in prison
  2. Women in prison: coercive and consensual sex
  3. Coercive sex in prison
  4. Healthy sexual development of children in prison


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