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Protecting inmates from rape is a critical priority

In 2003, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Last year, the Justice Department finally released a list of prevention measures that prisons and jails receiving federal money must follow as a measure of enforcing this law. In essence, the 2003 law both insists on a zero tolerance policy with regards to inmate rape and on the implementation of Justice Department rape prevention mandates.

Unfortunately, when individuals are compelled to mount a criminal defense and are sentenced to imprisonment, they remain at a high risk of experiencing sexual assault or rape while imprisoned. According to a newly released federal report authored by experts at the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the majority of incarceration facilities affected by the 2003 law have yet to comply with either of its two important mandates.

Specifically, the new report reveals that more than three percent of jail inmates and at least four percent of prison inmates were victims of sexual abuse in 2012 alone. Roughly translated, these percentages represent more than 80,000 Americans. In addition, it is quite possible that due to fear or the stigma associated with reporting that these statistics do not accurately depict the scope of this issue.

It is time that federal regulators enforced the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act with regards both to its zero-tolerance policies and prevention mandates. Particularly vulnerable populations including the mentally ill and LGBT inmates are most in need of protection, but all inmates are entitled to safety behind bars. Serving time for committing a crime does not mean that inmates should be subjected to abuse, period.

Source: New York Times, “Rape Behind Bars,” May 25, 2013

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