By Mike Lillis
The Justice Department's delay of new standards to rein in prison rape will allow preventable assaults to continue indefinitely, editorialists at The Washington Post charged Monday.
"The Justice Department insists that it wants to take the time to do this right," The Post writes. "But after a point, additional time results in only additional harm."
Although an expert panel — the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (PREC) — issued a series of recommended reforms 14 months ago, the Department of Justice (DOJ) missed a June deadline for finalizing them.
Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress in March that he's making the issue a priority. Still, he said the agency would miss the statutory implementation deadline, largely due to concerns from the prisons themselves that the proposed guidelines would be too expensive to implement.
Among their recommendations, PREC members suggested that prisons be required to isolate vulnerable inmates from more violent offenders and adopt a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assaults.
"It is difficult to understand why none of these recommendations are in place," The Post argues.
"Rape is not part of the penalty those behind bars must pay to society. In the time that the Justice Department is wasting in rehashing the commission's work, more incarcerated men, women and juveniles will become victims of sexual assault. They shouldn't have to."
A DOJ report, released last week, indicates that at least 88,500 inmates were sexually abused in U.S. prisons and jails throughout the past year — 4.4 percent of the prison population and 3.1 percent of those in the nation's jails. In January, the agency issued a separate report on juvenile assaults, finding that more than 12 percent of detained youths reported similar assaults.
A DOJ spokeswoman said this month that the agency is "working diligently" to install the guidelines "as soon as possible." Proposed standards, she said, are expected to be released in the fall.