New Regulations Protect Against Sexual Abuse Behind Bars
Nine years after Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) finally released regulations to implement PREA last month. This is good news for the juvenile and criminal justice fields as this is the first time the U.S. government has created national standards to eliminate sexual abuse behind bars.
The regulations go a long way in addressing one of the major human rights violations occurring in the United States today. According to President Obama, "Sexual violence, against any victim, is an assault on human dignity and an affront to American values."
For many years, the Campaign for Youth Justice and its' allies across the country have advocated that the DOJ ban the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons as part of the PREA regulations. The DOJ issued a standard that will restrict, but not ban, the placement of youth in adult facilities by disallowing youth to be housed in the general adult population, prohibiting contact between youth and adults in common areas, and ensuring youth are constantly supervised by staff, and by limiting the use of isolation.
This is a good first step. However, the standard does not go far enough to protect children behind bars and may create another, equally dangerous situation for youth: isolation and solitary confinement. In order to protect children from sexual assault, many jailers and corrections officials put youth in separate units or wings, which often results in long periods of isolation and solitary confinement. Many children who are placed in isolation experience harmful consequences and for some children this has meant suicide.
Given these challenges, it is crucial that states and localities adopt stronger standards to ensure that youth behind bars are protected from the dangers of sexual abuse and the dangers of isolation and solitary confinement.
Liz Ryan is President & CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice.
This article was originally published by Open Society Foundations. It is reprinted here with permission.