JDI IN THE NEWS - 2007


Robert M. Cook, N.H., Maine state prisons adopt fed prison rape law: Both establish zero tolerance policies for state facilities, Foster’s Daily Democrat, September 23, 2007.

State corrections officials in New Hampshire and Maine say they've fully implemented a federal law designed to stop prison rapes behind bars.

"We've been working on this for quite some time," said Jeff Lyons, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections in Concord.

Congress passed the federal Prisoner Rape Elimination Act in 2003. It calls for all correctional facilities nationwide, including jails as well as prisons, to implement several specific policies.

They include doing a better job of reporting and documenting sexual assault cases and providing inmate victims with proper medical care, counseling and protection so they won't be subject to retaliation from other inmates. Correctional facilities also must provide a full-time investigator and a full-time victim advocate for sexual assault cases.

Lyons said the state agency secured a $1 million U.S. Justice Department grant, which let the state hire two full-time investigators who are devoted entirely to investigating alleged sexual assault cases. Lyons said the state also hired a full-time victim protection advocate.

Lyons said the state's PREA policy is now practiced at New Hampshire's four state prisons and three halfway houses. The total state prison system population stands at about 2,770 inmates.

Dr. Ben Lewis, director of the New Hampshire State Prison's quality assurance program, said it took 2 1/2 years to implement the new PREA policy, which outlines how inmates can report alleged sexual assaults and how corrections officers should handle those cases. It also includes provisions that call for inmates to get medical and psychological treatment after attacks.

Finding better ways to identify inmates who are prone to committing sexual assaults when those inmates enter the prison is a key focus, he said.

State Police Trooper Jeff Ardini, one of the full-time investigators who deals with prison sexual assault cases, said inmates are starting to report more cases as word spreads about the program.

"When I walked in the door, I had four cases waiting for me," Ardini said. He began working in May, when the state's policy went into effect.

Successfully protecting inmates' identities after they report alleged sexual assaults always will be difficult, he said. But he called it probably the most important factor in making inmates feel confident the prison will protect them if they come forward, he said.

Protection could include placing an inmate in safer housing away from the alleged perpetrator or transferring an inmate victim to another state prison where no one knows what occurred.

State prison officials couldn't estimate how many inmate sexual assaults occurred before the policies were put in place. Reporting requirements were not as strict, and inmates were less likely to report the crimes because they were not guaranteed any protection, they said.

But Lewis said it will still take a long time to get to zero prison rape incidents even though the state prison now has a zero-tolerance policy.

"This is something that has been so embedded in the corrections culture," Lewis said.

Prison sexual assaults don't just affect the most violent criminals, according to a 2006 report by the nonprofit group Stop Prisoner Rape, of Los Angeles, Calif.

Non-violent first offenders who are inexperienced in the ways of prison life, youth held in juvenile and adult facilities, and inmates who are gay or transgendered or are perceived to be gay or effeminate are especially vulnerable to such abuse, according to the report, compiled for the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

Denise Lord, assistant commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections in Augusta, said they face the same challenges as New Hampshire.

The state agency hopes to implement its PREA policy later this fall. It follows the federal guidelines, and its goal is to create a zero-tolerance policy for prison rape cases, she said.

Maine's state prison system has about 1,400 staff members and an inmate population of about 2,200 in six adult correctional facilities, Lord said. The prison system also includes 200 juveniles who are housed in two facilities, she said.

"I think we have enough staff presence in our facilities" to prevent prison rape cases, she said.

The Maine state prison system recognizes the importance of making inmates feel safe if they report a sexual assault, she said.

"They need to know that if they come forward, there will not be any retaliation or negative consequences," Lord said.

Lovisa Stannow, SPR's executive director, said her group is keeping tabs on how well all 50 states are doing at implementing the law. SPR was the primary advocacy group to lobby Congress to pass PREA, which was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and co-sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and former Ohio Republican Sen. Mike DeWine.

Stannow said her group is the only non-governmental organization in the country dedicated exclusively to eliminating sexual violence against men, women and youth in detention.

Stannow said the federal law was needed because all states have different laws governing the matter.

"There are no nationwide data on the prevalence of sexual violence in prison," she said.

However, an SPR report about PREA in March noted that the known number of sexual assault cases behind bars has increased.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, which analyzes administrative reports of sexual violence behind bars, found that 6,528 complaints were filed about such abuse occurring in 2006, or 2.9 allegations per 1,000 inmates, according to the report. In 2004, the number of complaints was 5,386.

Stannow said the vast majority of people incarcerated in the United States who are sexually assaulted by a fellow inmate or a corrections officer never report it.

They feel ashamed and are afraid they could end up being considered an easy target for other sexual predators behind bars, Stannow said.

Contrary to many stereotypes and Hollywood movies that portray prison rape as an understood consequence of incarceration, Stannow said, "Most Americans would agree that rape is not part of the penalty."