US commission proposes prison rape elimination guidelines

[JURIST] Prison rape continues to be a widespread problem in the US, according to a report [text] released Tuesday by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) [official website]. Among other suggestions, the report calls for officials to identify those prisoners who are vulnerable and to protect them, to develop reporting and investigatory procedures for sexual abuse that keep victims safe, and to ensure immediate access to medical and mental health care for those abused. Additionally, the commission found that juveniles are more likely to be subjected to such abuse, especially when confined with adults, and that procedures must be specifically tailored to address those individuals. The commission also called for monitoring technologies in aiding staff supervision, limits on cross-gender supervision, and zero-tolerance policies for correctional labor unions. The report addresses the consequences of sexual abuse in prison facilities:


The sexual abuse of prisoners undermines the very purpose of corrections in America. It is an offense against the victim, an affront to the interests and values of civil society, and a violation of the highest order of American legal jurisprudence, which forbids the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” upon prisoners by corrections officials or by other prisoners.

A 2007 study highlighted in the report found that 4.5 percent of prisoners experienced sexual abuse in the 12 months preceding the study, estimating that 60,500 state and federal prisoners were subjected to sexual abuse during that period. The study found that 2 percent of prisoners were abused by other prisoners and 2.9 percent were abused by correctional staff. Aside from rape and abuse occurring in prison, the report also identifies sexual abuse in correctional supervision facilities including halfway houses, treatment centers, and court diversionary programs.

Rape and other forms of sexual abuse have been a recurring issue in the US prison system. Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion text; JURIST report] that a Massachusetts regulation prohibiting prisoners from receiving sexually explicit mail is constitutional. The Massachusetts prison commissioner defended the regulation on the grounds that it was designed to promote prison safety and security. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] reported [text, PDF] in 2006 that sexual violence in US prisons often goes unreported [JURIST report] because victims fear further abuse or do not trust prison staff. In 2005, the DOJ released its first report [text, PDF; JURIST report] on prison rape in accordance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 [DOJ backgrounder], but admitted that most incidents were probably never reported and that their numbers could not be reliably estimated. The NPREC was created pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which called for the development of national standards for correctional facilities to eliminate prison rape.


 

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