Matt Kelley, Feds Drag Their Heels on Stopping Prison Rape, Criminal Justice Blog, Change.org, June 04, 2010

Should we let a price tag stop us from ending prison rape?

That's the real question facing the U.S. federal government today. While the White House deserves some credit for working to prevent prison sexual assaults, at this point, the feds are moving far too — in fact, shockingly — slowly.

The Department of Justice is wrapping up two days of hearings on the issue today, but a deadline for the agency to finalize national binding standards for dealing with prison rape is expected to slip by quietly later this month. Attorney General Eric Holder admits he’ll miss the June 23 deadline — by as much as a year. How is that okay?

More than 10,000 activists have already signed a petition here on Change.org, urging the DOJ to enact the standards recommended a year ago by the blue-ribbon Prison Rape Elimination Commission. The DOJ seems to be listening, and has posted more than public 1,100 comments online. Meanwhile, the New York Times joined the call this week, chastising Holder for delays in enacting the recommended standards. But the response? Still more delay.

So why is Holder dragging his feet? It all comes down to cost.

The Attorney General says he has to move slowly because the new requirements will be costly and difficult for prisons and jails across the country to enact. NPR reports that the standards — which include segregating young or weak prisoners and ensuring that male guards don’t supervise female prisoners — could cost more than $1 billion to kick off, and another $1 billion each year.

But the DOJ has had a year since the prison rape panel issued its recommendations, and seven years since Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. In the last year alone, more than 60,000 prisoners in the United States were sexually assaulted. Every day we wait, more than 100 prisoners are raped. Another year of delay — and another 60,000 victims — is unacceptable.

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