Right now, you can help make sure that the Department of Justice protects all people behind bars from the pain and trauma of sexual abuse. The Department has released proposed national standards addressing sexual abuse in detention, and is accepting public comments until April 4, 2011.
The proposed standards include basic measures for prisons and jails to follow in order to prevent and respond to sexual abuse. You can read the standards here.
Your comments will have an impact on the final standards, which – once adopted by Attorney General Eric Holder – will be binding on prisons nationwide.
- Write your own story. Are you a survivor of sexual abuse in detention? Tell the Department of Justice about your experience and how strong standards could have kept you safe. You can submit your comments anonymously or sign your name. (For instructions on keeping your personal identifying information private, see “I. Posting of Public Comments” on page 1.)
- Write a letter based on JDI’s talking points. Whether or not you are a survivor of sexual abuse, your voice counts. Tell the Department of Justice why you care about every person’s right to be free from sexual violence.
- Use JDI’s sample letter. You can add your own words or submit the letter as written.
JDI Sample Letter
You can copy and paste the following letter onto the Department of Justice’s online public comment form. You may make any changes or additions to JDI’s sample letter, or you may submit it as written.
You may sign your name to your letter, or you may submit your comments anonymously. For instructions on keeping your personal or business information private, see “ I. Posting of Public Comments” on page 1.
JDI Sample letter to the DOJ
JDI Talking Points
We encourage you to include some or all of the following points in your public comments to the Department of Justice.
- The national standards must apply to immigration detention facilities.
All people behind bars have basic human rights. No person, no matter the reason for his/her detention, should be subjected to sexual abuse. People in immigration detention are exceptionally vulnerable to rape. In its own report, the Department of Justice writes, “Protection from sexual abuse should not depend on where an individual is incarcerated: it must be universal.” Urge the Department to uphold this value by making the standards binding on immigration detention facilities, as well as prisons and jails.
- Survivors of sexual abuse must not be put in segregated housing against their will.
Too often, officials place survivors in isolation after an assault, claiming that it is for their own protection. While some survivors of abuse may feel safer in such housing, many others are further traumatized by being locked up alone for 23 hours a day. Isolation is typically used as punishment within detention facilities, and survivors should not be punished for having the courage to report abuse. Even when the explicit reason for segregation is protection, not punishment, inmates usually lose access to programs, jobs, their belongings, and visits. Tell the Department of Justice that abusers – not survivors – should be placed in involuntary segregated housing.
- Prisoner rape survivors must be able to speak, confidentially, with a community-based victim advocate after reporting sexual assault.
Community-based rape crisis counselors, also known as victim advocates, are trained in responding to survivors of sexual abuse – providing emotional support and information throughout the investigative process. Survivors are much more likely to report abuse and participate in investigations if they are able to get help from such an advocate. The Department of Justice is proposing that prisons be allowed to designate one of their own staff to serve as a victim advocate, in place of a community-based rape crisis counselor. But having a victim advocate who works for the prison defeats the purpose; there is no guarantee that such a staff person would have adequate training or experience working with rape survivors, and most survivors are reluctant to confide in staff – particularly if the perpetrator was a staff member, which is all too common. Insist that the Department require facilities to provide survivors with a community-based advocate.
- Detention facilities must limit cross-gender pat searches and viewing of inmates using the toilet or shower.
According to the Department of Justice’s own research, conducted by its Bureau of Justice Statistics, most staff-on-inmate sexual abuse is cross-gender – female staff abusing male inmates or male staff abusing female inmates. Internationally, it is standard practice to make sure that staff cannot view inmates of the opposite sex while they are nude, and that pat searches are conducted by staff of the same sex, except in cases of emergency. Tell the Department to insist that U.S. detention facilities limit cross-gender viewing and pat searches to emergency situations only.
- Detention facilities must have fair grievance systems.
Grievance systems provide inmates with a way to complain about conditions in the facility. Prisoner rape survivors are required to use a facility’s grievance system first, before having their sexual assault case heard in court. The Department of Justice’s proposed standards require systems to have a deadline of at least 20 days to file a complaint – shorter than the current deadlines in 18 state prison systems. In many places, therefore, this standard might actually make it harder for prisoner rape survivors to seek justice. In the aftermath of a sexual assault, most survivors – whether in prison or in the community – are in severe crisis and do not report the abuse right away. Survivors behind bars can’t call a crisis line for help, and they can’t get advice from a trusted friend or family member. Ask the Department to mandate that sexual abuse grievances not be subject to these short deadlines.
- Youth must be removed from adult facilities
Youth housed in adult facilities are at especially grave risk of sexual abuse. Corrections officials have to place children and teenagers in the general population, where they are likely to be abused by adult inmates, or isolate them, which can have a devastating impact on young people’s mental health. Neither option is safe and appropriate for youth. Tell the Department of Justice to protect young people from sexual abuse by keeping minors out of adult prisons and jails.
- The standards must be properly enforced through independent oversight.
No matter how strong the final standards are, they will be meaningless if they don’t require that detention facilities be subjected to independent, external oversight. The Department of Justice proposes allowing corrections agencies to use an internal employee for measuring compliance with the standards. With rampant sexual abuse in prisons and jails across the country, we can no longer rely on corrections facilities to police themselves. Tell the Department to require that independent agencies be responsible for monitoring compliance with the standards.