DCTC’s Comments on Proposed Prisoner Rape Standards

DCTC has submitted public comments to the US Department of Justice regarding the Standards for the Prevention, Detection, Response and Monitoring of Sexual Abuse in Detention currently under review by the US Attorney General. (Click to read all of our testimony.) As grassroots organizers, we wanted to share the experiences and perspectives of our local communities, and to ensure that the unique needs of trans prisoners are not left out. As we state in our testimony, the present system for preventing sexual abuse in detention is broken, and trans individuals often feel the brunt of this. For the trans community and for many others, it is urgent that we adopt these standards without delay as an important step toward addressing the massive human rights violations that go on every day across this country. Here is an excerpt from our comments:

In the 1994 Farmer v. Brennan US Supreme Court case, a trans woman incarcerated in a male prison complained that the prison administration had shown “deliberate indifference” to the repeated sexual abuse she faced.  The Supreme Court declared that the prison has a duty under the Eighth Amendment to provide humane conditions of confinement, including the obligation to ensure that inmates receive adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and are protected from violence at the hands of other prisoners. Placing an individual who presents herself and lives her life as female in a male unit is practically ensuring that she will be raped. To fully eliminate sexual abuse in detention, correctional systems must also acknowledge that trans individuals are at a heightened risk and that protecting them from abuse will require flexible housing policies that prioritize their safety. The obligation to prevent sexual abuse requires correctional systems to end the practice of making housing placement decisions based solely on genitalia, or excessively relying on protective custody and administrative segregation.

The standards under review are an extremely important step toward fixing this problem. No matter how big or how small, all corrections facilities must institute basic policies and practices to keep inmates safe. The final standards should include a broad definition of prisoner rape, acknowledging vulnerable prison populations including trans individuals.  Whatever form sexual abuse takes, it is always wrong; unchecked harassment frequently leads to more serious abuse. Morally, we must end rape without delay.

Below the cut, read more about the Standards, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and how to submit your own comments to DOJ, in a press release from Just Detention, International.

For Immediate Release
Darby Hickey
(202) 580-6935

Department of Justice Solicits Public Comments on Prisoner Rape Standards
Basic provisions to end sexual abuse in detention move forward

Washington, DC, March 10, 2010. In an important step to implement the U.S. Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), as of today the Department of Justice is soliciting public comments on the recommended Standards for the Prevention, Detection, Response, and Monitoring of Sexual Abuse in Detention. Developed by a bipartisan commission created under PREA, these recommendations are the product of years of input from corrections officials, criminal justice experts, advocates, and others. They have the potential to become the most important tool so far in the effort to end sexual abuse behind bars. The public comment period will run until May 10, 2010.

Notably, today’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also states that the Attorney General is seeking to eliminate a regulation that bars the use of Victims of Crime Act funds to assist incarcerated prisoner rape victims. Just Detention International applauds the Department of Justice for recognizing that incarcerated victims should be able to receive the treatment and rehabilitative services available to rape victims in the community.

Although PREA stipulates that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder take no more than one year to review and formalize the standards, which were released on June 23, 2009, it is clear that Holder will not meet that deadline. This delay is due, in part, to a problematic cost projection study currently underway, contracted to Booz Allen Hamilton. The study does not take into account the dramatic benefits — in both fiscal and human terms — of implementing the standards.

“Any considerations of the cost of sparing men, women, and children the devastation of rape must be understood in light of the dramatic benefits of doing so — to prisoners,  to corrections systems, and to society as a whole,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International. “When the government removes someone’s liberty, it takes on an absolute responsibility to protect that person from abuse.”


Just Detention International seeks to ensure government accountability for prisoner rape; to change ill-informed public attitudes about sexual violence in detention; and to promote access to resources for those who have survived such abuse.


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