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Violence and Rape in State Prisons

July 12, 1998

Your July 5 report on the behavior of some guards at Corcoran State Prison and the attempts of certain key state officials to thwart the ensuing investigation was excellent. The use of rape as a tool by guards to control prisoners occurs in prisons across the country with depressing frequency. The profile of the rape survivor in prison is a young, nonviolent, first offender who is certainly not street smart and is easy prey to the older aggressive con. Once raped, the victim is stigmatized and placed in danger of being raped again.

Society ignores this monstrous problem at its peril. These men and women are returning to society, enraged and potentially violent. It is common for the victim to turn to drugs or alcohol to dull the pain of his or her experiences, and this makes them candidates for more criminal behavior.

That those who commit crimes deserve to be placed in prison is not debatable here. The Supreme Court has decreed that rape is not part of the punishment and that prison officials have a duty to protect inmates from violence at the hands of other inmates. We at Stop Prisoner Rape believe that no person deserves to be raped.

DON COLLINS, President, Stop Prisoner Rape, L.A.


Your articles on brutality at Corcoran State Prison and the failure of state officials to acknowledge it is a particularly horrific example of a well-known lesson: impunity breeds abuse.

Severe human rights violations--beatings, torture, unwarranted wounding and killing of prisoners--occurred at Corcoran because correctional officers failed to accept their professional responsibility to treat inmates humanely. But it persisted for years because neither their superiors nor the state criminal justice system held them accountable. Indeed, correctional department authorities appear to have persistently turned a blind eye to evidence of abuse--and sought to blind others to its presence as well.

Abusive officers were rarely investigated and sanctioned through administrative or criminal justice procedures. Without control by determined and principled authorities, those entrusted with guarding the "worst of the worst" became as lawless as the prisoners they confined.

JAMIE FELLNER, Associate Counsel Human Rights Watch, New York

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