Today, the president will sign what might be called “special interest” legislation. What makes this signing ceremony different is that the special interest group that will benefit from the new law has no political clout—none of them vote, nor are they wealthy. In fact, as a group, they’re probably the poorest of the poor in America.
No, what makes them special is that they are the object of Jesus’ concern. And, in signing this bill, the president is doing a great public service, and he’s doing the Lord’s will.
The group I’m describing is prisoners, and the legislation is the Prison Rape Elimination Act. The act sets “standards for investigating and eliminating rape, and hold[ing] the states accountable if they fail to do so.”
As someone who has been a prisoner and in prison ministry for three decades, I can tell you that this situation—prison rape—has been a national scandal, a blot on our claim to be a civilized people. Politicians have known about it for too long and looked the other way.
According to a study done by Human Rights Watch, of the two million prisoners in the United States, between 250,000 and 600,000 are raped each year.
If you’re tempted to think they had it coming, consider the story of Rodney Hulin. When Hulin was 16 years old, he and his brother set a dumpster on fire. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to eight years, where he was repeatedly beaten and raped. Despite numerous pleas for help, no one in authority intervened. In fact, he was told to fend for himself. Depressed and unwilling to face the remainder of his sentence at the mercy of sexual predators, Hulin committed suicide.
The indifference shown toward Hulin is not unusual, and it’s what prompted the bill that the president signs today. And that’s why our own Justice Fellowship worked so hard to get the bill passed and why so many of you called when I asked you to over the last year.
The law will require corrections officials to “ensure that there is a confidential way for inmates to report incidences of rape.” And it provides incentives to state and local governments to enhance education and reward the prevention and punishment of rape.
Accountability and incentives are important, of course. Even more important, however, are leaders who remember that, whatever a prisoner may have done, he is still created in the image of God, a being whose dignity is to be protected.
President Bush, like the House and Senate sponsors, is such a leader. He has done more for prisoners than any president in my lifetime, beginning with his enthusiastic support of the Christian prison we run in Texas, which he enabled us to start when he was governor.
Why does Bush care so much about prisoners? Most politicians look the other way. Well, the president is a Christian. He reads his Bible. He knows that men behind bars are the ones Jesus called “the least of these my brothers.” And this president doesn’t stop with reading the Bible—he acts.
That’s why the signing of this bill should be a cause for celebration among Christians. It’s a reminder of how being a doer, and not just a hearer, of the Word can make a difference. Not just in the life of the individual believer, but in the lives of those whom Jesus called “His brothers.”
For further reading and information:
Read more about the Prison Rape Elimination Act. And please thank the cosponsors.
Pat Nolan, “Prison rape—it’s no joke,” The Washington Times 6 September 2002
See the Human Rights Watch study, “No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons.”
Anne Morse, “Brutality behind bars,” WORLD, 3 February 2001
Eli Lehrer, “A Blind Eye, Still Turned,” National Review, 17 June 2003