By Editorial Board, The New York Times
May 25, 2013
A new federal report shows that the nation’s prisons and jails have a long way to go before they comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act. That 2003 law requires institutions receiving federal money to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on rape and to embrace rigorous prevention measures like those outlined last year by the Justice Department.
The report, released this month by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, makes clear that prisons and other correctional institutions are falling well short of the law’s requirement to address this kind of abuse. It names several institutions that have particularly high rates of inmate-on-inmate or staff-on-inmate assaults.
The data is based on surveys carried out between February 2011 and May 2012 at 233 state and federal prisons; 358 county jails; and 15 special confinement facilities operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the military and correctional authorities on Indian reservations. Prisoners participated in the surveys by answering computer-based questionnaires. According to the report, an estimated 80,000 prison and county jail inmates experienced sexual abuse during the previous 12 months, roughly 4 percent of all prison inmates and 3.2 percent of jail inmates nationwide. High rates of victimization were found among inmates who were gay or lesbian, inmates who had been raped or sexually abused before incarceration, and inmates who suffered from mental illness.
Previous studies have found that juveniles housed in adult facilities were at greater risk of sexual assault than adults. In this study, however, 16- and 17-year-olds housed in adult jails and prisons did not report significantly higher rates of abuse.
Children’s advocates and some researchers dispute this finding, arguing that young people may have been less likely to be candid on a computer-based survey because they feared that the authorities might be monitoring their answers. Some critics have urged the Bureau of Justice Statistics to repeat the investigation using live interviewers from outside the corrections system.
The study found that some institutions had rates of sexual abuse at least twice the national average. It singled out more than 40 prisons and local jails. In addition, it cited two military facilities and a jail on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a federal review panel at the Justice Department can summon the administrators who operate some of these facilities to hearings to explain their policies.
In addition to exercising that option, the Justice Department needs to press prisons and jails to create detailed systems for preventing and investigating rape and to improve medical and mental health care for victims. Despite the federal law, it is clear that not enough has been done to make sure all inmates are protected from rape.
Original post: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/opinion/sunday/rape-behind-bars.html?_r=1&