STATE AND LOCAL CORRECTIONS REFORM

The vast majority of detainees in the U.S. are housed in state prisons and county jails, and each jurisdiction has its own unique set of policies and practices. JDI receives hundreds of letters each year from inmates reporting sexual abuse from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Studies by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics confirm that prisoner rape is pervasive nationwide.

JDI currently runs programs in four states -- California, Oregon, Michigan, and Texas. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are large, especially troubled agencies. Both have unconscionably high rates of sexual violence in their prisons. The Oregon Department of Corrections, partnered with JDI, was the first state prison system to begin full implementation of national standards addressing sexual abuse in detention -- Director Max Williams estimates that the Department is now 70 percent in compliance. Putting the standards into place is also the focus of JDI's work with the Macomb County Jail, located just outside of Detroit, Michigan.

 

California

JDI, which is headquartered in California, has a long history of improving the conditions of prisoners in this state. JDI helped draft and secure the passage of the first state civil law to address sexual violence in prison -- the California Sexual Abuse in Detention Elimination Act (SADEA) -- which was passed in 2005. JDI serves on a task force at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) that oversees the implementation of both SADEA and the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

JDI Deputy Executive Director Linda McFarlane (far right) with staff from California Correctional Institution and Women’s Center – High Desert, partners in the Paths to Recovery pilot project.
Working with JDI, CDCR has become one of the first state prison systems adopting the PREA-mandated national standards, before they become mandatory. The California Correctional Institution (CCI -- a men's facility), the California Institution for Women (CIW), and the Ventura Youth Center are pilot facilities for this work, which will expand to all CDCR prisons and youth facilities in the future.

As part of this effort, JDI provides extensive training and assistance to staff at CDCR prisons, and JDI staff will soon conduct a policy review for the entire system. JDI has also ensured that 31 CDCR facilities have included a local rape crisis center representative on their internal Sexual Assault Response Teams. This work builds on a pilot program -- Paths to Recovery -- at CCI and CIW, through which inmates who have been sexually abused are able to seek confidential counseling services. CCI is also the site for JDI's groundbreaking effort to improve prison policies and practices by introducing international human rights into the daily work of a state prison.

 

Oregon

In Oregon, JDI and the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) are working together to make the ODOC an "early adopter" of the standards proposed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. As a mid-size prison system with a reputation for relatively safe facilities, the ODOC has the ability to transform policies and practices fairly quickly. The ODOC's experience can serve as a blueprint for other small and medium prison systems, highlighting ways to overcome the budgetary, cultural, and other challenges that most U.S. corrections facilities face.

At the start of this partnership, JDI provided extensive training for ODOC staff and conducted an agency-wide policy review. Each Oregon prison then developed its own facility-level Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) -- these teams have a monthly meetings to review incidents and identify systemic problems. Using grant money, the ODOC implemented a sophisticated data management system that enables state administrators to monitor sexual abuse reports from all facilities as soon as they are entered into the system, provide comprehensive data to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and flag vulnerable inmates on its "PREA Watch List" to ensure that they are not classified incorrectly.

JDI has helped the ODOC to develop an internal oversight process that is standardized among all its facilities. In addition, JDI is working with ODOC officials to identify an appropriate outside agency to conduct external audits, such as the state Attorney General's office or the Governor's office. As a result of this effort, the Governor's office already maintains a hotline that inmates may call to report sexual abuse. The ODOC and the state police have agreed to a formal "decision tree" outlining the steps for responding to a sexual assault report, and JDI is helping individual Oregon prisons to establish relationships with local rape crisis centers.

 

Michigan

Michigan's state prison system, the eighth largest in the country, has been rocked by an enormous number of sexual abuse allegations. In 2009, the state reached a $100 million settlement with female prisoner rape survivors, after a jury found that prison officials for years ignored cases of rape, sexual advances, and groping by staff. Although currently not working with the Michigan Department of Corrections, JDI activities in the state are improving the situation for incarcerated sexual abuse survivors.

Collaborating with the International Association of Forensic Nurses -- the trade group of health professionals who conduct post-assault exams and rape kits -- JDI trained the Michigan chapter in the unique dynamics of sexual assault behind bars. JDI has also provided technical assistance on prisoner rape to dozens of rape crisis centers in Michigan.

Macomb County Jail, located in a densely populated suburb of Detroit, has partnered with JDI to come into compliance with the national standards addressing sexual abuse behind bars before they become mandatory. This work began with JDI development of training curricula for jail staff. Going forward, JDI will provide policy analysis, training, and technical assistance to the Macomb County Sheriff's Department. A mid-size facility run by a department facing a budget freeze, the Macomb County Jail has the potential to create a national model for standards implementation that addresses the unique concerns of county jails.

 

Texas

Texas is another state with large and troubled corrections agencies. In the past few years, several adult prisons run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) have been identified as among the worst performing in the nation at preventing sexual violence. In a long-awaited 2010 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on sexual abuse in juvenile facilities, youth at two Texas juvenile detention centers reported some of the highest rates in the country. In 2007 a scandal at the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) uncovered more than 1,000 incidents of sexual abuse against teen detainees.

JDI raises awareness about the extreme dangers in these facilities, while working with Texas officials to improve inmate safety. JDI has provided human rights training to 20 assistant wardens and advocated for individual Texas inmates with the prison system's Ombudsperson. JDI also serves on the TDCJ Safe Prisons Council, where JDI urges a more robust Departmental response to prisoner rape.

JDI has provided officials at TYC and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC) with extensive analysis and technical assistance on the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission's standards and their implications for policy reform. TYC solicited and included input from JDI in updating its forms for intake, classification, and vulnerability assessment, as well as its zero tolerance policy. JDI has helped the TJPC to create proposed standards for addressing reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation in Texas county juvenile programs and JDI contributed to the agency's proposed rules for county-run facilities for juveniles.


To learn more about JDI's effort to stimulate state prison reform, please contact Deputy Executive Director Linda McFarlane at lmcfarlane@justdetention.org.