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Protecting the basic human rights of prisoners

By Scott Tibbs, June 6, 2014

I was dismayed when I learned that Indiana would not be complying with federal guidelines to fight against prison rape, which came about as part of a long process after the Prison Rape Elimination Act passed both houses of Congress without objection in 2003. Indiana's governor was a member of the House of Representatives at the time.

To be fair, not following the federal guidelines does not mean that Indiana will be doing nothing to prevent prisoners from being raped. The Indianapolis Star reports that the state Department of Corrections "already has put many rape prevention measures in place on its own," including a position in each prison to make it easier to report violations. The federal government should not be automatically assumed to be the ultimate authority on this matter, and if states can be as effective in protecting basic human rights without spending as much money, that is commendable.

But protecting basic human rights is one of the most basic responsibilities of state government, or government at any level. If we are going to hold people in prison (and we must do so to protect the innocent from violent criminals) then we have a responsibility to protect them from predators while they are in our custody. Jesus warns us in Matthew 25:31-46 that if we do not protect "the least of these" (specifically mentioning prisoners) that we are in danger of damnation.

In fact, I cannot think of anything state government does that is more important than protecting the human rights of prisoners in our custody. There are other things that state government does that may be as important - putting criminals in prison in the first place, for example - but none of them are more important than making sure that our prisoners are not subject to sexual violence. We must not shirk this critical duty.


♣ - The human rights crisis in American prisons -- July 20, 2009

♣ - The human rights crisis in American prisons -- March 17, 2011

♣ - We must put a stop to sexual abuse of prisoners -- May 29, 2012

♣ - Opposing the evil of prison rape -- June 8, 2012

♣ - Rape is not a joke. It is a crime. -- July 2, 2012

♣ - The human rights crisis in American prisons -- March 7, 2014