U.S. panel urges curb on prison rape

June 23, 2009 at 12:50 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 23 (UPI) -- A commission appointed by Congress to study government policies on rape in U.S. prisons is set to issue its recommendations, officials said.

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission -- appointed under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 -- will urge corrections officials to identify at-risk inmates and improve medical care, among other things, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The commission report, scheduled to be released Tuesday, concludes that people held in prisons, jails and halfway houses in the United States have "fundamental rights to safety, dignity and justice," the Post said.

Commission Chairman, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, said the prison system should adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual assault behind bars.

"If you have a zero-tolerance policy on prison rape and it is known from the highest ranks that this will not be tolerated and there will be consequences for it, that goes a long way in sending a message," Walton said. "Just because people have committed crimes and are in prison, that doesn't mean that part of their punishment is being sexually abused while in detention."

The report urges tougher background checks and better training within the corrections industry.

It is difficult to measure the extent of the problem, the Post said, because shame often prevents victims from reporting assaults. A 2007 survey indicated more than 60,000 U.S. and state prisoners had been abused during the prior year.

The commission concluded that sexual assaults on prisoners are too often seen as a laughing matter rather than a serious criminal and public health issue.

The report will be sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The Justice Department will than have one year to develop national standards on prison rape, the Post said.

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