Regarding the Prison Rape Elimination Act
Skladany, Mira Kalina
May 8, 2019
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (or PREA) is and is not the object of my critique. PREA was passed in 2003 with bipartisan consensus and provides "for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in Federal, State, and local institutions and to provide information, resources, recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape.” I offer a rhetorical analysis of PREA’s 2003 political context accompanied by a partial critique of PREA proper, the law, in order to show how PREA frames the aggressor of prison rape racially and sexually, criminalizes sex, expands data-collection and the privatization of public prisons to ultimately re-inscribe a system of mass incarceration. I argue this in two limited parts: the first, being a partial contextual analysis of 2003’s political expediencies in order to show what breath PREA assumes, and the second, being a thematic critique of the case law itself. Three critical themes emerge throughout this analysis which feed off one another: (1) PREA presents as a "benign” policy, but is actually deeply racialized and gendered; (2) PREA shares a bed with the prison industrial complex and its interests, and; (3) PREA perpetuates systemic state violence in its quest to eliminate perceived individual sexual violence. I consider PREA within these three themes and also within three "events” of 2003: the prison industrial complex, the war on terror, and Lawrence v. Texas (2003). My overall takeaway is that PREA permits systemic state violence in its quest to eliminate individual sexual violence in prisons under a seemingly ethical and common sense rhetorical guise which ought to be interrogated. My analysis allows for rhetorical scholars to examine how prison legislation could use rhetorical tactics to expand ideological systems of harm such as the prison industrial complex.
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