Prison Rape: Another National Scandal Ignored by Obama Admin

Prison rape in America is a national scandal, one without any constituency, one of the few sexual assaults about which late-night comics (and, sometimes, progressive bloggers) can still get a laugh or an LOL. The Department of Justice was, by law, supposed to implement 2009 recommendations by June 2010; these will cost money, though, and it’s money the American prison-industrial complex whines to Attorney General Eric Holder it does not have.

Nearly 90,000 inmates were sexually abused last year at the hands of guards and fellow prisoners, the government reported Thursday.

The report has added fuel to a years-long push by prison reformers and human rights advocates for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to adopt stricter standards to rein in prison rape — rules the agency was supposed to put in place in June, but has delayed due to pressures from the prison industry.

Thursday’s report, issued by the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), reveals that a failure to act can have serious consequences, with roughly 88,500 inmates found to be victims of sexual assault last year. About 64,500 of those inmates were being held in prisons — representing 4.4 percent of the nation’s prison population — and 24,000 in jails (3.1 percent of the jail population).

Did the Attorney General follow the law and issue implementing regulations in June that would address this scandal that’s hidden behind bars, as the 2003 law required him to do?  . . .

It didn’t happen.

Instead, Attorney General Eric Holder said earlier this year that the agency has delayed the process over concerns from the prisons that the proposed guidelines would be too expensive to implement.

“When I speak to wardens, when I speak to people who run local jails, when I speak to people who run state facilities, they look at me and they say, ‘Eric, how are we supposed to do this?’ ” Holder told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee in March. “ ‘If we are going to segregate people, build new facilities, do training, how are we supposed to do this?’ ”

A DOJ spokeswoman said earlier this month that the agency will issue proposed standards this fall — meaning the final rules likely won’t take hold for months afterward.

The delay means real heartbreak for real people with real families, and real expense for real taxpayers, despite the Attorney General’s not-quite-promise that he’ll get around to it sometime:

"Every day that the Attorney General doesn’t finalize the national standards is another day of anguish among prisoner rape survivors, of preventable safety breaches in prisons and jails, and of significant spending of taxpayers’ money on medical treatment, investigations, and litigation that could have been avoided," Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, a prisoner-rights group, said Thursday in a statement.

Unfortunately, some of the people Eric Holder is listening to when they plead with him to delay implementation of these reforms are the employers of the prison predators. It’s not just inmates who sexually assault inmates in America’s prisons and jails: more prisoners and jail inmates report assaults by guards than by other inmates. These are guards employed by wardens who have convinced the Attorney General to give them more time:

Of note, more prisoners reported sexual assaults involving facility staff (2.8 percent) than other inmates (2.1 percent). The same trend held true in jails, where 2.0 percent of inmates reported sex or sexual contact with staff, versus 1.5 percent reporting incidents involving jailmates.

These people are in prison for crimes they’ve committed and they should be punished (or they are awaiting trial in jail). But their punishment (or pre-trial detention) should not, in America, include rape.

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