Summary: Being a Third World nation is largely a state of mind. The distinguishing characteristic of a First World Nation (a civilized society) is that the people (leaders and citizens) respect their laws. That’s disappearing in America. Here we look at one small aspect of that: how we treat our prisoners. Links to the vast literature describing this shame appear at the end. You, of course, don’t care about this symptom — but the underlying malady will touch you and your descendents.
Prison rape. It’s become a joke, an accepted part of the American criminal justice system. Tangible evidence of our abandonment of law and regression to third world standards of government. Fortunately for civilization, there are other nations that will carry the torch that we’ve thrown in the mud.
I would love to personally escort Ken Lay to an eight-by-ten cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, quote, ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.’
— Bill Lockyer, Attorney General of California, May 2001
For a more detailed picture, see “Prison Rape and the Government“, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, New York Review of Books, 24 March 2011 — Excerpt:
According to a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a branch of the Department of Justice, there were only 7,444 official allegations of sexual abuse in detention in 2008, and of those, only 931 were substantiated. These are absurdly low figures. But perhaps more shocking is that even when authorities confirmed that corrections staff had sexually abused inmates in their care, only 42 percent of those officers had their cases referred to prosecution; only 23 percent were arrested, and only 3 percent charged, indicted, or convicted. Fifteen percent were actually allowed to keep their jobs.
How many people are really victimized every year? Recent BJS studies using a “snapshot” technique have found that, of those incarcerated on the days the surveys were administered, about 90,000 had been abused in the previous year, but as we have argued previously,2 those numbers were also misleadingly low. Finally, in January, the Justice Department published its first plausible estimates. In 2008, it now says, more than 216,600 people were sexually abused in prisons and jails and, in the case of at least 17,100 of them, in juvenile detention. Overall, that’s almost six hundred people a day—twenty-five an hour.
… All the numbers we have cited count people who were abused, not instances of abuse. … Between half and two thirds of those who claim sexual abuse in adult facilities say it happened more than once; previous BJS studies suggest that victims endure an average of three to five attacks each per year.
… The notion that rape is inevitable in our prisons is, as the Justice Department says, “not only incorrect but incompatible with American values.” After all, the government has extraordinary control over the lives of people whom it locks up and keeps under surveillance every hour of every day. Preventing sexual abuse in detention is primarily a matter of management. The policies needed are, for the most part, straightforward … Well-run prisons have adopted such policies already, and their rates of sexual assault are dramatically lower than the national average. But for too long, too many facilities have failed to take these basic measures.
This need not be. American can be so much more, if we but have the will to make it so. It’s our choice.
For more information
Everybody knows about this. These are only some of the studies documenting it. We just don’t care.
- “Reform School“, John Pfaff, Slate, 19 February 2009 — “Five myths about prison growth dispelled”
- Report of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, June 2009 — The Commission was established by the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act.
- “California’s Choice“, Kevin Drum, blog at Mother Jones, 19 November 2009
- Can Our Shameful Prisons Be Reformed?, David Cole, New York Review of Books, 19 November 2009
- “Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2008-09“, Allen J. Beck, Paul Guerino and Paige M. Harrison, Dept of Justice, 7 January 2010
- News story about the above report: “The Crisis of Juvenile Prison Rape: A New Report“, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, blog of the NY Review of Books, 7 January 2010
- “The Rape of American Prisoners“, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, The New York Review, 11 March 2010
- “The Way to Stop Prison Rape“, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, The New York Review, 25 March 2010
- “Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2008-09“, US Department of Justice, August 2010
- About the above report: “Prison Rape: Eric Holder’s Unfinished Business“, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, blog of the New York Review of Books, 26 August 2010
- Proposed National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA): Initial Regulatory Impact Analysis for Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, by the United States Department of Justice, 24 January 2011
- Sexual Victimization Reported by Adult Correctional Authorities, 2007–2008, by Allen J. Beck and Paul Guerino, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 26 January 2011
- National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the United States Department of Justice, Federal Register, 3 February 2011
Other posts about the decline of America’s respect for our laws
- Another step away from our Constitutional system, with applause, 19 September 2008
- Listen to the crowds cheering Sarah Palin, hear the hammerblows of another nail in the Constitution’s coffin, 8 February 2010
- Another nail put in the Constitution’s coffin, but we don’t care, 9 February 2010
- The Feds decide who to lock up for life (not just at Guantanamo), another nail in the Constitution’s coffin, 2 June 2010
- Code red! The Constitution is burning., 5 August 2010
- An Appalling Threat to Civil Liberties and Democracy, 8 August 2010
- Every day the Constitution dies a little more, 1 September 2010 — About US government assassination programs
- What do our Constitution-loving conservatives say about our government’s assassination programs?, 2 September 2010
- Cutting down the tree of liberty, 9 September 2010 — Government secrets trump fair trials.
- The guilty ones responsible for the loss of our liberties, 11 September 2010
- A great philosopher and statesman comments on the Bush-Obama tweaks to the Constitution, 10 October 2010
- This week’s news: many stories showing that the Constitution is dead, 8 December 2010
- The long-term consequences to America of torturing Bradley Manning, 15 March 2011
- An opportunity to look in the mirror, to more clearly see America, 10 November 2009