Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Allowing this kind of hell to exist has got to be one of the worst systematic civil rights violations that still exist in this country

The U.S. Department of Justice recently released its first-ever estimate of the number of inmates who are sexually abused in America each year. According to the department’s data, which are based on nationwide surveys of prison and jail inmates as well as young people in juvenile detention centers, at least 216,600 inmates were victimized in 2008 alone. Contrary to popular belief, most of the perpetrators were not other prisoners but staff members—corrections officials whose job it is to keep inmates safe. On average, each victim was abused between three and five times over the course of the year. The vast majority were too fearful of reprisals to seek help or file a formal complaint.

Just to calibrate, the total number of sexual assaults reported outside of prisons in the US is something like 190,000 a year.

Sexual violence is not an inevitable part of prison life. On the contrary, it is highly preventable. Corrections officials who are committed to running safe facilities train their staff thoroughly. They make sure that inmates who are especially vulnerable to abuse—such as small, mentally ill, and gay or transgender detainees—are not housed with likely perpetrators. And they hold those who commit sexual assaults accountable, even if they are colleagues.

But many corrections administrators are reluctant to make sexual abuse prevention a top priority, preferring to maintain the status quo rather than acknowledge the role their own employees play. Others are actually fighting reform efforts, claiming, in spite of the evidence, that sexual violence is rare.

This resistance is reflected in the slow implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which Congress unanimously passed in 2003. The law mandated binding national standards to help end sexual abuse in detention. But almost eight years later, the Justice Department has yet to promulgate final standards.

Take California for example, where the prison guard union is among the most powerful in the country.  Given how far in the tank legislators in that state are for their public unions, it is hugely unlikely this will get addressed any time soon


  1. Foxfier:

    Can we go to Japanese style jails already? Less mingling = less chances for victimization.

    True, the data source is not one I'd consider all that good-- a survey asking "were you victimized sexually while under police control?", even ignoring the possibility of lying (in either direction), is going to get a higher response rate from those who were than those who weren't. (depending on how the survey was done, those who were abused and really feared reprisals wouldn't respond if they thought it could be traced back to them)

  2. SChaser:

    I find it interesting that liberal media folks joke about prison rape. You know, those liberals who are such outstanding protectors of human rights? Everyone got upset about water-boarding a few of the world's worst terrorists, while our prison population is subject to worse on a routine basis.

  3. caseyboy:

    Gives new meaning to, "if you don't want to do the time, don't do the crime."

  4. chuck martel:

    If the incarceration rate in the US is indicative of the level of civilization attained, if having more humans behind bars than any nation now or ever is a testimonial to progress, what's the point? Let's just acknowledge total failure and start over.