WASHINGTON (CN) – More than 60,000 state and federal prisoners a year are raped or sexually abused, and the Justice Department plans to set national standards to combat it. The numbers and recommended standards come from a 2009 National Prison Rape Elimination Commission report to prevent, detect and respond to the rape and sexual slavery of prisoners.
The commission’s report says that the number of rape and abuse victims is higher when halfway houses, prerelease centers and other non-prison residential corrections facilities are considered. In fact, the commission reports, incidents of assault and harassment are increasing in community corrections facilities as cost-cutting puts more offenders in community programs.
Because the Prison Rape Elimination Act prohibits the Justice Department from establishing a national standard that would impose substantial additional costs on federal, state, and local prison authorities, costs would be examined by an independent contractor.
The commission proposes screening of all inmates at intake and at administrative, medical and judicial reviews to keep inmates at high risk of being sexually victimized from those at high risk of being sexually abusive.
If adopted, the standards also would require institutions to have multiple internal ways for inmates to report abuse easily, privately, and securely. This could include sexual abuse, retaliation by other inmates or staff for reporting sexual abuse, and failure of staff to prevent abuse. In addition, facilities also would have to provide at least one way for inmates to report abuse to an outside public entity or office not affiliated with the agency.
The commission recommends that firing be the presumed disciplinary action for staff who engage in sexually abusive behavior or penetration, and all terminations for violating the standard would be reported to law enforcement agencies and licensing authorities.
In addition to training for correctional staff, the report also includes standards that all full- and part-time medical and mental health care workers at correctional facilities be trained in how to detect and assess signs of sexual abuse, and that all medical practitioners be trained in how to preserve physical evidence of sexual abuse.
After the public comment period concludes, the Attorney General will determine which standards federal facilities will adopt and how to perpetuate the standards at state and local prisons.