By Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director & Melissa Rothstein, East Coast Program Director, Just Detention International
The United States is at an historic moment in the battle to stop rape and other forms of sexual assault in detention. On June 23, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) released its recommendations for binding federal standards to address and prevent prisoner rape. These standards represent one of the most important tools to combat this human rights crisis.
According to the best available research, 20 percent of inmates in U.S. men's institutions are sexually abused at some point during their incarceration. The rate for women's institutions varies dramatically from one facility to another, with one in four inmates being victimized at the worst prisons. In an inmate survey published in December 2007, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that 4.5 percent (or 60,500) of the more than 1.3 million inmates held in federal and state prisons had been sexually abused in the previous year alone. A subsequent BJS survey in county jails was just as troubling: nearly 25,000 jail detainees reported having been sexually abused in the past six months. These surveys are snapshots, reaching only inmates present on a particular day. As the annual number of admissions to county jails is 17 times higher than the jail population on any day, the BJS data represents just the tip of the iceberg.
Prisoner rape survivors endure physical scars, contract HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and suffer severe psychological harm. As they return home - and more than 95 percent of all inmates are eventually released - they bring their experiences and medical and mental health conditions with them.