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National Standards to Stop Prisoner Rape Turn Five

  • May 17, 2017

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., May 17, 2017 — Today, advocates and prisoner rape survivors are celebrating the five-year anniversary of the release of federal standards to address sexual abuse in detention. These landmark regulations — mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003 — have led to crucial changes in how detention facilities prevent and respond to sexual abuse. At corrections agencies that are fully committed to the standards, staff have embraced their duty to eliminate this violence and inmates know how to get help if they experience abuse.

“My story could have turned out differently had there been PREA standards when I was locked up,” said Jan Lastocy, a member of JDI’s Board of Directors and its Survivor Council who, in the 1990s, was raped several times a week over a period of seven months by her work camp supervisor at a Michigan prison. “I had no safe way to report my assault, no place to get outside counseling, and no information about my rights. I can’t go back and change what happened to me in prison — but I can help make sure that it never happens again. That’s why I fought alongside JDI for strong PREA standards.”

The PREA standards include many provisions that JDI and its prisoner rape survivor allies had championed — provisions that today are making a difference. In detention facilities nationwide, inmates are getting critical information about their absolute right to be free from sexual abuse. In some facilities, inmates can get free, confidential rape crisis services, which was unthinkable prior to the standards. In addition, staff are far better equipped to prevent abuse and handle reports of assaults, thanks to PREA-mandated trainings that have reached thousands of officers nationwide.

“The reason we have strong PREA standards is because survivors like Jan Lastocy had the courage to speak out,” said Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s Executive Director. “Prisoner rape was a crisis that had lurked in the shadows for decades. Many prison officials denied that this violence was a problem, and resented it when outsiders called them to account. But that’s changing. More and more, corrections leaders are recognizing that it is within their power to eliminate sexual abuse, and that PREA offers the best approach for doing so.”

In a sign of the growing consensus in support of PREA, the Bureau of Justice Assistance recently reported that 19 states had certified compliance with the PREA standards, while an additional 29 states had given an assurance that they were on the path to certification. Yet JDI cautions that a governor’s certification does not in itself mean that the state has implemented PREA meaningfully. For example, some agencies that have conducted PREA audits take only a surface-level look at policies, without a deeper examination of practices.

“The last five years have been frustrating at times, but the standards have given us plenty of reasons to feel hopeful,” said Stannow. “We know prisoner rape can be stopped, and we have the tool to do it. Our aim is clear: to make sure that every detention facility in the country adopts the standards fully — and meaningfully. And we won’t quit until they do.”

To read a factsheet on the PREA standards and their impact, click here.


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