‘This has been a problem for many years’: Utah lawmakers pass bill aimed at curbing prison rape

Utah State Prison, Draper, Utah, June 2007 | Public domain photo, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Before Rep. Angela Romero brought House Bill 95, which aims to bring Utah state prisons into compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, to this year’s Legislature, Utah and Arkansas were the only two states in the U.S. who refused to participate in the federal program created to curb prison rape.

Rep. Angela Romero D-Salt Lake City photo location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Utah Legislature, St. George News

Romero, D-Salt Lake City, told the Utah State Senate that she has worked with community organizations, sheriffs and corrections officials on getting the bill’s language right, adding that she is confident that they would continue to work together to find balance before the law goes into effect in July 2022.

The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, will ensure that incarcerated survivors of sexual assault have access to victim support services, such as a hot-line, counseling and medical treatment.

“This has been a problem for many years,” Seegmiller said, “so I’m excited for this bill to take effect in Utah. It will provide hope to many who suffer largely in silence.”

“Utah has the 11th highest rate of inmate-on-inmate sexual assault,” Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said. “Rape should never be part of the penalty.”

Inmate-on-inmate sexual assaults are rarely reported for various reasons. Compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act requires facilities to ensure the confidentiality of reporters, as well as taking measures to protect them from retaliation.

Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, photo location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Utah Legislature, St. George News

Likewise, those who retaliate against those who have reported sexual assault will face harsher penalties. Prison staff will be required to take additional training to help prevent, detect and respond to inmate sexual assault.

“This is another example of bipartisan cooperation in the Utah Legislature,” Seegmiller said. “I’m proud to support pragmatic problem-solving efforts like this — especially when they don’t expand government spending or state bureaucracy.”

“This bill comes with zero new costs to the government,” he explained. “It also garnered no votes in opposition in either the House or the Senate.”

After its passage in the house earlier this month, the Senate unanimously passed the bill Thursday. It now goes to the governor for his signature.

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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