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Momentum Builds for National Standards to Stop Prisoner Rape

  • May 11, 2017

The Latest Government Reporting Shows the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Standards Gaining Traction at the State Level

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., May 11, 2017 — Five years after their release, the national PREA standards — a set of landmark regulations aimed at ensuring the dignity and safety of people in U.S. detention facilities — have been adopted fully by 19 states, according to a tally published on the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA) website. An additional 29 states assured Attorney General Jeff Sessions that they remain committed to full implementation and are continuing on a path to certification. The only states to reject PREA were the same two that did so one year ago: Arkansas and Utah.

“It’s a very positive sign that so many governors have formally committed to PREA as a tool for keeping people safe,” said Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s Executive Director. “Sexual abuse is rampant in U.S. detention facilities — but it does not have to be. This is a completely preventable crisis and the PREA standards provide a blueprint for ending it. Now, states must uphold their promise to roll out the standards, otherwise hundreds of thousands of people will continue to suffer from sexual violence while in the government’s custody.”

When BJA released its first list of states complying with the PREA standards, in 2014, just two states had certified the standards; six states were in opposition to the regulations. “Fortunately, much of the early cynicism around the PREA standards has faded away,” said Stannow. “Elected representatives and corrections professionals are realizing that the standards make a lot of sense. This growing consensus makes Arkansas’ and Utah’s refusals to comply with PREA all the more disappointing — and indefensible. If Governor Asa Hutchinson or Governor Gary Herbert has an alternative plan to stop rape within their facilities, they should share it. Otherwise, they should join the rest of the country in working toward stopping this crisis.”

However, state certifications alone are not an indicator of success. The standards require that each state conduct PREA audits of all its facilities every three years. At this point, the quality of the audits ranges from excellent to subpar. Unfortunately, some audits focus only on checking boxes and reveal little about what facilities are doing to ensure the safety of the people in their custody. The Department of Justice has a plan to improve overall audit quality, but Congress would need to allocate the resources necessary to implement it.

“Through our work on the ground, JDI has seen first hand how PREA can have a transformative impact on prisoner safety,” said Stannow. “But without good audits, it is impossible to get an overall picture of where the standards are making a difference, and what gaps remain. Congress must dedicate funding to ensure the PREA standards reach their potential.”

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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.