Free Minds & Free Markets

Trump Can Help Stop Prison Rape

Will Jeff Sessions use his new power to enforce a bill he co-sponsored?

PrisonDuring the lame duck session in December, Congress did something amazing: It actually passed a criminal justice bill. Tucked among the provisions of the bipartisan law were new state reporting requirements on prison rape. While that's great, there's a lot more that could be done if the federal government is serious about stopping this heinous crime.

Back in 2003, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions worked across the aisle with Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy to pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). Evangelical Christians, led by Chuck Colson—the former Watergate conspirator who turned to prison ministry after his own stint on the inside—were instrumental in whipping GOP support. But the Justice Department didn't adopt national PREA standards until 2012. Four years after they went into effect, the Associated Press reported that only 12 states were in full compliance with them.

A nationwide inmate survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in 2011–12 an estimated 4 percent of state and federal prison inmates and 3.2 percent of jail inmates reported being sexually victimized by another inmate or a member of the staff. In 2013, Eli Lehrer wrote at National Review that "PREA has reasonably few real teeth and, as a result, truly awful prisons and jails can still get away with allowing rampant sexual abuse. Cultural attitudes towards prison rape, distressingly, haven't changed much."

One major requirement of the law is that juveniles and other vulnerable inmates be segregated from the general adult population. This is a logistical headache for prisons and jails, especially ones in states that can try juveniles as adults, and the official consequences for failure to comply are rather minor. Under PREA, states risk losing 5 percent of their federal prison grants for noncompliance. Governors of those states are required to submit letters to the Justice Department demonstrating how they are using federal funds to bring their prisons in line. County and local jails are, by and large, not covered by the law at all.

Sessions is now Donald Trump's pick for U.S. Attorney General. If confirmed, he'll have authority over the entire federal Bureau of Prisons system. Will he use his power to enforce the bill he co-sponsored?

Improving federal oversight of state prisons' efforts to stop rape, and strictly enforcing the current standards in federal prisons and immigrant detention centers, are two areas where the new administration and GOP-led Congress could make bipartisan, good-faith progress on criminal justice.

Liberals, conservatives, and libertarians all agree that prison rape is a gross violation of inmates' human dignity and an unacceptable stain on the U.S. justice system. Congress has already shown twice that the two parties can work together on it. It's time to give PREA teeth.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Bart Everson

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  • The Iconoclast||

    "Cultural attitudes towards prison rape, distressingly, haven't changed much."

    Watching Mariska Hargitay sneer "Enjoy getting raped in prison" to some irredeemable perp isn't helping.

    If people understood how much prison rape was guard-on-prisoner, they'd change their tune, despite lots of cultural lolling from the establishment that it's structural, prisoner-on-prisoner, impossible to fix, and probably what they deserve anyway.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    If people understood how much prison rape was guard-on-prisoner, they'd change their tune

    Why? Statists strongly favor people get raped by government employees, and the majority of American voters are statists.

  • SomeGuy||

    This! It drives me nuts on how often i call people i meet out on being a statist. They love to use government for their agendy cons, libs, progs...all of them are statists. I have called out my own family on their hypocrisy.

  • Delius||

    Laws against prison rape strike me as about as logical as laws against gun ownership -- if you have someone who is already shown a willingness to break the law, why are they going to pay attention to yet another one?

  • John||

    Because they have something to lose if they are caught. By your logic why have any laws at all? I mean if the person is going to break them anyway?

    If the state is going to throw people in cages, it assumes the responsibility of ensuring the people it does throw in cages are safe and treated humanly. Therefore, states should not be allowed to not take reasonable measures to ensure their prisoners are not victims of rape.

  • buybuydandavis||

    If the state is going to throw people in cages, it assumes the responsibility of ensuring the people it does throw in cages are safe and treated humanly


    The same with the preprisons known as public schools.

  • SomeGuy||

    I was actually mortified a few years ago when i moved back to IL and passed a school that looked like a prison!!!

  • Principal Spittle||

    This law targets the state to protect those in custody. Did you not read the text of the article?
    This problem is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the injustices we permit our government to perpetrate. For no better reason than budget concerns and lack of sympathy for the victims, two problems inextricably linked in a strong state.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Here you can legitimately punish two for the crime of one. If you remove an individual's freedom, you take on certain responsibilities. If the prison's charged with that responsibility fail, and due to it one person in their charge assaults another, corrective action must be taken on both.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Bailiff, whack his peepee!

  • John||

    Perhaps they will cover it Monday, but I would hope reason has to say something about the death of Chuck Berry. Reason practically dedicated a memorial issue to Lou Reed. Lou Reed was an interesting mole on the ass of 20th Century music. Chuck Berry was a giant. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan all have said in so many words that their music would not exist in any recognizable form without Chuck Berry.

    And Chuck was a hell of a lot more Libertarian than serial leftist Lou Reed. Chuck didn't believe in paying taxes, in age of consent laws and unlike his contemporaries who were all ripped off, Chuck was a wicked smart business man who made sure he held onto his publishing rights. Chuck Berry was a first class capitalist entertainer.

  • Principal Spittle||

    And I'll be sure to make the same point on some of the more dumbed down news sites.

  • Jerry on the sea||

    Taking an underage white girl across state lines and carrying a concealed weapon. Salon will be outraged, right?! Right?!

  • chemjeff||

    Law enforcement of course ought to be a state and local issue.

    However, if there is going to be any federal role at all, I think requiring disclosure of practices and compilation of statistics, that sort of thing, is one of the less egregious ones.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    This is true. Though it's often just a precursor to direct interference.

  • John||

    In some cases the feds should be directly interfering. Just because someone is convicted of a crime and sent to prison does not mean they no longer have any federally protected rights. If a state is running its prisons in such a negligent fashion that the prisoners' federal rights are being violated, the federal government has a duty to step in and make the state respect its citizens' rights.

  • Wally||

    So prisons are lower risk of rape than college campuses. Good to know.

  • Africanis||

    That is a great point, maybe we should just put bars around Berkeley so the coeds there will be safer.

  • Africanis||

    That is a great point, maybe we should just put bars around Berkeley so the coeds there will be safer.

  • Wally||

    I feel so much better.

  • JayB||

    I work in a correctional facility that adheres to the PREA standards. The strict standards influence many of the facility's security and classification policies. It can be very expensive for correctional institutions to conform, and many of these standards have not proven to work. Some of the standards are nonsensical and inmates take advantage of them to acquire a specific housing assignment or to retaliate against a staff member or fellow inmate/detainee. It is definitely well meaning, but it is not consistent with libertarian principles. It is the centralization of corrections. Prisons should be held accountable for the sexual assaults that occur, but they should be able to address them in the way that they see fit, not by stringent rules and policies drafted in DC.

  • John||

    I agree with that. They should hold states accountable for the safety of their inmates. How that safety is achieved should be left up to the states and the institutions, not left to some centralized rule system.

  • XM||

    Don't drop the soap.

  • crufus||

    The best way to reduce prison rape would be to reduce the number of people in prison, starting with victimless crimes like drug possession and sales.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Law makes prisons and failure to adhere makes prisoners and loose interpretations of law makes for raped prisoners which begs the fucking question... if your fucking system of justice is so poor that it cannot protect 'law-breakers' from their buttholes being penetrated by bullies in the prison system then why the FUCK does it exist at all? Is Prison a place where goddamn 'laws' have decided not to exist? If so, then law is butt poop and worthless boogers melting on the edifice of spread crappers shitting slow turds under a long hot sun on a garage sale plate...?

    Prisons are hell states smudges of legislated excess... no one gives a single shit about those people. They are lost lives minced on the grinders of sneering cocktail sippers and Harvard spinsters.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Prison is the hellish afterthought of Yale flighty IQ's who will never saw a jaw on a vertical bar.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Prison is a planet where lives are minced into the concrete blocks of forgotten where fucking legislators get to go on panels and pretend that thousands of the lives they represent do NOT goddamn exist... because of bars, chains, and links.

  • Marianna||

    Good article but for Gods sake will some intern please fix that headline typo?! "New at Reaon"

  • ConnarchyInTheUSA||

    Wasted effort, folks. Prisons aren't society. Laws and rules and legislation is cute, but it's pretty much useless. It's a sea full of sharks and, unless you've taken a dip in it, you won't understand.
    The mass majority of sex in prison is consensual. The rapes won't be deterred, they'll just get harder to catch. COs don't run prisons. Inmates do. COs just work there and try to keep a little order.
    When you're 1 person in a room of 120 other people -- all people who would rather saw off your head and shit in the stump -- you're not quite so much worried about someone (other than you) getting dragged into a cubby and raped. You're too busy with your head on a swivel, trying to do 197 other things and keep your eyes open for somebody trying to truck you or get your attention away from something going on in the corner.
    Rape will happen. There are already very serious consequences that apply if one is found guilty in disciplinary hearing (5 years additional time and increase in level, where I worked).
    For staff, any sex with an inmate is rape. And the punishment for that is serious, it can lead to prison time.
    You're far more likely to get stabbed or beaten half to death, than raped.


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