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Combating Rape in Prison

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Post was correct in endorsing key recommendations of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, including the call for reform of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ["A Prison Nightmare," editorial, June 23].

Purportedly enacted to curb the filing of frivolous prisoner litigation, the act makes it almost impossible for prisoners to file any civil rights claims, regardless of their merit. Because of the act, prison survivors of rape and other forms of sexual assault lose their right to sue unless they follow all the arbitrary internal grievance rules set by prison officials.

For example, a prisoner in Texas who wrote to me tried to complain of two incidents of rape, days apart. The grievance about the second rape was thrown out because he had already filed one grievance that week.

Any valid purpose served by the act's exhaustion requirement could be served by a far narrower provision.

It is also essential that all lawsuits on behalf of juveniles be exempt from the strictures of the act. Youth in adult prisons are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. Given that there is no evidence that juveniles have ever created a problem by filing frivolous lawsuits, the act should be amended to allow the federal courts to hold officials accountable for the treatment of youth in their custody.

ELIZABETH ALEXANDER

Director

National Prison Project

ACLU

Washington

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The editorial "A Prison Nightmare" rightly noted that prison rape is widespread and unacceptable. However, the problem is more pervasive than the editorial suggests. The Bureau of Justice Statistics survey cited in the editorial estimated that 60,500 state and federal prisoners were sexually abused in the past year. That survey did not include the 1 million detainees housed in county jails, juvenile halls and other facilities.

A similar Bureau of Justice Statistics survey published in 2008 found that 25,000 county detainees had been sexually abused in the past six months. These are snapshot surveys, reaching only the inmates present on a particular day. The annual number of admissions to county jails is 17 times higher than the jail population on any day, so the surveyors covered only a fraction of the detainees. Sadly, the number of inmates sexually abused every year is significantly higher than 60,500.

LOVISA STANNOW

Executive Director

Just Detention International

Los Angeles

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