WASHINGTON -- Republican governors in seven states -- Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas and Utah -- are either ignoring or refusing to comply with national standards meant to prevent sexual assault in prisons, according to new information from the Justice Department.
The Justice Department gave the governors of all 50 states until May 15 to either say they are in compliance with national standards to prevent prison rape or certify that at least 5 percent of the federal grant funds they receive will go toward bringing them into compliance. Just two states, New Hampshire and New Jersey, certified that they were in compliance, while 46 states or territories promised to dedicate at least 5 percent of their grant funds to meeting the federal standards.
In all, out of the 56 jurisdictions where it applies (50 states plus the District of Columbia and five territories), 48 are in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was first passed in 2003. The national standards associated with PREA were finalized in 2012. The eight entities that are not in compliance -- those seven states plus the Northern Marianas Islands -- will lose 5 percent of their grant funds in the coming year.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole said on Wednesday that the 85 percent overall compliance rate left him "very encouraged," and that it was clear states and territories were taking this issue seriously.
"The enactment of PREA 11 years ago signaled an unequivocal rejection of the outdated -- and morally unconscionable -- acceptance of rape as part of the sentence being served by an adult or juvenile in the American correctional system," Cole said. "The PREA standards have led us closer to ending the culture of violence in our nation's prisons, jails and juvenile facilities."
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary said it has been difficult to change the prison system's attitude towards sexual assault.
"Let's face it -- this is a big change in corrections culture from many years ago, and it will take absolutely unwavering leadership from the governors and from those who are in leadership positions in the correctional field," Leary said.
"People do talk openly about the challenge. It's a culture that's been embedded for many, many years," she went on. "There's a concern about that. There's concern that, 'Oh my gosh, I am going to have to deal differently with, say, LGBTQ inmates and I'm not really quite sure how to handle that.'"
One of the governors of a state not in compliance with PREA is Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R). Pence was a member of the House of Representatives when it passed PREA without objection back in 2003, but he now says that the law would require the "redirection of millions of tax dollars currently supporting other critical needs for Indiana."
Cole also addressed criticism from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who has written that it would be "impossible" for his state to comply with the standards. Cole said there was money available from the federal government to help states get into compliance with the regulations.
"I'm a bit at a loss to try and figure out why Governor Perry isn't taking advantage of all of the things that have been given to him by this statute and by the programs that have been put together to help achieve what he thinks is also necessary," Cole said.