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Sexual Assault Rampant in Nation's Prisons

The New York Review of Books recently published a piece that takes a hard look at the problem of rape in the nation's prisons and jails. The authors discuss a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) on rape in federal and state prisons and county jails. The report says that 64,500 inmates reported having been sexually abused at their current facility within the last year and 24,000 reported being abused in the county jail they were currently being held in.

The authors of the study believe that the total people sexually abused in prisons last year is well over 100,000 people because the previous numbers did not take into account minors who are abused in juvenile detention centers or other kinds of correctional facilities. The BJS was also only surveying people that day who were in jail, but many people stay in jail for less than a year. Most inmates who have been sexually abused while incarcerated report at least 3 to 5 incidents of sexual assault each.

Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003, which created the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC). The commission's job is to develop national standards for preventing, detecting, reducing and punishing sexual assault in prison. In the NYRB piece, the authors urge Attorney General Eric Holder to speed up this reform that has been delayed for months because of concern over the costs of implementing the national standards.

The authors take time to point out the innumerable and high costs already being paid by prisons because of the high incidence of rape, such as medical costs for caring for rape victims, treating for sexually transmitted illnesses and therapy for emotional trauma. Some prisoners who were victims of sexual assault also won civil lawsuits after they left prison by proving that prison officials willfully failed to protect them from abuse.

The authors argue that the benefits of reform would at least equal, if not far outweigh the costs. They argue that safer prisons are better for everyone and also lead to a much more successful reintegration into society once a person is released. 

 

Source:

Prison Rape: Eric Holder's Unfinished Business (The New York Review of Books)

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