JDI IN THE NEWS - 2005

Comission to hear from prison rape survivors in SF, Detroit Free Press, August 18, 2005.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- As a young, bisexual inmate weighing just 123 pounds, Kendell Spruce made a perfect target for sexual predators.

Nine months after landing in an Arkansas prison for violating parole for check forgery, he said he had been raped by 27 fellow prisoners, including a cellmate who infected him with HIV.

Spruce, now 42 and living in Flint, Mich., planned to tell his story Friday to a congressional commission studying prison rape and sexual abuse. Other witnesses will include juveniles attacked in adult prisons and transgender men and women.

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission was created by Congress and was given about a year to prepare a report on the problem and propose national standards governing the prevention, investigation and punishment of abuse.

The commission's first hearing was held in June in Washington and offered an overall look at the problem, according to Judge Reggie Walton, chairman of the bipartisan, nine-member committee.

"One of the things that I have been most shocked by is we don't know what the extent of the problem is," he said by phone prior to Friday's meeting in San Francisco. "I believe in tough punishment, but I firmly believe when we incarcerate people we're obligated to make sure they're treated humanely."

The San Francisco hearing will focus on protecting vulnerable inmates -- young people, gay, lesbian and transgender inmates and the mentally ill.

Among those scheduled to speak at the daylong hearing are Department of Justice officials, state and local lawmakers and survivors of abuse.

Spruce, who has suffered from full-blown AIDS since 2002, was forced to quit working and now lives in Michigan to be closer to his family.

"Everybody needs to know what happened to me," he said of his experiences more than a dozen years ago. "I don't want it to happen to more people."

One of the biggest hurdles advocates have faced is public indifference and an unwillingness to take seriously the problem.

"Nobody would tell a joke on late night television about a woman getting raped in a back alley," said Lovisa Stannow, acting executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape, a nonprofit called upon by the commission to provide survivor testimony. "Negative stereotypes about prisoners and this perception it's not something that needs to be taken seriously is a major barrier to ending this kind of violence."

On the Net:

Stop Prison Rape: http://www.spr.org