Civil Liberties

Rape Rules

Prison assault prevention


A 2008 survey by the U.S. Department of Justice found that 10 percent of state prisoners had been victims of rape or other sexual misconduct, with the aggressors split evenly between inmates and staff members. Nearly a decade after Congress enacted legislation aimed at addressing this problem, the Justice Department has unveiled the new rules mandated by the law.

The regulations, released in June, apply to all incarceration facilities in the United States, which under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 stand to lose 5 percent of their federal funding if they fail to comply.

The 268 pages of guidelines prescribe 43 different action items to combat prison abuse, including minimum staffing levels for juvenile facilities, no time limit for "when an inmate may submit a grievance regarding" sexual abuse, and "methods to ensure effective communication with inmates who are deaf or hard of hearing." They require that inmates be screened "for risk of being sexually abused or sexually abusive," and that post-incident reviews "consider whether the incident was motivated" by hate. Several rules deal specifically with juvenile inmates, separating them from adult prisoners in mixed settings and mandating staffing levels.

The Justice Department estimates implementation will cost states $6.9 billion over 15 years, amounting to an average of $55,000 a year per prison. Judging from comments to the Justice Department summarized in the guidelines, prison officials are concerned that compliance will require hiring additional staff, which could be a tough sell in some states.