Rights groups want prison-rape-prevention rules expanded

By Alan Gomez
USA Today

WASHINGTON - Eight years after Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the Department of Justice is finally on the verge of implementing it with a series of new guidelines and auditing techniques to try to reduce sexual assaults against inmates in federal custody.

But human rights groups, including the ACLU, are enraged that the proposed rules don't apply to people held in immigration detention centers and are calling on the Obama administration to make a change.

When the act was passed in 2003, it focused on inmates held by the Department of Justice, which oversees the country's federal prisons. But it's the Department of Homeland Security that houses most people held on immigration violations — roughly 33,000 a day are in Homeland Security custody.

Justice has released a set of proposed rules to implement the act and will adopt them in early 2012. Now critics are pushing hard to force Homeland Security to undergo the same overhaul to ensure that immigration detention centers are as safe as prisons will be under the new guidelines.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., co-sponsored the act with Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and got it passed unanimously through both chambers of Congress. The two are asking colleagues to co-sign a letter to send to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, urging her to adopt the act for immigration detention centers.

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