JDI IN THE NEWS - 2003

Dale Mills, UNITED STATES: Prison Rape Law Enacted, Green Left Weekly (Australia), October 15, 2003.

On September 4, US President George Bush signed into law the Prison Rape Elimination Act. While the law does little more than provide funding for research and some counselling, it is at least a belated recognition that the massive US prison system is a key site of sexual assault.

"The passage of this law is a major milestone, finally bringing prisoner rape out of the shadows'', said Lara Stemple, executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR), a national human rights organisation that has worked on the issue for more than two decades.

One in 10 US male prison inmates report some sort of forced sexual encounter. With female prisoners, the figures range from 7% to 27%, with prison guards being the main attackers. Young people locked up with adults are five times more likely to be raped, and are seven times more likely to commit suicide.

There are now more than 2 million people in prison across the US. A black man is more likely to serve time in prison than to spend his time in college or university. Additionally, the US has nearly 200,000 people in immigration detention; 5000 of them are unaccompanied children.

Often, prison rape is deadly. The "unajudicated death sentence" is imposed because HIV rates are 5-10 times higher in prison than outside.

The US prison industry is worth US$50 billion to private companies which are contracted by federal and state governments to run prisons. This amount of money is used to create prisons in southern US towns where unemployment is high. The locals are glad of the work.

Prisoners are used to build roads, do commercial laundry, and work in factories built inside the prisons. They are paid a pittance. The profits are enormous. One prison firm, Wakenhut, is among the top five companies on the US stock markets.