Bill Berkowitz, Prison Rape: The Criminal Justice System’s Dirty Little Secret, Buzzflash, August 23, 2010

Organizations from across the political spectrum are calling on Attorney General Eric Holder ‘to adopt prison rape elimination standards mandated by 2003 legislation and completed 14 months ago.’

In June 2005, Marilyn Shirley, told the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission about the horror that was “that night in March 2000.” Shirley told how after she had been convicted of a drug charge, she was sent to the Federal Medical Center at Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, where she served from January 12, 1998 until September 10, 2000. She will “never forget,” she testified, “that night in March 2000.” Prior to that night, Shirley, by all accounts, was a model prisoner – she took all of the required Bureau of Prisons courses, from substance abuse prevention classes to classes teaching job skills. “I never once had an incident report written against me,” Shirley said.

On “that night in March 2000,” Shirley’s life was changed forever, when she was brutally raped by prison guard Michael Miller, a Senior Officer of the Bureau of Prisons:

“I was scared to death that they’d called me because something had happened to my husband, who had heart problems and diabetes, or to my twins.

”I could not have been more wrong. I should have feared for my own safety. After entering the officer’s station, Miller made a phone call stating that if a Lieutenant heads for the Camp to give him ‘the signal.’

”After hanging up the phone, Miller started forcing himself on me, kissing me and groping my breasts. I was pushed into a storeroom. He continued to assault me; the more that I begged and pleaded for him to stop, the more violent he became. He tried to force me to perform oral sex on him. He then threw me against the wall and violently raped me.

”I can still remember him whispering in my ear during the rape: ‘Do you think you’re the only one? Don’t even think of telling, because it’s your word against mine, and you will lose.’ Miller also said to me ‘who do you think they will believe, an inmate or a fine upstanding officer like me?’”

Nearly three years after she was released from prison, and she had given her statement and testified about the crime, Officer Miller was found guilty of rape and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

To this day Marilyn Shirley continues to suffer from “that night in March 2000”: “Because of this rape, I haven’t been able to be intimate with my husband of 30 years. I also have paralyzing panic attacks. Sometimes I can’t even hold my grandbaby because I’m afraid of having a panic attack and dropping her. I also have awful nightmares and sometimes I wet the bed as a result. My husband has to pull me out of the closet where I go to feel safe. I’m on five different medications for these conditions. I sometimes fear my rapist is going to come after me even though he’s in prison for 12 and a half years. Every day I relive this rape.”

Marilyn Shirley’s case is not an aberration. According to The Bureau of Justice Statistics, prison rape is endured each year by: Some one in every eight juveniles in custody; one in 20 adult inmates; and, a total of 60,500 victims.

On Tuesday, August 17, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Shirley “joined a bi-partisan coalition of religious, political, human rights and civil rights groups, usually at odds, to unveil a joint letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder,” according to a PRNewswire-USNewswire pre-press conference news release. “Signed by 35 organizations, the letter urged Holder to adopt prison rape elimination standards mandated by 2003 legislation and completed 14 months ago. The attorney general missed the June 2010 deadline to adopt these standards designed to end sexual abuse in prisons, eradicate the long-term harm to survivors, their families and their communities, and ensure safety and justice for the incarcerated, among other goals.”

The letter to attorney general Holder was signed by thirty-five organizations representing the left, right and center of the political spectrum, including, Prison Fellowship, Just Detention International, American Civil Liberties Union, Focus on the Family, NAACP, Family Research Council, The Sentencing Project, National Association of Evangelicals, Open Society Policy Center, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Human Rights Watch and United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

Doug Carlson of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission recently wrote that “This unacceptable prison [rape] problem led lawmakers to set partisanship aside in 2003 to pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act. The legislation creates a zero-tolerance standard for sexual assaults in prison by, among other things, creating the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to study and develop standards for reform to guide corrections officials in preventing prison rapes and hold them accountable for achieving results.” The bill, which “earned unanimous approval by Congress,” was signed into law in September 2003 by President Bush.

Seven years have passed and “progress on reform has idled,” Carlson pointed out. “The problem: Attorney General Eric Holder, the one responsible under the law for carrying out standards and recommendations of the independent commission, has greeted its report with no action. The commission issued the report more than a year ago. The deadline for Holder’s action slipped by nearly two months ago. And now Holder’s Department of Justice is expected to take another year to adopt the standards. This foot-dragging is cause for concern.”

Carlson maintained that “Basic human rights—food, water, freedom of religion—are non-negotiable. Protection from sexual violence is among them. The longer the delays by the attorney general to adopt the recommended standards, the longer the list of victims of prison sexual assault. If the Justice Department idles for another year, as it expects, that would mean tens of thousands more men, women, and youth becoming victims of sexual violence while under government control. That is not acceptable.”

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