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U.S. states risk losing grants over rape in prisons

By David Ingram

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is moving to put into effect a 2003 law that was designed to eliminate rape in U.S. prisons, and it warned states on Wednesday that they may lose grant money this year if they do not cooperate.

By May 15, each state governor will be required to return a signed form certifying that his or her state is in full compliance with the effort or working toward compliance, according to a copy of a letter the U.S. Justice Department sent to governors.

Failing to certify compliance could cost a state 5 percent of certain grants the Justice Department hands out, a threat that was included in the Prison Rape Elimination Act that Congress passed 11 years ago.

In a survey published in May 2013 by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 4 percent of state and federal prison inmates said they had been sexually abused by another inmate or by prison staff in the past 12 months.

The Justice Department is beginning to enforce the law this year after concerns over costs delayed the writing of detailed rules until May 2012.

The regulations require that prisons screen inmates for their risk of being abused or abusive, prevent juveniles from being housed with adult inmates and investigate thoroughly all allegations of abuse.

The Justice Department said it plans to dispatch staff to audit each prison for compliance at least once every three years.

Last month, the Justice Department sent a letter to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley saying that sexual abuse at one of his state's prisons was so widespread that it violated the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Bentley, a Republican, told local media at the time that the state was trying to fix the problems.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)

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