Friday, December 18, 2009

Sexual Assault in Detention Centers and CIR-ASAP

As I read through parts of the CIR-ASAP bill, the part on sexual assault in detention seemed to necessitate a bit more attention. This part of the bill actually was taken from H. R. 1215 from earlier this year, or perhaps an even earlier one. Nonetheless, it deserves discussion. I noticed two things: there is no part in the bill that says what happens to the perpetrator if the perpetrator is a guard or officer (likely it is up to each facility to make that call). It also says nothing about a requirement to inform inmates of the laws and of their rights.

It does say, "Detention facilities shall take all necessary measures to prevent sexual abuse of detainees, including sexual assaults, and shall observe the minimum standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003".

"On June 23, 2009, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC), which was also created by PREA, released recommended national standards along with a final report documenting the findings from its comprehensive study." Keep in mind, this was signed in 2003. But get this:
In accordance with PREA, Attorney General Eric Holder has until June 23, 2010, to publish a final rule adopting national standards. At that time, the standards will be immediately binding on all federal detention facilities; state officials will have one year to certify their compliance or they will lose 5% of their federal corrections-related funding.

So we don't even know what this will ultimately look like.

Victoria Law, in Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, wrote about PREA:
The act... called for gathering of national statistics about prison rape; the development of guidelines for states on how to address prisoner rape; the creation of a review panel to hold annual hearings; and the provision of grants to states to combat the problem.
More studies and developments of guidelines- very similar to what the CIR-ASAP bill looks like. Do people actually see it as a victory when the government passes laws that just study atrocities, hoping that something will eventually be done to stop those atrocities?

Law continues:
In the first nationwide study conducted under the PREA, 152 male and female prisoners nationwide were interviewed. However, all of the case scenarios focused solely on prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in male prisons. The ensuing report did not even mention the existence of women in prison, much less sexual abuse by staff in female facilities.
Victoria Law goes on to describe instances where intimate consenting relationships between female prisoners (even just hand-holding) are treated as sexual abuse because of PREA. Although the official guidelines have not adopted and passed down to prisons, prisoners have reported an increase in write-ups for "sexual misconduct". A woman actually killed herself after her partner claimed she'd been raped to avoid the consequences of their consensual relationship being called sexual abuse. Both women would have been charged with sexual abuse and had a lifetime sexual offender label.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but these are examples of why we must not expect real change to come through the government. We should be demanding the closure of detention centers (and prisons), not a somewhat nicer image of them.

Nonetheless, whatever can be done, should be done. With the recent decision to privatize AZ prisons, the discovery of secret ICE detention facilities, and stories like this about a woman who had to give birth shackled to her bed, the urgency is stronger than ever.

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