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Through a cooperative agreement between BJA and NCCD

PREA Essentials

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), a federal law enacted in 2003, was created to eliminate sexual abuse in confinement. In addition to providing federal funding for research, programs, training, and technical assistance to address the issue, the legislation mandated the development of national standards. The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission developed recommended national standards for reducing prison rape. The final standards became effective June 20, 2012, when they were published by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Federal Register. More recently, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released final standards for DHS confinement facilities, effective May 6, 2014.  

The PREA Resource Center (PRC) designed this PREA Essentials Page to guide professionals in their implementation of specific standards; therefore, this page is organized by standards categories, e.g., “prevention planning.”

Each category contains: (1) a brief synopsis summarizing the standards in that category, (2) links to an online version of those standards, (3) links to helpful resources related to those standards sorted by correctional facility type, and (4) where relevant, a discussion of some key issues raised by those particular standards. The issues and resources included here are not exhaustive, but rather offer a snapshot of those that may be of particular interest to practitioners working to comply with the standards. For specific questions regarding interpretation of the standards, please visit the PRC FAQs or contact the PRC.

For definitions related to the standards, click on the applicable standards to be connected to the General Definitions standard. It is important to read these definitions in order to gain a better understanding of their application to the standards (see p. 37199).

One additional organization note: The standards are numbered to help differentiate the correctional settings to which they apply. Standards with a two-digit extension such as .13 are for prisons and jails. Standards with a three-digit extension beginning with .1 followed by two digits, i.e., .113, are for lockups. Standards with a three-digit extension beginning with .2, i.e., .213, are for community confinement. Standards with a three-digit extension beginning with .3, i.e., .313, are for juvenile facilities.

For statistical data on the incidence of sexual abuse in various confinement settings, see Data and Statistics in the PRC library.

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1. Prevention Planning

The prevention planning standards cover a variety of topics designed to aid in the prevention of sexual abuse in confinement. These topics include zero tolerance, the PREA coordinator, contracting with other entities for confinement, supervision and monitoring, juveniles and youthful inmates or detainees, limits to cross-gender viewing and searches, inmates, detainees, and residents with disabilities or who are limited English proficient, hiring and promotion decisions, and upgrades to facilities and technologies.

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the prevention planning standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.

2. Responsive Planning

The responsive planning standards require agencies to take steps to ensure that all incidents of sexual abuse are investigated and that victims of sexual abuse have access to forensic medical exams and rape crisis advocates. Agencies that are unable to provide access to rape crisis advocates must document their efforts to secure advocacy services and provide access instead to either a qualified staff member from a community-based organization or a qualified agency staff member.

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the responsive planning standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.

3. Training and Education

These standards set out the requirements for training and educating employees, volunteers, contractors, inmates, residents, detainees, staff who investigate sexual abuse, and medical and mental health staff. The resources below offer information and curricula for training the different audiences. See below for links to the standards and helpful resources.

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the training and education standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.

4. Screening for Risk of Sexual Victimization and Abusiveness

The standards require inmates, detainees, and residents to be screened for risk of being sexually abused or sexually abusive; that screening information must be used to inform housing, bed, work, education, and program assignments for inmates and residents. The goal is to keep those individuals at high risk of victimization away from those at high risk of committing abuse. However, facilities may not simply place victims in segregated housing against their will unless a determination has been made that no alternative means of separation is available, and even then only under specified conditions and with periodic reassessment. Standard 115.43/115.342 requires agencies to document instances when a decision is made to place someone in segregated housing.2

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the screening standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.


[2] This does not apply to community confinement facilities or lockups.

5. Reporting

The standards require agencies to provide at least two internal reporting avenues and at least one way to report abuse to a public or private entity or office that is not part of the agency in order to allow inmates, detainees, and residents to remain anonymous upon request. An agency must also provide a way for third parties to report such abuse on behalf of an inmate, detainee, or resident. In addition, agencies are required to provide inmates and residents with access to outside victim advocates for emotional support services related to sexual abuse by giving them contact information for local, state, or national victim advocacy or rape crisis organizations and by enabling reasonable communication between inmates/residents and these organizations, with as much confidentiality as possible.

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the reporting standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.

6. Official Response Following an Inmate/Detainee/Resident Report

The standards governing an agency’s official response cover staff and agency reporting duties, the agency’s duty to protect someone at imminent risk of sexual abuse, the agency’s responsibility to report allegations of incidents occurring at another facility to that facility, staff first responder duties, coordinated response, prohibition on agreements that would limit the agency’s ability to separate alleged staff abusers from inmates/detainees/residents, and protection for staff and inmates/detainees/residents against retaliation for reporting sexual abuse or harassment.

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the official response standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.

7. Investigations

Agencies that conduct their own investigations into sexual abuse or harassment must do so promptly, thoroughly, and objectively. The standards require investigations whenever such allegations are made, including third-party and anonymous reports, and prohibit the termination of an investigation on the grounds that the alleged abuser or victim is no longer employed or housed by the facility or agency. In addition, agencies must use investigators who have received special training in conducting sexual abuse investigations.

The standards set forth requirements for gathering and preserving evidence, conducting compelled interviews, determining witness credibility, conducting administrative and criminal investigations, making referrals for criminal prosecution, and retaining records. The standards also provide for situations in which outside investigators perform investigations.

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the investigation standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.

8. Discipline

The standards require that staff be subject to discipline for violating agency policies regarding sexual abuse, with termination the presumptive discipline for staff engagement in sexual abuse. For violations of agency policies relating to sexual abuse or sexual harassment (other than actually engaging in sexual abuse), the standards call for sanctions to be commensurate with the nature and circumstances of the acts committed, the staff member’s disciplinary history, and the sanctions imposed for comparable offenses by other staff with similar histories. Terminations or resignations linked to committing acts of sexual abuse or violating such policies are to be reported to law enforcement (unless the conduct was clearly not criminal) and relevant licensing bodies.

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the discipline standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.

9. Medical and Mental Care

The standards require that all facilities provide timely, unimpeded access to emergency medical treatment and crisis intervention services, whose nature and scope are determined by practitioners according to their professional judgment. Inmate and resident victims of sexual abuse while incarcerated must be offered timely information about, and timely access to, emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infections prophylaxis, where medically appropriate.5 Where relevant, inmate and resident victims must also receive comprehensive information about, and timely access to, all lawful pregnancy-related medical services.6

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the medical and mental care standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.


[5] This section of the standard does not apply to lockups.

[6] This section of the standard does not apply to lockups.

10. Data Collection and Review

Agencies are required to collect and aggregate data regarding incidents of sexual abuse in order to detect possible patterns and to help prevent future incidents. This includes data from private facilities with which agencies contract for confinement. At a minimum, this data must include information sufficient to answer fully all questions in the most recent revision of the Survey of Sexual Violence (SSV) conducted by DOJ.

The standards require agencies to use the data to identify problem areas and take ongoing corrective action. They also require preparation of a publicly available, annual report for each facility and for the agency as a whole, comparing the current year’s data with data from prior years and providing an assessment of the agency’s progress in addressing sexual abuse. In addition, the standards govern the retention and publication of the underlying data on which the reports are based.

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the data collection standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.

11. Audits and State Compliance

The Audit Instrument for Adult Prisons and Jails was released on May 3, 2013. The instrument includes the following documents:

Additional information about the audit process will continue to be posted on the PRC website as it is made available from DOJ. 

STANDARDS. Click on the following links to access the audit and state compliance standards for Adult Prisons and Jails, Community Confinement Facilities, Juvenile Facilities, and Lockups.

12a. Other Issues - LGBTI and Gender-Nonconforming Inmates

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGBTI), and Gender-Nonconforming Inmates

The standards account in various ways for the particular vulnerabilities of inmates, detainees, and residents who are LGBTI or whose appearance or manner does not conform to traditional gender expectations. Standard 115.31/115.231/115.331 requires agencies to train employees in effective and professional communication with LGBTI and gender-nonconforming inmates and residents, and Standard 115.41/115.241/115.341 requires the screening process to consider whether the inmate or resident is, or is perceived to be, LGBTI or gender nonconforming.7 Standard 115.86/115.186/115.286/115.386 also requires that post-incident reviews consider whether the incident was motivated by LGBTI identification, status, or perceived status.

In addition, Standard 115.42/115.242/115.3428 prohibits agencies from placing LGBTI inmates and residents in dedicated facilities, units, or wings in adult prisons, jails, or community confinement facilities solely on the basis of such identification or status, unless such placement is in a dedicated facility, unit, or wing established in connection with a consent decree, legal settlement, or legal judgment for the purpose of protecting such inmates or residents. Such placement is not allowed at all in juvenile facilities. The standard also mandates that transgender and intersex inmates and residents be given the opportunity to shower separately from other inmates and residents.

Finally, the standards address some issues specific to transgender and intersex inmates, detainees, and residents. Standard 115.15/115.115/115.215/115.315 imposes a complete ban on searching or physically examining a transgender or intersex inmate/detainee/resident for the sole purpose of determining the person’s genital status. Agencies must train security staff in conducting professional and respectful cross-gender pat-down searches and searches of transgender and intersex individuals.


[7] In the lockup standards, Standards 115.131 and 115.141 do not specifically reference LGBTI identity or gender-nonconforming appearance. Standard 115.131 requires training on how to communicate effectively with all detainees, and Standard 115.141 requires staff to ask detainees about their own perceptions of vulnerability and to consider the physical build and appearance of detainees.

[8] This standard does not apply to lockups.

12b. Other Issues - Culture Change

A healthy, safe correctional culture that prioritizes prevention, reporting, and swift response is the cornerstone of any organized effort to eliminate sexual abuse in confinement. While the individual standards do not set specific requirements for culture change, the adoption and implementation of the standards will assist greatly in developing such a culture by requiring agencies and facilities to institutionalize a set of policies and practices that, among other things, will elevate the importance of agency and facility responsibilities to protect against sexual abuse.

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