Forty-three of the 50 states have complied with new federal standards — the Prison Rape Elimination Act — to protect prison inmates from sexual assault. Indiana, a laggard again, is one of the seven non-compliant states.
Gov. Mike Pence complains that Indiana simply can’t find the money to do it. Indiana estimates the cost at $20 million to add prison staffing and surveillance equipment, as well as the implementation of new processes to establish zero tolerance for sexual assault behind bars.
Advocates of the Prison Rape Elimination Act believe the cost estimate has been trumped up by Indiana, pointing out that $40 million in federal money has been set aside to help states reach compliance and that financial penalties (Indiana stands to lose $350,000 in federal funding) would not kick in until 2017.
Regardless of whether you accept Indiana’s cost estimate, somehow 43 other states have managed to figure out a way to comply with the federal mandate.
And it’s not like the state was blindsided by the new standards. The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed and signed into law way back in 2003. All of the specifics were finalized last year, and states had until May 15 of this year to show compliance.
Indiana’s failure to do so springs not so much from a financial shortfall as from a matter of raw want-to.
The other states, put simply, are motivated to follow the federal program because it is the right thing to do. A self-respecting, civilized society will protect all, regardless of the crimes they may have committed, from abuse. A barbaric society will either encourage abuse or turn a blind eye to it, with the wrong-headed notion that criminals deserve whatever is coming to them.
Pence says that Indiana has taken steps to reduce sexual assaults in prison, but the state’s unwillingness to comply with the federal standards makes that assertion ring hollow.