The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Linda Paris, (202) 675-2312;  

House Subcommittee to Examine Role of Federal Statute in Denying Prison Rape Victims Access to Court

ACLU Says Congress and Justice Department Should Fix Prison Litigation Reform Act


The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security will hold a hearing today to examine the role of a federal statute in denying prison rape victims access to courts. During today's hearing, entitled "National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Report and Standards," lawmakers will review the need to reform provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), a law intended to reduce frivolous lawsuits by prisoners.

"Now that we have over a decade of experience with the Prison Litigation Reform Act, it is apparent the law has had a disastrous effect on legitimate, non-frivolous cases," said Jennifer Bellamy, ACLU Legislative Counsel. "Today's hearing should spotlight the need to amend the Act so that prisoners can have their day in court to challenge violations of their constitutional rights while preserving provisions that weed out frivolous lawsuits."

Last month, the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) released a report finding that by requiring prisoners to exhaust their internal grievance process and show physical injury in order to file lawsuits, the PLRA denies victims of prison rape and other abuse access to the federal courts. The report proposes national standards to eliminate prison rape and calls on Congress to reform key provisions of the PLRA. In its report, the commission also recommends reduction in prison overcrowding; improved training for prison and jail employees for better detection of sexual assault; improved classification of vulnerable prisoners to protect them from abuse; and better psychological and medical treatment for sexual abuse victims.

"For years, the culture of tolerating prison rape has continued virtually unchanged," said Amy Fettig, staff counsel of the ACLU National Prison Project, who has litigated prison rape cases. "We have investigated scores of prison rape complaints from around the country and found a pervasive prison culture that tolerates sexual abuse of prisoners. Rape is not part of a prisoner's sentence or debt to society. This is a national problem that demands national attention and that is why today's hearing and the commission's work is so important. It is going to take public revelations, public shame and public outcry to spur Congress and Attorney General Eric Holder to bring about true change."

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

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