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After 14 Years, More Progress Still Needed on Prison Rape Elimination Act

Posted in 2017, Federal Update Friday, 01 September 2017

By Rachel Marshall, Federal Policy Counsel

Today marks the 14th anniversary of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, a federal statute focused on sexual assault and victimization in juvenile facilities, adult prisons, jails, lockups, and other detention facilities. In 2012, the regulations for implementation of the law were finalized and issued. One of the most critical components of the regulations is Section 115.14, the Youthful Inmate Standard, which requires agencies to avoid using isolation on youth in adult facilities in order to comply with requirements to house and keep youth and adults separate in adult facilities. A state that does not comply with the Youthful Inmate Standard and other requirements of PREA must use five percent of its designated prison funding from the Department of Justice to come into compliance with the statute.

The Youthful Inmate Standard was strengthened by Congress in 2016 with the passage of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016 (JFA). Under the JFA, states have six years to comply with the Youthful Inmate Standard, or they risk losing a percentage of their funding. Compliance audits must also be made publicly available, and the Attorney General must issue a report to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees on the status of the implementation of the standards no later than two years after the date of the enactment of the JFA.

Since the passage of PREA and the issuance of the Youthful Inmate Standard regulations, multiple states have considered or passed legislation to hold youth who have been transferred to the adult system in juvenile facilities instead of adult facilities. Oregon, Arizona, DC, Maryland, Kansas, Washington, and Montana have all passed legislation in the last two years that help move youth under 18 from adult facilities. A handful of other states, including South Dakota, Connecticut, and Nevada, have considered similar legislation, though they were unable to pass it.

While the number of states who have considered or passed legislation to come into compliance with the Youthful Inmate Standard is certainly a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go. According to the Department of Justice, only 19 states have fully adopted the standards required by PREA. Another 34 states and US territories provided assurances that they are working toward compliance. Utah and Arkansas have thus far refused to comply.

Failure to comply with the Youthful Inmate Standards of PREA can have extremely severe consequences and long-lasting impacts on children in the system. Placing children in adult facilities in solitary confinement in order to comply with the sight and sound separation requirements is not an acceptable solution according to PREA Guidelines. It is well documented that isolation often leads to the deterioration of mental health, including psychosis, trauma, depression, self-harm, and even suicide.

As we celebrate the progress made in the last 14 years and as we edge closer to the compliance deadline, it is important to remind your Governor why it is so critical to fully implement the Youthful Inmate Standard and PREA. Youth should never be placed in adult facilities. If we want our youth to reenter communities as law-abiding citizens, it's up to states to take decisive action. Make sure your voice is heard.