June 8, 2010
Standards for protecting prisoners from rape while incarcerated are due this month from the U.S. Justice Department, but observers say the government is unlikely to meet that deadline.
Justice Department studies estimate that every year more than 60,000 prisoners say they are the victim of sexual assault. Twelve percent of juveniles in custody are raped, according to one study.
"Regardless of what crime someone may have committed, rape is not part of the penalty," says Lovisa Stannow, a prisoners' rights advocate. "And when government takes away someone's freedom, it takes on an absolute responsibility to protect that person's safety."
The deadline stems from bipartisan legislation passed seven years ago. The major thrust of the legislation was that the government was obligated to step up security in U.S. prisons.
Changes under discussion include not assigning male guards to monitor female prisoners in showers, separating weaker prisoners from aggressive inmates, and offering better staff training. Prison officials say the changes may cost up to $1 billion to implement and another $1 billion annually to maintain.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledges the challenges in meeting the tougher standards.
"When I speak to wardens, when I speak to people who run local jails, when I speak to people who run state facilities, they look at me and say, 'Eric, how are we supposed to do this? How are we supposed to segregate people and build new facilities and do training?' That is what we are trying to work out," Holder said.