There’s No Excuse: Protect Children From Rape in Adult Jails and Prisons

U.S. governors were told in July 2003 that juveniles in adult lockups must be kept safe from sexual assault. Make sure they finish the job.

On any given day, adult prisons and jails are housing as many as 10,000 juveniles. (Photo: Richard Ross/Campaign for Youth Justice)

Apr 5, 2013
is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Campaign for Youth Justice.

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 2002, Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), an original cosponsor of the bipartisan Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), stated: “Prison rape, like all other forms of sexual assault, is torture. ... Deliberate indifference to prison rape violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

At the same hearing, Linda Bruntmyer, mother of Rodney Hulin, testified about her teenage son’s horrific experience in adult prison.

Rodney, age 16, was prosecuted in adult court and sentenced to adult prison, where he was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions. In a grievance letter to prison officials, Rodney wrote, “I have been sexually and physically assaulted several times, by several inmates. I am afraid to go to sleep, to shower, and just about everything else. I am afraid that when I am doing these things, I might die at any minute. Please sir, help me.”

Rodney committed suicide shortly after filing the grievance.
After such compelling testimony, particularly about the experience of youth, Congress unanimously approved PREA in July of 2003, and that September it was signed into law by President Bush. The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC), created by the new law, devoted the next five years to crafting regulations to implement PREA.

Finally, in August 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice issued its regulations, including provisions restricting the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons to prevent the kind of abuse that Rodney Hulin experienced.

The Youthful Inmate Standard is critically important because 10,000 youth are in adult jails and prisons on any given day, and research shows that youth are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization.

The U.S. Department of Justice regulations state, “As a matter of policy, the Department supports strong limitations on the confinement of adults with juveniles.”

Governors now have approximately six months to certify compliance with the PREA regulations. Among the many provisions, the regulations include a Youthful Inmate Standard that bans the housing of youth in the general adult population, prohibits contact between youth and adults in common areas, and ensures youth are constantly supervised by staff. At the same time, the regulations require limitations on the use of isolation in complying with the standard.

The Youthful Inmate Standard is critically important because 10,000 youth are in adult jails and prisons on any given day, and research shows that youth are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization.

Simply separating youth from adults in adult jails and prisons isn’t enough to protect youth. When officials separate youth from adults in adult facilities, they are addressing one problem and creating another. In order to keep youth separated from adults, youth are often placed in their cells for excessive periods of isolation—isolation that equates to solitary confinement.

Ted Koppel’s March 22 program about youth in solitary confinement “for their own protection” in adult prisons showed the harm this practice causes, including depression, exacerbating already existing mental health issues, and putting youth at risk of suicide.

To effectively keep youth safe, rather than housing them in adult jails and prisons, states and counties can place youth into juvenile detention or correctional facilities, where they are more likely to receive developmentally appropriate services, educational programming and support by trained staff.

States and counties can create Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) between adult detention and correctional facilities and juvenile detention and correctional facilities to safely house youth in juvenile facilities. Alternatively, they can issue executive orders requiring that youth be kept in juvenile, rather than adult, facilities.

In some states, a law change may be needed, and state laws could be updated to ban placing youth in adult facilities.

Fortunately this is already being done in a number of states. California, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon have long-standing policies that disallow the placement of youth in adult jails or prisons, and instead, place youth in juvenile detention or correctional facilities. Colorado, Maine, Ohio and Virginia have recently passed laws to bar the placement of youth in adult jails or prisons.

And federal assistance is available. Governors can access federal funding, and technical assistance is available through the PREA Resource Center, the National Center for Youth in Custody, the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), and the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

It has taken a decade to get the implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act underway.

Governors can’t say they didn’t know it was coming.

Every day thousands of young people like Rodney Hulin face sexual assault, physical harm and suicide in adult jails and prisons.

It’s time to get started.

Is there ever a situation when juvenile offenders should be housed with adult inmates? Say yes or no and what it is in COMMENTS.

Show Comments ()

More on TakePart

The Band Played On: Social Clubs Keep the Spirit of New Orleans Alive