According to a recent op ed from the New York Times, prison rape costs the government roughly $51.6 billion per year (from victim compensation and increased recidivism), while full compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act would cost about $480 million per year. These numbers, of course, don’t include the immeasurable emotional cost of being sexually assaulted or raped, nor the cost to society when we normalize and even leverage sexual violence against people who are in the “care” of the state. The ACLU has estimated that between George W. Bush’s signing the Act into law and the DOJ’s finalizing the standards in 2012, 2,000,000 incarcerated people were raped. About half of the complaints that are filed are against staff.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act isn’t the end-all be-all answer, and it’s in no way equipped to address what I see as the root problems of sexual violence in prison: sexual violence has long been used to assert dominance and the structure of prison ensures that dominance is the name of the game, while the close quarters and lack of autonomy in prison make protecting oneself extremely difficult and staff prejudice (or loyalty to staff offenders) leaves victims without recourse. But although the Act should certainly be adopted and enforced widely, in particular against the handful of corrections officers who routinely commit violence with impunity, as well as their colleagues and unions who turn a blind eye to the abuses.