This is not the first time the government has tried to improve this situation, but the recent adoption of stronger rules is a needed step in the right direction.
By adopting national standards to help strengthen the goals of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice is focusing on prevention, detection and response to sexual abuse in adult prisons and jails, lockups, community confinement facilities and juvenile facilities.
"For too long," the justice department said, "incidents of sexual abuse against incarcerated persons has not been taken as seriously as sexual abuse outside prison walls."
The new standards apply immediately to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and states are strongly encouraged to comply. The justice department notes that states that do not comply "are subject to a 5 percent reduction in funds they would otherwise receive for prison purposes ... unless the governor certifies that 5 percent of such funds will be used to enable compliance in future years." There are further
restrictions on receiving federal grants if rules are not followed.
Prison officials frequently tell the public they are running professional facilities, but it is difficult for third parties to make independent reviews of facility operations. These new rules will help to ensure that professionalism.
In the area of prevention, the new standards require the development and maintenance of a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse and the appointment of a person to coordinate compliance efforts. The new rules require more training and background checks for employees in prisons.
In the area of detection, the new rules require that inmates are made aware of facility policies and how to report sexual abuse.
In the area of response, the new rules call for timely and appropriate medical and mental health care to victims of sexual abuse. All allegations of sexual abuse should be investigated promptly and thoroughly.
Considering that there are an estimated 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, the health and safety of these prisoners must be protected.