Being a third world nation is a state of mind, as we will learn (about prison rape)

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.

  1. Reform School“, John Pfaff, Slate, 19 February 2009 — “Five myths about prison growth dispelled”
  2. Report of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, June 2009 — The Commission was established by the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act.
  3. California’s Choice“, Kevin Drum, blog at Mother Jones, 19 November 2009
  4. Can Our Shameful Prisons Be Reformed?, David Cole, New York Review of Books, 19 November 2009
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. The Rape of American Prisoners“, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, The New York Review, 11 March 2010
  8. The Way to Stop Prison Rape“, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, The New York Review, 25 March 2010
  9. Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2008-09“, US Department of Justice, August 2010
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. Sexual Victimization Reported by Adult Correctional Authorities, 2007–2008, by Allen J. Beck and Paul Guerino, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 26 January 2011
  13. 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

  1. Another step away from our Constitutional system, with applause, 19 September 2008
  2. Listen to the crowds cheering Sarah Palin, hear the hammerblows of another nail in the Constitution’s coffin, 8 February 2010
  3. Another nail put in the Constitution’s coffin, but we don’t care, 9 February 2010
  4. The Feds decide who to lock up for life (not just at Guantanamo), another nail in the Constitution’s coffin, 2 June 2010
  5. Code red! The Constitution is burning., 5 August 2010
  6. An Appalling Threat to Civil Liberties and Democracy, 8 August 2010
  7. Every day the Constitution dies a little more, 1 September 2010 — About US government assassination programs
  8. What do our Constitution-loving conservatives say about our government’s assassination programs?, 2 September 2010
  9. Cutting down the tree of liberty, 9 September 2010 — Government secrets trump fair trials.
  10. The guilty ones responsible for the loss of our liberties, 11 September 2010
  11. A great philosopher and statesman comments on the Bush-Obama tweaks to the Constitution, 10 October 2010
  12. This week’s news: many stories showing that the Constitution is dead, 8 December 2010
  13. The long-term consequences to America of torturing Bradley Manning, 15 March 2011
  14. An opportunity to look in the mirror, to more clearly see America, 10 November 2009

1 thought on “Being a third world nation is a state of mind, as we will learn (about prison rape)”

  1. NYRB: "Prison Rape: Obama’s Program to Stop It"

    First steps to ending this national disgrace: “Prison Rape: Obama’s Program to Stop It“, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, New York Review of Books, 11 October 2012


    The United States has by far the largest prison system in the world. It is so large, in fact, so sprawling and dispersed, so administratively complex, that just how many people we keep locked up is uncertain. The most commonly cited statistic is that we have about 2.3 million inmates. This comes from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a division of the Justice Department that surveys the national prison system and found that on June 30, 2009, the US had 203,233 federal prisoners, 1,326,547 state prisoners, and 767,620 detainees in local jails.

    But then, in addition, more than 80,000 youth are held in juvenile detention facilities on any given day. Before being deported, about 400,000 people a year also pass through our immigration detention system, which is run mostly by the Department of Homeland Security. Hundreds of thousands more are held in halfway houses and police lockups; no one knows the exact number. The Bureau of Indian Affairs oversees jails in Indian Country, and the Department of Defense has its own network of more than sixty detention facilities all over the globe.

    The people we imprison are overwhelmingly our most disadvantaged: the poor and the poorly educated, the black and the brown, the mentally ill. Typically, they’re given extraordinarily long sentences compared to prisoners in the European Union, often for infractions that would not warrant incarceration elsewhere. And while they’re imprisoned, appalling numbers of them are subjected to sexual abuse. A new BJS study released in May found that approximately one in ten former state prisoners were sexually abused while serving their most recent sentences. Overall (but accounting only for prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities), the Justice Department estimates that more than 209,400 people are sexually abused in US detention every year. This is a national disgrace—especially because prisoner rape is an eminently preventable problem.

    In 2003, however, both chambers of Congress unanimously passed and President Bush signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which called both for extensive study of sexual abuse in detention and national standards to prevent, detect, and respond to it. The Obama administration has now issued those standards. If they are successful—and we believe they will be, to an extent many people may find surprising—not only will they reduce the incidence of prisoner rape dramatically, they will make American detention facilities better run, more humane, and safer places in general. …

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