States could lose money over prison rapes

/ Source: The Associated Press

States receiving federal money for prisons could see their funding cut if they fail to adopt new measures to reduce sexual violence in correctional and detention facilities nationwide, according to a report released Tuesday.

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission issued an extensive report, five years in making, that found that more than 60,000 inmates are sexually abused every year.

Based on a 2007 survey of tens of thousands of incarcerated people, 4.5 percent of those surveyed reported being sexually abused in the previous 12 months — and more prisoners claimed abuse by staff than by other inmates.

The commission recommended that jails and prisons take steps to reduce rapes behind bars, including adoption of zero tolerance policies, better staff training, and improved screening to identify prisoners vulnerable to abuse.

"Individuals who are incarcerated have basic human rights," said U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, chairman of the commission. "Just because they've committed a crime and they're incarcerated does not mean that their human dignity can be abused."

The proposed standards are being sent to Attorney General Eric Holder, who has a year to write new national standards. States will be notified of the finalized standards and then have a year to adopt them and begin complying. If they don't, they risk losing 5 percent of any federal prison grant money.

Among the commission's key findings:

  • Inmates who were short, young, gay, or female were more likely to be victimized than other inmates.
  • Inmates in jails reported fewer instances of rape than in prisons.
  • Who gets abused depends a great deal on where they are incarcerated. Ten facilities studied had high rates, between 9 percent and almost 16 percent, whereas six facilities reported no abuse at all for the past year. The facilities or locations were not named.

The commission said prison management must show leadership in stopping such abuse. The panel's report also recommended that prison authorities adopt more internal monitoring, such as video cameras, as well as external oversight by review boards.