Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do Officials Promote a "Culture of Rape" in American Prisons?

I hesitate to broach so raw and distressing a subject.  But, a whole generation of young men, black males in particular, are being psychologically shattered by a “culture of rape,” which growing evidence shows, is actually fostered by prison officials in the United States.  

American society as a whole has not only turned a blind eye to the subject, but used prison rape as a theme for jokes and popular comedies like “Big Stan” and “Let’s Go to Prison.”  There is even a new board game called “Don’t Drop the Soap,” a phrase commonly used in reference to male rape in prison.       

Why should I care about what happens in prison?  The U.S. may have an African-American president, but show me a black mother in America, who does not hold a special constellation of fears for her sons.  There’s an old saying:   “Black mothers raise their daughters and spoil their sons.”  If, indeed, that is the case, it may be because black mothers sense that their sons may be in danger.  At the turn of the century, black women in the south had to worry about their husbands and sons being lynched by vigilante mobs, who invariably castrated a large percentage of the 2,000 black males, who were murdered this way.  Today, lynching is out of fashion.  But are there other ways American society signals a lingering fear of black males? 

The answer, I realized, was in the shockingly disproportionate number of black males in prison in the U.S. (statistics I presented in a recent post).    Once in prison, according to one report, five times more young man are raped by prison inmates and guards, than the total number of women, who are sexually molested in American society as a whole.  The criminal justice system has accepted rape as merely another aspect of the punishment meted out to those who cannot afford the caliber of lawyer that will keep them out of jail, whatever the transgression.     

There are many harsh realities of life that we can do little if anything about.  But prison rape is not one of them.  The reason is that certain human rights organizations are beginning to expose  the unspoken policy of prison officials, who  tolerate or even encourage same-sex rape of male prisoners as a means of maintaining a hierarchy of control.   Also see David Rosen's article entitled: "Prison Rape as Policy." 
The mission of  Just Detention International (JDI), formerly known as “Stop Prisoner Rape” is “dealing with the problems of rape, sexual assault, un-consensual sexual slavery, and forced prostitution in the prison context.”  JDI was instrumental in securing passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), the first ever federal law addressing the subject.  But weak implementation has been an ongoing problem. Human Rights Watch has estimated that at least 140,000 inmates in the U.S. had been raped while serving a prison sentence.

I believe this issue of prison rape should be on the agenda, not merely of black mothers, but of all who champion a humane criminal justice system.  

RELATED POST: No Room for Wall Street Crooks in U.S. Prisons Already Overcrowded with Blacks