Contact: Jesse Lerner-Kinglake

First Step Act Will Make Prisons Safer — and Help Protect Inmates from Rape

  • December 21, 2018

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., December 21, 2018 — Just Detention International hails the passage of the First Step Act, the groundbreaking prison reform bill that was signed into law by President Trump today. The act, which received broad bipartisan support, includes many provisions long championed by JDI. Specifically, the First Step Act calls for free sanitary products and trauma counseling in detention, as well as an end to the shackling of pregnant women.

“The First Step Act will dramatically improve the safety and dignity of prisoners,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International. “For example, free pads and tampons in prison is a matter of basic decency. But this provisions will also help protect women from abuse. At JDI, countless prisoners have told us that chronic deprivation, and specifically a lack of sanitary products, gives abusive staff the leverage to force women to ‘trade’ sex for basic necessities.”

JDI also applauds the First Step Act’s acknowledgement that trauma counseling and trauma-informed support programs are essential to a person’s reentry. “Over the years, reentry efforts have tended to focus on helping prisoners after their release, not while they’re locked up. Worse still, reentry initiatives have often ignored the urgent need for trauma counseling among prisoners. This law will help change that” said Stannow. “The First Step Act’s recognition that trauma counseling and trauma-informed support programs have the potential to help prisoners succeed in their communities upon release is groundbreaking.”

The First Step Act comes only weeks after JDI scored another legislative victory with the passage of the United States Parole Commission Extension Act. That law includes much-needed repairs to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) audits, which have failed badly as an oversight mechanism. JDI has identified scores of PREA audits that failed to detect obvious red flags at dangerous prisons and jails.

“Taken together, these two laws hold the potential to make our prisons safer, more compassionate, and more accountable,” said Stannow. “Congress is showing that it takes prisoners’ rights seriously. When the government takes away someone’s freedom, it takes on an absolute responsibility to keep that person safe.”


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