A New Standard for Good Corrections

A New Standard for Good Corrections

June 12, 2013 | Sarah True, Program Associate, NCCD

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In 2009, I received news that a friend of mine from high school, whom I’ll call Michael, had been arrested for a serious crime he committed when he was 15 or 16. The details of the case were complicated—as I’m sure many people with an offending friend would say—but ultimately he was convicted and sentenced to prison. I distinctly remember the moment I told my college friends he was arrested. I was worried about my friend’s safety and future, feeling skeptical about the process through which he was about to go.

In 2009, I received news that a friend of mine from high school, whom I’ll call Michael, had been arrested for a serious crime he committed when he was 15 or 16. The details of the case were complicated—as I’m sure many people with an offending friend would say—but ultimately he was convicted and sentenced to prison. I distinctly remember the moment I told my college friends he was arrested. I was worried about my friend’s safety and future, feeling skeptical about the process through which he was about to go. I wondered what problems would be solved by his arrest, conviction, and prison sentence. I expected my friends to feel the same way, or at least to sympathize with my concerns. However, they had a different reaction. Their first and only question: “Well, did he do it?” Taken aback as I was, I’m not sure why I was so surprised they didn’t share my worries. They didn’t know him nor did they have any qualms about what would happen to him once he was behind bars.

At that moment I realized that in our society, you generally don’t have to care about what happens to people who are locked up. We have a system that has successfully removed incarcerated people from the public eye. My friends didn’t have to wonder what problems would be solved with my friend’s incarceration; their lives wouldn’t be changed one way or another.

That, it turns out, was a pivotal moment in my life and career path. I learned more and more about the inequalities in our criminal justice system, got an internship with a nonprofit that works to reduce disproportionate minority contact and confinement, wrote my thesis on the problems with prison privatization, and ultimately began working for NCCD and the PREA Resource Center (PRC). I came to the PRC passionate about improving prison conditions and reforming the system so that everyone is treated equally, but I had not known the extent of the problem of rape and sexual abuse behind bars.

Just as my friendship with Michael and my concern for his well-being motivated me to work to improve these systems, a year and a half of involvement with the PRC has deepened my concern for my friend’s safety. I’ve learned a great deal about the risks to which we subject our incarcerated population. The latest Bureau of Justice Statistics report is no more comforting than the last, especially because the rate of reported abuse is likely just a fraction of the abuse that goes unreported. I often worry what these statistics mean for my friend.

That is what makes working with the PRC so rewarding: The basis for the resource center is creating systemic change in corrections—a paradigm shift away from accepting sexual abuse as a reality of incarceration and taking concrete steps toward eliminating it. As I’ve heard in the regional trainings I’ve attended, the goal is to make this the standard for good corrections. With the newly released audit instrument, I think the oversight and monitoring of adherence will give the standards real teeth in the field. Furthermore, the PRC is staffed by driven, intelligent, and compassionate people who are committed to reducing, and I hope one day eliminating, the risk of sexual abuse in confinement for my friend and for the other two million people behind bars.

To learn more about NCCD’s work on the National PREA Resource Center (PRC), click here to read this month’s NCCD Now feature on the PRC’s efforts to assist correctional agencies across the country to implement the national PREA standards.

Sarah True is a Program Associate at NCCD.