How does the Eighth Amendment Play into Prison Sexual Violence Perpetrated by the Staff?

By Elizabeth Hall
The Constitution in Peril
The Constitution in Peril (Photo credit: Renegade98)

Consider that statistics suggest that over half of the total acts of sexual impropriety in the prison environment are due to allegations against the prison staff (Reichel 2007).  This conduct is illegal all by itself for the rape, and carries its own sentence, but there is more at stake here.  It is also, considered a violation of the offender’s Eighth Amendment Rights, as being sexually violated by your captors would fall under cruel and unusual punishment.  We will define the Eighth Amendment, and sexual violence then discuss why this is a violation of a prisoner’s rights under the law as defined by the two. 
Eighth Amendment Defined
The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution specifically states that excessive bails or, fines imposed on prisoners is not allowed, nor can we inflict cruel and unusual punishments on them as noted by FindLaw (2012).  When looking further through the FindLaw 2 (2012), site we see 
English: The Bill of Rights, the first ten ame...
English: The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution Česky: Originál Listiny práv, prvních deseti dodatků k Ústavě Spojených států amerických Deutsch: Die Bill of Rights genannten ersten zehn Zusatzartikel zur US-amerikanischen Verfassung, die den Bürgern bestimmte Grundrechte garantieren Español: La Carta de Derechos de los Estados Unidos, el término por el que se conocen las diez primeras enmiendas de la Constitución de los Estados Unidos de América (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
annotations to define this as the courts view the issue.  While it may be difficult to decide exactly what cruel and unusual punishment is, one can safely assume that while the death penalty is necessary, we always perform it in the most humane way possible.  Annotation number five defines this as punishments of torture, and any other unnecessary forms of torture (FindLaw 2, 2012). 
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2009), defines sexual violence as any sexual act performed with or on an unwilling partner.  This is also known by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) (n.d.) Uniform Crime Report as forcible rape, which is listed under the classification of violent crimes.  The FBI (n.d.) defines forcible rape as having “carnal knowledge” particularly of a woman gained by force and “against her will”, but also extend the definition to other attempts to commit rape by forcible means.  These definitions do not include the phrase in any way to suggest that law enforcement, or corrections officers are excluded from this action as a crime. 
Why This Action is an Eighth Amendment Violation
This violation falls under the ruling of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States because prisoners are guaranteed the rights against cruel and unusual punishments (FindLaw 2012).  When you look at the definitions of cruel and unusual punishments, the law clearly states that torture and unnecessary violations against citizens and the basic rights we have as human beings (FindLaw, 2012).  One of these rights as human beings that we enjoy in the United States is the right not to have violent crimes perpetrated against us, which includes the particularly heinous crime of forcible rape, which would cross the line into cruel and unusual punishment. This is particularly true, when one who is supposed to uphold law and order commits the forcible rape. 
English: Detail of Preamble to Constitution of...
English: Detail of Preamble to Constitution of the United States Polski: Fragment preambuły Konstytucji Stanów Zjednoczonych (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Statistics report, that the staff members of the institution perpetrate over half of the acts of rape, and sexual impropriety, committed in correctional facilities in the United States.  The actions of forcible rape and sexual impropriety are illegal crimes in this country, and it is shameful that these kinds of statistics exist.  When these types of crimes are committed by the very staff put into place to keep order in society, law enforcement on the outside of the correctional facilities and guards inside of the facilities this only doubles the seriousness of the crime.  This is because when officials perform these types of acts they also fall under the cruel and unusual punishment section of the Eighth Amendment Rights of everyone in this country, and can be prosecuted both criminally and civilly for the crime. 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), (2009).  Sexual Violence: Definitions.  Retrieved From: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/sexualviolence/definitions.html
Federal Bureau of Investigation, (FBI), (n.d.).  Crime in the United States 2010: Violent Crime.  Retrieved From: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/violent-crime
FindLaw, (2012).  Eighth Amendment-Further Guarantees in Criminal Cases.  Retrieved From: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment08/
FindLaw 2, (2012).  Annotations p5 “Cruel and Unusual Punishment”.  Retrieved From: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment08/05.html
Reichel, P. (2007).  Comparative Criminal Justice Systems (5th Ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

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