Sexual violence in U.S. detention facilities is a human rights crisis. Whether committed by corrections officials or by other inmates, prisoner rape constitutes torture under international law. The U.S. has ratified two binding treaties that explicitly prohibit torture, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. JDI works to ensure that the U.S. fulfills its obligations under these international treaties. 

Universal human rights standards have the strength to endure shifts in national, state, and local politics. As such, they are an especially important tool in the U.S. today, challenging claims of U.S. ‘exceptionalism’ and efforts of authorities to erode individual protections in the name of the ‘war on terror.’

JDI believes that compliance with international human rights laws is a critical component of ensuring inmate safety. To this end, JDI contributes to monitoring of U.S. treaty compliance by providing information to U.N. agencies. For example, after JDI submitted a shadow report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, to inform its review of U.S. compliance with the Convention, the Committee expressed concern about sexual violence in domestic facilities and urged the U.S. government to urgently address this crisis.

JDI is now working to encourage U.S. ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), which would significantly improve independent oversight of U.S. detention facilities. Most recently, as part of the Universal Periodic Review, a new United Nations process that assesses the human rights records of member nations every four years, JDI submitted a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council and provided testimony urging the Obama administration to sign the OPCAT and adopt strong national standards aimed at ending sexual abuse in detention. In addition, JDI recently submitted a report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for consideration in its development of international standards to protect the human rights of persons deprived of liberty throughout the Americas.  

JDI also works to bring basic international human rights standards into U.S. prisons and jails. As part of that effort, JDI has developed a groundbreaking human rights training for corrections officials that focuses on every person’s absolute right to be free from torture -- including state-sanctioned sexual violence -- and that makes clear the responsibility of corrections officials to protect inmates from sexual abuse. JDI has presented this training to hundreds of prison officials across the country.

For more information about JDI’s effort to bring international human rights norms into detention facilities in the U.S., please contact Cynthia Totten, Senior Program Director, at