Emmett M. Hogan, "Overall, we can confidently say that well over 100,000 people are sexually abused in American detention facilities every year.", Emmett's Arglebargle Blog, August 29, 2010

Well, that sentence woke me up. The New York Review of Books has a distressing piece on the rampant disregard in political circles for this human rights issue. Here's an example of what happens with such a failure of leadership and commitment:

Scott was a gay, non-violent, first-time inmate in a Colorado prison when he was targeted by members of the “2-11 crew,” a white supremacist gang with over 1,000 members in prisons throughout the state. For two years he was forced into prostitution by the gang’s leaders, repeatedly raped and made to perform oral sex. Even after he told prison staff that he was being raped and needed protection from the gang, Scott was told that nothing could be done unless he named his abusers—even though they had threatened to kill him if he did. Because Scott is openly gay, some officials blamed him for the attacks, saying that as a homosexual he should expect to be targeted by one gang or another. And by his account, even those officers who were not hostile didn’t know how to respond to his reports, because appropriate procedures were not in place. They failed to take even the most basic measures to protect him.

Ultimately, despite his fear, Scott did identify some of the gang members who had raped him. Not only did the prison authorities again fail to respond, they later put Scott in a holding cell with one of his previous assailants on the day he was to be released from state custody. Again, he was beaten and forced to perform oral sex. Scott had a civil lawsuit settled in his favor recently, winning financial damages and seventeen policy changes that will now become mandatory in the Colorado prison system. Otherwise, however, nothing about his story is unusual.

Even though Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003, it has not been fully implemented. Why? Here's Attorney General Eric Holder's explanation, in a June 22 letter to two congressmen, a copy of which is found on Huffington Post and a link to which is provided in the NYRB article:

[The new rules should not] impose substantial additional costs compared to the costs presently expended by Federal, State, and local prison authorities.

The NYRB article seems to lay blame for this at Holder's feet. As the article points out, Holder is guilty of a certain amount of foot-dragging. In fairness to him, however, he points out in that June 22 letter that this "no new costs" requirement is found in the PREA itself. In other words, while Congress has required AG Holder to promulgate new standards aimed at eradicating prison rape, it has also required that the costs associated with implementing those new standards must be insubstantial; his hands have been tied by a cheapskate Congress whose members are mollycoddling the treasuries of their home states.

This is absurd. An act of Congress that purports to protect human rights while stating that the efforts cannot result in "substantial additional costs" does not protect human rights. Core human rights cannot be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis. And anyway, morality and legality aside, does anyone doubt that the costs of permitting prison rape - in health care for diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C that are spread by prison rape, in psychological and psychiatric care necessitated by rape, in litigation expenses - far outweigh the costs of preventing it?

A state prison cannot allow prison rape to happen merely because they don't want to spend a "substantial" amount of money in the effort to prevent it. They should stop prison rape or they should stop having prisons.

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