The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is a federal law seeking to prevent, detect and respond to incidents of sexual harassment in prisons. The State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh is the first in Pennsylvania to meet the 43 requirements for compliance.
“They range from training and education of staff and inmates to how we handle investigations to how we handle data collection,” said Jennifer Feicht, PREA coordinator with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
Some of the measures in place include:
- Establishment of a zero-tolerance standard for sexual harassment and sexual assault
- Training and education of correctional staff, contractors and volunteers about the nature of prison sexual violence and how to respond to incidents
- Thorough and appropriate risk assessment and screening of offenders to keep apart potential aggressors and potential victims
- Holding corrections administrators accountable for the occurrence of sexual violence in their facilities
State facilities are audited once in every three-year audit cycle by investigators contracted by the U.S. Department of Justice and hired by the DOC. Feicht said a second facility is very close to coming into compliance, and overall, progress is being made to eliminate sexual assaults in jails and prisons.
“Sexual abuse is not part of someone’s prison sentence,” said Feicht. “The reality is that a majority of those folks, somewhere around 92 to 95 percent of the inmates that we are helping to rehabilitate will go back out and live in the community.”
Those released from prison will have enough to contend with without having to access resources relating to a sexual assault, according to Feicht.
Once a facility is audited, an initial report is issued to the facility within 30 days. That will highlight which standards are met and which are not. After that report, the facility has 180 days to correct any issues. PREA was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003 and fully implemented in 2012.