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Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco Delivers Remarks Marking the 20th Anniversary of the Prison Rape Elimination Act


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning. Thank you for that warm welcome. And thank you, Amy, for kicking us off.

It is an honor to be here and to recognize the important work being done under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to achieve its critically important purpose.

Thank you to Amy and Karhlton Moore for your leadership and your focus on this important topic. And thank you to your staff for organizing today’s event.

PREA was established with the goal of eradicating sexual assault at federal, state, and local correctional facilities, nationwide.

That mission remains just as critical today as it did when the PREA was enacted 20 years ago.

I am so pleased that we are joined today by three members of the original National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.

The Commission’s work from 2003 to 2009 culminated in the publication of PREA Standards that underpin much of the Department’s work in pursuit of our ultimate goal: the eradication of rape and sexual abuse from our prison systems.

I want to acknowledge former Chair of the Commission, Judge Reggie Walton, as well as former commissioner Professor Brenda Smith from American University. Thank you for your work and leadership over many years and for being here today.

And let’s take a moment to recognize all the members of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission for their dedication in advocating for reforms to address rape and sexual abuse in our prisons.

And thank you to everyone here for participating in this important convening to honor the work done since PREA’s passage in 2003 and to aspire and plan for a future when the promise of PREA is fulfilled.

For far too long, sexual assaults in prisons and other custodial settings were accepted as business as usual. From brutal attacks on inmates by other inmates to prison staff abusing those in their custody, sexual assaults were too often accepted as extra, collateral punishment for those in custody — a sinister, but tolerated byproduct of incarceration.

Twenty years ago, with the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, unequivocally rejected that notion, with a call for the safe, fair, and humane treatment of all individuals in confinement, regardless of their crimes — and a commitment to eliminating rape and sexual assault from our prisons.

Relentless pursuit of the promise of PREA is a top priority for me, and for all of us here at the Department, as I know it is for everyone here today.

We are gathered to acknowledge the great work that has been done in pursuit of the PREA mission — but we are also gathered to recognize how much remains to be done — how much work we all must still do to eradicate sexual assault from our prisons and to ensure the safe and humane treatment of every person in confinement.

Now, since the passage of PREA 20 ago, there has been progress.

Thousands of PREA audits across the country have exposed the breadth and depth of the problem.

Dedicated staff in federal, state, and local facilities and agencies, such as PREA coordinators and PREA compliance managers, are leading efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse and sexual harassment behind prison walls.  

Many state, local, and Tribal confinement facilities and agencies are pursuing a wide range of PREA implementation efforts.

But there is far more work to be done.

While we have seen some evidence of overall progress —in dipping rates of sexual victimization among imprisoned youth and expanding opportunities for victims to safely report sexual assault – that progress has been slow, fitful, and hard-earned.

We must redouble our efforts.

When I returned to the Department in 2021 as the Deputy Attorney General, it was apparent that our own federal correctional system was suffering from a crisis of sexual assault.

For example, multiple women at FCI Dublin were, for years, subjected to rampant sexual abuse by officers and facility leadership, including the former warden and a former chaplain.

Failing to address this crisis means prisons that are less safe, and it would be an abdication of our responsibilities to those in our custody. So, we set out to address this crisis and fulfill our duty to achieve accountability and ensure safe, secure, and humane conditions of confinement across the entire Bureau of Prisons (FBOP).

At the Dublin facility, eight correctional officers, including the former Warden, have now been charged with crimes related to the sexual abuse of the female prisoners at the facility.

Last year, former Warden Ray J. Garcia was convicted by a jury of sexually abusive conduct against three female victims and was sentenced to 70 months in prison for his crimes.

This accountability is an essential part of prevention. The investigations into misconduct at Dublin are ongoing as is the Department’s commitment to accountability at all of its facilities.

Those who abused their authority and engaged in sexual assault of those in their care and custody must, and will, be held accountable.

But prosecution of the most egregious criminal actors represents only one part of the solution to this complex and multi-faceted crisis.

So last year, I assigned my principal deputy to form and lead a working group of experts from across the Justice Department to examine from every angle the problem of sexual assault by Federal Bureau of Prisons personnel, and to identify recommendations for how we can root out sexual assault from the FBOP and ensure the safety of those in our care.

One year ago this month, the Working Group fulfilled that mandate — issuing a comprehensive report with over 50 reform recommendations for preventing, investigating, and prosecuting sexual assault in our federal prisons.

This past spring, as a continuation of that work, we launched teams of experts from across the Justice Department to conduct what we termed Sexual Assault Facility Enhancement & Review — or SAFER — visits to women’s facilities in each of the Bureau of Prisons’ six regions.

Through these SAFER teams, we visited and engaged directly with leadership, staff, and women in custody in women’s facilities in each of Bureau’s six regions.

The Department is hard at work to activate the working group reforms, including: 

  • Appointed three new wardens at female facilities needing new leadership.
  • We are adding 53 special investigative agents, including at least one at every women’s facility in the Bureau of Prisons, whose dedicated mission is to investigate allegations of employee misconduct, including sexual misconduct against women in custody.
  • We are hiring 16 new agents as part of an interdisciplinary team within the Office of the Inspector General to address criminal misconduct by FBOP staff.
  • We are creating new methods for safe victim reporting, including installing private phone booths in pretrial facilities, piloting private visitation areas at FCI Dublin, and hiring new family support coordinators, to empower women in custody to speak confidentially with attorneys, victim support groups, and family members.
  • Since November 2022, we have installed over 700 new digital cameras across all of our women’s facilities to increase visibility and foster a safer environment.
  • And finally, I am pleased to announce that we have appointed a full-time, dedicated coordinator at FBOP headquarters to ensure that the Working Group’s recommendations are turned into actions and policies.

These efforts build on other steps toward accountability for those who have not lived up to the Bureau’s mission and values.

Earlier this year, acting upon the Department’s priority request, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to strengthen criminal penalties for sexual abuse of those in custody.

At my direction, our U.S. Attorneys are prioritizing the investigation and prosecution of sexual abuse of individuals in Bureau of Prisons custody.  

My message to our prosecutors is this: sexual abuse of those in our care and custody is an abuse of power that is corrosive to the rule of law. We must show that we will hold our own accountable.

And in the last year, the Department more than doubled the number of prosecutions for sexual abuse of a ward in a federal women’s institution, when compared to the average of the previous seven years.

Of these cases, Andrew Jones recently received a 96-month sentence for sexually abusing multiple female inmates at FCI Dublin, the longest of all recent sentences for FCI Dublin correctional officers convicted of sexual abuse of a ward.

This year, we also charged two former correctional officers for sexually abusing inmates at FMC Lexington. Both defendants have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

And we have also successfully moved for reductions in sentence for four survivors of sexual abuse perpetrated by FBOP officials — the first time the Department has ever made such a request.

Stamping out sexual misconduct in our prison system will remain a top priority for Department leadership, and we will continue to devote the resources necessary to maintain safe, secure, and humane custodial settings.

Successfully addressing these challenges requires the partnership of Department officials, correctional leaders, advocates, and survivors — all of whom are represented here in this room, in-person and virtually.

We have all come together today to chart a course for the future of PREA — a future defined by a culture that does not tolerate even one instance of sexual abuse.

From investing in the National PREA Resource Center to finding ways to ensure support survivors of sexual victimization to promoting zero tolerance cultures, the Department is committed to working with all of you to fulfill the promise of PREA moving forward.

I am thankful for all the work that everyone here is doing for this cause. I look forward to hearing about the work done during this convening.

I’ll now turn the podium back to Heather.

Civil Rights
Updated November 29, 2023