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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: ) 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: ).  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 ( ) and your senators here ( ).  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?

Originally posted to popecrunch on Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 10:54 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  One of the major problems remains the quality (15+ / 0-)

    of our corrections officers.  Pay is low and qualifications minimal, and all too often the wrong kind of people are recruited to fill the positions.  Ask any inmate and he or she will tell you that many correction officers should be on the other side of the bars.

    Add to that the fact that the environment invites abuse.  Prisoners are held in low regard by officials, and as we saw at Abu Ghraib, the humanity of those imprisoned is often ignored.

    An even greater problem is our propensity to imprison people, complicated by long prison terms and the lack of productive, rehabilitative programs.  As a nation we're all too willing to warehouse people in a facility that is out of sight, out of mind, not taking into consideration how families of inmates are impacted.

    I've concluded that at its core, America harbors a great deal of cruelty, yet refuses to examine this fault.

    "You can't put a civil rights issue on the ballot and let the people decide. .... . If you left it up to the people, we'd have slavery......" ~ Jesse Ventura

    by rontun on Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 11:15:43 AM PDT

  •  Read the comments on Yahoo News (10+ / 0-)

    Any time that a story reports a black man getting arrested, the Comment sections on Yahoo News and the New York Daily News and other sites pour forth racist hatred like we haven't heard since Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    It doesn't matter if the 'crime' is serious, or merely a doofus 21-year old kid trying to regain gridiron glory by attempting to pass himself off as a junior high student so he could play on the school's football team. (That story's Comment Number One, 'That Nig should be in jail', was up until I sent an abuse complaint to Yahoo and it disappeared.)

    But allow me to summarize the point of view of the haters posting at these public sites:

    The prisons are full of ni@@ers and brown guys.

    We should put the rest of the ni@@ers in jail with them.

    They should all get raped as part of their punishment ...

    As near as I can tell, the desired punishment of rape is due simply for the crime of being black in America. But being black shouldn't be a crime in a free country, and nobody deserves to be raped, not even in prison.

    •  Racism in corrections (6+ / 0-)

      A large part of the reason that prisons are full of minorities is that the drug laws are enforced with racial bias:  Members of minorities imprisoned for drug charges far exceeds the proportionate amounts of members of minorities that use drugs (to put it another way, N out of every 100 drug users are black, but N+X out of every 100 people imprisoned for drug crimes are black).  I lack the data right at the moment, but it's on the list for a future article.

  •  A very (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave925, Knucklehead, Lujane, bobsc, DruidQueen

    brave effort to bring light to one of America's darkest, hidden and ignored "secrets".

    Thank you.

    When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it? Eleanor Roosevelt

    by IndyRobin on Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 11:36:30 AM PDT

  •  US is obsessed with "law enforcement" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, bobsc

    regular cops
    customs police
    border patrol

    I can go on and on.

    But there is very little compassion for those who have broken even minor laws

    teenage shop lifters with no priors go through hell to get records expunged.

    •  justice vs. law (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave925, Knucklehead, xylon, Lujane

      The sad result of the legal system in America is that the concept of justice has largely been ignored:  Whether a twenty year sentence for marijuana possession is just and fair or not is irrelevant, the only thing that matters is that some legislator gets to appear tough on crime.  The fact that for every person imprisoned, that's a family ruined, perhaps some children who are suddenly at risk for becoming offenders themselves - that fact is ignored.

  •  Seems like (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, DaleA, xylon, davidseth, Lujane

    this is the biggest problem:

    The United States of America imprisons more of its own citizens per capita than any other nation on the planet

    If we shrank our prison population while maintaining or preferably increasing the guard to prisoner ratio, that should dramatically reduce the amount of rape and other types of violence.

    •  Absolutely (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Garrett, Dave925, Lujane

      It certainly would, but there's no money in it, and nobody wants to be accused of being 'soft on crime' for trying to bring a little bit of logic and reason to the justice system.

    •  bobsc (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave925, swampyankee

      When you increase the number of guards, you statistically increase the number of rapes.
      Many of the guards are sadistic bastards worse than the worst of the prisoners.
      In California, they have one hell of a union to protect them. (not necessarily to protect them from criminal charges, I`ll add)
      While salaries & benefits have been cut across the state, the prison workers` rose by 112%.
      Then we get to the private corporate for profit prisons.
      I think that is the worst idea yet, right after incarcerating the amount of humans we do in this country.
      I`d like to add that even though one might escape violence or rape in jail or prison, the trauma to one`s family is not diminished.
      Worry about something horrible happening, is often just as devastating to some, as it can be from happening.
      If the cowards who vote laws in to not appear "soft on crime", had any idea what their laws inflict on many, they would realize they are not going to heaven.
      There will be tears.
      (Disclosure clause, I have been inside these hells, & more than once)

      I`m already against the next war.

      by Knucklehead on Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 11:44:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Politicians (8+ / 0-)

    find it impossible to pass up the criminal-justice freebie during the election cycle.  This year alone, I've read a half-dozen stories of calls for new laws and punishments and restrictions being ramped up for criminals and parolees.  "Law 'n Order" sells big on election day.

    And there is no blow-back.  What sane competitor-politician is going challenge it only to be labeled "soft on crime?"  They don't even have the balls to discuss it in terms of money.  And the prison system here, in California, is a crushing burden on our more-than-broke state.

    The overcrowding is horrific and the healthcare is being overseen by the federal government.  That's pretty bad but not enough to change it.  The conditions are hardly "correctional."  They breed violence: gangs, murders and rape.

    If that wasn't bad enough, the CCPOA (prison guard union) is the strongest in the state.  They once successfully challenged an early-release proposal to alleviate overcrowding.  Their reasoning?  It would cut into their overtime.  That's the tail wagging the dog.

    I used to be Snow White...but I drifted.

    by john07801 on Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 12:10:24 PM PDT

  •  If none of the perpetrators of nonviolent (8+ / 0-)

    crimes were imprisoned (i.e. marijuana dealers, drug dealers, people who committed property crimes, etc), the prison population would drop drastically and it would be possible to prevent some of this abuse.

    It's easy to get elected if you scream that Jean Valjean should get the electric chair for stealing a baguette because most US voters are woefully undereducated about criminal justice issues.  This comes to roost in far too many people being imprisoned and the kinds of crimes committed against them while they are confined.

  •  Just 4.4%? (0+ / 0-)

    I'm serious. I'm terrified of prison because I assumed it was more like 50%. 4.4% is actually a relief to me. This just goes to show how much the general public is so misinformed. I'm one of them.

    So here is the problem: lots of people will say as I did "just 4.4%" because it is below their expectations. And then they'll just blow off the problem.

    I don't know anything about the subject of prison besides those dreadful weekends when the TV is on msnbc and I can't find the remote. But it has always struck me that prisoners are given too much freedom to do what they want in prison. Or, I wonder, if you are a prisoner, can you request to be separated from the general population? Or, why can't they just mandate 100% video/audio survalence?

    I'm already drunk what more do you want from me?

    by NorthAndEast on Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 09:08:34 PM PDT

    •  NorthAndEast (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave925, swampyankee

      Put it this way.
      If you are in jail with 100 people, how do you think your chances are of not being assaulted? Only 4.4% right.
      But you thought it was more like 50%.
      Not knowing the statistical numbers, you`d be terrified every minute of every day & twice as much at night.
      Now what do you think.
      Do you think the number affected, is equal to the number assaulted?
      That`s the kind of hell the laws throws people into, for having a bag of weed.
      You never know if you`ll be the next one from which they gather statistics.
      If you were sexually assaulted in prison, would you even report it.
      Chances you`d be in for more if you did, no matter if the assault was by a guard or another predator prisoner. So don`t believe the 4.4%

      Yes you can request PC, (protective custody) but then that just makes you a punk, with the chance you`ll be targeted as such, maybe more by the guards.
      My best advice is "do know wrong", but that`s not a guarantee you won`t be looking through bars from the inside, in this country.

      I`m already against the next war.

      by Knucklehead on Wed Sep 01, 2010 at 12:03:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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