Violent treatment is never part of a just sentence.
There are health standards for hospitals and nutritional standards for food, but there are not consistent safety standards for prisons. Thus, many prisons host conditions that are recipes for violence. Such conditions include overcrowding, insufficient staff training, excessive solitary confinement, insecure facilities, mistreatment of mentally ill inmates, policies that weaken family ties, a culture of disrespect between staff and prisoners, and little accountability for wardens.
Not surprisingly, violence has indeed ensued in the prisons that carry these conditions. Inmates experience rape by other prisoners and staff, gang rape, gang violence, and excessive force from officers—often with no reliable procedure to report violence. At times, inmates are mistreated by the same staff members who process their complaint reports. Unfortunately, since there is no uniform way to track violent trends in prisons, there are no accurate measures of violence in prisons—suggesting that the public may know only a fraction of how many inmates are suffering rape and assault.
Violent prison conditions deter inmates from re-entering society successfully. In the effort to address prison violence, Pat Nolan served on the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons and the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. Justice Fellowship advocates for the reforms suggested in the 2006 report from the Commission on Safety and Abuse, including reducing crowded conditions, increasing productive and rehabilitative programs, and establishing policies that will strengthen inmates’ family ties and thus motivate better behavior. Mechanisms to hold prison staff accountable as well as collect national data on prison violence will also safeguard against abuse. Justice Fellowship actively supported the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003 which established the National Prison Rape Elimination Comission (NPREC). On May 17, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would begin implementing PREA standards. These reforms will help restore safety and justice to our prison cells.