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Imagine a revolver, lying in front of you on a table.  One round is placed in the cylinder and then it is spun.  That revolver is held to the head of a child, the trigger will be pulled, and that child will face a one in six chance of the hammer coming down on a chambered round.

Even Dick Cheney might perhaps admit to this being the torture of a child.  And this is happening in America, every day.  At your expense.

No, the children aren't literally being forced to play Russian roulette.  These children are facing a one in six chance of being raped in the current calendar year, and are the inmates of our nation's justice system.

A steady drumbeat has been heard over the past several years detailing to us the scope of the problem.  In 2005, acting head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice Bradley J. Schlozman issued a report to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels regarding the state of the juvenile facility in Plainfield, Indiana:

Two particularly disturbing incident reports we reviewed involved 12-year-old boys with significantly older youths. An incident report dated February 8, 2004, describes an incident in which a 16-year-old youth gave a 12-year-old youth articles of clothing as enticement to perform sexual acts with the 16-year-old while in the unit day room. A report dated July 31, 2003, describes two separate incidents in which an 18-year-old youthattempted to force a 12-year-old youth to perform sexual acts onthe older youth in the bathroom area. It is not appropriate for12-year-old boys to be housed with older, more sophisticated juveniles, nor is it appropriate that these older youths have such apparently easy access to the younger residents. Moreover, for both the victims and the aggressors, these experiences are likely to inhibit whatever rehabilitative efforts have been madein the past or that will occur in the future.

The action by the Department of Justice in the case of Indiana was the result of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AZ) in the Senate and by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA).  The PREA was passed partly in reaction to the 2001 report by Human Rights Watch, No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons, a book-length report which detailed the accounts of sexual abuse of more than 200 inmates across the United States.  Among the provisions of the PREA was the establishment of the National Survey of Youth in Custody, which released its first report yesterday, on January 7, 2010.  That survey found that 12% of all juveniles in custody reported sexual abuse at the hands of staff or other inmates.

To put this into perspective, 0.3% of all Americans report having been raped, and multiple Federal studies indicate that roughly 4% of adults in correctional facilities report having been raped, meaning that juveniles in prison are three times more likely to be raped than an adult prisoner, and forty times more likely to be raped than the average American.  (While we can safely assume that rapes are underreported, we have very little data on the rates of underreporting across demographic groups, and therefore I am assuming for this essay that underreporting of rape is constant between juvenile prisoners, adult prisoners, and the general population.)

Last month, a confidential report from a task force comissioned by New York Governor David Patterson to study the juvenile justice system in his state was leaked that confirmed the extent of the problem, and shed some light on who exactly were the victims of this system:

In 2007, more than half of the youths who entered detention centers were sent there for the equivalent of misdemeanor offenses, in many cases theft, drug possession or even truancy. More than 80 percent were black or Latino, even though blacks and Latinos make up less than half the state’s total youth population — a racial disparity that has never been explained, the report said.

Many of those detained have addictions or psychological illnesses for which less restrictive treatment programs were not available. Three-quarters of children entering the juvenile justice system have drug or alcohol problems, more than half have had a diagnosis of mental health problems and one-third have developmental disabilities.

Nationwide, we know that only 34% of juveniles in detention are there for violent crimes (and these violent offenders do not include the nearly 200,000 juveniles who are tried as adults and end up incarcerated in adult facilities, who were not covered by the PREA study).  According to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (PDF) which was also created by the PREA, over one in five juveniles in detention is there for either a technical offense such as violating probation or a status offense such as violating parental orders, missing curfew, truancy, or running away.

This study was released yesterday to little fanfare or attention.  More attention has been paid to whether we should torture the "underpants bomber" for information, and to whether or not Glenn Reynolds supports torture (he does).  But the reality is stark: there have been, according to the Department of Justice, three thousand two hundred and twenty juveniles reported being raped in the last year, more than four times the total number of detainees who have ever been to Guantanamo Bay.  

Our children are being tortured, with rape and the fear of rape, on a scale which dwarfs comprehension.  Nearly nine of our children are raped daily, many of them for little more than missing curfew or running away from home.

Will we not speak for them?

Originally posted to Jay Elias on Fri Jan 08, 2010 at 08:56 PM PST.

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