Today, June 23, 2010, marks the deadline for Attorney General Eric Holder to finalize the national standards for corrections facilities to address prison rape. And unless Holder’s doing some serious cramming right now, he’s going to miss it.
Last June, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission released a report of proposed national standards for the “prevention, detection, and response to sexual abuse in confinement settings”—-a path toward ending prison rape. Holder had 12 months to review the report and make a final ruling on what standards would become law. Holder failed to meet the deadline—-according to some corrections experts, he appears to be at least several months behind schedule—-and every day Holder waits means the continued abuse of people in detention facilities across the country.
Today, Just Detention International (JDI) held a teleconference to voice its disappointment with Holder’s tardiness. According to Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of JDI, Holder’s failure isn’t solely administrative. “National standards have the potential to protect tens of thousands of men, women, and children from being sexually abused behind bars every year,” Stannow said.
Scott Howard-Smith, a survivor of sexual abuse while incarcerated on theft and tax code violation charges, also shared his story on the call. “The attacks that I suffered were devastating,” said Howard-Smith, who detailed how a white supremacist gang in his Colorado prison “raped, assaulted, and extorted” him in an attempt to convince him to commit fraud on their behalf.
The abuse didn’t stop with fellow inmates. “My efforts to report were often fruitless,” Howard-Smith says. Corrections officers refused to help him unless he identified all of his assailants by name and detailed their illegal activities, a move Howard-Smith thought would have put him at greater risk in the facility. Other officials informed Howard-Smith that “as a homosexual I should expect to be targeted by one gang or another,” while refusing to offer him added protections.
Also joining in on the call was Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, who emphasized the urgent time factor in finalizing the standards. “I’ve heard figures [of sexual abuse of prisoners] from 60 to 100,000 people a year!” Wolf said in a call from the House floor. “This is unacceptable. The Attorney General has got to act, and he’s got to act now . . . and if he doesn’t act, someone ought to call the president. But to let this go on for one more day is just wrong.”
Photo via decade_null, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.