No sooner had George Zimmerman been arrested than the Twitterverse exploded with gleeful speculation as to his fate in prison.
I will admit here that in the past I too used to joke about prison fate. “Gonna tear that boy a new one” and so on.
Then one day, I realized it wasn’t funny. And I am ashamed to have ever seen it as so. Whether one sees prison as the power structure’s holding pen for the oppressed of society, an institution with a humane mission of reformation and possible redemption, or simply a place to keep dangerous people, one principle applies.
In a humane, rather human society that sees itself as an enterprise that exists for the good of all its members, there must be a fundamental understanding that if the state takes custody of your body, it has a duty to maintain the integrity of that body.
Thus, while it can be argued that prisoners have no rights to communications, college educations, cable TV, and other privileges and opportunities afforded free citizens, a free society that respects the individual must still see prisoners as autonomous beings with the same basic right to life as anyone else.
And more fundamental to this duty than adequate food, housing and medical care is personal security.
Prison rape is not funny. It is an abomination, and a stain on America’s character of a repugnance equal to that of the segregation of the past, for all it is far lesser known. This country has the ability and means to safeguard the only rights prisoners have, life and integrity of person, but it does not have the will.
The Prison Rape Elimination (PREA) Act of 2003 requires that the Department of Justice collect statistics and work to reduction of these crimes, committed by both inmates and staff. As I write this, for some reason I cannot access any of the Justice department sites dealing with PREA. The incidence of prison rape as reported by advocacy groups varies, but there is no doubt that these crimes number in the tens of thousands annually.
Prison rape is not funny. A culture of tolerance, and even encouragement, not only within the prison system, but in the country at large, is one step on the road to Auschwitz.
(For survivors’ stories, and information and contacts to work for an end to prison sexual abuse, see: Just Detention