A congressional commission on prison rape, headed by Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, released its final recommendations today for ways penitentiaries can clamp down on sexual abuse against inmates.
During a press conference at the National Press club, members of the eight-person commission spoke about the need for a national “zero tolerance policy” on prison rape, and discussed how their recommendations could help eliminate its root causes.
Rape “cannot be a part of the sentence” for convicts, Walton said, urging political leaders including the president and state governors to take command on the issue.
The commission’s proposed standards cover a vast range of issues, including guard training, means of reporting rapes, procedures for investigations and disciplinary measures.
It urges prosecution from inmates who rape other detainees, and also recommends that guards caught abusing prisoners should be fired from their jobs, unless they can provide reason for an exception. During the press conference, Hope Hernandez, a woman who was raped twice while in a prison hospital wards, described how the guard’s only punishment was a seven-day paid suspension.
Judge Walton noted that in two states, raping a prisoner was only considered a misdemeanor.
Part of the commission’s goal was to create standards “so that when you hear about a prison rape, the warden doesn’t just wink and nod and say take care of it, but that it’s investigated,” said commissioner Jamie Fellner, senior counsel to the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch.
The commission was created by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 and appointed by President George W. Bush. Walton said that he planned to work with Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to assure that the commission’s standards are adopted at the federal and state level. Walton said he has already met twice with Holder, with whom he has had a relationship since the two served together as judges at the D.C. Superior Court.
Walton also said he hoped that its guidelines would become a legal standard of care, which prisoners could use as the basis of lawsuits if they were raped.