Some backers of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act worry that a proposal to reduce the law’s financial penalties for states that don’t comply with it will severely damage the effort, the Associated Press reports. The federal government estimates 216,000 sexual assaults on adult and juvenile inmates each year. The measure failed last fall, but Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx), will re-introduce it in the new GOP-controlled Congress. Cornyn said the money includes grants for worthy programs, such as ones that support rape and domestic violence victims, but that the law should be more narrowly tailored to affect money for prison construction, operations and administration.
The law’s backers said Cornyn’s proposal would gut the penalty because little, if any, federal grant money actually goes toward prison administration, operations and constructions, which are funded by state and local governments. To take the provision out “would totally obliterate the incentive states have to comply with” the law, said U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, the chairman of the former National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. The Cornyn amendment does not eliminate the penalties for noncompliance; it aligns them with the audit process created by the Department of Justice in its rule-making. States that do not implement PREA will still face financial penalties. Penalizing the grant programs would reduce the funding available for some of the very programs that prevent crime and victimization in the first place, say advocates for state governments.