No Stroking in the Pokey: Promulgating Penological Policies Prohibiting Masturbation Among Inmate Populations

Journal of Law & Social Deviance, Vol. 7, p. 80, 2014

45 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2014

Date Written: January 2, 2014


In law school, “gunning” means to participate assertively during class discussion, but, in prison, “gunning” typically means to masturbate at the sight of a (female) guard, who is able to observe that the male inmate is masturbating. “Gunning” can more generally describe public masturbation in prison. Most U.S. prisoners are prohibited from masturbating by state and federal policies, however. Among academics and bloggers, advocacy for prisoners’ rights to masturbate has become more popular in recent years. Yet, autoeroticism continues to be proscribed for inmates for important reasons, some of which are set forth in this Article. In Section II, this Article explains that prisoners have little right to privacy, and public masturbation is not socially acceptable within prison or in the general population. An important reason for maintaining this taboo is the high comorbidity between public masturbation and other paraphilic sex crimes. Thus, states’ policies support that public masturbation among inmates could negatively impact society within prison, and upon inmates’ reentry into the general population. Allowing public masturbation in prison would reduce the societal benefits of incarceration and some prisoners’ rehabilitative benefits. Section III further justifies proscriptions on masturbation by arguing that frequent masturbation can adversely affect energy levels and drive. Therefore, masturbation could lower inmates’ desires to improve themselves while in prison. Though arguments and studies may postulate that masturbation can soothe, create pleasure, and alleviate boredom and frustration, inmates should use their vitality, time, and energy to learn, rehearse, and engage in more sophisticated, productive, and deeply satisfying coping skills and activities. Section IV discusses examples that link masturbation and sex abuse within prison and the general population to argue that elimination of all sexual contact in prison, including masturbation, is essential to protect inmates from such abuse. This Section explains why all sexual contact in prison should be considered to be nonconsensual. In male correction facilities, the presence of semen on a person or object ought to be considered to be evidence of a crime, especially when assault has been alleged. A defense of masturbation should not thwart the potential strength of this evidence. The states’ interest in investigating and punishing sexual assault perpetrated by inmates or guards justifies policies that eliminate consensual emissions and masturbation. In cases in which male inmates suffer from nocturnal emissions, then such occurrences should be reported to staff. If male or female prisoners cannot refrain from voluntary or involuntary masturbation, then mental health professionals should treat them. California Department of Corrections offers a model for this response.

Keywords: masturbation, prison, sex crime, exhibitionism, penology

Suggested Citation

Cusack, Carmen M., No Stroking in the Pokey: Promulgating Penological Policies Prohibiting Masturbation Among Inmate Populations (January 2, 2014). Journal of Law & Social Deviance, Vol. 7, p. 80, 2014. Available at SSRN:

Carmen M. Cusack (Contact Author)

Nova Southeastern University ( email )

3301 College Avenue
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314
United States

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