Eliminating Violence in Prisons and Jails

By Weedon, Joey R. | Corrections Today, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Eliminating Violence in Prisons and Jails


Weedon, Joey R., Corrections Today


On Aug. 10, 2005, USA Today published an editorial titled "When rape is a joke. "The editorial contends that prison officials and workers tolerate "rape with an indifferent shrug or smirk," announcing "that officials aren't in control of their facilities." Corrections professionals around the world were rightly outraged by the sentiment of this editorial. While the corrections profession cannot deny that there is violence in its jails, prisons and juvenile facilities, it is not widespread. More important, it is never accepted by those who call themselves corrections professionals.

While issues surrounding abuse in prisons and jails did not garner the public's attention until after the release of photos documenting abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in April 2004, the issue had been the subject of federal legislation during the summer of 2003. Introduced by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) called for the creation of a panel to conduct investigative hearings on the current state of inmates' safety and to recommend national, correctional standards. It was signed into law by President Bush on Sept. 3, 2003.

Under PREA, a bipartisan, nine-member commission was formed to conduct a study of federal, state and local government policies and practices respecting the prevention, detection and punishment of prison sexual assaults. The commission is charged with examining "the penalogical, physical, mental, medical, social and economic impacts of prison sexual assaults on federal, state and local governments in the United States and on communities and social institutions generally." The commission is required to report its findings, conclusions and recommendations to the president, Congress, and other federal and state officials by the middle of 2006, though it is likely that Congress will pass legislation extending this deadline. Among its recommendations, the commission will "include national standards for enhancing the detection, prevention, reduction and punishment of prison sexual assault."

Following the reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib, the Vera Institute of Justice formed a second panel, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, to "study and clarify the nature and extent of violence, sexual abuse, degradation, and other serious safety failures and abuses in prisons and jails throughout the United States, as well as the consequences for prisoners, corrections officers and the public at large. …

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