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Prison Rape ‘Widespread’ in U.S., Report Says (Update1)

By Justin Blum

June 23 (Bloomberg) -- Correctional facilities in the U.S. haven’t done enough to protect inmates from being raped, and victims’ allegations often aren’t taken seriously, according to a report by a federal commission.

Abuse behind bars is “widespread,” with 4.5 percent of inmates surveyed by the government in 2007 saying they experienced sexual abuse at least once during the preceding year, according to the report, released today by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which was created by Congress.

The report recommended practices that should be used by federal and state prisons and local jails to prevent sexual abuse by other inmates and corrections staff. The report called for more rigorous oversight by outside investigators, immediate and continuing access to medical and mental health care and a “serious” response to reports of abuse.

“Even when prisoners are willing to report abuse, their accounts are not necessarily taken seriously and communicated to appropriate officials within the facility,” the report said.

Attorney General Eric Holder is required by law to craft standards for detecting, preventing and reducing sexual abuse in detention facilities within a year of receiving the report.

Reducing the frequency of rape behind bars requires strong leadership from political leaders and local officials who oversee the facilities, said U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton in Washington, the commission chairman. Facilities should institute “zero tolerance” policies on sexual abuse, he said.

Room for Improvement

“A lot of what we are recommending are things that you would expect would be in place already,” said Walton in an interview.

The report found that in 10 facilities, 9.3 percent to 15.7 percent of the inmates reported being abused, while in six facilities nobody reported abuse. More prisoners reported being abused by staff than by other inmates.

Juveniles are more likely to be sexually abused than adult prisoners, according to the report.

There are more than 7.3 million people in correctional facilities or under community supervision, according to the report. A total of 63,817 of those incarcerated completed surveys on rape.

To contact the reporter on this story: Justin Blum in Washington at

Last Updated: June 23, 2009 17:40 EDT

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