According to the U.S. Department of Justice, roughly 4.5 percent of all prison inmates report being victims of sexual assault during their time in prison. It also reportedly happens to one out of every eight incarcerated juveniles.
Pat Nolan, vice president of Prison Fellowship, argues that setting standards would be a good way to reduce the problem of prison rape. He mentions that increasing the lighting in prisons, screening staffers and having independent supervision of facilities can make a tremendous difference.
A report on this situation was sent to AG Holder in June by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. The Justice Department has not, however, given a time line or any details of the standards that would be set. In a letter to Congress, Holder said that he expects to implement standards to stop prison rape and that there is funding to do so.
Advocates are correct that prison rape is a very serious problem in America. I have personally seen the damage up close in my own family from those who've gone to prison, and the trauma can be irreversible. The entire black community is negatively impacted by the occurrence of prison rape, since it contributes to the spread of HIV. When an inmate is released from jail, he is unlikely to know his HIV status, and if he was the victim of sexual assault, he may end up spreading the disease to all of those he sleeps with upon his release. Holder, a black man, must deal with the issue of mass incarceration, given that it is responsible for killing the community that created him.
While some may not be concerned about the rights of prison inmates, I encourage you to realize that if our country doesn't maintain a commitment to human rights, we are giving away a piece of our soul. Granting a man a long sentence for a horrible crime is one thing, but the process of incarceration should be built on sustaining families and rehabilitation, rather than serving as an avenue for continued destruction. Prison rape should no longer be the joke being told at dinner parties. It's a very serious issue that the attorney general needs to address. I hope he's not dragging his feet.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.