Prison inmates deserve equal protection against rape

When one hears the term “prison inmate,” some people immediately think of murderers, child molesters and bank robbers. What many people fail or refuse to realize is that these inmates are human. Whether they are serving time for a minor infraction such as shop-lifting, or a major infraction such as murder — they are human.

The question that arises is whether or not these inmates deserve the same right as other individuals when it comes to certain acts, such as rape.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the problem of prison rape has been ignored for a long time. Federal statistics show that around 216,000 inmates — both adult and juvenile — are sexually assaulted each year.

The majority of these rapes are committed by prison staffers, who are mostly women, according to the U.S Department of Justice. The most vulnerable inmates include the mentally ill, juveniles and LGBT people.

Although a law was passed by Congress in 2003 to end the problem of sexual assault behind bars, it had been a topic of discussion for many years prior. Attitudes towards this act began to change in the ’90s.

Staff-on-inmate sexual assault was determined a criminal offense by over half the states. In 1994, it was ruled by the Supreme Court that reasonable measures had not been taken by federal officials to protect a transgender woman in Terre Haute, Ind. who was repeatedly raped when sent to live with the male inmate population.

The 2003 law’s requirements include “increased training of staff about sex abuse policies” and “screening new inmates to determine if they’re likely to commit sexual assault or be assaulted.” Failure to abide by this law would result in the loss of 5 percent of federal funds received for prison operations.

For individuals like Jan Lastocy, who served time for embezzlement and was raped during her time in prison, the law came as a blessing.

“I felt vindicated because I had been fighting so hard, and for so long, to bring attention to this issue and get justice for myself and for all survivors,” Lastocy said.

Communications senior Marilyn Faz said she strongly believes that all individuals — including prison inmates — deserve equal rights.

“I guess what it comes down to is just that rape is a serious issue; it’s an absolutely heinous crime that no one should have to endure,” Faz said. “It doesn’t matter if someone is a prison inmate or not, there should never be any sort of tacit acceptance of rape. You can’t pick and choose types of rape to fight or what sort of victims/survivors to help.”

The problem that now arises is the proposal that Senator John Cornyn of Texas wants to introduce into the new GOP-controlled Congress a proposal that will reduce the financial penalties of failing to abide by this law.

There are a number of organizations — such as the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network — who lauded Cornyn for his proposal, primarily because they believe that prison officials will continue to work to protect inmates against rape, even without the financial penalties.

“There’s no desire to do anything less than help victims,” said RAINN’s vice president of public policy Rebecca O’Connor.

It’s important to realize that prison inmates deserve the same rights as people who are not in prison. They should be given equal rights, regardless of their position as an inmate.

Before this proposal is passed, it must be made completely certain the inmates would still be protected from sexual assault despite the reduction of the financial penalties. If there is an inkling of doubt, then proper measures must be taken to tweak the proposal in order to meet the best interests of all victims.

And, as always, the funds being provided towards programs that help survivors of rape and domestic violence should not be tampered with in any way, shape or form. This is a matter of utmost importance to many individuals, including business management junior Justin Novosad.

“I support the funding of the grants,” Novosad said. “I think that even though the people end up in prison, they do not deserve to go through something like rape.”

This proposal still needs a lot of discussion before it is passed or discarded.

Opinion columnist Trishna Buch is a print journalism senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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