Amanda Hess, Prison Rape Standards Will Cost Us—and Save Inmates, The Washington City paper, July 22, 2010
Back in April, I reported on national standards proposed to end prison rape in the American justice system—and speculated as to whether the pricetag was too high for corrections facilities t commit to implementing them. Last week, the Department of Justice released a report from consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton detailing just how much the PREA standards will cost federal and local governments.
Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder missed his deadline for implementing permanent corrections standards to bring U.S.corrections facilities in line with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed 7 years ago. The Prison Rape Elimination Act Cost Impact Analysis [PDF] is an attempt to weigh the recommendation of the PREA commission against the financial concerns of corrections facilities across the country. Just Detention International, bless it, sifted through the 414-page document, and JDI executive director Lovisa Stannow has one major gripe with the accounting: It only includes the costs of the PREA standards, not the benefits—like people not being raped anymore. Stannow:
Strong national standards aimed at ending sexual violence behind bars are urgently needed. The Justice Department’s own studies have shown that tens of thousands of prisoners, jail inmates, and juvenile detainees are sexually abused every year. The measures recommended by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission have the potential to improve safety significantly in our nation’s detention facilities.
In the recently released report, Booz Allen Hamilton only examined the cost of each proposed standard, without considering the benefits and cost-savings that would result from instituting these basic measures to improve safety and decrease sexual violence in detention. Beyond the dramatic impact on the well-being of inmates, staff, and society at large, the prevention of prisoner rape will decrease costs of litigation, grievance petitions, staff turnover, and the need for medical and mental health treatment.
Notwithstanding its focus on cost regardless of savings, the report found that the vast majority of the proposed standards are readily achievable without significant expense. Three standards—assessment and use of monitoring technology, limits on cross-gender viewing and searches, and inmate supervision — accounted for 99 percent of all estimated upfront costs. Through innovative practices already established at forward thinking facilities, these expenses can be minimized.
Regardless of cost, corrections and detention agencies have a moral and constitutional obligation to protect inmates in their charge. The proposed standards will greatly assist officials in upholding that duty. Attorney General Holder should adopt a robust set of standards as quickly as possible. Every day that he delays action, men, women, and children are subjected to rape behind bars.
Current compliance with the proposed PREA standards ranges widely from state to state—and standard to standard. While 98 percent of facilities currently comply with a standard of “disciplinary sanctions for staff” found to have sexually assaulted inmates, only 62 percent provide “agency protection against retaliation” and a mere 8 percent offer “zero tolerance of sexual abuse.” The best corrections facilities in the country are as high as 88 percent complaint across the standards; the worst are as low as 38 percent complaint. Obviously, the corrections facilities with the lowest current compliance rates will have the biggest gripes about the costs associated with implementing the standards. How long will the Justice Department continue to tolerate the concerns of these unsafe facilities?