08/16/2010 11:03 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Left and Right Join to Fight Prison Rape

Ending prison rape is a cause that brought together an unlikely group of organizations which are usually doing combat with each other. Leaders of groups from the left and right gathered to call attention to their letter which presses Attorney General Holder to speed up the process for adopting standards that will hold prison officials accountable for combating rape in prisons.

At a press conference at the National Press Club, prominent leaders of the ACLU, Focus on the Family, George Soros' Open Society Policy Center, the American Conservative Union, NAACP, the Southern Baptist Convention, Human Rights Watch, the Sentencing Project and the United Methodists set aside their significant differences because they are so concerned that men, women and juveniles are being raped daily in our American prisons.

60,000 Inmates Sexually Assaulted in One Year

The extent of rape in America's prisons is appalling. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that in 2007 one in every twenty inmates had been sexually assaulted in the previous twelve months. That is more than 60,000 prisoners sexually assaulted in one year. Even worse, the BJS found that among juvenile detainees one in eight had been sexually assaulted!
These diverse groups are united by their belief in the human dignity of each prisoner. While it is appropriate to punish them for their crimes, their punishment should never include being raped and abused.

It is a scandal that people housed in the custody of the government are not safe from sexual attack. No matter how terrible the crime, the sentence should not include being raped. In 2003 Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which established a policy of zero tolerance of prison rape. This legislation established the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to develop standards to hold prison officials accountable for ending prison rape. The Commission held hearings across the country, taking testimony from many dedicated corrections officials who have made stopping prisoner rape a priority--and who have done it successfully.

Standards Will Hold Prison Officials Accountable for Eliminating Rape

The Commission distilled these real life experiences - what kinds of sexual assaults occur in prisons, how and where they happen , and what specific actions can reduce prison rape -- and proposed standards to guide prison officials as they work to achieve zero tolerance for prison rape as called for in the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

The standards are mostly common sense: separate young slim boys from large violent predators, prohibit officers from conducting pat searches and strip searches on inmates of the opposite sex. They require the prisons to treat the rapes as a crime, protect the crime scene, collect evidence, administer a rape kit, take witnesses statements and refer the crime to the local prosecutor. The standards also require that the prison be audited to objectively determine that they are making progress in eliminating rape in their prison. The standards have proven so practical and helpful to prison administrators that the states of California and Oregon implemented them immediately.

However, other prison systems are waiting for the Attorney General to act. The next step in the process is approval of the standards by the U.S. Attorney General. The standards were sent to Mr. Holder in June of 2009 - not two months ago, but June of last year, and, yet, they await his approval. The DOJ is already in violation of the PREA statute which required that the review was to be completed by June of this year. Yet, indications are that it will be at least another year before the AG acts on them.

Why Are the Standards Being Held Up?

We know that Mr. Holder has a strong personal commitment to end prison rape. Unfortunately, the Attorney General is involved in so many complex international and domestic issues that he has not been able to concentrate on ending prison rape,

Because this issue has not risen to the top of his list, the bureaucracy that always resists changes--particularly changes like the standards which will hold them accountable for results--is "hugging the standards to death." They are not outright opposing them, but they have presented the Attorney General with a timeline and process that will duplicate what the Commission has already done and which will delay the implementation of the standards by at least a year.

This is a matter of critical importance. The BJS studies show that inmates are raped in our prisons every day - on average over 115 adults and 9 juveniles are sexually assaulted each and every day. We know the standards will be effective at preventing rapes. Each passing day without the standards being in place means more inmates will suffer the trauma of rape.

How You Can Help

You can help us in this effort to get quick action on the prison rape standards. Please click on Justice Fellowship's End Prison Rape Now site where you will find a sample letter to Attorney General Holder and many resources that will help you inform your congregation, neighbors, Bible study, service club or others who can join us in this effort.

Please write to Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20530

If we don't speak up to protect prisoners from rape, who will?