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Department of Justice Report on Prison Rape Elimination Act

Department of Justice Report on Prison Rape Elimination Act

by Matt Clarke

In September 2007, the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released the annual report for calendar 2006 on DOJ’s implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), 42 U.S.C. § 15601, et seq. The report noted the methods used by the Office of Justice Programs (0JP), its subcomponents: National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), Review Panel on Prison Rape (RPPR) and Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA); the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and NIC to comply with the legislative mandates of the PREA.

The PREA established a zero tolerance standard for rape and sexual assault in prisons, jails, police holding facilities, including juvenile facilities (prison rape). It tasked various DOJ components as follows: BJS must collect, review and analyze reports of prison rape, including the common characteristics of victims, perpetrators and prison and prison systems with high and low rates of prison rape. RPPR must conduct hearings on prison rape and was given subpoena power to call officials from the three prisons with the highest rate of prison rape and the two with the lowest in each category of facility. NIC must offer training and technical assistance, provide a. national information clearinghouse and issue an annual report. AGO is authorized to award grants, developed by BJA and administered by NIJ, to assist in implementing PREA. AGO must also publish national standards for prison rape detection, prevention, reduction and punishment developed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (which PREA established).

In 2006, NIJ awarded Dr. Barbara Owens of California State University a grant to study sexual violence among female prisoners in state prisons and local jails. Nancy LaVigne of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C, was awarded a grant to study applying situational crime prevention theories to jail settings to assist guards in handling violent and sexually violent prisoners. NIJ also established a partnership with BJS and the Centers for Disease Control to create a surveillance system for medical and mental health indicators of sexual violence. NIJ received final reports of previously supported studies including The Culture of Prison Sexual Violence, the largest ethnographic study of prisoners ever conducted.
That study found that prisoners perceive rape to be a rare occurrence because the prison culture has a different view of coerced and/or forced sexual behavior. NIJ also funded the development of risk assessment instruments to identify characteristics of victims and perpetrators.

In July 2006, BJS published Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, 2005, (free online at BJS also continued developing standardized methodology for surveying prisoners and conducted expert panel meetings.

RPPR held its first meeting in 2006, including eight panels of prison officials, victim advocates, a rape victim, medical and mental health professionals, researchers and guards’ union officials. The purpose was to gather information on the effect of environmental factors, policies, practices and guard training on prison rape.

BJA awarded grants of up to $1 million, requiring a 50% match by the receiving prison system, to help implement PREA in prison systems throughout the U.S. In 2006, 29 prison systems received grants totaling $22.6 million. BJA also awarded $250,000 to the Center for Innovative Public Policies to provide training and technical assistance to prison officials seeking to improve their policies; $300,000 to the American Prosecutors Research Institute and National Judicial College to educate prosecutors on their role in eliminating prison rape; $172,000 to the American Probation and Parole Association, International Community Corrections Association and Pretrial Service Resource Center to educate community corrections agencies; $250,000 to Justice Solutions, a victim advocacy organization, to develop materials to help prisons assist prison rape victims; $257,178 to various agencies to assist tribal leaders and prison officials in implementing PREA and $500,000 to NIC to develop and provide PREA-related training and technical assistance to juvenile prisons.

NIC provided classroom training on prison rape in multiple seminars held at American University’s Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C., which received a cooperative agreement award. NIC also held regional meetings and gave an award to The Moss Group to provide training for PREA trainers who, in turn, would train prison staff. NIC also began planning for two training programs with Washington College of Law. NIC presented workshops on prison rape at five professional conferences and held videoconferences, some of which were webcast, on PREA-related topics. NIC also created and disseminated videotapes designed to inform prison officials and prisoners about PREA-related topics. NIC provided technical assistance, including workshops and customized education materials. NIC created a website entitled An End to the Silence as a resource to victims and prison officials. It also contracted to provide a clearinghouse for PREA-related information. A second website,, provides PREA-related information. Finally, NIC created this report.

Some of the shortcomings of PREA are readily apparent. First, the data on sexual assaults is all self reported by the prisons and jails in questions and there are no audits or analysis on the numbers being correct or accurate. Secondly, there are no services provided directly to rape survivors nor are prison policies of punishing prisoners who report rapes (especially by staff addressed) and lastly, under the PREA scheme of things rape survivors have no rights or standing to pursue or seek any type of relief. In light of the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s barriers to prisoners obtaining court access and obtaining relief, this omission is telling.

Source: Report to the Congress of the United States on the Activities of the Department of Justice in Relation to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (Public Law 108-79), September 2007.

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