NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Making Prisons Safe from Rape

May 27, 2003

For a nation that prides itself on being a human-rights leader, the sheer number of men raped behind bars -- 240,000 a year according to the activist group Stop Prison Rape -- is a black mark. A common corrections-industry estimate is 12,000 rapes per year. Even if this is the actual number, it still represents more rapes than are reported annually against women in New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, San Diego and Phoenix combined.

For 18 months now, Congress has been considering the Prison Rape Reduction Act, a bipartisan bill that would take resolute though modest action to ascertain the dimensions of the nation's prison-rape problem and confront it. But despite support from leaders in both parties, and no organized opposition, the bill remains mired in committee.

  • The bill proposes $60 million for rape-prevention programs, requires states to collect statistics on prison rape and establishes a commission to study the problem.
  • Prison-accrediting associations, which set the standards most facilities follow, will also have to develop standards for preventing rape.

This should help solve the problem in three ways:

  • First, once reliable statistics are available, corrections-systems administrators who tolerate high levels of prison rape will have to come to Washington to answer potentially embarrassing questions about how they run their facilities.
  • Second, the new standards -- similar to those already in place in San Francisco -- will help protect prisoners.
  • Finally, grant programs will help develop new ways of confronting the problem.

To guarantee compliance, the bill stipulates that states whose prison administrators fail to report statistics will lose small amounts of federal money for criminal-justice programs.

Source: Eli Lehrer, "A Blind Eye, Still Turned," June 2, 2003, National Review.


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