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A Growing Number of States Are Embracing Prisoner Rape Reforms

  • July 7, 2016

A total of 48 states have formally accepted national standards aimed at protecting prisoners from sexual abuse — with Arkansas and Utah the only remaining hold outs

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., July 17, 2016 — The commitment from states to adopt federal standards to end sexual abuse in detention is getting stronger, according to state progress reports compiled by the Department of Justice. The reports, which were published last week on the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s website, show that 48 state governors either have certified compliance with the national Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards or have affirmed that they are working toward fully adopting them. This number represents the high point of state-level support for PREA since 2014, when the Department began tracking this information.

“These state progress reports are further evidence of a growing consensus that PREA is an essential tool in preventing sexual abuse in detention,” said Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s Executive Director. “If fully and meaningfully implemented, PREA will help end one of most devastating human rights crises of our time.”

The compiled reports cover state-level efforts over a 12-month period, from August 2014 to August 2015. Most governors already submitted reports covering that timeframe but, recognizing that many states had yet to complete a round of PREA audits by then, the Department of Justice asked states to do so again. With their new audit data, a total of 11 states are now reporting full compliance with the PREA standards — up from 10 states a year ago and 2 states in 2014. A majority of governors resubmitted PREA assurances, indicating that they are working toward fully adopting the rules. Texas, a state whose prisons consistently rank among the nation’s most violent, was among the states to give an assurance. Notably, Texas Governor Greg Abbott gave an unconditional promise to adopt every one of the standards this time. By contrast, last year Governor Abbott stipulated that the state would put in place the PREA standards only “wherever feasible.”

The two states standing in the way of PREA’s universal acceptance are Arkansas and Utah. Both states were holdouts last year, though the three states that joined them then — Alaska, Arizona, and Idaho — have since reversed course. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Utah Governor Gary Herbert rejected PREA by not submitting a certification or assurance; neither governor sent a letter to the Department of Justice explaining their decision.

“It is baffling that Arkansas and Utah would choose to reject the path that is being embraced by the rest of country,” said Stannow. “One has to wonder what these governors presume to know about stopping prisoner rape, or what magic bullet they think they possess, that has so far eluded the rest of the country. They must change course, and do so swiftly — the safety of the thousands of prisoners in their custody depends on it.”


Just Detention International is a health and human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention