As the Justice Department (DOJ) mulls new rules designed to prevent sexual assaults in the nation's prisons, New York Times editorialists on Friday offered a suggestion: "The policies … need to be as tough as possible."
"A recent report from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics makes that clear, suggesting yet again that sexual violence is frighteningly commonplace in the nation's prisons and jails," the Times writes.
That report, released last month, found that roughly 88,500 inmates in the nation's prisons and jails were sexually assaulted last year by fellow inmates and prison staff.
"But rape victims in prison are often hesitant to report their assaults out of shame or fear of reprisal," the Times notes, "and these numbers may actually underestimate the problem."
A 2003 law created an expert commission to study the problem and make recommended solutions. Fifteen months ago, after four years of study, that panel submitted its suggestions to the DOJ. Still, the agency missed its June deadline for finalizing the new rules, amid concerns from the prison lobby that installing them will be too expensive.
Behind Attorney General Eric Holder, DOJ expects to issue proposed rules in the fall.
The delay, the Times writes, has led to concerns from prison reformers that the DOJ might dilute the commission's suggestions during the public comment period.
"Mr. Holder," the paper says, "needs to ensure that doesn't happen."