ACLU Calls Prison Rape Reduction Bill Positive Step, But Says More Needed to Protect Current Victims

July 31, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today gave its qualified support to a prison rape reduction bill, which it says is a positive step, but said also that the problem needs more comprehensive reform.

“The American Civil Liberties Union is thankful that members of Congress recognize the overwhelming pain victims of prison rape experience, but the solution for ending their suffering must be a comprehensive effort for reform,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “While the legislation may some day significantly reduce rapes, it does little for the current victims of this epidemic. Congress should allow these victims full access to redress in the courts.”

The legislation, called the Prison Rape Reduction Act of 2002 (S 2619), would establish a commission to study the harmful effects of prison rape and examine its prevalence in America’s correctional facilities. The commission would also distribute recommendations and other information necessary to help protect inmates from prison rape. The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and was the subject of a hearing today before the full Senate Judiciary Committee.

While it is heartening to see Congress paying attention to the serious problem of prison rape, the ACLU said, the legislation does little to immediately alleviate the problem. Under current law, victims cannot ask the courts for protections from repeated attacks until they exhaust the prison’s administrative complaint procedures, a process that frequently takes up to six months and makes the victim vulnerable to further rapes and retaliation. As a result, many victims simply do not report the crimes.

The ACLU cited the case of Roderick Johnson as an illustration of the dangers of the exhaustion requirement. Mr. Johnson was raped and assaulted nearly every day for 18 months by Texas prison gangs. During that time he filed many complaints and exhausted the prison’s grievance process. Administrators were only persuaded to take his claim seriously and move him to safety after he filed a lawsuit against the facility itself. For a year-and-a-half he endured repeated gang rapes, because of the misguided and dangerous exhaustion provision in current law.

A news release about Johnson’s lawsuit is online at:
/prison/conditions/14680prs20020417.html The ACLU’s statement on the bill can be found at:

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