Advocates say attorney general 'dragging his feet' on standards to prevent prison rape

Advocates for prison inmates on Tuesday accused Attorney General Eric Holder of "dragging his feet" on adopting national standards for preventing rape in prisons.

Justice Department statistics show that an estimated 4.5 percent, or 60,500 inmates, report being victims of sexual assault in federal prisons, said Pat Nolan, vice president of outreach program Prison Fellowship. It happens to almost 1 in 8 juveniles in custody.

But Nolan said proposed national standards — include increasing lighting around facilities, screening staffers for sexual misconduct and independent supervision of prisons — can reduce those numbers in federal and state prisons. In California and Oregon, he said, changes in prison culture were successfully taking hold within a year of adopting standards that address mismanagement and poor leadership feeding the problem.

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission submitted its report — including those recommendations — to Holder in June. But the Justice Department declined to comment on a definite timeline or details of national standards. Spokeswoman Hannah August said in an e-mail that a proposal should be ready in the fall.

Advocate Barrett Duke said "tell Holder to stop dragging his feet."

Holder, in a letter to Congress earlier this year, said he hopes to implement standards for preventing prison rape quickly, and he thinks there's enough money to do so.

Duke, Nolan and other advocates spoke at a meeting Tuesday at the National Press Club.

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said advocates have been working on stopping prison rape since the 1980s.The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed in 2003, which calls for a zero-tolerance policy regarding prison rape and requires the Justice Department to submit a report on incidents and effects of prison rape by June 30 of each year.

Marilyn Shirley clutched a typewritten speech in trembling hands as she told how a senior officer at a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas secluded her, threw her against a wall, raped and sodomized her a decade ago. She was in prison on drug charges.

"The more I begged and pleaded for him to stop the more violent he became," Shirley said, crying. She takes five pills a day to help her cope.

She said the words her attacker whispered in her ear continue to haunt her: "Do you think you're the only one?"