By Zach Schalk
September 3, 2010 3:45 PM EDT
In 2003 congress acted unanimously to fight one of our prison system’s worst defects: the prevalence of rape behind bars. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), in classic Washington fashion, commissioned a study and created the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) to recommend new national standards meant to protect inmates from sexual assault.
The statistics are proof enough that change is necessary. A new report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that approximately 88,500 adult inmates were sexually assaulted in 2009—a number that is almost certainly underreported. A similar study released earlier this year by BJS concluded that 3,220 youths in juvenile facilities were sexually victimized last year, an astounding 12% of the total population nationally. Nearly 85% of the reported sexual incidents in youth facilities occurred between juveniles and staff—and the majority were reported to have occurred without any type of coercion. It may be impossible to eradicate these types of incidents, but common sense makes it apparent that steps must be taken to address the issue.
Unfortunately the new national standards presented by the NPREC have yet to be enacted. Despite missed deadlines, several studies and analyses and nearly eight years since the passage of PREA, sexual assault remains far too prevalent in our nation’s adult and juvenile corrections facilities. Attorney General Eric Holder has justified the delay by pointing to a PREA requirement that the new standards cannot “impose substantial additional costs” on authorities, but at this point the argument rings hollow.
As time drags on before the new standards are implemented sexual assaults that could have been avoided will continue. Members of both the political right and left are behind this effort and the Department of Justice should continue its work and apply the standards as soon as possible. If the new standards suggested by the NPREC prevent even one sexual assault in America’s youth correctional facilities, then they will have been worth the struggle.