Friday, June 8, 2012

CHRISTIANITY TODAY: Feature Article "Federal Standards to End Prison Rape: Late and Inc"

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 Federal Standards to End Prison Rape: Late and Inc
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Prison Advocates on Federal Standards to End Prison Rape: Late and Incomplete

Justice Fellowship calls the Department of Justice's decision to exclude immigration facilities from new rules "outrageous."
Tobin Grant | posted 6/07/2012 10:51AM

The Department of Justice recently issued new standards to end sexual abuse in federal prisons, receiving mixed reviews from prison advocates. Prisoner advocacy groups welcomed the rules announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on May 17, but they criticized the DOJ for its two year delay and its exclusion of immigration facilities from the new standards.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 established, for the first time in federal law, a zero tolerance policy for prisoner sexual abuse and rape. The act was supported by a broad coalition that included the Human Rights Watch, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Prison Fellowship, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Amnesty International USA, and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

The act mandated the creation of a National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to gather information, hold hearings, and report its findings and recommendations. The commission developed a proposed set of national standards designed to prevent, detect, and punish prison rape, which it announced in June 2009.

The Justice Department was expected to finalize the rules a year after the commission's report. In May 2010, the NAE wrote to Attorney General Holder, encouraging him to adopt the recommendations from the commission. The NAE welcomed the new standards announced this month.

"These very important prison rape standards should have come sooner, but we're grateful they are here now," said Galen Carey, NAE's vice president for government relations.

The new standards include

restrictions on cross-gender pat-down searches
ban on inappropriate cross-gender viewing of inmates in showers
separation of youth from adult inmates (youth may still be housed in adult facilities)
training of staff and guards
mandatory investigations of all reports of abuse
screening of inmates to protect those most likely to be victims
establish multiple channels for inmates to report abuse
disciplinary actions against staff and guards who abuse prisoners
independent audits of facilities every three years.

The Justice Department's rules do not apply to state and local governments, which incarcerate most of the prisoners in the United States. According to a survey, one out of 10 state prisoners were sexually assaulted during their last incarceration. States that do not comply with the standards will lose five percent of the federal funds provided from federal grants.

Also excluded from the standards are immigration and other facilities that do not fall directly under Justice Department authority. Officials said that all federal agencies are required to comply with the act but that the Justice Department would leave it up to other agencies to devise their own rules.

Justice Fellowship, the criminal justice reform affiliate of Prison Fellowship, said that immigration and other federal facilities should have been included in the new standards. Justice Fellowship president Pat Nolan called Holder's decision to exclude immigration facilities from the new rules "outrageous."

"It was clearly the intent of Congress that every person in confinement in the U.S. would be protected from being raped. Holder's decision leaves those in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, many of whom are not accused of a crime, at the mercy of sexual predators," Nolan said. "Shame on Mr. Holder and Ms. Napolitano for allowing this to occur."

The commission recommended that the rules include immigration and even proposed specific rules that should apply to immigration facilities. Rather than adopt these rules, the Justice Department used them as evidence of the uniqueness of immigrant needs. The Department of Homeland Security will need to write rules for immigrants in custody.
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