A new government report singles out Los Angeles County's Twin Towers as having one of the worst rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual assault of any men's jail in the nation. One in 20 inmates held there reported that he had been victimized by another inmate while in custody, far higher than the national average of 1 in 60, according to the Department of Justice.
The report is just the latest reminder that sexual abuse remains an intractable reality of incarceration in this country. Congress took a first step toward confronting this behavior in 2003 when it passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act. The landmark legislation required the Justice Department to adopt new detention regulations that are expected to take effect in August. Those rules could go a long way toward protecting inmates by mandating screening to determine whether they have been sexually abused or are sexually abusive, banning cross-gender pat-downs that can lead to abuse by guards, requiring independent monitoring of all facilities every three years and adding protections for inmates who report assaults.
The problem is that the regulations are not enforced in all jails. The Justice Department can hold accountable only federal or state prisons, or local facilities that receive federal funds. That leaves it up to the vast majority of local jails, juvenile detention camps and privately operated immigration detention centers to decide whether or not to comply.