Details of the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Little has been written in the press about the substance of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. We may have been too hasty in endorsing those who criticize the Act. Sometimes reform has to begin with small steps. Here are some of the beneficial provisions, according to information we have received:

The bill authorizes $40 million in rape prevention grants, establishes at DOJ a review panel with subpoena power to call to Washington prison and jail officials who run facilities with high incidences of prison rape, and establishes an independent national commission (not a Justice Department Commission) with the power to promulgate standards on prison rape that will apply to the overwhelming majority of prisons and jails in the country.

The Act establishes a framework for action at many levels, including federal, state, and local prison systems; the Justice Department; accreditation organizations like the ACA; and the national commission. The Act also provides that federal, state, and local officials must participate in surveys and studies, and the selection of facilities “shall not be disclosed to any facility or prison system official prior to the time period studied in the survey.”

The next important development with respect to this legislation will be the appointment of the 9 members of the National Prison Rape Reduction Commission. (The bill provides that 3 members are to be appointed by the President, 1 member by Senator Frist, 2 members by Senator Daschle, 1 member by Speaker Hastert, and 2 members by Rep. Pelosi. All must “consult with one another prior to the appointment of the members of the Commission to achieve, to the maximum extent possible, fair and equitable representation of various points of view with respect to the matters to be studied by the Commission.” Within 15 days after the members’ appointment, the President shall select the chairperson.)

An excellent test of the Republicans’ commitment to making this legislation work will be the identity of the members they appoint. We'll keep an eye out and report here.

As to the bill's conservative, religion-based supporters, we're told that contrary to reports of their being interested mainly in pushing religion on inmates, that they appeared to be earnestly interested in passing the strongest bill possible.

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