Republican Governors Bravely Fight Anti- Prison Rape Laws


The Prison Rape Elimination Act has a pretty self-evident mission, and yet, somehow, there are still people who manage to be against it. PREA, first passed in 2003 and finalized in 2012, establishes basic standards to keep American prisoners from being assaulted by other inmates or (more commonly) guards. Yet a handful of Republican governors are openly refusing to comply.

As the Huffington Post’s Dana Liebelson points out, the final deadline for states to start complying with PREA is May 15; after that, they could potentially face federal fines from the Justice Department. Yet seven Republican-controlled states—Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas and Utah—said last year, in some form or fashion, that they won’t comply with the new rules, either because they’re too hard, too expensive, or would conflict with their own state-run rape prevention efforts. This year, as the deadline approaches, several of those states are sticking to that brave refusal.

You can read in detail about the PREA standards here, but the main ones directly states to separate juvenile offenders from adults and put restrictions on “cross-gender” staffing, meaning that inmates would have “the ability to shower, use the toilet, and change their clothes without being viewed by nonmedical staff of the opposite gender.” (Prison reform advocates have argued that juvenile prisoners are at high risk of being raped by adult inmates; a survey of juveniles housed in adult facilities didn’t find that to be true. Some advocates argue that’s because the juveniles were too afraid to report.)

The fight between these seven states and the feds has been going on since last year; as Mother Jones wrote at the time, their excuses are many and super creative at that. Governor Mike Pence of Indiana wrote in a letter to the feds that the PREA rules “work only to bind the states, and hinder the evolution of even better and safer practices.” Then-Governor Rick Perry of Texas called them “impossible,” particularly the new rules placing heavier restrictions on cross-gender supervision. As HuffPo’s Liebelson points out, the governor of Utah said at the same time that the cross-gender rules would put correctional officers in danger:

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) of Utah wrote in a letter to a DOJ official last May that the state was not implementing certain PREA recommendations because “they are not sound policy” and “we need more flexibility from the federal government.” He cited, for instance, the requirement of officers announcing their presence when they enter facility areas with opposite-gender inmates. Herbert said this could endanger officers.

Utah and Indiana have said outright that they don’t plan to be in compliance by May; other states, like Nebraska, are pinky-swearing that they’ll be ready.

Correction, 3:02: An earlier version of this post indicated all seven states said they wouldn’t comply by the May 2015 deadline. Some, like Nebraska, have said they’ll be in compliance. I regret the error.

An October 2014 picture shows an incarcerated woman walking past a bulletin board with PREA information at the Washington Corrections Center For Women in Gig Harbor, Wash. Photo via AP

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