Protecting inmates from being victimized in prison is of paramount importance. Failure to protect them has numerous pernicious effects and reflects poorly on the American justice system. American inmates routinely suffer sexual, physical, and mental abuse at the hands of fellow prisoners and prison guards.
First, inmates who are subjected to violence are—in effect—being punished twice. Their prison sentences are already much longer than those in other industrialized nations, and failure to insure their safety behind bars makes them more cynical of the system. After having been brutalized in prison, released inmates are much more likely to commit further crimes.
The public seems unsympathetic to prisoners who are raped. The appalling practice of prison rape has even been the subject of jokes. Too many people seem to think prisoners deserve to be tortured in this way. Because of this widespread public sentiment, officials are do not have much of an incentive to address the problem.
Prisoner victimization is especially prevalent in for-profit prisons. These prisons often have fewer guards than the public alternatives, and inmate safety is a fairly minor priority.
One way to address prisoner victimization and other problems with the justice system is to study other countries' experiences. Other countries, such as Norway, provide prisoners with a safe environment that fosters rehabilitation.