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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - More on "Pence: Indiana won’t comply with prison rape law"

Updating this ILB post from yesterday, which quoted from Maureen Hayden's CNHI story, including:

The law would require the state to increase staffing at four juvenile prison facilities to prevent sexual assaults, costing about $5.4 million for up to 120 additional guards.

One of the costliest measures prohibits “cross-gender viewing,” and requires that inmates be allowed to do things like shower and change out of view of guards of the opposite sex.

The ILB has now obtained a copy of Governor Pence's letter to Attorney General Holder, which says, inter alia:
Indiana has taken action on its own to change policies and practices in response to PREA. But sweeping mandatory standards like those recently established, work only to bind the states, and hinder the evolution of even better and safer practices. I encourage the administration to reexamine current expectations, and provide states greater discretion to implement policies and practices that eliminate sexual assault against incarcerated persons in ways that comport with fundamental correctional practices and make best use of correctional resources.
However, readers may recall that a year ago WFYI ran this controversial story, headed "Marion County Jail Named Worst In US For Sexual Misconduct" that began:
A new report from the U.S. Justice Department cites the Marion County Jail as the worst in the country when it comes to staff sexual misconduct.

The report published this week lists the Marion County Jail as one of seven in the country with staff sexual misconduct rates above 6 percent. The Indianapolis facility had the highest percentage with 7.7 percent of inmates surveyed reporting being sexually abused by a jail staff member.

But the numbers are being criticized.

“The report is absolutely false, totally false, and the Department of Justice should be ashamed to publish it,” says Kevin Murray, council for the Marion County Sheriff.

Hayden's story yesterday also reported:

Indiana isn’t alone in its decision to opt out of compliance with the federal law. Last month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry informed the Justice Department that his state wouldn’t comply with what he called a “counterproductive and unnecessarily cumbersome and costly regulatory mess.”
A quick ILB search turned up Texas Governor Perry's March 28th letter to AG Holder (via this story in The Nation) includes:
PREA's ill-conceived standards on cross-gender viewing would likely cause the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to violate state and federal labor laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender, Approximately 40 percent of TDCJ correctional officers at male units are female. Because PREA standards prohibit most cross-gender viewing, TDCJ would be compelled to deny female officers job assignments and promotion opportunities, simply based on their gender.
But a story May 16th in The Oklahoman re Texas' neighboring state begins:
Gov. Mary Fallin signed an agreement on Thursday to continue to uphold a set of national standards aimed at curbing sexual assault in prisons, avoiding a potential loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds.
For background and persepctive, see this long May 20th story in Vox, by Dara Lind, which includes:
It took 11 long years, but it looks like a majority of states are finally committing to addressing the problem of prison rape.

Back in 2003, Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act — a bill to address a problem that, at the time, was little understood. But after that… nothing much seemed to happen for a while. * * *

The pivotal deadline, at last, came on May 15 of this year — the day that states had to either adopt the new regulations or promise to enact them. And for a while it looked like few states would actually do anything. Texas, for one, had already flatly refused to adopt the new rules. Other states griped that they were being asked to move too quickly. Things didn't look good.

In the end, though, the results were surprising: As of May 20, a majority of states have told the federal government they'll either comply with the prison-rape regulations or work toward compliance in the future, Vox has learned. That's according to Just Detention International, an advocacy group working with the government on the issue. (The Department of Justice has not released final numbers and has not yet responded for comment.)

The country is still a long way from curtailing the problem of prison rape. But as of this week a majority of states have agreed to three important things: prison rape is a serious problem; it's the responsibility of states and the federal government to fix it; and they can be held accountable for not doing what is in their power to do.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 21, 2014 09:04 AM
Posted to Indiana Government