PRISON RAPE Eli Lehrer at


Eli Lehrer at AEI reports on a bill inching its way through Congress — with support from both left and right, though not from the Bush Administration — to address the problem of prison rape. I haven’t read the text of the bill, but I hope it can be expanded to cover the broader problem of prisoner-on prisoner violence.

(And while I agree with Lehrer that litigation alone can’t handle the problem, reopening the federal courts to prisoners making serious claims about cruel and unusual conditions of imprisonment — reversing one of the more mean-spirited moves of the Gingrich Congress — has to be a good idea. The notion of requiring a prisoner who gets raped with the complicity of corrections officers, or beaten up by a corrections officer, to complain through the prison bureaucracy before taking his case to court is absurd on its face; there must be a way to weed out frivolous claims about peanut butter without slamming the courthouse door entirely.)

Lawless prisons are bad for prisoners, which ought to be enough reason to do something about them. But they are also bad for the rest of us. Prison gangs are partly a response to the need prisoners have for someone to watch their backs. The existence of those gangs is self-reinforcing; any prisoner not in a gang picks himself out as a victim. The gangs are largely along racial — and racist — lines. The Aryan Nations, the only significant neo-Nazi terrorist group in America, is in effect the outside-the-walls version of the Aryan Brotherhood, the biggest white prison gang. And that’s not the only prison gang with an outside-the-walls presence. Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam fits the same model.

Any terrorist group looking to recruit U.S. citizens could do a lot worse than starting in our prisons. The proposed Prison Rape Reduction Act won’t change that fundamentally. But it could be a start.

[For some further thoughts on accountability in prison management, see here.]

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: