Protecting Prisoners From Rape: First Steps

Sexual violence in prisons is widely acknowledged, rarely discussed, and inexplicably tolerated. Given the culture of vengeance that has been the driving force behind the nation's philosophy of punishment for the last 30 years, it may be that people figure that prisoners deserve whatever happens to them in prison, including rape. Or it may be that people just don't care. They should, because the consequences of prison rape affect society at large, not just the imprisoned victim.

Fortunately, Congress cared enough in 2003 to pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act. While the Act could have done much more to address the problem, it represents an important beginning. Among its other requirements, the law created a commission to recommend national standards to address sexual violence in correctional facilities. That task was recently completed, and the Justice Department now has a year to promulgate a final set of standards that will be binding in federal prisons. State prisons will also need to adopt the standards if they don't want to lose a measly 5 percent of the federal funding they receive that relates to corrections.

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The indispensable American Constitution Society for Law and Policy has a new issue brief (pdf) that examines the proposed standards. It urges Attorney General Holder to ratify them, while pointing out the importance of establishing a mechanism for assuring that prisons actually comply with the standards. Holder has a lot on his plate, but he nonetheless needs to make ratification of the standards a high priority.

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    I think your (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by JamesTX on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 01:34:17 PM EST
    speculation about the cause is correct:

    Given the culture of vengeance that has been the driving force behind the nation's philosophy of punishment for the last 30 years, it may be that people figure that prisoners deserve whatever happens to them in prison, including rape.

    In fact, even on progressive blogs, the implication of being raped in prison is alluded to as part of the punishment.

    It may be time we figured out that it matters to everybody how prisoners are treated.

    It certainly is mentioned in pop culture (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Jen M on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 01:40:01 PM EST
    tv etc.  

    I don't know how many times I have heard offhand remarks in tv shows or movies. Something along the lines of put that so and so rapist behind bars and see how he likes it.

    It certainly is a tempting to think that way but it is only a feeling that I know in my heart is dead wrong.

    Yes, and all the (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by KeysDan on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 01:56:23 PM EST
    mindless "jokes" that go unchallenged.

    And the mindless people... (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 01:59:21 PM EST
    ...who equate jokes with rape.  

    Absolutely (none / 0) (#5)
    by KeysDan on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 02:10:27 PM EST
    If Obama was serious... (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by kdog on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 02:17:51 PM EST
    about this issue, he could help without the assistance of Congress by issuing thousands upon thousands of pardons...ya can't get raped in p.m.i.t.a. prison if you aren't in p.m.i.t.a. prison...but we know nobody really gives a damn about the life of prisoners unless you're unlucky enough to know one.  

    That is your answer? (none / 0) (#7)
    by nyjets on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 02:34:09 PM EST
    That is your answer to the real issue of rape in prisons. By putting criminals, many of whom are in prison for a reason, back on the street?

    Why yes, yes it is... (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by kdog on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 03:01:54 PM EST
    I ain't down with non-violent offenders effectively being sentenced by the state to the heinous fate of rape.  Since I have no faith in the prison industry or the government to rectify the situation in any meaningful way, common decency dictates we have to let those who pose little risk of violent re-offense go.

    If you are talking about about.... (none / 0) (#9)
    by nyjets on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 03:25:48 PM EST
    If you are talking about people convictted of
    'non-violent' offenses you have a point and would, at least in theory, agree with you. However, I do not want people who commited serious and/or violent crimes back on the streets and issueing 'lots and lots' of pardons will do exactly that.

    I'd rather them on the streets... (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by kdog on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 03:37:28 PM EST
    than in cages with an unwelcome visitor in their bum that "we the people" enable, and pay for. That kinda makes us accesories to rape.

    Pardons for non-violent offenders alone would number in the tens of thousands...nothing to sneeze at.

    The whole bloody system is a disgrace for a supposedly free country...prison rape is but one symptom of our national disease.


    Another problem (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by jbindc on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 04:53:58 PM EST
    Obama can't pardon people in state prisons for state crimes. That is only the purview of the governor of each state.

    Besides the fact that it would be ludicrous to just open prison doors and let them all go free.


    Prisons can't prevent (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by Cards In 4 on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 03:29:39 PM EST
    violence among the prisoners which is why so many join gangs when they get in.  Beatings and stabbings also take place and anyone saying prisoners deserve them are scum. Documenting the problem and tallying the instances is great and  needed.  But how are rapes to be stopped?  

    You can't eliminate interactions between prisoners.  Do rapes occur under the noses of the guards and they ignore it?  Are the prisons undermanned?

    Rape is another manifestation of violence in prisons between prisoners.  I'm not cynical enough yet to think that all prison violence could be stopped if only the authorities really wanted it to.  Are there high security prisons that do not have instances of rape and violence officials are doing something right?  

    If a commission can come up with ways to prevent rape it will be the most productive commission ever and I wish it good luck.

    Nonsense (none / 0) (#13)
    by NYShooter on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 05:28:03 PM EST
    "Prisons can't prevent violence among the prisoners"

    How would you know that? They've never tried. I've had too much experience with police departments, and incarceration to let a comment like that go by unchallenged.

    Ordinary people don't apply to become police officers and/or prison guards (including their managements) because they "want to help people." They apply because they have characteristics as bad, and often worse, than the perpetrators and convicts they wield authority over. They tend to be insecure people, lacking in self esteem, and never having completed a healthy maturation process. Granting them authority over lesser souls, and giving them license to act out their repressed aggressive, even sadistic, inner forces makes them feel "whole."

    Putting psychologically qualified, and trained, people in charge of our prisoners would be a good first step in preventing "violence among the prisoners." Of course, that won't  happen because "we," and therefore the politicians don't want to prevent it.


    Interesting (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Steve M on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 06:58:15 PM EST
    My cousin is a prison guard and I wouldn't say your description fits him at all.

    As always (none / 0) (#16)
    by NYShooter on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 09:43:26 PM EST
    I should have used the word, "most."

    My apologies.

    But, I also have relatives who are prison guards, and police officers. And I also would like to believe they don't fit the desciption either.

    But I also don't recall any of them speaking up, or reporting to higher authorities, brutalities, rapes, and/or beatings they may have witnessed.

    Of course, as with the guard cousin we just had a retirement party for, after finishing a 35 year career, he may have never witnessed such things at all.


    Just saying (none / 0) (#17)
    by Steve M on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 10:38:29 PM EST
    I think a lot of people pursue the job because they need a job, full stop, particularly when you think about some of the prisons that are located in isolated rural areas without a lot of jobs for the locals.

    I'm sure there are some people who grow up saying "mommy, I want to be a prison guard someday," and maybe I'd wonder about the sort of mentality that pushes them towards that career goal, but I'm not sure how many people actually fall into that category.  I'd be more inclined to think that most of them either fit into my cousin's category, or perhaps they trained for a generic career in criminal justice and came to find out that the job openings were in prisons.  Dunno really!


    Fair enough (none / 0) (#19)
    by NYShooter on Wed Jul 08, 2009 at 01:53:26 AM EST
    My father was a psychiatrist and worked for the NYS Dept. of Mental Hygiene. He also worked in the prison system, and as an "expert, was often called upon to testify in court cases involving all these issues.

    I certainly don't believe his knowledge was transferrable to me, nor do I claim to be an authority on this subject. But, from a lot of reading, discussions with my father, anecdotal evidence, and personal experience, I believe the points I stated in my prior posts are true to a much greater extent than most people realize.

    Of course many people, simply needing jobs, will fill out almost any application to make a living. That's completely understandable. I was speaking of those who choose these positions for reasons that have nothing to do with making a living, or contributing to society.

    Finally, most of us know people who work in these occupations, and for the most part, out in society, they act and behave like anyone else. But it is also true, as we discovered with the Catholic Priest scandal, once behind locked doors, many assume different personalities. It was true in Auschwitz 65 years ago; it's true in Attica today


    This subject is almost too painful (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by FoxholeAtheist on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 08:16:35 PM EST
    to contemplate, as is the death penalty. It absolutely HAS to be talked about, yet I can't bring myself to formulate a substantive response on either subject.

    Jeralyn, I thank you, and others, who have the wherewithal to tackle something like this head-on. It's a great credit to Talk Left - not a lot of blogs would even go there.

    Culture of sexual violence (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Lora on Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 10:46:19 PM EST
    As a culture we are schizoprhenic about sexual violence.  On the one hand, as a frenzied mob we can beat up a completely innocent man and an uncharged and possibly innocent man on suspicion of rape.  We can proclaim that a rapist deserves death, and occasionally we can even convict and sentence rapists to prison in a court of law.

    On the other hand we often still look the other way when it comes to acquaintance rape, domestic rape, rape in military settings, rape of women in other countries, rape of men, rape of children by people they know and love, and of course rape of prisoners.

    As a culture we don't really seem to take rape seriously unless it happens to someone we know and love, or when a stranger brutally attacks a young woman.  Other than that, we deny its existence, or if we can't, then we deny its importance.

    Until we protect all members of our society, including prisoners, from sexual violence, we are condoning it and allowing it to become more prevalent and accepted.

    prison rape (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by womanwarrior on Thu Jul 09, 2009 at 12:32:20 AM EST
       No, diogenes, I don't.  People with life without parole have nothing to lose.  And the death penalty does not deter people.  
       We need a culture of less vengeance.
       And none of you appear to remember the many women in prison who are raped by guards, while their guard friends cover up for them.  I represented 3 women who were raped by a federal prison guard after another inmate had informed the BOP about what he was doing, after she was transferred out.  The BOP did not investigate.  Finally he raped a woman who was hospitalized for bleeding and they had to fire the guy.  He had raped at least six others.  He got 4 months in jail because he was charged with a misdemeanor.  We sued for money and got it.  I will be very interested to see if the FBOP changes one whit.  

    death penalty and prison rape (none / 0) (#20)
    by diogenes on Wed Jul 08, 2009 at 08:09:11 PM EST
    You know, if we had videocameras in prisons, got serious about getting biological evidence/sperm when rapes were seen, and gave the life in prison to convicted prison rapists (except for death to those already doing life terms), do you think that the prison rape rate would go down?

    A double standard I'd like to point out. (none / 0) (#22)
    by Animal on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 02:21:27 PM EST
    From what I've read and heard, the system and society is rather indifferent to inmates being raped in prison. It's rarely punished. On the other hand, if an inmate takes action to prevent that from occuring, like say for instance, he arms himself and kills some bully in there, he'll be up for Murder One. And will likely spend the rest of his life there. It's a double standard.