LGBT Inmates of US Jails Get Stronger Rights Safeguards

May 18, 2012

Stronger protections for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inmates of United States corrections facilities are included in anti-sexual violence standards that began taking effect across the US in May.

LGBT individuals are among more than 200,000 each year affected by sexual victimization in federal and state prisons, jails, and detention centers that are covered by the new Department of Justice ‘National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape’.

“Sexual abuse in detention shatters hundreds of thousands of lives of men, women, and children every year,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that works to improve respect for human rights in US detention facilities. “We have fought long and hard for the…standards. They have the potential to cut prisoner rape dramatically.”

The Standards — which went into effect May 17, nine years after passage of the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and almost two years after the statutory deadline – detail concrete steps that facilities must take to prevent and respond to sexual abuse.

They require that particularly vulnerable inmates — such as LGBT individuals — be housed safely and have access to trained experts for intervention and emotional support after an assault. They also spell out requirements for inmate education and staff training on sexual abuse prevention, including specialized training for investigative and medical staff.

Although the PREA standards do not apply explicitly to immigration detention facilities, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum May 17 stating: “PREA applies to all federal confinement facilities, including those operated by executive departments and agencies other than the Department of Justice.”

State prisons in California and Oregon, as well as the Miami-Dade County jail, are among facilities across the country that started adopting draft versions of the standards some years ago.

While the standards do not curb female staff searches of male inmates — in spite of a Department of Justice report showing widespread abuse by female staff of male prisoners — the new rules remove a proposed 20-day time limit for victimized inmates to report an abuse, and they also require all facilities to be audited by independent assessors every three years.

“The standards have filled me with hope that no one will ever have to experience what I went through,” said Frank Mendoza who was beaten and sexually assaulted by an official at the Los Angeles County Jail.

“Prisoner rape is not just a statistic for those of us who have lived through it—it’s a life-shattering experience. This violence has to stop,” he said, speaking in video testimonypresented online by Just Detention International.

Founded in 1980 by a prison rape survivor, Just Detention International was instrumental in developing and securing the passage of PREA and has since led the push for strong, binding standards.

The organization received funding from the Arcus Foundation in support of its leading role with a broad-based coalition to end sexual violence and homophobia in US prisons and jails.