Prison reform is a necessary component of the Christian command to protect the defenseless, according to faith leaders from Prison Fellowship and the National Association of Evangelicals. Critics say recent attempts at reform by the Justice Department do not go far enough to address the problem of sexual abuse in the U.S. correctional system.
A panel of experts, along with a diverse group of supporters that includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Church of Scientology, and George Soros's Open Society Institute, are protesting the Justice Department's new prison rape prevention standards, which will take effect April 4.
The new standards will allow already-troubled prisons to police themselves and do not require any enforcement mechanism, critics say. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported in August 2010 that 88,500 "incidents of sexual victimization" occurred in U.S. prisons over a 12 month period, up from about 60,500 the year before. That breaks down to more than 240 sexual assaults a day of inmates in every level of the federal correctional system.
The prison culture does not welcome transparency, according to Pat Nolan, vice president of the prison outreach organization Prison Fellowship and a member of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. The commission was federally appointed in 2003, as part of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), to provide recommendations to the Attorney General meant to improve standards guarding against the sexual assault of prisoners in the U.S.
"It's a culture we need to change," Nolan said. "It's absolutely a barrier to presenting the gospel, and also in a way it's a test of our credibility. If all we do is hand them tracts but turn a blind eye to their suffering, that's ...