The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa


December 18, 2013

When there is no one watching


No doubt the job of guarding the worst criminals is not pleasant, and no doubt the majority of prison guards do their work honorably and conscientiously.

Still, prison rape is shamefully common. In 2003, Congress unanimously passed, and President George W. Bush signed, the Prison Rape Elimination Act. It created a commission to study the problem. And in 2009, the commission issued its report.

The Obama administration Justice Department was given one year to issue regulations. It didn’t. It delayed for two years. The Washington Post editorialized that “tens of thousands of men, women and children have been sexually abused behind bars over the past three years while the Obama administration dithered.”

Finally, in June of 2012, the DOJ issued 43 regulations that would require 148,455 hours of paperwork nationwide, require “methods to ensure effective communication with inmates who are deaf or hard of hearing” and mandate post-incident reviews that consider whether attacks were “motivated by hate.” The regulations are estimated to cost nearly $7 billion but contain no metric for evaluating success.

Congress needs to exercise more pointed oversight. There may be some Americans who are willing to overlook prison rape and other crimes on the grounds that criminals are unsympathetic victims, but not many. A unanimous vote of the United States Congress is a rare thing. But battling the worst temptations of human nature is never simple, and one vote for one piece of legislation isn’t enough.

One way to curb abuse is with cameras. A federal judge in North Carolina has ordered a prison to install additional cameras after a shackled inmate was dragged out of the view of a camera and beaten by three guards. He suffered fractured bones in his hands, face and pelvis. Technology has made cameras smaller and cheaper than ever. Digitalization permits virtually every second of prison life to be recorded.

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With the Clinton County Justice Coordinating Commission and the Clinton County Board of Supervisors discussing proposals to construct a new jail, do you think the time has come for Clinton County to construct such a facility?

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