Stop Prisoner Rape Hails Governor's Signing of Historic Law in California

September 22, 2005

SACRAMENTO, CA - Today, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Sexual Abuse in Detention Elimination Act (AB 550), which passed the California Legislature on September 7. The legislation, now cited as Chapter 303, Statutes of 2005, lays the foundation for California, which runs the largest prison system in the country, to be a national leader in the fight to end prisoner rape.

"The passage of this law is a significant milestone for California, finally giving this all-too-common human rights violation the attention it deserves in our state. We applaud the governor for signing it and legislators of both parties who supported its passage," said Katherine Hall-Martinez, a spokesperson for Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR), a Los Angeles-based national human rights organization.

The legislation's general purpose is to prevent, reduce, and effectively respond to sexual abuse of inmates and wards while held in detention facilities operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Among the legislation's specific purposes are that the CDCR do the following:

  • Provide inmates and wards with informational handbooks regarding sexual abuse in detention;
  • Adopt specified policies, practices, and protocols related to the placement of inmates, physical and mental health care of inmate victims, and investigation of sexual abuse;
  • Ensure accurate data collection concerning sexual abuse across all institutions which is accessible to the public; and
  • Develop guidelines for the provision of resources and counseling from outside organizations to inmates and wards.

The legislation also creates the Office of the Sexual Abuse in Detention Ombudsperson to ensure confidential reporting and impartial resolution of sexual abuse complaints in CDCR facilities.

The law was designed to assist California in complying with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003. PREA was the first-ever federal legislation addressing prisoner rape, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law by President George W. Bush.

While there are few reliable statistics on prisoner rape, studies in the U.S. have estimated that one in five male inmates have been sexually abused, usually by another inmate. Rates for women, who are most likely to be abused by male staff, reach as high as one in four in some facilities. According to a recent U.S. Bureau of Justice report, in 2004 alone, 149 California prisoners stepped forward to report being sexually assaulted, despite many factors that deter their reports to officials.

"Prisoner rape is a longstanding and ongoing problem in California's prisons, as it is around the country. Provided it is fully implemented, this legislation has the potential to pierce the veil of silence surrounding prisoner rape and, ultimately, to lower its incidence in California," Hall-Martinez added.

For more information, please contact Lamar Glover at 213-384-1400, ext 105.