27 February 2012

More on Prisons and Rape

In previous posts, I've connected to some critiques of the U.S. criminal "justice" system. The quotation marks should be enough to identify my general position on it.

In my February 15 post "Notes on the Crime Rate" (same hyperlink as above), I quoted an article from N+1 that contained some startling (to some) statistics, and damning analysis:

The statistics touting the country’s crime-reduction miracle, when juxtaposed with those documenting the quantity of rape and assault that takes place each year within the correctional system, are exposed as not merely a lie, or even a damn lie—but as the single most shameful lie in American life.

Now, there's more, and I want to link you to it and give you some key quotes to point out why it's important.

This article is from the New York Review of Books. It's titled "Prison Rape and the Government," it cites four different DOJ studies, and it points out what should be obvious: our incarceratory systems are fundamentally broken.

According to a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a branch of the Department of Justice, there were only 7,444 official allegations of sexual abuse in detention in 2008, and of those, only 931 were substantiated. These are absurdly low figures. But perhaps more shocking is that even when authorities confirmed that corrections staff had sexually abused inmates in their care, only 42 percent of those officers had their cases referred to prosecution; only 23 percent were arrested, and only 3 percent charged, indicted, or convicted. Fifteen percent were actually allowed to keep their jobs.

How many people are really victimized every year? Recent BJS studies using a “snapshot” technique have found that, of those incarcerated on the days the surveys were administered, about 90,000 had been abused in the previous year, but as we have argued previously,2 those numbers were also misleadingly low. Finally, in January, the Justice Department published its first plausible estimates. In 2008, it now says, more than 216,600 people were sexually abused in prisons and jails and, in the case of at least 17,100 of them, in juvenile detention. Overall, that’s almost six hundred people a day—twenty-five an hour.

Later on in the article, which is about a year old now, we get to the topic of what's being done about this problem. Unsurprisingly, the answer isn't good.

In 2003, seeking to address this disgraceful situation, both chambers of Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), a law that created a commission to study best practices and come up with national standards for preventing, detecting, and responding to the problem. This commission spent years consulting with corrections officials and other experts. Finally, in June 2009, it delivered its recommendations to Attorney General Eric Holder, who by law then had twelve months to revise them before formally issuing standards that would be nationally binding.

He missed that deadline. The estimate of 216,600 inmates sexually abused in a year comes from a draft of the proposed final standards, which Holder has only now published for public comment—a step that is still far from the last.

In other words: the government said "this is a problem... so we're going to drag our feet about solving it."

Katherine Rentz, from American University's school of communication, offers us an update from earlier this month: Holder's proposed standards still aren't finalized, and won't apply, if they ever are, to any immigration facilities.

When Attorney General Eric Holder proposed regulations in January 2011, he excluded immigration detention centers. His attorneys concluded that PREA applies only to the Bureau of Prisons, which is under Justice. The immigration centers moved from Justice over to the newly formed DHS after members of Congress drafted PREA.

Smith, who has been involved in the matter since recommending the new standards to Justice, said she believes that Holder wanted to cover the immigrant centers but decided he didn’t have the authority. Holder also met resistance from DHS.

Yeah. The whole situation is shameful (not that me saying so is anything groundbreaking or that I'm bringing anything new to the table). How do you reform a system that is fundamentally broken?

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