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Contact: Jesse Lerner-Kinglake
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Congress Takes Key Step to Strengthen the Prison Rape Elimination Act

  • May 10, 2018

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., May 10, 2018 — Just Detention International (JDI) applauds the House Judiciary Committee for approving the First Step Act, a criminal justice bill that includes a provision to strengthen the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The bill, which enjoys strong bipartisan support and passed out of the Committee after a 25 to 5 vote, will now go to the full House.

Introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the First Step Act includes a range of key reforms to the federal corrections system and would address glaring weaknesses in the PREA auditing mechanism. The bill calls for closer federal oversight of PREA auditors, some of whom have issued clean assessments of facilities that are known to be plagued by sexual violence. It also would establish strong federal guidelines for auditors, while setting up a clear and robust process for decertifying auditors who fail to live up to those guidelines.

“The PREA standards are a powerful human rights tool, and they have made a profound difference in how prisons and jails are run,“ said Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s Executive Director. “But the fact that many dangerous prisons are passing their audits is undermining PREA’s effectiveness. The First Step Act provides a necessary fix to this urgent problem, and we applaud the House Judiciary Committee for including this provision in the bill.”

The House Judiciary Committee’s approval of the PREA provisions in the First Step Act coincides with the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee’s consideration of PREA funding for FY 2019. The Subcommittee is poised to approve $15.5 million in spending for PREA programs and grants, which would match the record amount that was included in the FY 2018 Omnibus.

Most of the First Step Act’s provisions target barriers to prisoner reentry. JDI supports these goals and, in particular, cheers the inclusion of limits on restraints for pregnant and post-partum prisoners and the language in the bill that would ensure placement of prisoners closer to home. At the same time, JDI recognizes that the bill does not tackle many of the punitive criminal justice practices, such as excessive sentencing laws, that are at the root of mass incarceration.

“We thank the Committee for its efforts to strengthen our justice system, and PREA in particular, and look forward to continuing to work with Congress to ensure the safety and dignity of all people behind bars,” said Stannow.

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