JDI IN THE NEWS - 2003

Suzanne Gamboa, Victims of Prison Rape Rally for Legislation, Associated Press, June 24, 2003.

WASHINGTON- Former prisoners who were raped while serving their sentences gathered Tuesday on Capitol Hill to drum up support for legislation that seeks to hold prison facilities accountable for sexual assaults of inmates.

Among them was Marilyn Shirley, a former inmate in a Fort Worth women's prison. A federal jury awarded her $4 million earlier this month in a civil suit she filed against the male guard she accused of raping her while she was incarcerated.

The officer she says raped her continues to work in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, although he was transferred to work in a prison for male inmates, she said. He is under federal criminal investigation.

"I cannot believe that this rapist is getting paid with people's tax dollars. This is wrong and it must stop," Shirley said. She was incarcerated from 1996-2000 on a phone charge in a drug-related case.

The legislation Shirley and the other former inmates support is dubbed the Prison Rape Reduction Act of 2003. It would require the Justice Department to conduct annual surveys to determine the prevalence of rape in federal, state and county prisons and jails.

It also would create a commission to hold hearings on the issue and recommend national standards for reducing and eliminating prison rape.

Those standards, if adopted by the attorney general, would apply to federal prisons. States wanting Justice Department grants would have to comply with them as well.

The bill also would require prison accreditation organizations to examine prison rape prevention practices in awarding accreditation. The House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to consider the bill Wednesday.

"It's widely known that sexual assaults go on in prisons all the time. What we've heard from these (victims) is that it goes on in many circumstances, either perpetrated by government employees or with government employees facilitating or looking the other way," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., one of the bill sponsors.

Other sponsors are Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md. A companion bill in the Senate is sponsored by Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

Similar legislation introduced last session died because of stalled negotiations with the Justice Department.

The legislation has backing from Stop Prisoner Rape, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group, Prison Fellowship Ministries, a group headed by former Nixon White House aide Chuck Colson and others. Prison Fellowship said modest estimates indicate as many as 22 percent of inmates are raped while in prison, many who are repeatedly sexually assaulted. The majority of victims are juveniles and mentally ill inmates, the organization said.

Keith DeBalsio, who was convicted of a nonviolent securities crime, said he was repeatedly sexually assaulted when he was moved to a high security prison in Michigan after filing grievances against prison officials.

His assailant was charged with criminal sexual assault and attempted murder but received five years in a plea agreement. No action was taken against the guards. DeBalsio said he is now HIV positive.

"Why did I receive this life sentence? And why doesn't anyone have to answer for their actions?" DeBalsio said in a prepared statement. "At this point I can only ask why."