Project on Addressing Prison Rape Responds to DOJ’s Release of National Prison Rape Elimination Act Standards

Standards the Floor for Protection of Adults and Youth in Custody

Professor Brenda V. Smith, Director, 202-274-4261 or 202-361-0528
Jaime M. Yarussi, Assistant Director, 202-274-4385 or  202-631-9119


WASHINGTON, DC, May 17, 2012- Today the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released the final national Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Standards. The Project on Addressing Prison Rape (Project), based at American University Washington College of Law, applauds the release of the standards and believes this is an important milestone in the fight to eliminate sexual abuse in custodial settings. The Project reviewed the PREA Standards and notes that that the standards set the floor for basic requirements that agencies should follow to protect adults and youth in custody from sexual abuse.  These standards hold great promise, yet the Project believes a number of the standards should be stronger.  

The Project on Addressing Prison Rape is concerned that the current standards do not:

  • limit body searches of male inmates by female staff;
  • require memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with law enforcement and prosecuting agencies;
  • extend the standards to probation and parole settings;
  • provide for full confidentiality for victims accessing outside support services.

Although the PREA Standards limit cross gender searches of female inmates by male staff, they fail to eliminate cross gender searches of male inmates by female staff.  The most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report released on May 17, 2012 identified female staff as the most likely perpetrators of staff sexual abuse of male inmates (79%).  Limitation of cross gender searches of male inmates by female staff could provide an element of prevention given what we already know about female staff members’ involvement in sexual abuse of men and boys in custody.  

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) proposed mandatory collaborations among correctional agencies, law enforcement, and prosecution units, to strengthen and support proper investigations and prosecutions for sexual abuse in custodial settings. The PREA Standards do not address the NPREC recommended collaborations.  Because of the lack of criminal investigations by outside law enforcement and low rates of prosecution in this area, this is a grave oversight.

We know from widespread media coverage that sexual abuse of people under custodial supervision in the community, specifically on probation and parole, does happen.  However, the PREA Standards fail to include any non-residential forms of community supervision. This puts offenders on probation and parole at risk for abuse..

Limitations on confidentiality placed on victims accessing outside support services interferes with the model of safe and reliable reporting and mental health recovery. Additionally, these limitations are counterintuitive to the protections inmates need from retribution and retaliation from agency staff.

Again, while we applaud the release of the standards, we hope that the DOJ will reinforce that its standards are the floor rather than the ceiling for protection of adults and youth in custody and that states and localities can and should take all necessary steps, including those in the standards, to protect adults and youth in their care and to meet their constitutional obligations to provide safe, secure and rehabilitative environments. 

Media Inquiries can be directed to Megan Smith, (202) 274-4276.


The Project on Addressing Prison Rape, based at American University Washington College of Law and directed by Professor Brenda V. Smith, continues to address the impact, causes and critical consequences of sexual violence in custody. Since 2000, the Project has aimed to address sexual victimization of adults and youth in custody by: (1) identifying and analyzing the problem of prison rape; (2) training; (3) development and refinement of agency policy and state law; and (4) enforcement of law and policy.