JDI IN THE NEWS - 2009

TChris, Protecting Prisoners From Rape, TalkLeft.com, July 7, 2009

Sexual violence in prisons is widely acknowledged, rarely discussed, and inexplicably tolerated. Given the culture of vengeance that has been the driving force behind the nation's philosophy of punishment for the last 30 years, it may be that people figure that prisoners deserve whatever happens to them in prison, including rape. Or it may be that people just don't care. They should, because the consequences of prison rape affect society at large, not just the imprisoned victim.

Fortunately, Congress cared enough in 2003 to pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act. While the Act could have done much more to address the problem, it represents an important beginning. Among its other requirements, the law created a commission to recommend national standards to address sexual violence in correctional facilities. That task was recently completed, and the Justice Department now has a year to promulgate a final set of standards that will be binding in federal prisons. State prisons will also need to adopt the standards if they don't want to lose a measly 5 percent of the federal funding they receive that relates to corrections.

The indispensable American Constitution Society for Law and Policy has a new issue brief (pdf) that examines the proposed standards. It urges Attorney General Holder to ratify them, while pointing out the importance of establishing a mechanism for assuring that prisons actually comply with the standards. Holder has a lot on his plate, but he nonetheless needs to make ratification of the standards a high priority.


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