U.S. prisons as a place of correction or overcrowding and rape?

U.S. prisons as a place of correction or overcrowding and rape?

Currently, there are known cases of many people who suffered sexual abuse, inhumane treatment and sometimes their lives were at risk during the time of imprisonment. That is why the #YoDigoNoMás movement seeks to make this reality visible, so that these cases do not go unpunished.

Is there dignified treatment for the inmates?

In democratic countries, penitentiary systems must sanction conduct that goes beyond the norm, this is reaffirmed in the V Report on Human Rights of the Ibero-American Federation of OMBUDSMAN, when they express “an intervention can only be admissible if the dignity of the human condition is always and in absolute terms respected.”

But it seems that in most countries, respect for the dignity of the human condition is a concept of minor importance, which can be omitted in practice within the prison systems, as in the case of Alabama, which has the capacity to hold 9,882 prisoners in its 13 detention centers, but the reality reflects that there are 16,327 inmates. This means an overcrowding of 182%, as reported by the newspaper El País.

In these conditions, it is really difficult to ensure the fulfillment of basic rights for people who are deprived of liberty, because overcrowding produces a deterioration in the provision of services, increased transmission of diseases, stress, and degradation of mental health and human condition, as stated in a study on Human Rights of inmates, for the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights.

Cases of violence inside prisons

This situation represents a perfect environment for violence to be the most effective form of communication inside correctional facilities. “More than 600 incidents of sexual assault were reported between 2016 and 2018, which included forced oral or anal sex.” In the BBC article on Alabama prisons, it is acknowledged that inmates themselves claimed that “everyone” has knives as a means of survival: “One prisoner said that ‘Bibb is a place where you have to fight the day you come in or you’ll be a bitch, so you get a knife.”

The aggressive environment makes inmates constantly struggle to prove their strength. Domination, subjugation, and humiliation of others are the currency of exchange within these spaces. No one is allowed to show their vulnerable side because it becomes a sentence to suffer aggression from those in power, be they officials or inmates. Denouncing may seem a logical way out, but in the prison environment it is not, because in prison it is preferable to be everyone’s “bitch” rather than the ward snitch.

Inmates use abuse as an expression of power and subjugation.

“Prison rape is rarely a sexual act, but a violent, political one and a representation of power roles.” So says Wilbert Rideau, an ex-convict and journalist who experienced first-hand the abuses of the state. Then we can understand that those people who enter prisons, but do not meet physical characteristics that promote their masculinity, are sentenced to slavery inside the prison, to suffer violent acts, as was the case of a prisoner who in 2018 chose to cut his wrist, due to fear towards other inmates, after an attempted sexual assault. He claimed that what he needed was to be alone in a cell to be protected.

Entities that protect the rights of the inmates

In this context of human rights abuses, a foundation called Just Detention International (JDI) has emerged, Just Detention International (JDI), which seeks to hold government officials accountable for failing to do their job by allowing the 216,000 cases of sexual abuse that were recorded during 2011. This foundation also proposes that “victims of rape in prison get the help they need” as expressed in JDI’s report on sexual abuse.

This movement created in 1980 by Russell Dan Smith, a survivor of sexual abuse inside prison, has involved other activists who have suffered similar situations and now fight for the rights of inmates. One of its main exponents was Stephen Donaldson, a member of the LGTBI community, who was arrested during a peace protest in 1973 and suffered a mass rape in Washington prison. After making visible the reality of the country’s prisons through articles written in the New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe, the country began to recognize the problem and to exert pressure on the legislations that protected the inmates. “Donaldson died in 1996 as a result of AIDS after contracting HIV during a prison rape” as stated in the organization’s story hosted at www.just detention.org.

Sexual Assault Prevention Act

The JDI organization advocates that sexual abuse cases in prison can be prevented, only committed leaders are needed to promote good practices, care, and safety policies so that those who serve a sentence behind bars do not also have to pay with a rape. Their main slogan is Rape is not part of the penalty, and thanks to the awareness they have generated, in 2003 the Prison Rape Elimination Act was created, a federal law that prohibits sexual misconduct in confinement or detention centers.

The law also proposes the allocation of safe cells for “vulnerable prisoners” within this category are all inmates who have expressions of femininity that can put them at risk, the LGTBI+ community is fully covered under this law. Another of the central points of the law grants prisoners access to qualified advisors to denounce and accompany their case, thus forcing institutions to train staff to detect and prevent abuse.

Only in 2012 did the law enter into force and its application has had setbacks, but Just Detention International, an organization that has been fighting for more than 40 years for the rights of those deprived of liberty, continues to insist on monitoring compliance with the rules and support for victims.

From #YoDigoNoMás, we raise our voice for those victims who have suffered a similar situation, abuse should not be admitted in any sphere. We are here to listen to those who need it, tell us your story to rewrite your future.

You can be part of the change, join this movement on behalf of yourself or hundreds of victims who have not been able to find their voice to speak out against this scourge.

Find the multiple options we have to get involved with the movement and make your voice heard.