Why is a subject long treated as a joke now drawing serious attention? Because white-collar criminals are coming forward with horror stories.
Question: How can the issue of prison rape be brought to serious attention?
Ben Jealous: Yeah, again, when you're smart on crime, you start off by recognizing that both the victim, first of all, the victim, but also the person who did the crime are both human. Have both been broken in various ways and could either be healed more by what happens through the courts, what happens through the justice system, or broken more. And the goal should be a win-win. The goal should be that, at the end of it, anybody who's coming back to society is healed more, as well as the victim getting a greater sense of closure and sense of justice.
When you look at an issue like prison rape, what you see are people being violently broken while inside of the care of our society. The prisons are an extension of our society. People come in there and literally in jails and prisons across this country, people young, old, male, female, who have been convicted, who are awaiting arraignment, are raped on a daily basis by inmates and by guards and by contractors at these facilities. Probably the most heartbreaking situation I saw was in the California Youth Authority, the prison for girls. You know, for females who are not yet 18 in California being systematically raped. I mean, just again, and again. The allegations when I was with Amnesty were unceasing from the girls’ facility in California. And you will see it in jails -- the way that we got consensus on the bill was that a number of men who had gone to prison as a result of the savings and loan scandals. These are white collar criminals, who were raped; spoke up about what their experiences had been. And helped us convince -- and it was sad. You would hope in a representative democracy that things like race and class don't keep a representative from identifying with an issue, but I see privileged white men come in to talk, quite frankly, to other privileged white men who, in this case, former bankers coming in to talk to people in Congress was transformative for those Congressmen. And it got them to understand that this wasn't a joke. In fact, it was their first -- it was probably their worst fear in that their constituents, all of them, **** there for the country to actually do something about it.
Recorded March 10th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen