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An urgent human rights crisis at home is under close scrutiny by diverse groups including the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, the U.S. Department of Justice, and public interest lawyers. Within the context of a prison population explosion that dwarfs that of the rest of the world, the undeveloped status of international human rights in U.S. domestic jurisprudence becomes more evident. Within prison populations, increasing numbers of women’s lives are reduced to half-lives under the tortuous effects of sexual abuse by corrections officials. This dire situation presents the question: Can women prisoners continue to be denied the protections of international human rights standards because of judicial and legislative resistance that defied the 100-year-old principle that “[i]nternational law is part of our law”? The just, largely human answer is no; the sources of institutional recalcitrance must be identified and approached at the risk of venturing into unfamiliar territory.

To that end, this Article reviews: (1) the human rights crisis in U.S. prisons, which has been the focus of international and domestic scrutiny; (2) the availability of international human rights standards as a source of law in U.S. jurisprudence; (3) a comparison of U.S. domestic protections with international law guarantees; (4) sources of international human rights norms applicable to this factual context; and (5) proposals for the incorporation of international human rights law by U.S. courts using domestic civil rights law.

This article argues that the judiciary must gather the institutional will to finally assert itself to integrate and implement international human rights law. Until it does, the national policies supporting global economic development, democratization, and human rights protections both at home and abroad will be unfulfilled. To do so, this Article proposed the use of existing domestic civil rights laws.

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13 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 71 (2000).