Prison Rape

Here is a very sobering article about the problem of prison rape. It focuses on the Roderick Johnson case, (more here) but goes much deeper:

The feminist mantra that "rape isn't about sex, it's about power" may be even more applicable in the prison context, where it is common for men who would have never engaged in sexual contact with other men on the outside to become rapists when incarcerated. What's more, the relationship between rapist and victim in prison is often more than just a sexual one—it can devolve into out-and-out servitude. Victims are given women's names and made to perform household tasks such as cooking food, washing clothes, and cleaning the living space. Roderick Johnson cooked and cleaned for Andrew Hernandez. "It's slavery," he said. "It's being in a position where you have no choice but to do whatever it is you're being told to do. It's like you have no control over your position. You're totally powerless."

The traditional rationale for prison rape is the lack of women, but most psychologists consider this facile. They see prison rape mainly as a means by which people who have been stripped of control over the most basic aspects of their lives—when to eat a meal, take a shower, or watch TV—can reclaim some sense of power.

The $60 million passed by Congress to study prison rape last year is a beginning, but a drop in the bucket. American attitudes towards prison rape must change:

While San Francisco was honing its rape-prevention protocols, the state's attorney general, Bill Lockyer, was joking that he "would love to personally escort" Enron CEO Ken Lay "to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, 'Hi, my name is Spike, honey.' "

Prison rape cases are difficult to prove, and juries can be stingy with damages:

In Butler v. Dowd, a Missouri jury found that three inmates had been raped due to deliberate indifference from the staff, violating the inmates' Eighth Amendment right to be free of "cruel and unusual" punishment. In another case in Connecticut, James v. Tilghman, a jury found that corrections officials' decision to place an inmate in a cell with a suspected sexual predator similarly violated the prisoner's constitutional rights. In those cases, the juries awarded the inmates $1 and nothing, respectively. Both "awards" were upheld on appeal.

[hat tip to defense lawyer Todd Bussert]

Update: This article about 17 year old Wayne Boatright is sad. If we are going to sentence juvenile offenders to adult terms, we have an obligation to create safe prison facilities for them:

Delores Boatwright remembers when her grandson, Wayne, confided on the phone that he was afraid of some of the older men in prison with him, afraid that he would "lose his manhood." The 17-year-old Boatwright asked to be put in protective custody, a locked, solitary cell, where he stayed from mid-October until Dec. 15. He signed himself out because he didn't want to spend Christmas Day, his 18th birthday, alone, his grandmother said. About two months later, on the night of Feb. 21, he was raped and strangled, apparently by adult inmates.

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