Acton Institute Powerblog

Political Activism on Prison Rape

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As a follow-up to last week’s popular discussion (thanks to Glenn Reynolds) on prison rape, Justice Fellowship has just released a statement, “Left-Right Coalition Demands Stop to Prison Rape.”

The news alert begins, “A broad coalition from the political left and right has called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to cease any further delay in eliminating prison rape. Calling the high incidence of prison rape ‘a moral outrage,’ Prison Fellowship and supporters from both liberal and conservative organizations unveiled a letter to Mr. Holder demanding an end to sexual abuse in prisons across the country.”

Picking up on a theme from one of our comments, the release contends, “While prison rape is often the subject of jokes on late night television, in reality prison rape is no laughing matter.”

Our commenter is right to point to the cultural complexity of how humor functions in our society. Shannon Love contends, “I don’t think the vast majority of people who joke or threaten about prison rape are seriously indifferent to it when it comes to making real decisions about the penal system. Instead, I think they are simply pointing out one of the ugly realities of any penal system.”

When faced with a stark “yes” or “no” choice on the question of the prevalence of prison rape, I agree that most people are not “seriously indifferent.” But as for ranking it as an issue of actionable importance, I highly doubt that the issue is on the agenda of many Americans, even the most politically active.

The work of Justice Fellowship and their allies is a notable exception in this regard. Most people probably just see the kind of “Scared Straight” parody on Saturday Night Live, chuckle a bit, and move on.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Sam

    Good for you all. A great example of the hypocrisy of many liberal Americans on this topic is on display on a huge proportion of Law & Order episodes. If the villain is middle-class, middle-aged or physically small, the screenwriters can’t resist having one of the lawyers or cops remark on how he is going to be treated in prison – a cruel-and-unusual punishment that is regarded as virtually integral to the “law & order” system. Yet the political views of the writers, the show, Dick Wolff himself and many of the actors are eagerly displayed on such matters as the disgrace at Abu Gharaib, etc. etc.
    It occurs to me that one of you should contact Mr. Wolff, who is a nice man, about his shows’ tendency to normalize prison rape while displaying a hypersensitivity to other, much less frequent (and less horrible) injustices.

  • Rosemarie

    There is so much uncaring in the world,you have to at least see that those who are abused may act out,once they get released,and then you may see it affect,effect you or someone you know of.