The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Will Matthews, ACLU, (212) 549-2582 or 2666;

ACLU And Coalition Urges Holder To Adopt Standards Aimed At Eradicating Prison Rape

Groups Say Government Failure To Protect Prisoners From Sexual Violence Is Unacceptable


The American Civil Liberties Union and a broad coalition of religious,
political, human rights and civil rights groups today called on U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder to immediately adopt a set of proposed
standards aimed at eradicating sexual assault in the nation's prisons.

The standards, issued over a year ago
by the blue-ribbon, bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination
Commission (NPREC), would, if adopted by Holder, provide an important
guide for corrections professionals to eliminate sexual abuse in their
facilities and measure the effectiveness of their efforts. The coalition
previously called on Holder to adopt the standards in a letter sent
last week.

"The commission's proposed standards
merely put into words what the Constitution already requires," said Amy
Fettig, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. "Prison
officials have a constitutional obligation to provide prisoners with
protection against violence and sexual abuse, and Attorney General
Holder should implement the standards without delay."

The proposed standards would also
help hold corrections officials accountable by helping reform-minded
officials indentify their facilities' strengths and weaknesses while
ensuring that those who continue to deny the high incidence of sexual
abuse of prisoners are no longer able to minimize the extent of the

The proposed standards also include
important provisions which would make it easier for prison rape victims
seeking their day in court to file lawsuits challenging their inhumane
treatment. Since the 1996 passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act
(PLRA), victims are forced to exhaust the internal complaint processes
of their correctional institution before filing a lawsuit - processes
that are often comprised of arbitrary rules that are impossible for
prisoners to navigate.

According to the Bureau of Justice
Statistics, more than 60,000 prisoners - one of every 20 - were sexually
assaulted last year. The problem is even worse in juvenile
institutions, where one in eight juvenile detainees were victims of
sexual assault last year.

"There is a deeply ingrained culture
of acceptance when it comes to prison rape in too many prisons and jails
across the country," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the
ACLU National Prison Project, who testified before NPREC and served on a
committee of experts that helped develop the standards. "The proposed
standards are a milestone in the long battle to end a shameful era of
rampant violence and abuse within our nation's prisons and there is no
excuse for the Attorney General's delay in adopting them."

The proposed standards were issued by
NPREC after a comprehensive study of the issues surrounding prison
rape, including site visits, public hearings and consultations with
corrections experts, academics, survivors of sexual abuse in detention,
health care providers and others.

According to the coalition's letter,
while many corrections leaders strongly support the proposed standards,
some officials have exaggerated the cost of implementing the basic
measures outlined in the proposed standards. Cash-strapped states like
California and Oregon have already begun to implement the standards
without substantial additional costs. And the cost of failing to address
the problem of prison rape is huge - one state prison system, for
example, recently paid $100 million after more than 10 years of
expensive and protracted litigation, to settle lawsuits filed by women
who were sexually abused by staff at a women's facility.

The ACLU today is also calling on
Congress to pass the Prison Abuse Remedies Act, which would eliminate
barriers created by PLRA for all prisoners seeking protection of their
rights in federal court.

"The Prison Abuse Remedies Act is
currently sitting idle before Congress. Passage of this bill could
protect millions of our nation's prisoners from unnecessary suffering,"
said Jennifer Bellamy, ACLU Legislative Counsel. "This country currently
incarcerates over 2 million Americans in increasingly abusive
conditions. We cannot continue to leave them without recourse. Congress
should pass the Prison Abuse Remedies Act before this legislative
session is up."

Along with the ACLU, the letter sent
to Holder urging adoption of the NPREC standards was signed by a wide
array of organizations from across the political spectrum, including
Prison Fellowship, the American Conservative Union, Focus on the Family,
the Southern Baptist Convention, The Sentencing Project, the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National
Immigrant Justice Center.

A copy of the letter is available online at:

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.

(212) 549-2666