The Department of Justice recently issued new standards to end sexual abuse in federal prisons, receiving mixed reviews from prison advocates. Prisoner advocacy groups welcomed the rules announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on May 17, but they criticized the DOJ for its two year delay and its exclusion of immigration facilities from the new standards.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 established, for the first time in federal law, a zero tolerance policy for prisoner sexual abuse and rape. The act was supported by a broad coalition that included the Human Rights Watch, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Prison Fellowship, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Amnesty International USA, and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

The act mandated the creation of a National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to gather information, hold hearings, and report its findings and recommendations. The commission developed a proposed set of national standards designed to prevent, detect, and punish prison rape, which it announced in June 2009.

The Justice Department was expected to finalize the rules a year after the commission's report. In May 2010, the NAE wrote to Attorney General Holder, encouraging him to adopt the recommendations from the commission. The NAE welcomed the new standards announced this month.

"These very important prison rape standards should have come sooner, but we're grateful they are here now," said Galen Carey, NAE's vice president for government relations.

The new standards include

  • restrictions on cross-gender pat-down searches
  • ban on inappropriate cross-gender viewing of inmates in showers
  • separation of youth from adult inmates (youth may still be housed in adult facilities)
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