This really is a national disgrace. There are numerous studies linking this epidemic of prison sexual abuse to eventual committing of violent crime, yet there seems to be no concerted or sustained effort to force prisons to deal with it at the source. Every once in a while, some kind of report comes out and there's a big fuss, but nothing changes:
The Justice Department reported Thursday that 12 percent of incarcerated juveniles, or more than 3,200 young people, had been raped or sexually abused in the past year by fellow inmates or prison staff, quantifying for the first time a problem that has long troubled lawmakers and human rights advocates.
The report comes as those advocates say that the Obama administration is moving too slowly on reforms that would reduce rape in U.S. prisons and as corrections officials are pressing Justice to overhaul reform proposals it is reviewing.
Four former commissioners on a blue-ribbon prison rape panel that spent years studying the issue say they fear that authorities are deferring to concerns by corrections officials that reforms would cost too much, while not focusing enough on prison safety and the effects of abuse on inmates.
The study by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported a "very high rate of staff sexual misconduct" against juvenile inmates. It cited two facilities in Virginia and one in Maryland, among others.
"These figures are appalling," said Pat Nolan, president of Justice Fellowship, a group that advocates for prison reform. "We stripped a prisoner of their ability to defend themselves. They can't control where they go; they can't control whether the shower has a light bulb in it."
The report, based on surveys from 195 facilities in all 50 states and the District, is the first of its kind. Rates varied among the institutions, but at 13 detention facilities, nearly one out of three juveniles said they had been victims of some type of sexual abuse. National attention has turned increasingly to sexual assault within American prisons, which house more than 7 million inmates and cost $68 billion a year to operate. Other federal studies, which have been criticized by prison administrators, suggest that 60,500 adults are victims of rape or sexual misconduct in prisons each year.
In July, Michigan agreed to pay $100 million to settle a long-running lawsuit by women prisoners who said they were raped by state prison guards during the 1990s, and similar cases are proceeding in courts around the country.
Nearly seven years ago, Congress passed a law designed to reduce prison rape, establishing a commission to develop standards for state and federal prison leaders. Lawmakers said funding could be cut for prisons that failed to comply with the guidelines.