HRC Blog

DOJ Issues New Regulations to Eliminate Sexual Abuse in Prisons and Jails

This afternoon the Department of Justice (DOJ) published final regulations creating national standards aimed at eliminating sexual abuse in America’s prisons, jails, and local detention facilities.  The standards were mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA).  These standards are a vital step toward ending one of the most harmful and costly human rights crises of our time and ensuring that consistent, nationwide protections are in place.  

The US Bureau of Prisons is required to begin compliance upon publication of the standards. State and local facilities must begin compliance one year after publication. 

The DOJ estimates that at least 216,000 inmates are sexually abused in these facilities every year.  A DOJ report released today shows that almost one in ten former state prisoners have been sexually abused during detention.  These rates are even higher for LGBT inmates.  Compared to their straight counter-parts, gay and bisexual men are 10 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse by other inmates.  A shocking 34 percent of bisexual men and 39 percent of gay men report being victimized by other inmates, compared to 3.5 percent of straight male inmates.  Lesbians and bisexual women also face increased risk of sexual abuse and violence.  These former inmates reported rates of staff misconduct or sexual abuse double to that of straight female inmates. 

The standards directly address the needs of LGBTI and gender nonconforming inmates, and identify LGBTI inmates as particularly vulnerable to abuse.  They also require that staff be trained to properly and professionally communicate and interact with LGBTI inmates.  The standards also require that when evaluating an incident of sexual abuse, the post-incident reviews consider whether the incident was motivated by LGBTI identification, status, or perceived status.  The final standards do not allow placement of LGBTI inmates in segregated facilities or units, based solely on their LGBTI status, unless such placement is required by a court of for protection.  Among the important new protections for transgender and gender non-conforming inmates, the standards require that security staff be trained in conducting searches of transgender and intersex inmates professionally and that staff give serious consideration to the inmate’s own views regarding his or her own safety with regard to housing.  Read the rules in their entirety.

Despite the strength of these standards, they will only be effective if they are fully implemented.   Committed corrections leadership, strong policies, and sound practices, can end this abuse. The PREA standards are an essential tool for establishing such leadership, policies, and practices. HRC will work alongside DOJ and other advocates to ensure successful, full implementation of these standards.

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