How do you prevent rape in prisons? Well, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) expects that its new federal regulation to prevent, detect and respond to sexual abuse in confinement facilities will at least help.
Created under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), the DOJ's new federal regulation, National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape, represents the federal government's first-ever attempt to set standards intended to protect inmates in all state and local jails from sexual abuse.
In its study, Sexual Victimization Reported by Former State Prisoners, 2008, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that almost 10% of all adult former state prisoners reported being sexually victimized while in jail.
"The standards we establish today reflect the fact that sexual assault crimes committed within our correctional facilities can have devastating consequences - for individual victims and for communities far beyond our jails and prisons," said Attorney General Eric Holder in a press release. "These standards are the result of a thoughtful and deliberative process - and represent a critical step forward in protecting the rights and safety of all Americans."
In developing the new regulation, the DOJ sets three goals: to prevent, detect and respond to sexual abuse throughout the U.S. correctional system.
A few of the several things prisons will need to do in order to comply with the new regulations include:
- Develop and maintain a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse;
- Perform background checks on prospective employees and not hire sexual abusers;
- Prevent juveniles from being housed with adult inmates or having unsupervised contact with adult inmates in common spaces;
- Ban cross-gender pat-down searches of female inmates in prisons and jails and of both male and female residents of juvenile facilities;
- Give special consideration to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming inmates in training and screening protocols;
- Enable inmates to shower, perform bodily functions and change clothing without improper viewing by staff of the opposite gender; and
- Investigate all allegations of sexual abuse promptly and thoroughly, and deem allegations substantiated if supported by a preponderance of the evidence.
Prisons and jails are also required to allow all inmates a full and fair opportunity to file grievances regarding sexual abuse.
States that fail to comply with the regulations could lose 5% of their annual prison and jail support money from the Department of Justice.
What About Federal Prisons? While the specific requirements established by the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape, apply only to state and local jails and prisons, the Obama administration had determined that the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) also applies to all federal confinement facilities, including those operated by executive departments and agencies other than the Department of Justice.
In a presidential memorandum issued on May 17, 2012, President Obama ordered all federal agencies that operate prisons to work with the attorney general to issue rules or procedures that will satisfy the requirements of PREA.
This would include the illegal immigrant detention facilities operated by the Department of Homeland Security, as well as military prisons operated by the Department of Defense and Indian country prisons operated by the Department of the Interior.
"Each agency is responsible for, and must be accountable for, the operations of its own confinement facilities, and each agency has extensive expertise regarding its own facilities, particularly those housing unique populations," stated President Obama in his memorandum. "Thus, each agency is best positioned to determine how to implement the Federal laws and rules that govern its own operations."