Data shows decrease in prison sex abuse reports, but advocates say fear and ambivalence persist

Under the mentorship of Jodie Mozdzer Gil, associate professor of Journalism at Southern Connecticut State University, W. Tanner Bryant began reporting this story in a data journalism course in spring 2021, and completed reporting over the summer. Bryant graduated from Southern in May 2021.

The Connecticut Health Investigative Team published the story in October 2021. Click here to view the full story on C-HIT’s website.

For eight months in 1995, LaResse Harvey says, she was held as a sex slave by her cellmate at York Correctional Institution in Niantic.

LaResse Harvey (Left) and Tracie Bernardi met in prison and are the co-founders of Once Incarcerated. (Melanie Stengel)

In the 26 years since Harvey’s assault, the landmark Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was signed into federal lawThe legislation gave prisoners several avenues to report sexual misconduct; required changes to buildings for added safety, such as adding doors with windows and installing more cameras; and mandated regular audits of each facility.

But people incarcerated in Connecticut say they still face sexual abuse from other prisoners and guards and that reporting the crimes isn’t always worth the consequences.