The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed in 2003, sets a zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence in confinement facilities. Official PREA standards for compliance were introduced for all state and local jails in 2012. Although the Standards are complex, facilities should consider using them as a guideline for best practice to mitigate risk, regardless of their certification status. There are numerous trouble spots commonly identified during facility audits, often resulting in corrective action:
- Cross-Gender Presence in Housing Units: Staff must announce their presence when entering units housing opposite-gender inmates. These announcements should occur at the beginning of each staff member’s or volunteer’s shift and again prior to cell checks or other surveillance. Their entrance can be announced with a simple phrase, such as “Male entering housing unit” or a specific sound alert, like a doorbell chime. The announcement should be loud enough for all inmates to hear and be followed by ample time for inmates to cover up before the personnel enter the area.
- Searches: PREA standards prohibit cross-gender searches, especially in juvenile facilities, although exceptions exist for adult pat-downs and emergency or extenuating circumstances. If it’s feasible for your facility, consider adopting a prohibition on all cross-gender searching. This will simplify guidelines and minimize confusion among correctional officers, thus limiting liability and the risk of a red flag during an audit. Lexipol’s inmate searches policy is written this way.
- Facility Blind Spots: Most often blind spots are unintentional and include off-camera closets and corridors, poorly lit areas, infrequently accessed areas and areas where inmates have access when staff is not assigned. Most blind spots are identified during a PREA audit facility tour; consider conducting a tour yourself to find these areas. Potential fixes include installing cameras, mirrors or doors with windows to permit quick security checks.
- Camera Placement: Inmate privacy should always be protected when appropriate. Camera placement should allow inmates to shower, use the restroom, change their clothes, etc., without being viewed by non-medical staff of the opposite gender. Best practice is to not record in areas including showers, bathrooms, individual cells and cell toilets or use a type of electronic obscuring of prohibited footage.
- Hiring Practices: A criminal background check is required for any employee—including contractors and volunteers—who may have contact with inmates. A best effort must be made to contact previous employers to determine if a candidate has been fired, resigned or disciplined due to sexual abuse. Proper documentation is necessary, acknowledging both the background check and the employee’s requirement to disclose sexual misconduct.
To learn five additional PREA audit trouble spots and why every jail should consider complying with PREA standards, watch our on-demand webinar: The PREA Imperative: Why & How ALL Jail Facilities Should Meet the Standards.