The town I grew up in, Addison, Maine, has around 1200 residents. If I were to tell you that in an average year, around 53 of those residents were horribly raped, how would you react? Would you wonder what law enforcement was doing? Would you demand that effort be put forward to stop this victimization at any cost, that no amount of money was too much to invest to make sure that nobody has to live under that constant threat of violence on American soil? Or would you shrug your shoulders and say they probably deserved it?
The Department of Justice recently released a study on prison rape (located here:http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2202 ) indicating that 4.4% of the respondents to the poll had reported being raped or otherwise sexually victimized within the 12 months preceding the study. In 2009, 2,297,400 men, women, and juveniles were held in prisons, jails, and detention centers (source:http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/icps/worldbrief/ ). That means that judging by the numbers released by the DoJ, 101,086 inmates are victimized every year, or one about every five minutes, every hour of every day. In the time it took you to catch up with The Simpsons on television, six people – six American citizens – were horribly and violently sexually victimized.
And nobody seems to want to do anything about it.
It’s very easy to dismiss prison rape as a consequence of crime – after all, everybody knows rape happens in prison all the time, so if you don’t want to get raped, you shouldn’t break laws. It’s easy to see the victims as Other, as less-than-human because after all, they wouldn’t BE in prison if they weren’t already bad people, right?
The United States of America imprisons more of its own citizens per capita than any other nation on the planet: 748 per 100,000, or 0.748%. Out of the 217 countries that I could find statistics for, that’s more than the bottom 21 combined. It’s more than China and the Russian Federation combined. It’s more than Iran, Taiwan, and the UAE put together. Surely we as a nation aren’t so sinful that each and every one of those 2,297,400 people deserve to be put in a place where there’s a good chance they’re going to be raped? In fact, the vast majority of those in prisons or jails – about three quarters – are there for nonviolent offenses, like tax evasion, three-strikes convictions for marijuana possession, and having too many traffic tickets. Hardly the sort of crimes for which brutal rape is anything resembling a fair trade, not that there is such a thing.
Many of you reading this are wondering why we allow this to happen. Why haven’t we told the Department of Justice to do something about this? Actually, we did: In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 was signed into law. This Act put together a National Prison Rape Elimination Commission that, after considering reports, funding, statistics, and testimony, gave US Attorney General Eric Holder until June 23, 2010 to establish new standards for reducing rape and sexual assault in prisons. The standards wouldn’t even have to be mandatory, though prisons would see reduced funding if those standards were not met.
The findings of the commission were sent to Holder in 2009, giving him one year exactly to come up with some new standards. This apparently was not enough time for the Department of Justice, who has stalled the process by hiding behind cost analyses and budget concerns. Although the findings of the commission recommended that the new standards not impose undue costs on the operating budgets of the prisons, it is worth noting that money spent preventing prisoners from being raped by other prisoners and guards (yes, of that 4.4% of prisoners getting raped every year, 2.8% – more than half – was by the staff) is money not spent on medical and mental treatment of the victims. Money spent preventing rape is money not spent on prosecuting rapists. Money spent making sure the staff isn’t sexually torturing the prisoners is money not spent replacing the staff and trying to hide the fact that the new prisoner is an ex-guard (because, after all, we wouldn’t want the ex-guard to be targeted for violence).
At what point do we say enough is enough? At what point do you contact your congressperson or senator and tell them that you are furious at the constant stalling by the Department of Justice and that we need to send a message to them demanding that something be done about this NOW and not later? If for you, that point is now, you can find contact information for your congresspersons here (https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml ) and your senators here (http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm ). Take a look at the report by the DoJ (linked above) and see the data for yourself – glance at the summary page at the very least. Take a look at the World Prison Brief (again, linked above) and see for yourself how many people we put in prison. Then ask yourself: Is this justice?