Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘just detention international

Prison Rape: Myths and Realities

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USC law professor Kim Shayo Buchanan has a (relatively) recent article about sexual violence behind bars, which you can download here. UC-Davis law professor Angela P. Harris calls the article “a tour de force of critical legal theory.” Here’s Harris discussing Buchanan’s findings, over at Jotwell:

Buchanan’s observations about the taken-for-grantedness of sexual violence in prison and the seeming complacency about it in the outside world eerily recall a time when women who were raped would routinely be blamed for dressing too provocatively. Her analysis of how male victims of sexual violence are similarly ignored, disbelieved, held responsible, or told that it must have been consensual clearly draws on second-wave feminist analysis. Buchanan also draws on this analysis when she shows how the world of prisons and jails is as effectively shielded from legal scrutiny as was the home in an earlier era. Then, as now, the creation of a “private” sphere free from legal intervention made room for an informal order patrolled by patriarchal violence.

Finally, Buchanan’s article is about a racialized sex/gender panic on the part of white men that crystallizes in the joke I repeated at the beginning of this review (and hundreds of variations scattered throughout popular culture). In her fascinating cultural history, Manliness and Civilization, Gail Bederman suggests that the male fantasy of vulnerability to rape by a “big black dude” may have its roots in the late nineteenth century, when white male masculinity entered a period of crisis from which it has never fully emerged. Buchanan demonstrates that the fantasy persists as a “myth” about prison rape – the belief held by experts as well as laypersons that the perpetrators of prison rape are disproportionately black and the victims disproportionately white. There is no good evidence to believe that prison rape is raced in this way. Yet the fantasy persists.

To learn more about the issue of prison rape, visit the website of Just Detention International.

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Written by sara

January 10, 2012 at 11:31 am

Take 2, 5, or 15 Minutes Today to Speak Out against Government Tolerance of Prison Rape

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This coming Monday, April 4, is the deadline for submitting public comment to the Department of Justice about its proposed regulations aimed at reducing prison rape and sexual abuse. Just Detention International has compiled a handy how-to that walks you through the process. You can choose to take literally 2 minutes to click through and submit JDI’s form letter in your name, or take a little longer to write your own message. If you’re looking for additional fodder for your letter, visit the Prison Fellowship site which takes AG Eric Holder to task for weakening the standards. This article, from the New York Review of Books, will give you additional background on the issue and the proposed standards.

Ortiz v. Jordan, Prison Rape Elimination Standards, &c.

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I’ve been lax posting here lately, but not because there hasn’t been prison legal news. Miscellaneous other projects require my attention at least for the next few days — all apologies, but also, that’s what you get when you rely on a prison blog that’s an on-the-side project — but for now, here are a few links to keep you busy:

  • The Supreme Court decided Ortiz v. Jordan (decision and other docs here), ruling in favor of Michelle Ortiz, who was molested by a prison guard and then sent to solitary when she spoke up about it.
  • The Justice Department has finally gotten around to releasing proposed rules pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act. In the words of AG Eric Holder: “Sexual abuse is a crime, not punishment for a crime.” When the rules are opened to public comment at regulations.gov, I’ll post a how-to for those interested in entering their thoughts into the public record. As noted by the hard-working folks at Just Detention International, by the DOJ’s figures some 600 inmates are sexually abused every day.

Also: admittedly I actually have approximately “negative infinity” interest, as a 5-year-old might say, in watching the State of the Union or any other political speech — I just don’t really care about “politics” per se, or “positioning” or “rhetoric” or whatever you want to call it, and it’s not like the State of the Union has practical policy significance; so fine, lump me in with the Great Uninformed — so I have no idea what Obama may or may not have said last night, but I did like this tweet.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act and the Problem of Legislative Deadlines

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Poor Eric Holder: It can’t feel good to know that the ACLU, Focus on the Family, the American Conservative Union, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, Grover Norquist, Gary Bauer, Jim Wallis, Prison Fellowship, the Sentencing Project, the NAACP, and the National Immigrant Justice Center—among others—are all “furious” with you, and all for the same reason. Back in June, Obama’s attorney general missed his statutory deadline to promulgate national standards for reducing prison rape. The standards have been proposed by the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which was convened pursuant to the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, and represent what are already best practices at the facilities that have done the most to curtail prison rape. But they still require Holder’s formal say-so to become binding conditions on federal funding for prisons and jails nationwide.

(Incidentally, for a skeptical take on whether such conditions can actually reduce prison rape, especially in light of widespread public indifference to the problem, see this 2003 Slate article by my criminal law professor, Bob Weisberg. Ever-insightful readers: Do you think things have changed since 2003? Just Detention International thinks so: “The standards release was a turning point in the struggle to end sexual abuse in detention. After decades of institutional denial, downplaying, and flippant repetition of stereotypes, government agencies and corrections officials have finally begun to describe the problem of sexual abuse behind bars as a serious violation of human rights … .”)

Yesterday, the above-listed coalition of strange bedfellows issued an open letter urging Holder to promulgate the standards sooner rather than later. In fairness, it’s not that Holder has completely ignored the issue: rather, he says his office needs more time to assess the implementation costs to prisons and jails (as required by the PREA itself), and to ensure that the regulations promulgated “will endure” (PDF link to Holder’s letter). But many advocates view the delay as indefensible foot-dragging in the face of widespread violations of prisoners’ human rights. In any event, this controversy sparked my interest in the broader question of statutory deadlines of this type. What exactly were the terms of the Attorney General’s deadline, and what, if any, are the consequences for Holder’s failing to meet it? If there are no consequences, what was the point of Congress’s legislating the deadline to begin with? I’ll (sketchily) consider these questions after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Upcoming Event (Tomorrow): Bipartisan Press Conference on Prison Rape Elimination Standards

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Pat Nolan (courtesy Prison Fellowship)

Pat Nolan’s Prison Fellowship, Just Detention International, and a host of co-sponsors ranging from the ACLU to Focus on the Family will unveil a joint letter to Attorney General Eric Holder tomorrow, Tuesday, August 17, at the National Press Club at 10 AM (Eastern time), urging Holder to formally adopt the standards proposed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. Thought I’d pass this along to my media readers, as there will be opportunities for on-site interviews with representatives from the coalition, left and right.

Sorting the Punditry from the Facts on the South Carolina Prison System’s HIV-Segregation Policy

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The DOJ Civil Rights Division has threatened to sue South Carolina over its policy of segregating HIV-positive inmates from the rest of the prison population — an outdated practice in which South Carolina, along with Alabama, is now virtually alone among the states. (Mississippi abolished its HIV-segregation policy a few months ago.) Here’s the response of Jon Ozmint, the director of South Carolina’s prison system:

“This is about left-wing politics controlling the United States Justice Department,” Ozmint said. “This is about whether you want more AIDS or less AIDS.”

Never mind that, as Adam Serwer points out, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch have documented a host of ways in which the segregation of HIV-positive prisoners imposes additional punishment and hardship on top of their judicially-mandated sentence, or that the World Health Organisation has said the practice is “costly, inefficient, and can have negative health consequences for segregated prisoners.” Never mind that 44 of the U.S. prison systems that once segregated HIV-positive inmates, pursuant to policies adopted in the early days of the epidemic, no longer do so. Ozmint’s position has been hailed by at least one pundit as a vanguard policy, “effective and humane,” and Ozmint himself as “refreshing” for describing being incarcerated as “a voluntary activity.” One blog, in a particularly odious formulation, accuses the DOJ of seeking to enshrine “HIV transmission” as a “‘civil right.'” A blogger at the Daily Caller writes, “The Justice Department wants you to get AIDS and die.”

The notion underlying this punditry — that the only way prisons can prevent the transmission of HIV is to cordon off HIV-positive inmates and subject them to additional stigma and isolation — rests on some very ugly assumptions about prisoners, HIV-positive men and women, and the responsibilities of prison guards to protect those in their charge. The notion is also belied by the reality that 48 states and the federal prison system do not segregate HIV-positive inmates. Read the rest of this entry »

More Government Foot-Dragging on Prison Rape

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The Department of Justice hired consultants from Booz Allen Hamilton to assess the costs and benefits of adopting national standards against prison rape. The Booz Allen crew reported back, as Amanda Hess notes, on only one half of the equation: their 414-page report “includes the costs of the PREA standards, not the benefits—like people not being raped anymore.” (photos below from Just Detention International)

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