The Right Kind of No-Tolerance Policy: Will Obama Get A Halo For Prison Rape Reform?

If backing gay marriage earns a rainbow halo, stopping prison rape at least warrants this….

The Justice Department just announced the first comprehensive federal rules aimed at “zero tolerance” for sexual assaults against inmates in prisons, jails and other houses of detention. The new policy has teeth in it, decreeing that states that don’t take adequate measures to prevent sexual assault on prisoners will lose federal prison  funds. This initiative was disgracefully long in coming, but begins the repair of the human rights atrocity going on in the nation’s prisons literally since the first cell door clanged shut. It is the right kind of “no-tolerance” policy, because allowing prisoners to rape other prisoners—it is estimated that at least 10% of all inmates experience sexual assault—-should never have been tolerated. That it has also been used by law enforcement and popular culture to enhance the deterrent power of imprisonment, essentially making rape a culturally and governmentally sanctioned element of the penal system, should weigh heavily on the national conscience for years to come. It was un-American, as vile a desecration of the principles of our country as torture.  Continue reading

Not That It Will Do Any Good To Say So, But U.S. Acceptance of Prison Rape Is An Ethics Outrage


I keep an informal score each television season of how often one of the heroes in a cop or other law enforcement drama will pointedly tell a finally-cornered criminal that he can now look forward to being raped in prison. Of course, this is only representative of the shows I actually see. Even counting only them, however, I have heard such a speech four times in 2011. (The all-time champs in this celebration of prison rape are Dick Wolf’s Law and Order dramas.)

Think about what this means. The scriptwriters are presuming that such a forecast of impending sexual abuse will be enjoyed by the audience, a case of just desserts for the wicked. The casual acceptance of prison rape in America’s penitentiaries is a continuing scandal, and an indictment of our society’s compassion and commitment to the Constitution. Continue reading