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Allen Stanford's Case Highlights Prison Violence

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"While sitting in a chair, he was grabbed from behind and fell backwards hitting the back of his head on the concrete floor resulting in a concussion and loss of consciousness," his lawyers wrote in a later court filing. "While unconscious, he was repeatedly beaten about the head resulting in severe injuries to his face, i.e., right orbital fractures, fractures of the nose, and severe trauma to the right trigeminal nerve sensory branches requiring reconstructive general anesthesia surgery."

After the violent attack, the inmate was moved to a federal prison facility operated by the Bureau of Prisons, which falls under the purview of the Justice Department. Soon he was coughing up blood and passing it in his stool. He lost 40 pounds in 90 days.

Had this been one of the many other assaults that take place in federal and private prisons each year, that would have been the end of it. But this was Allen Stanford.

A year and four months after Stanford -- the Texas billionaire who allegedly stole millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme -- was assaulted, a federal judge yesterday ruled him incompetent to stand trial. U.S. District Judge David Hittner recommended that the federal government have Stanford moved to a federal facility with suitable medical capabilities to deal with his reported traumatic brain injury, his addiction to an anti-anxiety medication and his major depressive disorder.

Stanford isn't the only prisoner assaulted in federal custody, and he's not even the only high-profile Ponzi schemer (Bernie Maddoff was reportedly assaulted just a few months after Stanford). But his experience calls attention to the cases of assault that continue to plague the justice system.

BOP's 2011 budget request listed as a top priority reducing the use of double and triple bunking to help prevent violence in prisons. They also say that an increase in the inmate-to-staff ratio has negatively impacted their efforts to stop violence. In 1997, there was one staff member for every 3.6 prisoners. But by 2009, that number jumped to just one staffer for every 4.9 prisoners.

"Rigorous scientific research by the BOP's Office of Research and Evaluation has confirmed that the greater the [inmate staff ratio] the higher the levels of serious violence among inmates," BOP said in their budget proposal.

But Devlin Barret of the Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposed budget cuts for BOP. They want them to start letting prisoners out by "increasing the amount of time deducted from prison terms for good behavior, which would immediately qualify some 4,000 federal convicts for release, and another 4,000 over the next 10 years."

A spokesman for BOP said that the agency attempts to prevent prison violence in a variety of ways.

"Our inmate classification system is designed to ensure inmates are placed in a facility that is commensurate with their security and supervision requirements," BOP's Chris Burke told TPM. "In other words, our more dangerous inmates are placed in facilities designed to address their security needs."

"Bureau of Prison's staff are some of the most highly trained professionals in the field. We emphasize communication with inmates at all levels and continuously train our staff to deal with any situation that may occur," he added.

This past Monday, the Justice Department proposed new standards for operating prisons aimed at eliminating sexual violence, rules that were months overdue.

The standards are based on the recommendations from the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, and contain standards for reducing violence in prisons, juvenile detention facilities, and community lockups. Among other things, the standards seek to improve rape prevention, improve prison responsiveness to rape,  improve screening procedures to flag at risk inmates, and improve medical care.

A 1992 study by the Federal Bureau of Prisons estimated that between 9 and 20 percent of inmates had been sexually assaulted. In 2002, Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 140,000 prisoners in the US had been raped in prison.

Additional reporting by Alex Sciuto.