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Washington Post Editorial: Justice Department Should Order States to Comply with Prison Rape law

Washington Post
Editorial Board

Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. More than a decade later, many states are only beginning to comply with the law, and prison rape is still a disgusting and pervasive problem across the country.

According to the latest Justice Department survey, 4 percent of state and federal prison inmates had reported suffering sexual abuse in the previous year. That ratio was a staggering 1 in 10 for youths in various correctional facilities. And those results reflect only those willing to report sexual abuse to survey-takers.

Although American culture often treats it as such, rape cannot be an expected part of how the justice system punishes criminals, particularly young and vulnerable offenders. They surrender their liberty, not their humanity. Any official tolerance of sexual abuse in prisons, jails or local lockups is torture. Congress wisely decided to devote federal time and money to stamping it out.

So what’s the holdup? The law required a commission to make recommendations, then the Justice Department spent years finalizing rules for the states to follow. Last month, states had to report on their progress. Only New Hampshire and New Jersey certified that they fully comply with the law. Most of the rest instead offered “assurances” to the Justice Department that they were working on complying. The law offers states this leeway, as long as they devote a significant chunk of the federal money they get toward prison rape reform. Then there are a handful of states —Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas, Utah and Florida — that offered no assurances that they would comply. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said that the rules are too one-size-fits all and would be too costly.

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