E-NEWS - 2009

JDI Op-ed on Prisoner Rape


June 21, 2009 -

Dear Friends,

Just Detention International and Oregon's Department of Corrections had a joint op-ed published by The Oregonian yesterday. As you will see, the article is linked to the release tomorrow of the first-ever national standards addressing sexual abuse in detention.

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission will launch the new standards at a press conference tomorrow, June 23, at 10:00 am at the National Press Club, Holeman Lounge, 529 14th Street NW, 13th floor, Washington, DC 20045.

The Oregonian: Rape is Not Part of the Penalty

By: Max Williams and Lovisa Stannow

June 21, 2009

When the government removes someone’ s liberty, it takes on an absolute responsibility to keep that person safe, including from sexual abuse. This is a difficult task and, unfortunately, in prisons nationwide the failure of government agencies to uphold that responsibility is all too common.

Oregon is no exception. Sexual violence does occur in our prisons. What sets Oregon apart, however, is the Department of Corrections’ effort over the last five years to end this type of abuse. The most recent initiative was launched through a unique collaboration between Oregon corrections officials and national human rights advocates.

On Tuesday, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission is due to release the first–ever binding national standards aimed at preventing and addressing sexual abuse in U.S. prisons and jails. Mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, and developed with input from corrections officials, prisoner rape survivors, and advocates, these standards have the potential to become the most important tool so far in the effort to end sexual abuse in detention.

The national standards spell out requirements for prison housing decisions, staff training, inmate education, and sexual assault investigations. The U.S. attorney general has one year to issue a rule codifying them. Governors will then have another year to confirm that their states are in compliance with the standards. Those who fail to do so risk losing 5 percent of their corrections-related federal funding. That is not, however, why the Oregon DOC has made the bold decision to seek compliance with the standards even before it is required to do so.

The reason for that decision is simple: Sexual abuse in detention is wrong. It is an affront to our society's basic values. It causes terrible harm to survivors and creates unsafe prisons for staff and inmates alike.

In order to become an “early adopter” of the standards, the Department of Corrections has entered into a partnership with Just Detention International, an organization whose mission is to end sexual abuse in detention. Starting in 2008, DOC officials and JDI staff have worked to identify strengths and weaknesses in DOC policies, as well as in day-to-day practices at three prisons –– Oregon State Correctional Institution, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and Snake River Correctional Institution.

JDI experts have trained prison staff in sexual violence awareness, interviewed inmates and identified areas where the DOC is out of compliance with the standards. Working together, we have made concrete improvements, adding training modules, creating inmate hotlines, and improving the information that prisoners receive upon arrival in prison.

The problem of sexual abuse in detention is deeply rooted and will not go away without a fight. There undoubtedly will be setbacks, but it is a battle that we can win. That is what Congress acknowledged in 2003 when it passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act. That is what today's national standards make clear, and that is what the DOC and JDI have recognized by working together.

Now, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder must send an important signal about the urgency with which we need to address prisoner rape. He can do so by ensuring that the standards provide the tools and protections Congress intended.

Whatever crime someone has committed, rape must not be part of the penalty.

Max Williams is director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. Lovisa Stannow is executive director of Just Detention International.

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