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Deputy Attorney General James Cole Speaks at Press Conference Updating States’ Efforts to Comply with Prison Rape Elimination Act


Washington, DC
United States

Hello everyone.  Thank you for joining us this afternoon to discuss the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and the work being done across the country to implement the National PREA Standards.

I’m joined by Mary Lou Leary, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Department’s Office of Justice Programs.  She and I will both make brief statements, and then we will take a few questions from you.

Let me start with some background on PREA.  PREA was passed, unanimously, by Congress and signed into law by then-President Bush in 2003.  PREA required, among other things, the development and promulgation of “national standards for the detection, prevention, reduction and punishment of prison rape.”  These standards, like the law mandating them, are intended to address a serious public safety, public health and human rights problem – the incidence of sexual violence in our nation’s confinement facilities.

According to our most recent research, an estimated 4 percent of state and federal prison inmates and 3.2 percent of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or a facility staff member within the previous 12 months.  Even more troubling, an estimated 9.5 percent of adjudicated youth in state juvenile facilities and state contract facilities reported sexual victimization in the previous 12 months.

These statistics are alarming and they are unacceptable.  No one should be subjected to sexual abuse while in the custody of our justice system.  It serves as a violation of fundamental rights, an attack on human dignity and runs contrary to everything we stand for as a nation.

To stem the tide, back in 2009, a bipartisan national commission submitted draft PREA standards to the Department of Justice.  We opened those standards to two rounds of public comment that generated more than 2,000 comments from members of the public and stakeholder groups – including justice system policymakers and practitioners, corrections professionals, and victim and inmate advocates.  In addition, the commission and the department held several public hearings to get feedback from corrections professionals and other constituent groups.  After incorporating many of the comments and input from the hearing, we issued the final standards in 2012.

The states and territories have since begun auditing their facilities for compliance with the standards, and the governors have been asked to submit certifications of compliance or assurances that they are working toward compliance. 

This May 15th served as the deadline for state governors to indicate to the Department of Justice that their states and territories fully comply with the National PREA Standards or, in the alternative, that they will use a portion of certain department grant funds to work to achieve full compliance with the standards in the future. 

The deadline for those certifications and assurances recently passed.  I’ll let Mary Lou discuss the responses in more detail, but I do wish to say that we were very encouraged.  Forty-six states and territories provided assurances that they will leverage a portion of grant funding to work toward achieving compliance.  Two states – New Hampshire and New Jersey – certified that they are in full compliance.  It’s clear that states and territories are taking this issue seriously and that addressing sexual abuse in confinement facilities is a high nationwide priority.

We know that there are real challenges associated with compliance.  In that regard, the department is fully committed to working closely with the states and territories to help them meet their PREA responsibilities. 

For instance, we’ve put into place a number of resources to aid corrections directors and staff, jail administrators, sheriffs, those who oversee and work in juvenile facilities and others.  Since 2010, we’ve made almost 100 awards totaling over $22 million to support state and local jurisdictions in creating zero-tolerance cultures for sexual abuse in confinement facilities.  And we established the PREA Resource Center to provide training and intensive technical assistance to justice system actors and victim advocates on a broad range of issues related to PREA.

While we are encouraged by the responses from the states and territories working actively toward compliance, I must be clear that the jurisdictions that do not comply with the standards – of which there are eight – will be held accountable, as we are required to do by law. 

We will continue to work to provide all jurisdictions with the assistance they need to come into compliance.  We expect that the commitment to ending sexual violence in our nation’s confinement facilities – voiced by so many of our nation’s governors – will be reflected not by their words alone, but in the action they take.

The enactment of PREA 11 years ago signaled an unequivocal rejection of the outdated – and morally unconscionable – acceptance of rape as part of the sentence being served by an adult or juvenile in the American correctional system.  The PREA standards have lead us closer to ending the culture of violence in our nation’s prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities.  Going forward, we will continue to help the states and territories work to ensure that their correctional facilities are safe and live up to the standards we’ve set.

I’d now like to let Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary provide you with details about what OJP has learned from the governors, and OJP’s next steps to assist with compliance.

Updated September 17, 2014