This is a topic that never seems to get much attention, since the vast majority of people in this country have never even been inside of a prison and have little sympathy for criminals. But the conditions in most American prisons are absolutely barbaric.
Prisoners are beaten by one another every day. They are forced to live most of their lives in tiny little cages, with only a few hours each day for exercise and/or work. They are forced, coerced, or sold into sexual slavery for decades. Gang violence and racial violence is rife in prisons, and spills over into the community at large once the offenders are released (and still have grudges against one another).
Yet many people seem to think that they deserve whatever happens to them in prison, and that they forfeit the most basic human rights the minute they are convicted of any crime. Many people make light of the situation. Whenever some unlikeable famous person is sentenced to prison, the "Don't drop the soap" jokes are the first thing that come to many people's minds (and I'm not excluding myself). But should we really be making light of their situation? The conditions they face are horrid...probably not all that different from living in Josef Fritzl's basement.
When convicts are sentenced to prison, rape is not a part of their sentence. But for many of them, it might as well be. This is a clear violation of their 8th amendment rights. Furthermore, the prison rape jokes are not commonplace in any other developed country, so obviously it IS possible to prevent it.
The entire premise of our justice system is flawed IMO. The default punishment for any serious crime is X amount of time in prison. But that misses the point of prison. They are there A) to be rehabilitated so that they are able to reenter society later on, and B) to be excluded from society to prevent them from endangering others.
Goal A is such a miserable failure that it's hardly even worth commenting on. Goal B misses the point, because most of the people in prison never posed any danger to anyone to begin with. Does a guy who steals a car, or commits insider trading, or possesses child porn, or drives while intoxicated really need to be excluded from society and sodomized in the ass? Would it hurt society to instead punish them with house arrest, an ankle bracelet, a cash fine, and limited visitation rights?
IMO prison should be the option of last resort, only for the hardened criminals whose mere presence in the outside world represents a danger to society. And even then, they should be prevented from hurting one another. When the guards allow them to hurt each other, that's really no different than the government hurting them itself.