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Authors: Watrous, Shaina
Advisors: Murakawa, Naomi
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2014
Abstract: United States prisons are places of abuse, including sexual abuse, by nature of the power imbalances involved. The incentive structures of U.S. prisons do not make prison administrators protect people in prison from sexual abuse. Before 2003, Congress had been generally opposed to protections for people in prison, who were seen by the general public as deserving of the abuse. This thesis examines why, in the midst of this hostile political environment, Congress decided to pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003: a broad, sweeping piece of legislation aimed at protecting people in prison. It also explores why it took a decade for national standards to be implemented, and why there has still been almost no change on a national level in terms of prison rape prevention. The answer to the first question is that the only factor that overcame Congress’s generally punitive attitude toward people in prison, and allowed for sweeping change on the issue of sexual abuse, was a conservative, religious narrative about the immoral interrracial and homosexual nature of prison rape. Liberal human rights activists joined a religious and conservative coalition pushing this narrative, creating an unlikely alliance that successfully passed the legislation. What hindered PREA’s implementation, however, was that its crafters, distracted by their focus on the emotional appeals, failed to include a viable enforcement mechanism in the bill, leaving it incapable of requiring states to implement its standards. Pushback from the corrections community, which is motivated by budgetary restraints and unfazed by emotion-driven stories about prison sexual assaults, has hindered PREA’s effectiveness. This paper discusses areas (expanding PREA’s scope of required compliance, fixing leniencies in the national standards themselves, repealing damaging past legislation, and reducing prison populations) in which current efforts can and should improve for better protection of those in U.S. custody.
Extent: 123 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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