Last month the Bureau of Justice Statistics confirmed that rapes and sexual assault of U.S. prison inmates have reached epidemic proportions. The data states that nearly one in 10 prisoners report having been raped or sexually assaulted by other inmates, staff, or both.
In 2003, Congress created a separate report by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which challenges to take the issue seriously, as it has ruined many lives. Take the gruesome story told by a former prison inmate named Bryson Martel Spruce, who contracted HIV as a result of the attacks.
Martel’s story provides a stomach-turning revelation of rape in prison. “While I was in an Arkansas state prison, I was raped by at least 27 different inmates over a nine-month period,” he said. “I don’t have to tell you that it was the worst nine months of my life.” Before he died in 2010, he insisted that the government does something to prevent the gruesome attacks on other prisoners. “Standards are needed to protect people like me,” he said.
Air Force veteran, Tom Cahill spent one night in a San Antonio jail that ruined his life forever after being beaten and gang-raped by inmates. “I’ve been hospitalized more times than I can count. For the past two decades, I’ve received a non-service connected security pension from the (Department of Veterans Affairs) at the cost of about $200,000 in connection with the only major trauma I’ve ever suffered, the rape,” he told the commission of the Justice Department.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, more than one-third of gay and bisexual male inmates said that they were victimized by another inmate. By comparison, only 3.5% of straight male inmates reported being sexually assaulted by other inmates. Bisexual female inmates also were targeted for sexual assaults more than their fellow inmates. Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a private, non-profit organization, attributes the vulnerability of prisoners to sexual assaults back to three pieces of legislation passed during the Clinton administration:
1. The Prison Litigation and Reform Act: Made it more difficult for prisoners to sue for abuse of power or dangerous treatment.
2. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act: Essentially guaranteed that inmates who have suffered wrongful convictions will have a tougher time challenging them.
3. Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996: Better known as welfare reform, virtually ensured higher recividism rates.
“All of that, I think, would have been shocking even to a Republican legislator in the 1960s or early 1970s,” Stevenson said. The commission’s new prison rape elimination standards, granted by the Justice Department, requires adequate prison staffing, sexual abuse prevention training for staff, creating more ways for inmates to report sexual abuse privately, no cross-gender searches of female inmates by male staff, publishing sexual abuse statistics annually and audits every three years. State prisons that don’t comply will lose federal funding.
The EJI filed a complaint against the Alabama Department of Corrections that is now under investigation by the Justice Department. EJI alleges that inmates of the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala., have suffered “widespread sexual abuse” by male guards, including acts of sexual violence that have culminated in pregnancies. “When the government takes away someone’s freedom, it takes on the responsibility of keeping that person safe,” Stevenson said.