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June 01, 2012

DOJ issues new standards addressing prison rape

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the adoption May 17 of new standards to prevent, detect and respond to prison rape.

The standards are required under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), which established the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) to conduct a comprehensive study of prison rape in the United States and recommend national standards.

In a May 21 letter to Holder, Robinson applauded the attorney general “for [his] leadership on this important human rights issue.” He emphasized that the ABA has long been a proponent for better standards for inmates and filed comments on the NPREC recommendations when they were announced in 2009. The final prison rape standards, which go into effect July 23, incorporate changes recommended by the ABA and are consistent with the ABA’s Criminal Justice Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners, Robinson wrote.

Robinson commended the Justice Department (DOJ) for making the following improvements based on the ABA comments during the review process:

  • strengthening the standard on audits to ensure compliance with PREA by requiring that auditing bodies be independent of agencies under review and that every facility be audited at least every three years;
  • implementing a phased-in ban on cross-gender pat searches of adult women prisoners, absent exigent circumstances;
  • removing a significant barrier to victims’ access to the courts by prohibiting time limits on the filing of grievances regarding prison rape and sexual abuse;
  • requiring facilities to consider the particular vulnerability of transgender and intersex prisoners and make housing decision determinations for these prisoners on a case-by-case basis; and
  • requiring facilities to maintain “sight and sound separation” and to refrain from placing youthful inmates in isolation to comply with this requirement.

Robinson also noted that the new standards will apply to all federal confinement facilities, including those operated by departments and agencies other than DOJ. 

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