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The Obama Administration has yet to adopt the recommendations of the Prison Rape Elimination Commission (established by the Bush Congress) despite the 88,500 adults inmates who were raped in 2009. These recommendations need to be put in place. But if prison rape is to stopped, real changes have to be made.  

Sex and power -- forces rampant in our prison system, thwarted and twisted by the jail culture. Lock up large numbers of the same gender and the frustrated sexual energy is palpable. Likewise, in jail everyone -- wardens, correctional officers, inmates -- wants power, fights for it, manipulates for it, in a place where everyone is made to feel impotent. The locked up teenagers I taught over a ten year period in an adult county facility and about whom I write in I Don't Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine: Tales of Kids in Adult Lockup, had a great image for that lack of power: crabs in a bucket, stepping over each other, pulling down the ones closest to the top, so nobody wins.

Sex and power, as everyone knows, are the ingredients of rape. Consequently, the prison rape numbers are high. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 88,500 incarcerated adults were sexually abused -- by correctional staff or other inmates -- in 2009. This number doesn't include the kids who have been sexually victimized while locked up, an even higher percentage.

Disturbing numbers made even more disturbing by the fact that seven years ago the George W. Bush congress (surprisingly) passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

It's a good bill that raised the alarm regarding widespread prison sexual assaults. It also established the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to investigate and make recommendations on how best to stop prisoner sexual abuse. In June 2009 the Commission finally released its report setting out certain reforms. However, the Obama administration has yet to adopt those findings.

The recommendations are thorough, straightforward and sensible. Among them, instituting zero tolerance policies of all sexual abuse. Training staff to identify potential sexual assault situations. Teaching inmates their right to report sexual harassment without reprisals. Screening new inmates for their risk of being sexually abused or abusive.

When I read what the Commission suggested I wondered why prisons haven't already been taking these commonsensical, low cost measures which would have spared thousands of men and women pain and suffering. And I wondered what this failure said about our criminal justice system's attitude -- and our society's attitude -- towards prison rape, and prisoners in general?

But if we really want to get at the causes of prison sexual assaults we have to dig deeper than a commissioned report.

The system is the problem. Our jails are run on a culture of violence. Walk into a jail and you'll know that violence. Every day I worked in the county jail I was hit by it. The smells of men packed into overcrowded dorms; of exposed toilets; of rancid food. The constant din of the PA system; of the blaring television; of officers and inmates shouting over it all. The sight of a handcuffed inmate being dragged down the hall to the Special Housing Unit by the black-clad emergency response team. Just another day in the county lockup.

A more subtle message of this culture of violence is the dehumanization of the body. Sounds pretty philosophical, but in jail it translates real easy: Your body isn't yours. You dress, undress, shower, shit under somebody's eye, electronic or otherwise. You can be stripped down and exposed to cameras; you can be prodded and explored -- "cavity searched" -- all at corrections' command. My jailhouse students knew this. During one of corrections' clampdowns on jailhouse tattoos, one of the kids, a tattoo artist, commented, "The way police see it, when we do our shit, we're defacing county property." When human beings are treated as commodities, sexual assault becomes inevitable; and this inevitability fits the publics' perception: Prison rape happens. (Yet, can you imagine the outbreak if these attacks took place in any other public care institution?)

Prison rape can only be diminished when we change the culture of violence within our jails. It's not impossible. It is being done in some prisons across the country where administrators such as Sunny Schwartz in the San Francisco county jails have had the courage and vision to implement programs in restorative justice and violence reduction programs, for example. These approaches, when supported by administrators and uniformed staff, have reduced sexual violence by demanding full accountability from inmates and correctional staff alike while ensuring that each person is valued and respected.

In March, Attorney General Holder told a congressional committee that addressing prison rape " something that I think needs to be done, not tomorrow, but yesterday." Today is "yesterday." The victims of prison rape can't wait for another "yesterday."

Originally posted on Huffington Post

Originally posted to David Chura on Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 07:15 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I know that putting transwomen in harms way... (9+ / 0-) prisons sure doesn't reduce prison rape.

  •  Great diary. Zero tolerance for sex crimes... (7+ / 0-)

    in prison.  

  •  culture of violence starts outside of it (16+ / 0-)

    People actually do think prisoners deserve it because they're "criminals." It's a lot more than reforming the system, which is quite necessary.

    russia ablaze. pakistan afloat.greenland aslush. gibbs doesn't matter.

    by terrypinder on Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 07:23:36 AM PDT

    •  Our violent culture (6+ / 0-)

      Indeed, the overall culture of violence in society fosters not only the actions of those who sexually assault prisoners (many of the very people assigned to "protect" inmates)but it also accepts it. It's pretty obvious, as someone else has said, in society's view, prisoners "deserve it." Interesting. You read about innocent people who are wrongfully convicted. It could happen to anyone in society, you, me. Then is prison rape still okay? Does the innocent person "deserve" to be fair game for abuse?

  •  This is an important diary (7+ / 0-)

    on a topic people on the outside don't tend to think about much. "They usually deserve what they get," is an easy bit of rationalization many of us use regarding conditions prisoners live in.

    Have violence and abuse ever improved any situation? Ever?

    Thanks for the diary.

  •  Webb has some sort of commission... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    balancedscales, Lujane

    But it seems to be doing a lot of nothing.  Maybe somebody in Va. could contact his office and ask if it's been shelved or something(he doesn't accept emails from out of State).

    Politicians have commissions when they really don't want to do anything about the issue.  

    Fired up! Ready to fold!

    by Jonze on Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 07:30:20 AM PDT

  •  First of all, "Zero Tolerance" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    David Chura

    doesn't work, and in fact often leads to people being wrongly convicted for crimes they did not commit.

    Now I don't expect that I'll be going to prison any time soon, but what if I wanted to have a consentual relationship with another prisoner? I mean, it's against the rules, but those things do happen.

    Do you know what I think will go a long way towards ending prison rape? Putting less people in prison.

    Perfect ticket for GOP '12: Palin/O'Donnell.

    by commonmass on Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 07:30:57 AM PDT

    •  "It's against the rules..." No sexual... (0+ / 0-)

      relationships in prison, period.  It is prison, for God's sake.

      •  Americans seem to have a Calvinistic (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wader, tle, balancedscales, millwood, asym

        obsession with punishment. And prison. Locking people up, for instance, for drug crimes is simply ridiculous on it's face. We are very quick to put people in prison in this country. It costs a lot, and usually it doesn't accomplish much. Now, I'm not talking about murderers and rapists here, I'm talking about people in prison for stupid, petty crimes.

        There are too many people in prison for things that in many other civilized countries, they would not be sent away for.

        But I will give you this: there are far too few CEO's in prison.

        Perfect ticket for GOP '12: Palin/O'Donnell.

        by commonmass on Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 07:42:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Guards have no incentive to protect prisoners (6+ / 0-)

    Guards themselves play a daily game of survival and need to lookout for themselves and each other.  In many instances, they turn their backs and let the cons do as they please as a way of placating them.  There are no easy answers to this age-old problem.

    It's not the policy. It's not the policy. It's not the policy. It's not the policy. It's not the policy. John McCain

    by mojave mike on Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 07:44:56 AM PDT

  •  Tipped and recced, but (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    balancedscales, bobsc

    I don't expect to see any changes.  I see it as part of a policy.  The people in power want it this way.  I don't think they ever consider that someone might react with homicidal violence to the prospect of being raped in prison, and that they might react at the time of arrest.

    I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

    by tle on Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 07:56:38 AM PDT

  •  The reason our children are no longer safe (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    balancedscales, bobsc

    is because we send way too many people to prison and treat them savagely.

    Good diary!  Recommended.

  •  Sexual abuse in jails and prisons (8+ / 0-)

    is certainly an important topic and needs the widest possible discussion and understanding.
    That said, there is a world of difference between jails and prisons, apples and oranges are both fruit, after all, but the similarites go downhill pretty quickly from there.
    I write as veteran of both jails and prison. Any ex-convict who reoffends can hardly wait to get out of the hellish jungles that are most county jails and back to the relative sanity of a genuine prison.
    The diarist's experiences, while certainly representative, are like taking a bite out of the rottenest part of the apple. The whole think may stink of decomposition, but some parts are even more putrid than others.
    I'd love to stay and continue a conversation with all and sundry, but even taking the time for this comment is testing my time schedule for a doctor's appointment. Any comments made in this one will be addressed when I return in a few hours.
    Finally, for those genuinely concerned with this topic, and the cluster it represents as a "hot button" issue, consider yourself cordially invited to participate in the Criminal Injustice Kos series which appears every Wednesday at 6:00pm CDT. Or use the search function and view many months of discusssion on a variety of incarceration issues.

    Pancho needs your prayers it's true, but save a few for Lefty, too. Townes van Zandt

    by DaNang65 on Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 08:19:35 AM PDT

  •  A very important diary. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shockwave, ybruti, magicsister, asym

    I saw this in the diary rescue. I wrote a 20 page paper on the topic in college. It's an issue that we MUST deal with. It's not only a serious human rights issue, I feel it is bad crime control policy. Can we honestly expect to turn out functional members of society from a prison system that allows this behavior to happen without any recourse for the victim.

    Sorry I didn't see it earlier. It saddens me that this issue doesn't get the attention it deserves from progressives.

    Thanks for the diary. A well deserved rescue.

  •  There is too many people in prison to start with (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, aliasalias, millwood, asym

    The prison population has exploded since the late 1970s


    Our society is unique in the world when it comes to incarceration rates.  As a society we believe in punishment.  Prison rapes are considered normal punishment by too many ,perhaps a majority, as are prison rapes.

    It is a sickness.; an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action -1.75 -7.23

    by Shockwave on Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 09:25:38 PM PDT

  •  This is one of my major issues. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    millwood, asym

    I despise the prison system and the public attitudes around it. Even by themselves I dislike the system, but its a clear violation of the Bill of Right these days. The two big problems: You cant keep everyone in isolation, as that is cruel and unusual. However, you also cant have everyone together, as violent and nonviolent offenders clash, and people seek power over one another. No one is sentenced to be raped...except that every single day, a person is sentenced to be raped. Sure those arent the words, but we have long since evolved past the need for our language to actually express what is happening. As a result, I fear the only course of action that would be following the bill of rights, is a complete and total deconstruction of the prison system. No new prisons, all old prisons permanently shut down. Between the rape, the violence, and the killing of innocents, we are at a point where it is far more harmful to put someone into prison than to keep people out.
    As our society has deemd it unneccessary to actually try to reform people through punishment (see: pointless, evil "sex offender registry", "statutory rape") there is nothing to do but end it all. From my point of view, ive seen nothing but the most horrible of actions.

    Ever try to say "The sex offender registry is bad"? You get screamed at, booed at. It is wholly political. Every year they stack more and more abuses onto so-called sex offenders, making these peoples lives permanently miserable--cruel and unusual punishment again.

    But even beyond ALL that, all those many many good reasons to end prison, theres one more: it is horrific. I dont know about everyone else, but I view it as a supreme crime to force someone into a cage, and being an atheist makes it infinitely worse, as this is viewd as our only chance.

    Theres no defense for this system. It is flawed to the point of uselessness, and are the major hotbeds of extreme institutional evil in this world. God help us, because we are destroying each other.

  •  Stop Mistreatment Of Men (0+ / 0-)
    I have tried many times to get blogs like this one to understand the root of this rape problem. I always get censured by moderators because it is not politically correct. The real problem is the U.S. hatred toward all things male. Only the upper crust (liberal or conservative) rich men don't get treated badly in our society. Progressives tend to ignore the plight of all ordinary males in America. Conservatives tend to ignore the plight of all who are not rich. So progressives wonder why so many men turn away from them. It's because at least an ordinary male thinks he can get good treatment by Republicans if only he can become rich...
    Boys are routinely spanked publically in many (especially red state) schools. Hardly any girls (percentage wise) get this mistreatment. Parents spank boys at a much higher rate than they do girls. Yet boys have a prostate, and everyone considers spanking as "kinky sex", yet no one, not even "progressive" women, complains about this sexual assault directed mostly at boys. "Progressive" men, like Al Franken, cannot ever say anything to help the male cause because he, like virtually all liberal men in power, parrots the progressive line that "women are victims". I'm not disputing that women are victims. But non-rich men in our society are way more victimized, and it's not even close. Would spanking continue if it were almost exclusively directed at girls?
    Violent video games, played mainly by boys, but also by lots of girls, explicitly depict killing men and boys in cruel ways. Would women allow these games in their homes if all the violence were against women and girls?
    Comedians and TV shows routinely laugh at raping men in prison. "Don't bend over to pick up the soap" is a joke about raping men. Would we laugh if the jokes were about raping women?
    TV constantly depicts men and boys getting their testicles crushed or their penis chopped off. Would this continue if the jokes were about reaching inside a woman or girl to crush their ovaries - ha ha how funny is that. Would they continue if the jokes routinely discussed destroying the clitoris or urethra - ha ha how funny is that.
    Boys are routinely held down and violently sexually assaulted with no anesthetic as infants only to make more money for hospitals and doctors. We all SCREAM about stopping female circumcision. But it's OK to do it to infant boys.
    Watch any show where violence is not condemned. It is almost always toward men and boys - almost never toward females (the violence against females is almost always portrayed as doing something wrong). Female interrogators are encouraged to threaten sexual assault against males. Torturing men and their genitals gets a laugh and a smile instead of the appropriate outrage.
    Rape is considered to be "sexual violence". Men and boys are routinely raped in TV shows and movies, yet the "Rp" warning is almost never provided.
    Why is nudity of boy cartoon characters, including depictions of spanking and crotch kicking allowed? Wouldn't you disallow a cartoon like Simpson's, Family Guy, and all of those in your home if the girls were constantly shown naked with laughter accompanying their being spanked or having their ovaries crushed.
    TV shows like MTV routinely show little girls being taught to kick little boys in the crotch. Let's teach our little boys to reach inside little girls and crush their ovaries and see how funny it is.
    Shows routinely show women assaulting men and boy's privacy by entering men's restrooms. California even says a woman can enter a men's restroom to help a male use the restroom. This is a sexual assault of men. Women aren't forced to expose themselves to urinate. No woman should ever enter a men's restroom while men are present. One woman even posed as a man for months to write a book about the experience. She observed men and boys using urinals. I complained about her assault on men and boys to no avail. I wonder if a man posed as a woman using a woman's restroom would get charged - and women and little girls don't routinely expose themselves in their restrooms. The moral equivalent is having women and girls do their pap smears in a public arena. How does it feel to have to expose yourself like that? That California law must be changed to say that the accompanying female must only enter after the male has been pushed through the door and has declared that no man is currently exposed. (It is a good idea, of course, to do the same the other direction - the accompanying male must let the female enter first to make sure there are no females in compromising positions.) Remember, sexual assault is based on the feelings of the one being assaulted. I hate being assaulted by women in my restroom. I hate having urinals so often visible to the outside by a single door being opened. Again, we wouldn't have women and girls doing pap smears in a location where anyone can open the door and anyone outside could then see inside like we force men and boys to do in men's restrooms. Just because some men choose to urinate in public does not mean we all do or even want to. (Just because some women choose to pose naked for Playboy, et al, doesn't mean all women would do it or would want to do it.)
    Ted Kennedy made a point of ending sexual abuse in prisons, but he didn't do one damn thing about the assault against men in prison.
    Several decades ago, a psychological study about whether ordinary citizens would follow orders from an authority figure and "kill" a bad person had to be stopped because so many citizens actually would kill the accused when told to do so. We have made progress. I bet if that study were to be done today, many more ordinary citizens would not kill or sexually assault a female, but would do it to a male. This means we are at least making progress. But we have to do more to stop the assault against men. Consider our torture programs. The sexual and violent assault against male suspects is well documented. What is not well documented is that many of the assaulters refused to do such assaults on suspected female terrorists. But they would "torture" them by crushing the testicles or sodomizing the suspect's little boy. Wow, imagine refusing to torture a male suspect, but instead crushing the ovaries or raping his little girl.
    In Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers look the other way as Afghani soldiers rape boys and men. Would they look the other way if they were raping little girls?
    Testosterone is considered to be "bad" while estrogen is "good". This assault on testosterone is wrong.
    Women in the military are not doing their part. They should be at least 15% and more like 25% of the deaths, but they are not. It is time for women in this country to demand that women in the military start dying at the same rate as the men. I even heard a HISTORIAN say how much sacrifice "men and women" who died in old wars like the Civil War, the WW's, Korea, and Vietnam needed to be honored. Hardly any women ever died in those wars. This damn historian had to change history to be politically correct. Saying that women did their part in those wars is like saying men did their part in childbirth.
    In the 1930's, men and women had about the same life expectancy in the U.S. Wouldn't you do something about it if, since then, women's life expectancy had become 10 years less than men's?
    The new heath care law requires that women and children be allowed to choose non-family doctors as their primary care physician. In Europe, there are "male only" urologists who are cross between U.S. urologists and endocrinologists. There must be a specialty like that for men to choose as a primary physician - but of course there is not.
    Government funds go disproportionately for cancers affecting women (breast, cervical, uterine) with hardly any funds for men's cancers.
    There are routine laws about violence against women. GO TO HELL! Men are the victims of violence, including sexual assault like testicle crushing and sodomy, way, way, way more often than women. DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT! Create a study to end violence against men and boys! Of course violence against women is wrong. But the accepted violence against men and boys in our society is epidemic.
    Stop laughing when women threaten or actually kick a man in the crotch, or threaten to cut off his penis or testicles, or slap him or hit him. It is not funny! This violence by women against their sons and male partners needs to stop. And women need to make it clear to men and boys that male on male violence and sexual assault is just as unacceptable as male on female violence.
    It is time for men to be the winners in civil courts. Grant them full custody of the children with the ex-wife being an indentured slave - sending all her money to support him. After all, more women have jobs today than men. The next 200 years should have men winning civil cases against women 90% of the time.
    I dare you to actually print this.
    And women who read this, don't do childish "line item vetoing". If one of the concepts here is exaggerated, don't throw out the whole thing. And don't be such "victims" by believing this is an assault on you. Violence and sexual assault on anyone is unacceptable. My point is that we believe that when the victim is female. It is time, NOW, to believe it when the victim is male, no matter WHO assaulted them.
    •  I think (0+ / 0-)

      the main reason this comment gets rejected a lot is its scope. You kinda dart from issue to issue without a clear stream of consciousness. You list many important things, but in general, you are correct in stating that there is a bias toward violence in men in the world. The hard part though, is that this is how its been since the beginning of time. For most of history, like all but the last hundred years or so, women were truly the victims in all cases. But today, we do need to start looking at the other side. If a woman were to accuse me of hitting her, i'd go to jail. Nevermind that im sickly and physically weak (I have trouble holding jugs of milk.), id still be the one in trouble. Even though ten year old girls could beat me up with relative ease. As for the circumcision thing, I am with you 100%. Very few people seem to view this as the abomination that it is. I call it Genital Mutilation, because thats precisely what it is, that is the goal and intent of the act. If you want a circumcision, fine. More power to you...As soon as youre an adult. It is wrong for parents to force this on a child. Ever. The ONLY case is when the foreskin itself has a disorder. For instance, a friend of mine had to get a circumcision rather late in his life, because the foreskin did not grow appropriately. I find it horrible that it continues to this day, and even moreso that surveys show women do not like the appearance of uncircumcized genitals. Thats quite disgusting, and weird. The gay community seems to have the exact opposite opinion on the issue, at least from the..eagerness with which I experienced things.

      But in the end, I think you need to condense your ideas and arguments, and reduce the rhetoric. Its like when I say the republicans want sick people to die. Sure they probably dont, but it gets attention. Just next time you want to post about this, take a good, long look at what youve written, to see if theres a less aggressive way you could state the same issue. Too often my own ideas go unheard due to my difficulty choosing words, and I hope this will help you out in the future.

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