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Rights groups urge AG to act on proposed prison rape elimination guidelines

Prisoner rights advocates on Tuesday urged US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile; JURIST news archive] to act quickly to implement proposed guidelines to eliminate prison rape [JURIST news archive]. Speaking at a meeting at the National Press Club [organization website], Prison Fellowship [advocacy website] vice president Pat Nolan said that implementing proposals submitted last year [JURIST report] by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) [official website] could significantly reduce instances of prison rape [AP report]. A broad coalition of advocacy groups sent a letter [text] to Holder earlier this month urging him to, "make a priority of completing [his] review and adopt the standards as swiftly as possible." Earlier this year, Holder told Congress that he hopes to put new standards in place soon, but the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has not provided a definite timeline or details on what proposals will be implemented.

Rape and other forms of sexual abuse have been a recurring issue in the US prison system. Last year, 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 DOJ 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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