Visual Timeline: On The Road to Justice (Click to enlarge)


In 2003, Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination (PREA), the nation's first civil law addressing sexual violence behind bars. JDI was instrumental in securing passage of this landmark legislation, working closely with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as well as a broad coalition of non-governmental organizations. One of PREA’s core requirements was the development of national standards to prevent and respond to prisoner rape. In May 2012, nearly two years after its statutory deadline, the U.S. Department of Justice issued its standards. They include many reforms long championed by JDI, such as independent audits, better protections for vulnerable inmates, and limits on pat-down searches.

Today, JDI works with policymakers, legislators, prisoner rape survivors, and allied organizations to ensure that the PREA standards live up to their potential to ensure the safety and dignity of all detainees.

Survivors of prisoner rape have been leading the fight for strong federal regulations to eliminate this abuse. In this short film, members of JDI's Survivor Council celebrate the historic PREA standards.

The PREA standards: A milestone in the fight to end prisoner rape

The PREA standards are the result of decades of grassroots activism, cutting-edge research, and innovative policymaking on the part of survivors and advocates. The standards advance many of the core messages that JDI has been promoting since its inception, including that sexual abuse behind bars is a serious human rights crisis, but that it is preventable.

Among its unprecedented provisions, the standards mandate strong protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender inmates; a ban on routine pat-down searches of female adult inmates by male staff; strict limitations on the housing of youth in adult facilities; and a requirement that all facilities undergo independent audits every three years. The standards also require that facilities offer survivors access to rape crisis counselors -- trained experts who provide crisis intervention and emotional support in the aftermath of an assault. 

The standards are binding on detention facilities nationwide, including federal and state prisons, jails, youth detention facilities, police lock-ups, and community corrections facilities (such as halfway houses). Unfortunately, the standards do not apply to immigration detention facilities, despite evidence of rampant sexual abuse in these facilities and the clear intent of PREA. However, in conjunction with the release of the standards, the Obama Administration issued a Presidential Memorandum directing all federal agencies with confinement facilities to develop and finalize their own PREA standards within one year. The memo applies to at least four federal agencies: the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Now that the PREA standards have been finalized, JDI is working to ensure that facilities nationwide comply fully with the new rules, and that the Department of Justice establishes effective systems for holding accountable those facilities that do n ot. In addition, JDI is working with th e federal agencies covered by the Presidential Memorandum  to develop their own PREA standards that are at least as strong as those issued by the Department of Justice.

For more information about PREA and JDI’s work to ensure its full implementation, please contact Deputy Executive Director Chris Daley at cdaley@justdetention.org.