Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Governments Can Stop Prison Rape
May 18, 2012 9:22 AM   Subscribe

In other positive criminal justice news, the US Department of Justice has issued long overdue rules for combating sexual assault of prisoners in federal, state, and local penitentiaries.

The rules (PDF) require prison officials to develop procedures for preventing and reporting on sexual abuse, as well as ensure adequate staffing levels in juvenile facilities, restrict contact between juvenile inmates and adult inmates, ban cross-gender searches of female inmates, and provide protections for LGBTI inmates and inmates with disabilities or limited English speaking ability. The rules come on the heels of a new study (PDF) claiming that nearly 10% of former inmates of state prisons have been sexually assaulted at some point while incarcerated.

Prison rape elimination advocates are lauding the new rules; however, the rules do not cover immigration detention facilities, where more than 170 allegations of abuse have been made in the last four years.

Previously on prison rape, and on the American prison system generally.
posted by Cash4Lead (31 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Laudatory, but only a first step. If no resources are given to this process, no meaningful action will be taken.
posted by lalochezia at 9:24 AM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


True, it's just a 'first step' but it's a hugely important one. This will need follow through and we should all write to our representatives urging action. The extent to which prison rape has become normalized as an inherent part of the punitive aspect of imprisonment is one of the more disturbing developments in American culture over the past several decades. Even on liberal places like Metafilter you'll see people gloating over the prospect of unpopular people being raped in prison as if this were simply fit retribution for their crimes.
posted by yoink at 9:28 AM on May 18, 2012 [25 favorites]


It is incredibly said that sexual assault in prison is a cultural joke in the United States.
The vast majority of people think it is more funny than tragic.
posted by Flood at 9:29 AM on May 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


It is incredibly said that sexual assault in prison is a cultural joke in the United States.
The vast majority of people think it is more funny than tragic.


I agree. It's a result of cultural desensitization to sexual and violent assaults on men. This is one example of why it's so important for people to question their own sexist double-standards, whichever way the sexism goes.
posted by John Cohen at 9:33 AM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it has less to do with "cultural desensitization to sexual and violent assaults on men" (not saying that is not a problem in its own right) and more to do with the complete dehumanization of anyone unfortunate enough to be incarcerated.
posted by broadway bill at 9:35 AM on May 18, 2012 [31 favorites]


My wife worked for an agency that contracted with the feds to provide services to kids locked up in immigrant detention facilities. She had a lot of stories about adolescents with severe emotional issues going even crazier the longer they were locked up, with the staff turning a blind eye or treating behaviors like a kid smearing himself with shit as disciplinary problems they could solve with solitary.

Part of the problem in that system is that (at the time my wife was working within it, in late 2012) the facilities are contracted to the feds, who had a regional bureaucrat overseeing multiple facilities. Her agency was supposed to provide social services to detained children who'd been pulled into the legal system, as well as report to the overseeing federal official on any abuse. The official she worked with wasn't much interested in her reports and wasn't interested in challenging the people working at the contracting facilities, who had the exact sort of foxhole mentality you read about in books like Conover's Newjack.

I'd have been willing to believe she drew outliers, but she worked facilities in Washington, Oregon and California and the staff was similar in each (the best were in a low security youth home). Nationally, her agency ultimately refused to reapply for its contract because the federal folks weren't interested in reforming. The feds decided to go it alone, which meant that rather than having a bunch of pesky social workers from an outside agency complaining about abuses and advocating for the children in detention, they were just going to hire people who thought like the regional supervisors (though I understand they did pick up a few people from her agency when they started hiring internally).

The bad part of that is that the feds tended to favor the outlook of the contracting facilities, and that outlook sucked. So them promising to take over an advocacy role when they weren't very respectful to outside advocates sounds sort of fox/henhouse to me. The good part, for purposes of this story, is that at least there's a more direct line between the regional managers and the individual facilities. So if there's serious emphasis on these rules, there's one less layer in the way before enforcement and remediation can be triggered. And it probably makes these rules a good thing for more than the immediate goal of stopping prison rape: Some of those facilities sounded like hellholes run by racist yokles. The more scrutiny, the better.
posted by mph at 10:07 AM on May 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


Ugh ... correction ... my wife worked with the ORR in late 2010.
posted by mph at 10:17 AM on May 18, 2012


It's not so much a first step as the next step. Advocates like the amazing Just Detention have been working to make this happen for quite some time. If you want to see more done on this issue, please consider contributing to them or otherwise supporting their efforts. They have a truly courageous set of folks working with them from behind bars.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:44 AM on May 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


About time. I would really like to see this gets the necessary funding, but I'm not hopeful. The almost gleeful American attitude towards prison rape is horrifying.
posted by sotonohito at 10:46 AM on May 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Rather, it is a crime, and it is no more tolerable when its victims have committed crimes of their own.”
It's about fucking time that these words came out of the Justice department. The penalties prescribed in the law are still way too lax, but this is a very strong step in the right direction toward fixing our completely insane criminal justice system.

It's heartening to see America finally taking steps to rejoin the civilized world. Humane and ethical treatment of prisoners is a cornerstone upon which the US was founded, and it's good to see that there's someone in the Federal government trying to take the Eigth Amendment seriously.

I was going to say that it's also time for the DOJ to sue Joe Arpaio into oblivion, but a quick Google shows that, as of last week, they're doing just that. Bravo!
posted by schmod at 10:47 AM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


In popular culture, prison rape is often the subject of jokes; in public discourse, it has been at times dismissed by some as an inevitable—or even deserved—consequence of criminality.

I can't say this enough-rape is not a joke. The word "rape" is not something that should be used in everyday conversations. People both inside and outside of the prison system are truly affected and have their lives shaken up after being raped.

For far too long, the topic of rape has made a lot of people too uncomfortable to the point where people stay silent about the topic or joke around to ease the tension. It's truly unfortunate. But, I'm glad to know that work is being done. It's about time that something was done in order to prevent rape incidents that occur in prisons. People should be able to feel safe rather than living in fear.

And while there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, this is a step towards creating a safer environment.
posted by livinglearning at 11:06 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree. It's a result of cultural desensitization to sexual and violent assaults on men. This is one example of why it's so important for people to question their own sexist double-standards, whichever way the sexism goes.

viz: (The View episode I'm apparently not allowed to link)

Look at them all cackling. "I would have thrown it in the dog's bowl." "Why does a dog have to suffer?"

So funny, ladies of The View!

God, I'm listening to more of it as I type. "It's different." "Why?" "It's floppy."
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


For many, it's not even a joke. They think prison should be as brutal as possible. They think that's your punishment. You misbehave, we have a series of barred-gate raping and stabbing places where you get sent, and that's what you get.

That attitude needs adjustment.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:18 AM on May 18, 2012 [11 favorites]


What, is it Freaky Friday over at the DOJ or something?
posted by nowhere man at 11:18 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, link.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:26 AM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


livinglearning: "The word "rape" is not something that should be used in everyday conversations"

Rape is bad, and there should be a lot less of it.

We also need to be able to talk about it, and eliminate the stigma of being a victim.

This second thing may actually be more important than the first, if only because it will allow us to more effectively combat the problem by bringing more victims out into the open.

I'm not exactly sure how we should reduce the stigma of being raped without trivializing the act of rape itself. However, I have a suspicion that tasteless rape jokes might actually be a better thing than the "hush hush" attitude that's been so heavily encouraged in the past. If we can only talk about rape in super-serious tones, we're never going to be able to lift the stigma of being a victim, and if we can't do that, we're not going to be able to effectively deal with the original issue.

We should be able to openly talk about rape (which is a serious issue) openly, and speak our minds about it. Yes, it's going to be an uncomfortable subject at first, and some people are going to be really offended by what some of us have to say.

We're also going to have to be sympathetic to the fact that there are some people who hold some seriously fucked-up views about the issue. However, we shouldn't rush to judge or silence these people, for fear of shutting down the conversation entirely. If we can't talk about this in a genial manner, we're not going to be able to change any attitudes. Sadly, we're probably going to need to (marginally) tolerate a few tasteless jokes in the interim if we actually want to fix this thing.

We didn't solve racism by accusing others of being racist. It's a heavyhanded accusation that nobody would take seriously, and is particularly ineffective at changing "casual" attitudes. Arguably, we started making the most progress once we figured out how joke about the subject without trivializing it. The brilliant Richard Pryor / Chevy Chase job interview sketch from SNL immediately comes to mind. Sure, there were definitely people who interpreted it in the wrong way, but overall, it does a great job of educating without judging, and made a great point of illustrating how ridiculous and absurd these casual forms of workplace racism were.

Don't underestimate the role that comedy can play in inspiring a widespread change of attitudes. It's not the only answer, but it gets the conversation flowing.

Again, I don't have a brilliant answer to this problem that will solve everything, but my observation has been that the people who feel strongly about this issue are too afraid/timid to actually speak their mind because of the "weight" of the topic, and as a result we're making very little progress to actually reduce the number of sexual assaults.

Rape should not be an issue that we're afraid to talk about.
posted by schmod at 11:49 AM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry, just to clarify my statement:

When I said "the word "rape" is not something that should be used in everyday conversations," what I meant to say was that people should not be using this word so lightly.

I agree that comedy helps create dialogue. I think staying hush-hush about these types of topics would be a terrible thing to do. It would imply that it is not okay to talk about these issues when we should not be afraid to have these discussions. There are a lot of people that have not reported instances of rape because this topic is perceived as taboo and not something that we should talk about. People in these instances also tend to struggle to get help from a mental health professional because they are afraid to talk about these terrible experiences.

When, I think we should be able to create environments where it's okay to talk about rape so that more people feel safe getting the help that they need. And as you said, it also helps to eliminate the stigma of being a victim.

But, I think there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to talk about certain topics such as rape. For instance, I have heard people say things like "that exam raped me" or "I raped that exam" and I find these types of statements problematic. Using the word "rape" in such a manner is an ineffective means of establishing dialogue through 'comedy' and it's also very offensive to many people.

This doesn't mean that we can't use comedy as a means to create dialogue. But, I think there needs to be a better way to have these discussions. I think Louis C.K. does a great job as a comedian when it comes to addressing these types of topics through the use of dark humour.
posted by livinglearning at 12:19 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's good, but it's such weaksauce: They're demanding people "develop procedures"? Why don't they come up with their own baseline rules, and demand everyone follow them?

Also, the exclusion of immigration detention - which means people who are not criminals as well as the fact that they are under federal control is seriously fucked up.

Also the discussion about the appropriateness of the word 'rape' in various contexts is kind of a derail. People saying "that test raped me in the ass" really has nothing to do with what kind of policies the government puts in place (or doesn't) to stop prison rape.
posted by delmoi at 1:16 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, the exclusion of immigration detention - which means people who are not criminals as well as the fact that they are under federal control is seriously fucked up.

Not really fucked up. Immigration detention falls under DHS, IIRC.
posted by Snyder at 1:19 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


But why is the US government trying to reduce the incidence of something that Americans evidently find so hilarious?
posted by Cortes at 1:50 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am very glad to see this.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:02 PM on May 18, 2012


I wish Donnie the Punk was around to push this along.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:09 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know this is long over due, and the immigration facility exception is intensely problematic, and I am not convinced that it will do much for initial processing centers or military brigs which are horrorfic in their way, and it says something about American prisons that rape could be argued to be the third or fourth most pressing problem people have to work through (after solitary confinement, corruption in plea bargains, and executions)--and all of that said, this is document, even that it exists, is so smart and so careful, that if I was a Yank, it would get me to vote for Obama.
posted by PinkMoose at 3:16 PM on May 18, 2012


Great, now the right-wingers are going to attack Obama as soft on prison-rape.
posted by Renoroc at 3:27 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it has less to do with "cultural desensitization to sexual and violent assaults on men" (not saying that is not a problem in its own right) and more to do with the complete dehumanization of anyone unfortunate enough to be incarcerated.

If this was true, the discussion of prison rape for female inmates would be similar to the discussion of prison rape for male inmates. That is about as far from observed reality as you can get.
posted by rr at 3:51 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If this was true, the discussion of prison rape for female inmates would be similar to the discussion of prison rape for male inmates. That is about as far from observed reality as you can get.


In some ways, that's totally true. Although, many (probably most) discussions among people who study criminal justice--especially those who are convict criminologists--consider and discuss sexual assault in all prisons, not just single-sex male prisons. Beyond that, when most people discuss "prison" I think it's a safe bet that they are actually discussing all-male prisons and populations.

That the topic of incarcerated women tends to be absent from all discussions of prison is reflected in its absence in this particular discussion.

In my opinion, denial of male victimhood is a real problem, but I don't think it is the root of our collective response to the brutality of incarceration.
posted by broadway bill at 4:26 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why don't they come up with their own baseline rules, and demand everyone follow them?

My suggestions: All rape is criminal, and all prison rape is a criminal offense. No rape shall go uninvestigated, all those reporting rapes will be respected and protected as need be. All those accused of rape shall receive due process including criminal trials for the rape. All rape trials will be void of suggestions that the victim was to blame for the violence enacted upon them. Any prisoners found guilty of prison rape will be moved into solitary confinement with no hope of rejoining the general population and with all possibility of parole removed from their sentence. They also will be part of the sex offender roles and will have to obey the confining strictures of such status if/when they actually are released.

That'll do for a start.
posted by hippybear at 8:53 PM on May 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


hippybear, you are usually right, but there is no way that solitary confinement is not cruel and unusual, and it doesn't help anyone at all.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:50 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


hippybear I'd go as far as saying that your proposed solution is part of the problem. The idea that a certain amount of cruelty towards offenders will prevent crimes is understandable on an emotional level but largely not supported by fact. It is, ironically, also the same idea that is at the base of the trivialization of prison rape in american culture.

If cruelty were the answer to crime then the US prison system, which is by any measure one of the most cruel in the western world, would already lead to less crime.
posted by patrick54 at 12:21 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Okay, I'll accept that solitary confinement might be the wrong way to keep raping prisoners from raping other prisoners. But I don't have any other solutions in my head about how to punitive measures to take against someone who is already incarcerated, and who is using the circumstances of their incarceration to enact violence on others. Separating them from the general population seems the only way to keep them from repeat offending.

If there are other suggestions, I'd love to hear them. How would you impose a sentence on someone found guilty of prison rape?
posted by hippybear at 7:38 AM on May 19, 2012


More important than thinking about what to do with prison rapists is to think about how to prevent prison rape from happening. An important step would be to stop dehumanizing inmates (both rapists and victims) and to stop thinking of sentences just as punitive measures. There's a story about a different type of prison right here. While America is probably not ready for a system like that the results speak for themselves.
posted by patrick54 at 9:48 AM on May 19, 2012


« Older Why I Wrote Solidarity Forever....  |  Thank you Facebook! A song in ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments