What is a PREA audit?

The National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape (PREA Standards) require all covered confinement facilities to be audited at least once during every three-year audit cycle. The first audit cycle began on August 20, 2013 and ended on August 19, 2016. Subsequent cycles occur on the same dates every three years, and the cycle governs the scheduling requirements for audits. During each three-year audit cycle, every facility operated by a confinement agency, or by a private organization on behalf of the agency, must be audited at least once (§115.401(a)); and at least one-third of each facility type operated by the agency, or by a private organization on behalf of the agency, must be audited during each one-year period (§115.401(b)). 

All facility types covered by the PREA Standards — including adult prisons and jails, lockups, community confinement facilities, and juvenile facilities, whether operated by a state, local, corporate, nonprofit authority, or by DOJ — are subject to the auditing requirements. Some lockups are unique in that the audit requirement, and a small number of other requirements, do not apply to “lockups that are not utilized to house detainees overnight.” (See §115.193 and this related FAQ.)  

The audit process established by the PREA Standards is designed specifically as an audit of practices. It is not possible to assess compliance with the PREA Standards only through review of written policies and procedures. Each PREA auditor is trained to thoroughly review and analyze an agency’s and facility’s practices to ensure that compliance is institutionalized. Furthermore, the burden of demonstrating compliance is on the audited agency (§115.401(e)). The PREA audit thus requires auditors to be onsite for an appropriate length of time; conduct a thorough site review of each audited facility, including functional tests of key systems and operations; interview a representative sample of inmates, staff, contractors, and volunteers; and collect and analyze detailed documentation that provides the evidence base for determining the facility’s practices during the course of at least the prior twelve months. 

The specific minimum requirements for the conduct of the audit are found in §§115.401-405 in the PREA Standards, and supplemental information can be found in relevant FAQs issued by the DOJ PREA Working Group and in the PREA Auditor Handbook. All agencies and facilities preparing for their audit(s) are encouraged to review all of these resources. 

Process Map

The Process Map provides a helpful visual representation of the four phases of the PREA audit process: pre-onsite phase, onsite phase, evidence review and interim report phase, and corrective action and final report phase. Each phase includes a selection of the key steps the auditor must take to conduct an objective, thorough, and high-quality audit. The Process Map provides valuable information about what to expect during the PREA audit, and audited agencies and facilities are encouraged to access and review the Process Map as an important step to prepare for their audit(s).