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Anonymous PREA Hotlines Not So Anonymous

Following a decade of delays, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards, promulgated by the U.S. Department of Justice, went into effect in August 2013. [See: PLN, September 2013, p.1].

One of the PREA rules, 115.51, states that correctional agencies “shall provide multiple internal ways for inmates to privately report sexual abuse and sexual harassment, retaliation by other inmates or staff for reporting sexual abuse and sexual harassment, and staff neglect or violation of responsibilities that may have contributed to such incidents.” The rule further specifies that “Staff shall accept reports made verbally, in writing, anonymously, and from third parties and shall promptly document any verbal reports.”

Although PREA does not require prisons and jails to establish internal telephone hotlines for prisoners to report sexual abuse and harassment, many have done so. When the PREA standards were being developed, some prisoners’ rights advocates expressed concerns that prisoners would not have faith in the hotlines, or be willing to use them, unless they provided true anonymity.

Most of the PREA hotlines in prisons and jails profess to accept anonymous reports, in that prisoners are not required to identify themselves or enter their phone PIN number to access the hotline to report PREA violations.

However, Prison Legal News has learned that is not always the case.

Upon reviewing PREA incident investigation reports from the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility in Nashville, Tennessee, a jail operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), one of the reports referenced several anonymous calls to the facility’s internal PREA hotline.

The report indicated that on January 13, 2013, a CCA guard “was reviewing the PREA line and discovered multiple calls made to the line.... Three of the calls were hang-ups with no message. All calls originated in Unit Bravo, telephones B-1 and B-3.”

Two other reports to the PREA hotline were made anonymously. However, “by reviewing the facility security camera system (PELCO) at the time of the call,” CCA staff were able to identify both of the prisoners who submitted the reports, by name and ID number.

An investigation found no evidence to support the PREA complaints, which involved a guard touching prisoners’ genitals during a frisk search. “A PELCO review confirmed searches” of the prisoners had occurred, but “...all searches were conducted professionally and by Policy,” the investigation concluded.

Thus, PREA complaints submitted through a facility’s internal telephone hotline may not be anonymous after all, and prisoners who want to report PREA violations while keeping their identity confidential should do so by other means – such as through outside third parties or by sending anonymous notes through the mail or grievance systems.

Source: Incident investigation report from Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility (Jan. 21, 2013)

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