Press Release: Finally — National Standards to Stop Prisoner Rape
Nine years after passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003 and almost two years after missing its statutory deadline, the Department of Justice releases strong, binding standards to end sexual abuse in U.S. corrections facilities
Media Contact: Jesse Lerner-Kinglake
(office) 213-384-1400, ext. 113
- PREA applies to all federal confinement facilities; several agencies – including the Department of Homeland Security – now need to develop PREA standards.
- Ban on routine pat-down searches of female adult inmates by male staff.
- Strong protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inmates.
- Youth in adult facilities will no longer be detained in housing units with adults.
- All facilities must be audited by independent auditors every three years.
Washington, D.C., May 17, 2012 – Today the Department of Justice finally issued its long-delayed national standards aimed at ending the crisis of sexual abuse in U.S. corrections facilities. Mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, the new regulations are a milestone in the effort to end rape and other forms of sexual victimization of inmates. The PREA standards are immediately binding on federal prisons; other facilities have one year to comply.
According to the Department of Justice’s own estimates, at least 216,600 people are sexually victimized every year while in prisons, jails, and youth detention facilities. A major new Department of Justice study – also released today – confirmed the crisis of sexual abuse in U.S. detention, finding that a shocking one in ten state prisoners had been victimized during their most recent period of detention. “Sexual abuse in detention shatters hundreds of thousands of lives of men, women, and children – every year,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International. “We have fought long and hard for the PREA standards. They have the potential to cut prisoner rape dramatically.”
Today’s PREA standards cover federal and state prisons, jails, youth detention facilities, police lock-ups, and community corrections facilities (such as halfway houses). They detail concrete, common-sense steps that facilities must take to prevent and respond to sexual abuse, incorporating many – though not all – of the reforms championed by Just Detention International. Founded in 1980 by a prisoner rape survivor, Just Detention International was instrumental in developing and securing the passage of PREA and has since led the push for strong, binding standards.
Unfortunately, the standards include several dangerously weak points. For instance, while banning routine pat-down searches by male staff of female inmates, they fail to prohibit female staff from conducting pat-down searches of male inmates, even though the Department of Justice’s own study released earlier today showed widespread abuse by female staff of male inmates. Additionally, the Obama Administration chose not to apply the PREA standards to immigration detention facilities, contrary to Congressional intent. The Administration did, however, issue a crucial Presidential Memorandum this morning, confirming that PREA applies to “all agencies with Federal confinement facilities.” In response, the Department of Homeland Security, which administers immigration detention facilities, already announced that it has begun developing its own PREA standards and will issue a draft for public comment within 120 days.
“The Presidential Memorandum rightly points out that all federal agencies must comply with PREA,” said Stannow. “In the coming year, Just Detention International looks forward to working with these agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Defense, to finalize their PREA standards.”
Among the many strengths of the PREA standards, they require that particularly vulnerable inmates – such as those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender – be housed safely. They spell out requirements for inmate education and staff training on sexual abuse prevention, including specialized training for investigative and medical staff. The standards also demand 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 require that youth in adult facilities no longer be detained in housing units with adults. Crucially, the standards remove a proposed 20-day time limit for victimized inmates to report the abuse, and they also insist that all facilities be audited by independent auditors every three years.
Many prisons and jails started adopting draft versions of the PREA standards years ago, in collaboration with Just Detention International. State prisons in California and Oregon and the Miami-Dade County jail are among facilities that already have launched groundbreaking projects aimed at ending sexual abuse of inmates.
“We know from our extensive on-the-ground work that the PREA standards can transform corrections culture,” said Stannow. “Working inside prisons and jails, we have seen how basic, low-cost changes to policy and practice can trigger enormous improvements in transparency, respect between staff and inmates, and overall safety.”
Survivors of sexual abuse in detention have been at the forefront of the fight for strong PREA standards. One of them, Jan Lastocy, who was raped several times a week for seven months by a Michigan prison official while serving time for attempted embezzlement, said:
“I have dreamed of this day for years. The PREA standards aren’t perfect, but they are an amazing tool for making prisons safer,” said Lastocy, a member of Just Detention International’s Survivor Council. “I don’t need revenge. All I want is to know that others won’t have to live through the horror I endured. Now we need to use these standards and stop prisoner rape once and for all.”
For more information, or to speak with a survivor of prisoner rape, please contact Jesse Lerner-Kinglake at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel 213-384-1400, ext. 113; cell: 424-230-4540.
The national PREA standards can be found here.
The Presidential Memorandum on the PREA standards can be found here.