Prison Rape: Law, Media, and Meaning

Prison Rape: Law, Media, and Meaning

Prison Rape: Law, Media, and Meaning

Prison Rape: Law, Media, and Meaning

Synopsis

Focusing on discourse generated between 1969 and 2006 in the legal arena and in the print news media, the author takes an historical-interpretive approach to illuminate the role of cultural forces and attendant ideologies in shaping the contours of the phenomenon commonly known as 'prison rape.' Locating this work within the sociology of punishment, the author employs frame analysis and draws on two previously unrelated literatures 'Garland's cultural analytic model and constitutive legal scholarship' to produce a genealogy of discourse about sexual assault in carceral settings as manifest in two important arenas of meaning making. In addition to providing a detailed analysis of the often counterintuitive relationship between these discourses over time, the book considers the recent unanimous passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (2003) at a highly punitive historical moment in a nation that has traditionally preferred to litigate rather than legislate questions around the treatment of those it incarcerates.

Excerpt

In prisons and jails throughout the nation, “[b]oys are prostituted to the lust of old convicts. Nature and humanity cry aloud for redemption from this dreadful degradation,” Rev. Dwight’s report lamented. A Christian missionary and one of this country’s first prison reformers, Rev. Dwight founded the Boston Prison Discipline Society in 1825. The following year, he authored the first in what would be a series of 29 annual reports to the organization on the condition of prisons and inmates in the United States, a document generally believed to contain the first mention of prison rape published on this continent. In that forum, Rev. Dwight asserted, “There can be but one sufficient excuse for Christians suffering such evils to exist in prisons in this country as do exist; and that is, that they are not acquainted with the real state of things. When I shall bring before the Church of Christ a statement of what my eyes have seen,” he declared, “there will be a united and powerful effort to alleviate the miseries of Prisons.”

Notwithstanding Rev. Dwight’s urgent proclamation some 177 years earlier, it was not until 2003 that President George W. Bush affirmed efforts to define prison rape as a critical social issue when he signed into law the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). Initially introduced to the legislature the preceding year as the Prison Rape Reduction Act, in the spring of 2003 the more ambitiously titled Prison Rape Elimination Act sailed swiftly and virtually uncontested through the 108 Congress on a tide of strikingly bipartisan support. The final vote favoring passage of the new law was unanimous in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate.

Despite the fact that the Prison Rape Elimination Act neither created a new category of criminal behavior nor provided a new cause . . .

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