The inmates of American prisons are, as a rule, deprived of any heterosexual activity. The general public perceives this deprivation as part of their deserved punishment and, so far, has shown little enthusiasm for reform. As a result, the only types of sexual behavior found in prison today are solitary masturbation and homosexual intercourse. This is true for both men's and women's prisons.
Under the circumstances one might suppose that at least homosexuals are sexually satisfied in prison, but this is not actually the case. After all, among prisoners, as in the rest of the population, heterosexuals are in the majority, and their sexual frustration is immense. A great many of them vent this frustration by sexually assaulting younger and weaker inmates, i.e., by engaging in homosexual rape and other forms of vicious and destructive homosexual conduct. Thus, the widespread homosexual activity in prison, far from providing real satisfaction, is basically negative and oppressive. It is usually violent and, in fact, often expresses hate and contempt for its victims. Thus, paradoxically, it reinforces the general homophobia which is so typical of our culture. In short, most prisoners, regardless of their orientation, are likely to lead a degrading and dehumanizing sex life while "inside", and this will certainly leave its mark even after their return to freedom. Furthermore, in many cases it is not only the prisoners who are sexually deprived, but also their spouses or lovers. Wives and husbands may have great difficulty keeping their marriages intact while they wait for the release of their imprisoned partners. However, not all returned prisoners are able to readjust to their previous sexual partners, and thus their marriages or love relationships may break up after all.
All of this seems to suggest that the sexual deprivation and resulting brutalization of prisoners may not be in the best interest of society. Indeed, in the meantime some countries, such as Mexico and Canada, have tried to offer some sexual relief for their prisoners by allowing them "conjugal visits" or holiday furloughs. Such programs have also been tried in Europe and in a few states of the U.S., most notably Mississippi and California. Under a "conjugal visit" program, inmates can be visited overnight in relative privacy by their wives; holiday furloughs or overnight leaves are granted to selected prisoners who can briefly pursue their sexual interests in the community, after which they return to prison. These reforms may not only preserve marriages, but also help to reduce sexual tensions and homosexual attacks among the prisoners themselves.
However, since only a fraction of the prison population is involved, no great overall impact can be expected. Furloughs are exceptional by definition, and "conjugal visits" naturally exclude unmarried and homosexual partners. It should also be pointed out that there have never been conjugal visit programs in female prisons. In view of these facts, the existing modest sexual relief programs are therefore inadequate. At best, they are first steps in the right direction. The general sexual oppression of the imprisoned can be brought to an end only through a comprehensive reform of our entire penal system.