Contact: Jesse Lerner-Kinglake

New Law Adds Teeth to Prison Oversight

  • November 2, 2018

Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., November 2, 2018 — JDI scored a key legislative victory in its fight to end prisoner rape with the passage of the United States Parole Commission Extension Act. The Act, which enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and was signed this week by President Donald Trump, includes provisions to repair the dangerous shortcomings in the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) audits.

“When scores of obviously unsafe prisons and jails are passing their audits with flying colors, it’s clear that there’s a problem,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International. “Fortunately, Congress recognized that a fix was needed. The new law paves the way for a system of meaningful prison oversight, and an end to the rubber stamp audits that have put inmates’ lives at risk.”

Under the law, all PREA auditors must adhere to guidelines spelled out in the PREA Auditor Handbook, which was released last year by the Department of Justice. Those guidelines specify best practices for interviewing prisoners and for conducting research into prisons and jails; they also emphasize the need for auditors to maintain a professional distance from corrections staff.

In addition, the new law mandates that the Department of Justice decertify subpar auditors, publish their names, and detail the reasons for their dismissal. Previously, auditors who were decertified for cause were shielded from exposure. The law also states that all auditor placements will be managed by the Department of Justice. Under the prior audit system, corrections agencies were allowed to select their own auditor, an arrangement that advocates believed was ripe for conflicts of interest.

JDI thanks Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who sponsored the bill, as well as Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for helping to secure its passage.

JDI played a crucial role in revealing the deep-seated flaws that have plagued the PREA audits. Based on a JDI analysis of hundreds of audits, Stannow published op-eds in the Washington Post and the New York Times showing that auditors were failing to detect glaring inadequacies in the prisons they were scrutinizing.


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