"THIS IS SOMETHING that I think needs to be done, not tomorrow, but yesterday."
Those were the words of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in March to a House subcommittee on the subject of preventing sexual abuse in prison. Five months have passed since then, and two have passed since the June 23 deadline for Mr. Holder to approve the guidelines set forth by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. His "yesterday" is long past.
The bureau estimates that at least 88,500 adults were sexually abused in U.S. prisons and jails in the past year. This number represents 4.4 percent of prison inmates and 3.1 percent of those in jail but fails to include assaults on minors, which a January survey suggested was more than 12 percent -- one in eight. And the statistics fail to portray the human toll of each day that standards are not enacted to prevent sexual assault behind bars.
There is no legitimate excuse for delaying implementation of better policies. People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment. And the fact that many of these assaults are carried out by staff only compounds this issue. The lack of response is one more reason the criminal justice system has become a major embarrassment and failure.