Steve Mitchell, Prison rapes spreading deadly diseases, United Press International, July 26, 2002.
WASHINGTON, July 26 (UPI) -- Prison rape has become such a common
occurrence in federal and state prisons across the United States that it
could have deadly consequences for the inmate population as well as the
public at large, experts in the field told United Press International.
Congress plans to take a closer look at the issue next week because prison
rape has been associated with the spread of potentially fatal diseases
such as AIDS and tuberculosis.
"The AIDS incidence within prisons is alarmingly high," Pat Nolan,
president of the non-profit group the Justice Fellowship of Reston, Va.,
which works to reform the criminal justice system, told United Press
International. He noted 95 percent of people in prison will eventually be
released back into society, so if they contract AIDS or other diseases
while incarcerated they will be a tremendous burden to society due to
healthcare costs and the threat they pose for spreading disease.
Lara Stemple, executive director of the non-profit human rights group Stop
Prisoner Rape, told UPI, "Rape and HIV in prison is eight to 10 times as
high as in the general population." Her group views AIDS as an
unadjudicated death sentence because people who receive only a short
sentence for their crime but contract AIDS while in prison have
essentially had their sentence extended to death.
She said the people most likely to be raped in prisons are nonviolent and
first-time offenders and these are the most likely to be released back
into the general population, which ultimately poses a disease risk to
society. In addition to AIDS, herpes and other sexually transmitted
diseases have been spread in prisons and hepatitis C is an epidemic in
certain prisons, Stemple said. Men as well as women run the risk of being
raped while in prison, she said. One in five men have been sexually
assaulted while in prison and one in ten have been raped.
Stemple said among women inmates, the rate of sexual abuse can be as high
as 27 percent in some prisons. In addition, women have become pregnant
while imprisoned, which often is an indication they have been raped by
male guards, she said.
Although federal prison officials have been criticized for failing to
address the issue, members of Congress have taken it quite seriously and
last month bi-partisan legislation called the Prison Rape Reduction Act
was introduced in both the Senate and the House. The Senate Judiciary
Committee will hold a hearing on the Act next Wednesday.
Reducing the spread of disease is one goal of the act, said Sen. Edward
Kennedy, D-Mass., who co-sponsored the legislation in the Senate with Sen.
Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. Prison rape "threatens the rest of society, by
increasing the spread of HIV and other diseases, and by making
individuals, brutalized within prison, more likely to commit new crimes
after they are released," Kennedy said.
Republican Rep. Frank Wolf and Democrat Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia
sponsored the legislation in the House.
The Rape Reduction Act would establish a national commission to set up
standards for reducing and eliminating prison rape. Federal prisons would
have to adopt these standards and state prisons could only opt out of them
if their state legislature votes not to participate.
The Act would require the Justice Department to conduct an annual review
of prison rape to determine prisons where the incidence is unusually high.
States with prisons that fall in the worst third of rape incidence would
have to go before a review panel and explain their situation.
Nolan said the legislation is very likely to pass because it has strong
bi-partisan support across both branches of Congress and it is endorsed by
several different organizations concerned with human rights. He believes
it will be effective at reducing prison rape and rampant rates of HIV and
other diseases in prison.
A major part of the problem is prison officials condone rape among
inmates, Nolan said. "There have been correctional officials who have
tried to deal with this but in general the system pretends it doesn't
exist," he said.
Indeed, sometimes it is used by guards to control or punish inmates. Nolan
related an account of a case in a California prison in which guards
transferred an inmate who had kicked a female guard to the cell of a
prisoner nicknamed "Booty bandit." The prisoner, who was twice the size of
the offending inmate, beat and raped him for about a week until guards
finally transferred him out of the cell, Nolan said.
"Correction officers turn a blind eye," Stemple said, adding she has heard
accounts of officers watching rape on surveillance cameras or hearing
screams in the night and not doing anything to help the victims.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons and the National Institute of Corrections
declined to comment on this story.