Sexual Behavior in Prison Populations Understood Through the Framework of Rational Choice and Exchange Theory

By April N. Terry
2016, Vol. 8 No. 01 | pg. 3/3 |


Researchers have formulated many models in attempting to explain the concept of prison sex; however, none have looked into the possible connection of rational choice and exchange theories in explaining inmate sexual behavior. Although standards such as the Prison Rape Elimination Act serves to prevent and respond to sexual assault(s) of the incarcerated population, research still suggests that such behavior occurs both consensually and non-consensually.

Inmates appear to weigh the costs and benefits associated with engaging in sexual relations with the primary motivations being increased access to commissary and/or other tangible goods in addition to companionship (Wooden & Parker, 1982; Greer, 2000). Additionally, some inmates agree to sexual actions as a form of protection (Trammell, 2011) and group solidarity. The literature suggests that regardless of the combination of motives, inmates engage in rational decision making when weighing the pros and cons for exchanges involving sexual behaviors.

Since many believe that sex between inmates leads to issues such as institutional violence, health concerns, and other financial costs associated with the behavior, identifying the motivations for such behavior is crucial in preventing and intervening in the sexual behavior of inmates. For example, Tewksbury and Conner (2014) suggest that those who violated the rules of the institution in general, were also the ones more likely to defy the prohibitions of sexual activity.

Thus, correctional administration should seek to seriously address and monitor all inmates. With that said, correctional administration need to remain focused on running a safe and secure facility focused on providing basic needs and rehabilitative programs. Thus, according to rational choice and exchange theory, correctional administrators should focus on ensuring that all inmates have access to the items which seem to entice many inmates to act out sexually (e.g. commissary) (Tewksbury & Conner, 2014).


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