Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘sexual abuse

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.

Written by sara

January 10, 2012 at 11:31 am

Second Circuit Reinstates Lawsuit over Sexual Abuse in New York State Prisons

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Since 2003, the Legal Aid Society has been pursuing a class-action suit on behalf of “present and future” female inmates in the New York state prison system, alleging a pattern of “sexual abuse—including forcible rape—of women prisoners by state correctional officers,” facilitated by inadequate staff screening, training, oversight, and grievance procedures. Claiming violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, the plaintiffs are asking a federal district court to issue an injunction requiring the New York DOC to implement more effective policies and procedures for preventing sexual abuse.

At the trial court level, the case had been dismissed by district judge Kevin Duffy, in part because some of the plaintiffs are no longer in prison, so their requests for injunctive relief are moot. Now the Second Circuit has reversed that ruling, reinstating the lawsuit as to those plaintiffs and sending it back to the district court for further proceedings to determine if the case can proceed as a class action. (Full opinion PDF here – note, the case has had a very complicated procedural history and this is mainly a procedural ruling, so the opinion may be hard to follow; I’ll translate some of the legalese after the jump, if you’re curious).

The AP reports on the stance of the New York Department of Corrections:

In April, Corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer testified the department has adopted a series of directives and orientation materials for prisoners and notices to staff and inmates emphasizing zero tolerance sexual abuse. He noted the department’s inspector general has one of the few prison sex crimes units in the nation investigating allegations of misconduct by staff, as well as abuse by inmates on one another.

“The reality, however, is that while we do not willingly tolerate sexual abuse of our offenders, we may not be able to ever fully eradicate the occurrence,” he said. “Our approach is to take proactive preventive measures, immediately respond to all allegations and seek criminal penalties where appropriate believing that such efforts have a deterrent effect within the system.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Seventh Circuit: Wisconsin’s “Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act” Violates the Eighth Amendment

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Surely, had the Wisconsin legislature passed a law that DOC inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional. Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture. – Fields v. Smith, 7th Cir., Aug. 5, 2011

The Seventh Circuit recently struck down a 2005 Wisconsin law, the “Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act,” that barred prison doctors from prescribing hormone treatment or sex reassignment surgery for transgender prisoners. The Seventh Circuit panel of Gottschall (a district judge sitting by designation), Rovner, and Wood held that the statute violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, affirming a ruling by Wisconsin federal district judge Charles Clevert. (While Clevert’s ruling also found a Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause violation, the Seventh Circuit did not reach that issue, striking the law solely on Eighth Amendment grounds.)

Writing for the panel, Judge Gottschall (PDF here) summarizes the expert testimony offered at trial about the “feelings of dysphoria” caused by Gender Identity Disorder (GID):  Read the rest of this entry »

Tell the DOJ to Keep Teenagers Out of Adult Jails and Prisons

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On Wednesday I noted how you can submit your feedback to the Department of Justice on the proposed prison rape elimination standards. Another option is to sign on to the letter that will be submitted by the Campaign for Youth Justice. Here are the details – note the deadline to sign onto the letter is 5 PM TODAY (UPDATE: deadline has been extended to 10 AM SUNDAY):

In response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) proposed regulations on the implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), the Campaign for Youth Justice is circulating a sign-on letter calling on DOJ to ban the placement of youth (under 18) in adult jails and prisons. Their goal is to obtain at least 500 national, state and local organizations and individuals in all 50 states. As the DOJ comments are due at close of business on Monday, April 4, we are asking for signatories by Friday, April 1, at 5 PM Sunday, April 3, at 10 AM. If you or your organization would like to sign onto the attached letter, please email jjcampaign@cfyj.org.

You can read the letter here (PDF), and see the list of signatories here.

Written by sara

April 1, 2011 at 11:03 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.

More Holiday Reading on Prison Law and Policy

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The Pace Law Review has published a special issue on prison oversight, available for download here. The articles include a piece on how prison inspections interact with prisoners’ rights; case studies from Canada, New York, and California; and a piece on the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. The issue also includes two very useful resources: a 68-page (!) annotated bibliography of research findings on prison oversight from around the world, and a 50-state inventory of existing correctional oversight mechanisms within the United States.

Written by sara

December 15, 2010 at 10:29 am

“Sexual Assault and Abuse Rampant in Immigration Detention Centers”

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That’s the headline of this Campus Progress report (h/t: Adam Serwer). Immigration detention generally happens in private prisons run by the Corrections Corporation of America or county jails that contract with ICE. LGBT detainees are especially at risk:

And at the San Pedro Service Processing Center in California, a guard forced a transgender woman to repeatedly perform oral sex on him while she waited for her attorney in a holding cell. Even after she reported the incident, the staff took so long arranging for evidence collection that she was forced to wait overnight to wash out her mouth.

Violence against LGBT detainees, in particular, is a growing problem, as they are especially vulnerable within the detention system. In addition to being singled out for harassment as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity, transgender women often face the added risk. They are often housed with male detainees and supervised by male guards. Under those conditions, transgender women are even more susceptible to violence than those held in women-only facilities. …

Unfortunately, efforts to safeguard this particularly vulnerable population have proven distinctly harmful as well. For instance, when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted site visits of seven Southwest detention centers last year, they were troubled to find that some facilities attempted to protect LGBT detainees by keeping them in solitary confinement—a harshly punitive measure often used in prisons to discipline disobedient criminal inmates.

Written by sara

October 20, 2010 at 9:27 am

Virginia Lawyer on Prison Rape: Prisoners Don’t Need Standards, But Access to the Courts

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As the DOJ continues to delay in promulgating national standards for the prevention of prison rape, Virginia civil rights attorney Victor Glasberg recently published this letter to the editor in the Washington Post, offering a different take:

The United States neither lacks nor needs “standards” to prevent rape, in prisons or elsewhere. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and a host of laws and regulations outlaw the victimization, sexual and otherwise, of prisoners. The problem is that these laws and regulations are not enforced.

The federal judiciary has largely nullified the means prisoners might use to protect themselves. Given the judge-invented “deliberate indifference” standard and the “qualified immunity” defense as well as the stumbling blocks to valid and important prisoners’ claims created by the Orwellian-named Prison Litigation Reform Act, even horrible abuse in prison is routinely un-actionable except against the perpetrator, who is typically judgment-proof as a practical matter.

The promulgation or non-promulgation of “prison rape standards” is a sadly inconsequential sideshow to the main event: providing victims of abuse with legal recourse sufficiently effective to compel changes in the cultures of the prisons and jails where they live.

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 »

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