The U.S. Justice Department warned governors today that their states may lose some federal funding if they don’t take steps to detect and reduce sexual assaults of inmates in prisons and jails.
“We believe that sexual abuse is a crime, and should not be the punishment for a crime,” Karol V. Mason, assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, wrote in a letter to the governors.
The letter comes more than year after the Justice Department issued new rules requiring states to adopt national standards in addressing prison rape. Under the rules, which were mandated by a 2003 law, states must maintain a “zero-tolerance policy” regarding sexual abuse behind bars, encourage inmates to report rapes and provide timely medical and mental-health care to victims.
States have until May 15 to certify they have met the standards or risk forfeiting 5 percent of certain Justice Department grants. Governors of states that can’t meet the standards may opt to apply 5 percent of the grants to comply with the rules, the letter says.
There were 8,763 allegations of sexual assault in prisons and jails in 2011, according to a report issued by the Justice Department in January. Just more than half of the complaints involved inmates abusing other inmates; the rest “involved staff sexual misconduct or sexual harassment directed toward inmates,” the report said. About 900 of the allegations were sustained in investigations, the report said.
The report said that reports of sexual misconduct directed at inmates rose by 40 percent from 2005 to 2011.