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