JDI IN THE NEWS - 2002

Steven Jones and Erik J. Gundlach-Evans, Sessions and Kennedy push bill to reduce prison rape, The Coosa County News, June 21, 2002.

At the Chalkville correctional facility in northern Alabama 13 year old girls are raped, victimized and impregnated.

The victims complained, but it wasn't until several lawsuits were filed and organizations like Stop Prisoner Rape and Amnesty International spoke to Governor Don Seigelmen that something was done. Currently, Chalkville is undergoing administrative changes and 11 of 15 staff members are suspended or terminated in relation to charges of sexual assault and misconduct.

In the Senate a bill sponsored by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) is being scrutinized to examine and combat the problem of prison rape in America's correctional facilities.

The bill is designed to create a Department of Justice Commission to conduct surveys, samples and interviews to determine how staff, guards and other inmates sexually assault many of the country's convicts.

The bill has received bipartisan support and is also supported by human rights organizations; including California based Stop Prisoner Rape.

It is not known how many convicts are victims of prison rape. Problems in reporting prevent government officials from knowing how the prison population is effected. The commission is expected to find out what percentage is raped or otherwise assaulted and what methods can be used to decrease if not eliminate the problem.

In Alabama estimates are as high as one out of ten. In Midwestern States studies have shown the rate to be 20 percent of male inmates. In the same study, it was shown women have a higher rate of abuse at 27 percent.

Juveniles are almost 8 times more likely to be abused and assaulted than adults, especially juveniles in adult institutions.

Because victims feel ashamed and guilty, and in the case of homosexual rape, feel as if they are suddenly "gay". They are unwilling or unable to report the crime.

It is believed prison rape is caused by a number of factors. Among them is housing of non-violent first- time offenders with seasoned and violent sexual predators. Another is the attitude some guards and staffers take when confronted with reports from inmates of sexual assault by staff and convicts.

The physical side effects of abuse are extreme. They can be anal and vaginal bleeding, soreness and bruising, nausea and shock. The mental effects can be post traumatic stress disorder, rape trauma syndrome, flashbacks and depression.

Sexual assaults occurring in detention facilities seem remote to the non-incarcerated population; however, with inmates moving through revolving, recidivistic doors of the justice system, a very real public health crisis is emerging.

HIV and AIDS cases, rates that have dropped or remained steady during the past decade, continue to climb in the prison population. Inmates in correctional facilities have a ten-fold risk of contracting the deadly autoimmune disease.

One major reason for this increased risk is the lack of STD prevention methods, notably condoms. In a forced sex or assault situation, barriers normally associated with protection simply do not exist. For any inmates a short prison term for minor non-violent offenses, like possession of marijuana, can be a death sentence.

The psychological impact of releasing into society such a large group of victimized people can potentially strain already-overcrowded counseling centers and community clinics; affordable places where many clients queue up for one 50 minute slot or one sliding fee scale visit to a Nurse Practitioner.

Additionally, with the stigma of prior incardination, many former prisoners released in society find difficulty in today's stagnant job market. Since offences related to drugs preclude ex-convicts from certain benefits, new released prisoners experience problems securing healthcare, or even insurance discrimination. As health-related costs rise for this group, it is left to at-large taxpayers to foot the bill.

According to SPR, victims of sexual assault in prison sometimes report cries of help going unanswered. There have even been cases of guards placing inmates in cells with sexual predators who will sodomize them. The placement of prisoners is considered a form of punishment by some of the guards.

"It's something that's apart of the culture of prisons", said Sabrina Qutb a representative of SPR.

Causes of the problem, according to SPR, are over crowding, insufficient staffing and a high conviction rate.

Of the guards Qutb says that some are good and "Some are not so good" they can't all be blamed. "It's a problem with the system."

In the United States, one out of 140 people are behind bars, the highest of any industrialized nation. Recent changes in the criminal justice system, including the War on Drugs and other such programs, have swelled prison populations. Nearly two million people are serving time, compared with 750,000 in 1985.

"Prison rape cannot be tolerated, we agree that punishment for a criminal defendant should be set by a judge and should not include rape" said Sessions.

In order to make states comply with the commissions findings and suggestions, the Justice Department is allowed to cut funding to correctional and rehabilitation facilities.