The eight-member panel was created pursuant to the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act. It found that 4.5 percent of the surveyed inmates reported being sexually abused in the previous 12 months. Much of the report seems to confirm the obvious, such as the fact that there are rape “hotspots” at certain prisons and inmates who were short, young, gay or female were more likely to be victimized than other inmates.
Having working in prisons around the country for almost thirty years, I have long been exasperated by the rate of prison rape which is often ignored by prison officials. If anything, the estimated rape rate appears low and may be due to the need for prisoners to admit to having been raped. We did not require a commission to tell us that many prisons have virtually eliminated the crime while other prisons allow rape to flourish. Like many congressional commissions, this group discovered the obvious and then recommended relatively mild reforms. The most obvious reform is to fire wardens who allow crime to flourish in their institutions, particularly rape. These wardens have extensive powers and staff. They are holding inmates in a controlled environment. They clearly have the ability — as do other wardens with low-rape institutions — to stop these crimes. They just do not see it as a priority. If you fired one warden for such rape rates, it would have a major impact on the ranks. Currently, some wardens and guards do not believe that anyone really cares if inmates rape each other.
If these prisons were small towns of 5000 with rampant rape rates, there would be calls for the removals of the local sheriffs and staff. Instead, the public treats this as a natural element to prison. It is not. I have been well-run prisons where such crimes are deterred and other prisons where it is clear that the staff could care less. This is one of the minimal standards that should apply to evaluation of both wardens and staff. If you cannot keep a prison population from committing rapes on a regular basis, you are either incompetent or callous or both. If Congress wants to stop prison rape, go to those prisons identified in this report (and well known to many lawyers and inmates) and replace their top staff. Congress should also follow the recommendation of the commission and set up long-term monitoring and reporting systems to keep track of such “hot spots” among our jails and prisons.
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