The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Standards

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Standards

July 2, 2012 | Michela Bowman, Senior Program Specialist, NCCD

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, after receiving a unanimous vote by Congress. Bipartisan support for the eradication of sexual abuse in confinement has been the hallmark of the work that followed passage of the law. Resounding commitment to keep prisoners safe from sexual abuse has not insulated the work from controversy. There has been a push and pull over the approach to federal enforcement of standards mandated by PREA, and the content of those standards was at issue for years.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, after receiving a unanimous vote by Congress. Bipartisan support for the eradication of sexual abuse in confinement has been the hallmark of the work that followed passage of the law. Resounding commitment to keep prisoners safe from sexual abuse has not insulated the work from controversy. There has been a push and pull over the approach to federal enforcement of standards mandated by PREA, and the content of those standards was at issue for years. However, the Department of Justice released its final Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape on May 17, 2012 and now the work of implementing those standards begins. 

The passage of the final rule leaves behind the most significant contention surrounding the development of the standards and places us in a moment of true progress on this issue. NCCD is wholly committed to this project and stands ready to make a significant contribution to long-existing efforts to keep prisoners safe. The National PREA Resource Center (PRC), a project run by cooperative agreement between NCCD and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, exists to assist adult and juvenile corrections, detention, law enforcement, and tribal agencies in their efforts to come into compliance with the national standards, and to promulgate emerging best practices in the work to eliminate sexual abuse in confinement. 

Over the past year, the PRC has undertaken significant analysis of existing needs assessments to anticipate where the most significant challenges would lie once standards were passed, and also to respond to challenges that exist in addressing sexual abuse in confinement regardless of the content of the standards. Staff and our cooperating partners are looking closely at the new standards and anticipate providing significant assistance in the development of gender-responsive strategies to combat sexual abuse and victim-centered responses to existing abuse in confinement. The PRC will also provide training for investigators, assist agencies with policy development, provide tools and training to develop appropriate inmate education around PREA issues in different kinds of confinement settings, and help the field address the challenges of screening inmates for potential vulnerability. Many of the standards reflect common best practice, but there are areas where they challenge the field with practice that is not everywhere customary and with resources that will take work to find.

The PRC staff is excited to work with BJA to help the field overcome the greatest challenges posed by the standards; to assist with the development of solid practices that will make corrections systems safer; and to join ongoing efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse in confinement.

Michela Bowman is a Senior Program Specialist at NCCD.