May 23, 2012
The Obama administration on May 17 issued mandatory screening, enforcement, and prevention regulations to reduce the number of inmates sexually victimized in correctional settings. Federal, state, and local officials must adopt a "zero tolerance" policy on prison rape, the administration said.
The rules, which have been in development since Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, are immediately binding on federal prisons. States that do not comply will face the loss of 5 percent of their Department of Justice (DOJ) prison funds unless the governor certifies that an equal amount is being spent to bring the state into compliance. Organizations that accredit prisons will be barred from receiving federal grants unless their processes include similar anti-rape standards, meaning that noncompliant local jails could lose their accreditation.
The president said the standards apply to all federal confinement facilities; all other agencies with confinement facilities -- including the Homeland Security Department, which operates immigrant detainment facilities -- are required to put anti-rape protocols in place within a year. This drew objections from some immigration advocates, who denounced the idea that HSD would be permitted to develop its own rules instead of following those of DOJ.
The new regulations: stipulate that inmates be screened for the potential of sexual victimization, and that this information be used in assigning housing and work; require employee background checks; and prohibit abusers from being hired. Firing is the presumptive punishment for employees who violate the blanket ban on sexual contact between staff and inmates.
Cross-gender pat-downs of female and juvenile inmates are banned. Juvenile inmates must be held separately from adult inmates; evidence must be preserved after incident reports; anonymous and outside-prison reports of sexual victimization are permitted; and facilities must have plans for adequate staffing and video monitoring.