Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson

A new report from the U.S. Department of Justice documents a rising tide of rape by prison guards on inmates across the United States, and the officials at the Prison Fellowship ministry say it’s a scandal.

The report from the inspector general of the Department of Justice found that sexual abuse of inmates by staff members in U.S. federal prisons has doubled over the last eight years, outpacing by far the increases in both inmates and staff.

The report, issued just yesterday, found that 257 cases were uncovered and referred for prosecution, but only 102 actually were prosecuted. The cases resulted in 83 convictions against prison employees.

“These sexual assaults undoubtedly traumatized the prisoners, but in many cases they did not receive the medical and psychological help required by law,” according to a statement from Prison Fellowship.

“It is a scandal that people in the custody of our government should be sexually assaulted by those in authority over them,” said Mark Earley, president of the Christian organization.

The report also found that to inflict and then conceal their sexual abuse of inmates, personnel in the corrections facilities were willing to:

  • Subvert security procedures and compromise officers who provided contraband to prisoners;

  • Accept bribes;
  • Lie to federal investigators; and
  • Commit other serious crimes.

“Society cannot look the other way as officials who carry a badge and represent the authority of the state assault the men and women under their supervision,” Earley said. “There should be a zero tolerance policy for this egregious abuse of power.”

Pat Nolan, vice president of the group, said, “No crime – no matter how heinous – has a sentence that includes rape.”

He said society has “the responsibility to protect those we send to prison from abuses such as rape and sexual assault.”

Nolan previously served on the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which issued a report not long ago on the situation of rape in prison and recommended standards to eliminate it.

The commission was set up by the unanimously approved Prison Rape Elimination Act. Earley credits the proposal to years of hard work by a broad coalition of religious and civil rights groups in which Prison Fellowship played a key role.

“We hope that the Department of Justice will implement the recommendations of the Inspector General and of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission as soon as possible. It is a scandal that people in the custody of our government should be sexually assaulted by those in authority over them,” Earley said.

“Sexual abuse was alleged to have occurred throughout the [Bureau of Prisons] during our 8-year review period, with allegations made at all but 1 of the BOP’s 93 prison sites and against staff in every occupational category except human resources. We found that while staff in 15 of 16 BOP occupational categories were named in the allegations, employees who have the most contact with prisoners were more likely to be involved in allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct with prisoners than others. The occupational categories that had the highest rates of allegations were food services, recreation, and education and vocational training,” the report from the inspector general said.

“We also found that the majority of allegations (65 percent) involved accusations of criminal sexual abuse rather than non-criminal sexual misconduct. Overall, female staff members were alleged to have committed sexual abuse and sexual misconduct in numbers disproportionate to their representation in the BOP workforce. While female staff members made up about 27 percent of the BOP workforce in each year of the study period, they were the subjects in 30 to 39 percent of allegations of staff sexual abuse and sexual misconduct throughout the study period.
In addition, we found that BOP officials at some prisons are not adequately considering all alternatives for safeguarding prisoners who reported being abused, which can result in fewer incidents of abuse being reported.”

The report had 21 recommendations, including alternatives to isolating and transferring prisoners who have been victimized, updated training and a closer oversight procedure.

Chuck Colson, who served prison time for his role in Watergate, is the founder of Prison Fellowship.

Colson converted to Christianity in 1973, and the Boston Globe later said, “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.”

Two years after his release from prison he founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, now the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and crime victims and families.

Colson also has written more than a dozen books. In 1993, he earned the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, donating the $1 million award to Prison Fellowship.


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