Justice Misses Deadline for New Prison Rape Rules

Mike Lillis, The Hill, June 22, 2010

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The long-running saga–which dates to 2003, when Congress passed a law requiring new rules–has angered some lawmakers and prisoner-rights advocates, who contend that each day the guidelines are delayed, preventable assaults are taking place.

“The longer you delay, the more people will be raped in prison,” Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “It’s unconscionable that [DoJ] officials are blocking it now.

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Holder [Attorney General Eric Holder] defended the agency Tuesday in a letter to Wolf and Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), another strong supporter of the new guidelines, saying DoJ is moving as quickly as it can.

“It is essential,” Holder wrote, “that the department take the time necessary to craft regulations that will endure.”

At issue is a seven-year-old law requiring the DoJ to forge new rules designed to prevent assaults in correctional facilities, including juvenile detention centers.

Signed into law by President George W. Bush, the legislation created a commission that spent more than four years studying prison assaults before issuing its recommendations last June. Among the proposed standards, commissioners suggested that prisons take further steps to isolate vulnerable inmates from more violent offenders and separate genders during inspections and searches.

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Although the law required DoJ to finalize the standards by Wednesday, the process has been delayed indefinitely while the agency has sought additional public comment and cost estimates.

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One stipulation of the law is that the reforms must not “impose substantial additional costs” on prisons. {snip}

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“Prison officials claim that it will be too expensive to implement [the standards]–too expensive to prevent staff from raping detainees,” Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Justice Detention International, a prisoner-rights group, wrote in the Huffington Post earlier this year.

Stannow argues that the cost analyses being considered ignore the cost benefits that would result if the prison rapes were reduced. Medical costs could be cut, she says, as well as the legal expenses resulting from prisoner lawsuits.

“These factors are not included in the Department of Justice cost study,” Stannow wrote, “but Attorney General Holder must take them into account.”

A series of recent studies adds legitimacy to the advocates’ concerns. The DoJ, estimates that more than 60,000 prisoners suffer sexual assaults at the hands of guards or other prisoners each year. Another study, released in January, found that 12 percent of juveniles in detention facilities are assaulted.

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