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Law targeting prison rape signed; diverse coalition backed measure

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush has signed into law legislation designed to prevent the rape of inmates in the country’s prisons and jails.

The president signed the Prison Rape Elimination Act Sept. 4 after both the Senate and House of Representatives approved the measure without opposition in July.

The law establishes a National Prison Rape Reduction Commission of nine members, three to be appointed by the president and six by congressional leaders. It calls for an annual Department of Justice review of the rate and effects of prison rape. The measure also provides funds for state use in protecting inmates, including for the prosecution of prison rapists.

Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission commended the president and Congress, calling the measure “common sense legislation.”

“While prison rape is often referred to flippantly in television and movies, there is nothing humorous about this barbaric behavior,” said Duke, the ERLC’s vice president of public policy and research. “At worst, prison is a place where men and women pay for their crimes by being isolated from the world. At best, it is a place where they can rehabilitate themselves. Rape should not be part of the punishment, and it certainly doesn’t assist in rehabilitation. The sexual brutalization of inmates exposes men and women to punishment that is not only cruel but that also severely impedes their opportunity to rehabilitate themselves to assume lives worthy of the dignity of their humanity.”

Prison Fellowship Vice President Pat Nolan said in a written release, “For too long prison rape has been accepted as a normal part of prison life, subjecting inmates, many of them nonviolent offenders, to brutal and repeated rapes that not only scar them physically and emotionally for life but in many cases expose them to AIDS, with a resulting death sentence. No crime, no matter how terrible, carries a sentence of rape.”

The ERLC and Prison Fellowship were part of a diverse coalition that worked for the measure’s enactment. Other groups backing the legislation included Amnesty International USA, Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, Human Rights Watch, the NAACP, the National Association of Evangelicals, Penal Reform International, Physicians for Human Rights, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Salvation Army and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

The rape of prisoners — especially of young, first-time offenders — has been a significant problem in recent decades. According to Congress’ findings, at least 13 percent of inmates in the United States have been raped. This has contributed to the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. In 2000, about 25,000 inmates had HIV and about 6 percent of all deaths in prison were attributed to AIDS.

The lead sponsors of the legislation were Sens. Jeff Sessions, R.-Ala., and Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., and Reps. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Bobby Scott, D.-Va.