Critics Lament “Backlash” Against Prison Rape Elimination Act


With May 15 marking the second annual reporting deadline by states under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, advocates for inmates and half of the members of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, a bipartisan group charged with drafting national standards,” say the plodding pace of change has disheartened them despite pockets of progress,” the New York Times reports. “I am encouraged by what several states have done, discouraged by most and dismayed by states like Texas,” said federal judge Reggie Walton of Washington, D.C., chairman of the now-disbanded commission. Some commissioners fault the Justice Department for failing to promote the standards vigorously. Others blame the correctional industry and unions for resisting them. All lament that some members of Congress have sought to weaken the modest penalties for noncompliance, and that five governors joined then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry last year in snubbing the standards.

“There's a whole kind of backlash, which is very depressing,” said Jamie Fellner of Human Rights Watch, a former commissioner. “It's 12 years since the law passed. I mean, really. We're still dealing with all these officials saying, 'Trust us. We'll take care of it.'?” Last year, 42 governors signed a form providing “assurance” to the Justice Department that they were advancing toward compliance. They were allowed to make that assurance without having conducted any outside audits. The ambitious goal to audit every prison, jail, detention center, lockup and halfway house in this country over a three-year period is far behind schedule. Some 8,000 institutions are supposed to be audited for sexual safety by August 2016; only 335 audits had been completed by March.

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