You've probably seen ads for the new movie "Let's Go to Prison. " In one, the title is carved into a bar of soap that sits on the floor...

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You’ve probably seen ads for the new movie “Let’s Go to Prison.” In one, the title is carved into a bar of soap that sits on the floor of a shower. It’s a joke everyone gets.

In popular entertainment, prison rape is often a joke. That’s about the only time most of us give it a thought. And when it isn’t humor, it is seen as an additional crime deterrent. Last week, the paper ran a story that many people might have missed because we were busy eating turkey and being thankful for not being in prison. It was about the outcome of a prison-rape trial in Snohomish County.

Tremayne Francis, 34, was accused of raping his 18-year-old cellmate at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

The story said the Department of Corrections investigators had concluded Francis did rape the man and had raped another inmate. He’d tried to force sex on several other people as well.

The jury found Francis not guilty.

I was surprised by the verdict, but not as surprised as I was that the case was prosecuted in the first place. That doesn’t happen often.

Our story said this was the first to be tried since the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. The DOC has investigated 40 such cases this year, vs. 26 last year.

Jurors were not allowed information on the DOC findings or Francis’ previous convictions. And one news story said the defense told jurors the 18-year-old made up the claim so he would be transferred to a less-secure prison.

Most of us don’t have a good idea of what goes on in prison. But there is an ongoing effort to bring some clarity to the issue of prison rape.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed by Congress unanimously and signed by the president in 2003, after years of lobbying by groups concerned about the crime.

The act requires states to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on rape and sexual abuse and to take steps to reduce incidents of the crimes. The act also set up a commission to gather information.

I read that at first some states said they didn’t have a problem; my home state, New Mexico, said it hadn’t had a prison rape in years.

Now states have to get serious about tracking the crimes.

Conservative estimates are that at least 13 percent of U.S. prison inmates have been sexually assaulted, and some who’ve studied the problem say sex crimes occur at twice that rate.

Juvenile facilities most likely have even more rapes than adult prisons.

There are 2.2 million people locked up in the United States. Imprisonment is one of the arenas in which we are a world leader.

If you don’t care what goes on in prison, you might consider that most of the folks inside eventually come out again. Each year, 600,000 inmates rejoin society outside the walls.

Prison life is brutalizing enough without the damage rape does.

The Los Angeles-based organization Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR) says abused men and women come out with more psychological problems. They come out carrying HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

SPR was one of the driving forces behind the 2003 act.

We should be trying to reform people in prison, but at the least we shouldn’t be making them worse.

Remember the debates over treatment of terrorism suspects? They’re the enemy, some folks said, so do what you have to, torture if you need to. But we ultimately rejected that thinking because we recognized it was more about us than about them, about who we are and what kind of society we want to be.

We all have a sense of humor, but we should be sure not to lose our sense of honor.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com. His column runs Thursdays and Sundays and is found at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.