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National News

Lawmakers of Both Parties Push Action to Reduce Prison Rapes

June 14, 2002

Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) called on Thursday for a comprehensive national survey to assess the extent of sexual assaults in local, state and federal penal systems. Their proposed legislation would also establish, within two years, new nationwide standards for reducing prison rapes. States could either comply or opt out of the standards without penalty, but failure to act at all would cost states some federal grant money.

"Prison rape causes severe physical and psychological pain for its victims," Kennedy said. "It also threatens the rest of society by increasing the spread of HIV and other diseases and by making individuals, brutalized within prison, more likely to commit new crimes after they are released." Kennedy said a conservative estimate is that one in 10 prisoners will be raped at least once during incarceration. "It is not acceptable, morally or legally," Sessions said.

Advocates for stronger legislation contend prison wardens often ignore the violence, and the assaults are seldom prosecuted. The NAACP, the Salvation Army and Human Rights Watch have all called for tougher laws. But the cause has never become a major campaign issue. Activists say many people consider rape part of the penalty for felons. "The biggest single problem is that everybody knows it goes on and nobody wants to talk about it," said Chuck Colson, who served a prison term for his role in the Watergate scandal and now leads a prison ministry.

Sessions and Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, both conservative Republicans, said they don't believe the measure impedes the right of states to make their own laws.

Back to other CDC news for June 14, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Associated Press
06.13.02; Jeffrey McMurray

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More Legal Issues for Incarcerated HIV-Positive People