Gary Farber, No Escapeg, Obsidian Wings Blog, September 03, 2010

Prison rape jokes abound every time a heinous trial or crime is in the news.

I don't need to repeat any: you've heard them. Heh, heh, I'm not going to feel sorry for that mass murderer/rapist/con artist/thief, and what's coming to him.

Of course, few of us think we'll ever wind up in jail, let alone prison, and most of us won't.

Prison rape is what happens to The Other.

Which is where the laughing and the righteous vengeance arise: it's not so funny if you imagine yourself, or one of your loved ones, trapped in an injustice system, unjustly thrust into captivity, and subject to brutal sexual and violent abuse.

Last week, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report: Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2008-09.

As you imagine, it's not enjoyable reading.


Highlights include the following:

* An estimated 4.4% of prison inmates and 3.1% of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months.
* Female inmates in prison (4.7%) or jail (3.1%) were more than twice as likely as male inmates in prison (1.9%) or jail (1.3%) to report experiencing inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization.
* Among inmates who reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, 13% of male prison inmates and 19% of male jail inmates said they were victimized within the first 24 hours after admission, compared to 4% of female inmates in prison and jail.


An estimated 88,500 inmates—64,500 in prison and 24,000 in jails—reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff during 2008-09.

[...] Among victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, 37 percent of males in jail and 21 percent of males in prison reported being injured. Among females, eight percent in jail and 17 percent in prison reported being injured. For victims of staff sexual misconduct, 17 percent of males in jail and nine percent of males in prison reported they had been injured, compared to eight percent of females in jail and 19 percent of females in prison.

Sure, but some of this is inevitable, you say? No.

[...] In 2003, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) aimed at confronting the scourge of sexual abuse in our prisons, jails and youth detention centers.


After nearly five years and two public comment periods, the commission submitted its recommended national standards to Attorney General Eric Holder last year.

Under the law, Attorney General Holder had a year to issue final standards. That deadline was June 23, 2010. But he missed it. In the 64 days since the attorney general failed to meet his deadline, thousands of adults and kids have been subjected to sexual abuse behind bars. It now seems that no final standards will be released before 2011. Meanwhile, the number of victims continues to grow. And the human costs are incalculable.

These are standards that can be put into place now.


Meanwhile, the problem is worse than you think:

[...] The BJS numbers don’t include thousands who we know are sexually abused in juvenile detention and other kinds of corrections facilities every year, nor do they account for the constant turnover among jailed detainees. Stays in jail are typically short, and several times as many people pass through jail in a year as are held there on any given day. Overall, we can confidently say that well over 100,000 people are sexually abused in American detention facilities every year. [...] Even more concerning is that Mr. Holder has commissioned no study of the benefits of reducing prisoner rape; nor, apparently, does he plan to. Yet as a brief submitted to the Department of Justice by New York University Law School’s Institute for Policy Integrity makes clear, “substantial additional costs” can only be understood in relation to the standards’ projected benefits. Moreover, Mr. Holder is legally obligated to analyze the costs and the benefits of the new standards together: he cannot give greater emphasis to one half of the calculation than the other. By failing to perform proper analysis, the Attorney General is delaying the reform mandated by a unanimous Congress in passing PREA—and he has already missed his statutory deadline for issuing a final rule on the standards by more than two months.

But why should I care for monsters, rapists, mass murders, and other scum, you ask? Setting aside that many people in prison are innocent, it costs you money as a taxpayer:

[...] The Washington Department of Corrections estimates that the cost of providing mental health treatment for victims of prisoner rape or sexual assault—which is different from immediate medical care—is approximately $9,700 per victim. Neither category of care includes treatment for HIV, Hepatitis C, and other sexually transmitted infections, which are of course spread by prisoner rape and also impose great costs on prison health services. Making our prisons and jails safer should have a positive effect generally on the mental health problems that are endemic there. And reducing prisoner rape would also lower the number of suicides and unwanted pregnancies in our prison systems.

In California, for example, it costs an additional $14,600 per year to house a prisoner in administrative segregation. And how great is our country?

[...] Today, more than a million children in this country have at least one incarcerated parent.

We can do a great deal to cut back drastically on prison rape. Implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) recommendations. Now. Will it make a difference?

[...] But as Jason DeParle wrote in these pages three years ago, “Since 1980 the murder rate inside prisons has fallen more than 90 percent, which should give pause to those inclined to think that prisons are impossible to reform.”

If you'd like to read some more -- and isn't that a fun way to spend Labor Day weekend? -- try The Rape of American Prisoners by David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow in the March 11, 2010 issue of The New York Review Of Books, and March 25th's The Way to Stop Prison Rape by Lovisa Stannow and David Kaiser.

On March 15th, 2010:

[...] Testifying before a House subcommittee, Attorney General Holder said, “We want to effect substantive, real change, so that the horrors that too often are visited upon people in our prisons [are] eliminated…. It is something that I think needs to be done, not tomorrow, but yesterday.”

Do it this week, General Holder.

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