Since 2012, IACP’s Elimination of Sexual Abuse in Confinement team has been striving to raise awareness among state and local law enforcement leaders regarding implications of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and the standards of compliance for lockups released by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The PREA standards are designed to enhance safety within facilities where people are detained for any amount of time, even if an agency only has one cell. Local law enforcement will not experience any federal penalties for not complying with the PREA standards, but there may be consequences for non-compliance. An agency could be found liable if a court were to determine that non-compliance with a national standard – even though voluntary – was evidence of negligence.
Since the release of the standards, DOJ has been developing a set of tools to help agencies demonstrate compliance through an audit. The audit instrument for lockups, consisting of a pre-audit questionnaire, auditor compliance tool, instructions for an audit tour, interview protocols, auditor summary report, process map, and checklist of documentation, is now available.
There may be some agencies that are unfamiliar with the PREA standards or the particulars of the audit standard. It’s important to understand that the federal government will not be coming to audit any agencies or facilities as a result of the PREA standards. Agencies initiate their own PREA compliance audits with independent auditors. The National PREA Resource Center (PRC) maintains a list of individuals who have been certified by DOJ to conduct PREA audits in lockups. There are currently nearly 300 individuals that DOJ has certified as auditors of adult facilities, including lockups; there are several upcoming training sessions scheduled for those interested in applying to become certified as a PREA auditor.
It is also important to recognize that the standards indicate facilities that do not detain people overnight are not subject to the audit standard. This means that if an agency does not regularly detain people overnight, it does not have to be audited to demonstrate compliance (see FAQ #5 at the PRC for a definition of “overnight”).
Even though an agency may not have to participate in the audit process, it may find value in electing to audit the facility. The auditor compliance tool for lockups could even be used to conduct a self-audit. An audit will help an agency’s leadership determine where there may be areas of physical, policy, or training risk and how to improve safety in the facility for detainees and officers.
Additional information about how PREA impacts law enforcement, including the audit process, is available from the PRC or by contacting IACP’s Elimination of Sexual Abuse in Confinement team at firstname.lastname@example.org. A summary of the PREA standards for lockups can be found in IACP’s brochure, Enhancing Safety and Reducing Liability in Police Lockups & Holding Cells.