Victims of Prison Rape Rally for Legislation, Corrections Professional, July 25, 2003.

Former prisoners who were raped while serving their sentences gathered over the July 4 weekend on Capitol Hill to drum up support for legislation that seeks to hold prison facilities accountable for sexual assaults of inmates.

The Prison Rape Reduction Act of 2003 would require the Department of Justice 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 and recommend national standards for reducing and eliminating prison rape.

Those standards, if adopted by the attorney general, would apply to federal prisons. However, states wanting DOJ grants would have to comply with them as well.

The bill also would require prison accreditation organizations to examine prison rape prevention practices. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the legislation this session. Similar legislation introduced last session died when negotiations with the DOJ stalled.

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 of which are repeatedly sexually assaulted. The majority of victims are juveniles and mentally ill inmates, the organization said.