In terms of dollars and cents, it makes sense to try and prevent prison rape.
That's the conclusion of a recent report from the Department of Justice, which examines the costs and savings associated with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) -- a law that was passed in 2003, but with specific rules that weren't finalized until last month.
The PREA has faced resistance from some corrections officials who say the law will be too expensive to implement. Building new facilities, training officers in new procedures -- it all costs money, they say.
But the DoJ's latest study, released in May, argues that the financial benefits of the new safety measures could far outweigh the costs.
Research shows that prison rape takes a heavy financial toll on the correctional system. Medical treatment, legal bills, the high costs of isolating abused prisoners in solitary confinement -- these are just some of the expenses associated with rape and abuse, according to the authors David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, who advocate against sexual violence in prison facilities.
Full compliance with the standards set out in the PREA would cost penal facilities about $468.5 million a year, according to the report. By contrast, the financial benefits to society from eliminating prison rape would come to almost $52 billion a year.
The real horror of prison rape, of course, has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with the physical and emotional trauma that prisoners experience -- especially when those prisoners are juveniles suffering abuse at the hands of staff.
It all points to a problem that seems to cost more to ignore than it would to treat.