Anti-rape advocates and victims of prison rape, while saying the standards are not perfect, cheered the new regulations. The rules have been under development since Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003 to fight rape and sexual victimization in the nation's prisons, jails and halfway houses. The regulations were announced only minutes after the Justice Department unveiled a new survey of former state and local prisoners that showed that almost one in every 10 reported at least one incident of sexual victimization by prison staff or other inmates.
Garrett Cunningham was raped in a Texas prison by a guard in 2000, and now works with Just Detention International, an anti-prison rape group. "If strong national standards had been in place when I was in prison, my abuse may have never happened. Now that the standards have been released, we can make sure it never happens again," said Cunningham, who testified to Congress about his ordeal.
"Sexual violence, against any victim, is an assault on human dignity and an affront to American values," President Barack Obama said.
Obama announced that the Prison Rape Elimination Act would apply to all federal confinement facilities, and all other agencies with confinement facilities were required to have protocol to fight prison rape within a year. That means the Homeland Security Department, which runs immigrant detainment facilities, will have to have similar rules in place by this time next year.
"The standards we establish today reflect the fact that sexual assault crimes committed within our correctional facilities can have devastating consequences for individual victims and for communities far beyond our jails and prisons," Attorney General Eric Holder said.
But immigration advocates immediately denounced the idea that Homeland Security would be allowed to come up with its own rules instead of following the ones announced by the Justice Department.
"It was clearly the intent of Congress that every person in confinement in the U.S. would be protected from being raped. Holder's decision leaves those in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, many of whom are not accused of a crime, at the mercy of sexual predators," said Pat Nolan, president of the Justice Fellowship and former member of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.
Critics have said inmates may be willing to lie on these surveys in an attempt to embarrass a facility or refuse to report an incident for fear of retaliation.