Feds Talk About Prisoner Sex Abuse, But Don’t Act

Attorney General Eric Holder regrets missing deadline to institute changes.

By Naima Ramos-Chapman Aug 27, 2010

After some serious pressure from a coalition of civil liberties organizations, the Department of Justice finally released a report this week to meet part of the requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. Still, the DOJ missed a July 23 deadline and a missed deadline to implement new reforms to address the excessive numbers of sexual assaults reported by incarcerated men and women.

In the DOJ report released yesterday, "Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2008-09," an estimated 88,500 inmates reported being sexually victimized by another inmate or staff member. 

Those most likely to report the abuses were women, gays and bisexuals, and those who had experienced sexual abuse before entering the prison system. The report also found that white and multi-racial inmates were more likely than blacks to report abuse, along with those who had college degrees.

National Prison Rape Commission Report released in June of last year stated that the most at risk were youth–especially young women, immigrants, and queer inmates.

Despite the staggering number of reported sexual assaults behind bars, the DOJ sort of shrugged at its responsibility to address the problem. TPMMuckraker reported that Holder "expressed regret" for missing the mark to institute systemic changes, but assured us that the department is "working dilligently" to issue new standards that offer more protection to those behind bars.

As Michelle Chen reported earlier this month on ColorLines:

A demographic overview of the groups most at risk says a lot about why the problem has gone unaddressed for so long. The racial and gender hierarchy in the prison system mirrors that of society at large, but in an institution that harbors society’s most marginalized, the consequences are far more brutal.


Prison rape doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but it’s not inevitable, either. It’s just another accepted reality in a system that dehumanizes people by design.