If liberal icon Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Christian conservative Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) can get together on a piece of legislation in Congress, the bill has a good chance of becoming law. The issue-prison rape-is the stuff of off-color jokes, but it's a real problem that is turning many run-of-the-mill offenders into violent felons-in-waiting. WORLD reported on this epidemic last year ("Brutality behind bars," Feb. 3, 2001). What's new this year is the support of Sen. Kennedy, the No. 2 Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said last week at a Capitol Hill news conference that the panel would hold hearings this summer on legislation to curb prison rape.
"Part of the problem is that few of these assaults are reported, never mind prosecuted," WORLD reported. "The rape itself is just the beginning. Once released, rape victims bring AIDS into their communities, along with a flood of rage.... Once released, they have a higher propensity to visit violence upon others. That's an ominous detail, given that the vast majority of prisoners are eventually released."
The Prison Rape Reduction Act takes the problem seriously, by establishing three programs in the Department of Justice: one dedicated to collecting national prison rape statistics and conducting research, one to disseminate information and procedures to combat prison rape, and a grant program to assist states with their similar programs. It also would establish a bipartisan national commission to investigate the economic, physical, and social issues relating to prison rape, and to propose a set of national standards within two years.
In addition to its diverse congressional sponsorship, the bill is also endorsed by the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptist Convention, Prison Fellowship, the National Association of Evangelicals, the NAACP, and Human Rights Watch.