JDI Mourns the Passing of David Kaiser

July 16, 2020

Everyone at Just Detention International is heartbroken by the passing yesterday of David Kaiser, former Chair of its Board of Directors. After joining the Board in 2004, David was elected Chair in 2007 — a role he held until stepping down in 2019, after receiving a sudden and devastating cancer diagnosis.


David was instrumental in raising the profile of JDI and in bringing the crisis of sexual abuse in detention into the public consciousness. When he joined the Board, the organization — then known as Stop Prisoner Rape — was defiant but tiny. Today, JDI has two dozen staff members and offices Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Johannesburg. Its status as the international leader in the fight to end prisoner rape is indisputable.


David deftly steered JDI through a period of extraordinary growth. He was a master at crafting strategic plans that allowed for the organization to expand while remaining focused on its singular mission. “Any nonprofit organization would have loved to have David,” said Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s Executive Director. “But he chose to join the fight to end prisoner rape — a human rights endeavor that doesn’t bring you any prestige at all. He didn’t care. David thought that sexual abuse in detention was an abomination and — crucially — a crisis we can end.”


One of David’s most important contributions to JDI was a series of in-depth articles about prisoner rape for The New York Review of Books (NYRB), written jointly with Lovisa. A brilliant writer, David laid bare the systemic nature of sexual abuse in detention, sharply criticizing the elected officials who were failing to stop the crisis while underscoring the humanity of the people who were being harmed. Comprising eight essays overall, online and in print, the series brought unprecedented visibility to an issue that so many would have preferred to ignore.


“If you want to look U.S. injustice in the eye, you have to acknowledge the horror playing out in our prisons,” David once said. “More than 200,000 people are sexually abused in U.S. detention every year. JDI has stuck with this enormously unpopular cause, and is transforming our prison system.”


Never one to claim credit, David downplayed his part in JDI’s success. But his role in making our prisons safer is undeniable, and his legacy as a champion for the rights and dignity of people behind bars will endure. We will miss him.