Jacob Sullum, Prison Rape and the Drug War, Reason Magazine, March 22, 2007
A new report from Stop Prisoner Rape documents the connection between the war on drugs and sexual assault in prisons:
While anyone can be a victim of prisoner rape, inmates convicted of a non-violent drug offense typically possess characteristics that put them at great risk for abuse. They tend to be young, unschooled in the ways of prison life, and lacking the street smarts necessary to protect themselves from other detainees....
The massive prison population growth caused by current U.S. drug policies has resulted in increasingly overcrowded detention facilities, rife with idleness and tension among inmates. With an astonishing 2.3 million people behind bars at any given time, U.S. prisons and jails have simply run out of bed space, leading nonviolent detainees to be housed together with predators in poorly monitored dormitories or cramped cells.
The report, which features chilling first-person accounts from nonviolent drug offenders (including some who stole to support their habits), should be read by anyone who has trouble getting worked up about this issue. Most Americans probably do not worry much about prison rape (and, as the activists often note, even joke about it), seeing it as a deserved comeuppance for criminals who have been imprisoned for preying on others. Even when the victims of prison rape have been locked up for violating other people's rights, this sort of arbitrary, torturous, extrajudicial punishment should be considered beyond the pale in a civilized society. When the victims are guilty only of consensual "crimes" and therefore do not belong in prison to begin with, the continued tolerance of such abuse is even more outrageous.