Through a cooperative agreement between BJA and Impact Justice

Frequently Asked Questions

The final Department of Justice PREA Standards became effective on August 20, 2012.  Since then, DOJ, which was responsible for promulgating the final Standards, has provided interpretive guidance in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to address questions of first impression when they raise issues that are broadly relevant to the application and interpretation of the Standards. On this page, you will find all FAQs issued by DOJ to date. DOJ will continue to meet and resolve questions of first impression and the guidance it develops will be posted as it becomes available.

Please note that Standards referenced throughout this FAQ often apply to multiple sets of PREA Standards. Along with different standard numbers, the different sets of standards use different terminology to refer to the population they house including “inmate,” “detainee,” and “resident.” When referencing a standard that applies equally to all facilities covered under PREA, the language in the question and answer will, unless specified, refer to the Adult Prisons & Jails standard numbers and use the term “inmate” to refer generally to the populations in those facilities. The FAQ search functionality uses the standard numbering from the Adult Prisons and Jails, regardless of the specific setting. When a standard is selected, the search will identify all FAQs related to that standard across all standard settings.

When selecting filters below, you may select multiple categories or standard numbers by holding “Ctrl” (or “Command” for Macs) before making a selection. Press “Clear” to begin a new search.

The “Expand All” link will reveal all FAQ search results. To print the results, use the "Print Selection" button, which expands all of them automatically in the printed document. If you want to see all unfiltered results, use the "Clear" button to remove previous selections.

Search FAQs

Nov 14, 2018
Q:

How do I find out more about the Department of Justice grant programs that will be impacted if my governor does not submit a certification of compliance or an assurance?

A:

The DOJ offices operating these grant programs have each released FAQs regarding the impact of PREA on their programs. Click the links below to access the corresponding grant program FAQ:

Bureau of Justice Assistance Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) FAQ

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Title II Part B Formula Grants FAQ

Revised November 14, 2018, January 30, 2017, and April 19, 2016. Original posting date June 3, 2015.

Standard Numbers: 115.501
Categories: Governor's Certification, Penalty
Jul 20, 2018
Q:

Are there criminal records background check and training requirements for individuals who have regular contact with inmates, residents, or detainees, and who provide recurring services to the agency, or on behalf of the agency?  Such services are provided inside facilities pursuant to an informal arrangement, agreement, or understanding, rather than a written, formal contract or agreement.

A:

In instances where services are provided to a PREA-covered confinement facility by another entity or individual on a recurring basis, the individuals providing those services are subject to the criminal records background check and training requirements of standards 115.17 (115.117/ 115.217/115.317) and 115.32 (115.132/115.232/115.332).

Examples of such services include, but are not limited to, the following: the provision of vocational training, counseling, general education classes, reentry planning guidance, medical or dental treatment, and/or mental/behavioral health treatment. In some cases, these services are provided pursuant to state or local law. Generally, however, they are provided under a memorandum of understanding or an intergovernmental or interagency agreement. In keeping with the Department of Justice’s broad interpretation of the term “contract” for purposes of providing interpretive guidance on the PREA standards, the individuals providing these services are required to receive training equivalent to that provided to individuals providing services under a formal contract.

July 20, 2018 Update: Some practitioners have misconstrued this guidance to mean that agency staff, contractors, and volunteers are only required to submit to an agency criminal records background check and applicable agency-required training if they have regular and recurring contracts with inmates, residents, and detainees. Instead, this guidance is intended to make a distinction between employees, contractors, and volunteers as unambiguously defined in the standards on the one hand, and service providers who have no formal direct relationship with the confining agency on the other hand.  In the former situation, these requirements apply to any person “who may have contact” with inmates. In the latter situation (covered by this FAQ), service providers having no formal or direct relationship with an agency must be subject to criminal background checks and training requirements only if they have regular or recurring contacts with inmates inside the facility.

Revised July 20, 2018 and September 28, 2015. Original posting date December 2, 2014

Standard Numbers: 115.17, 115.32
Categories: Background Checks, Contract Services, Training
Jul 20, 2018
Q:

If prior objective risk screenings under PREA Standard 115.41 (or other information known to an agency) indicate that an inmate has previously experienced sexual victimization, how should screening staff approach the issue during subsequent screenings and reassessments, so as to be sensitive to the potential for retraumatizing the inmate?

A:

PREA Standard 115.41 requires facilities to screen inmates for risk of sexual victimization or sexual predation during intake at a facility and upon transfer to another facility. Risk screening reassessments are required within “a set time period, not to exceed 30 days from the inmate’s arrival at the facility,” and when warranted due to certain events listed in the Standard. One of the factors that must be taken into consideration during risk determinations is “[w]hether the inmate has previously experienced sexual victimization.” See PREA Standard 115.41(d)(8).

While facilities are required to consider prior sexual victimization during each risk screening, the Standards do not specify any particular manner in which to make such an inquiry, nor do they require that the question be posed in the same manner every time. If an inmate has already reported a history of prior sexual victimization during a previous risk screening by the agency or facility, screening staff could ask during subsequent screenings if the inmate has “previously experienced sexual victimization” that he or she has not already reported to the confining agency or facility. Screening staff must include sexual victimization reported during prior risk screenings, as well as any previously undisclosed sexual victimization, in the risk screening tool.   

This process avoids requiring an inmate to repeatedly report the details of a traumatic event, while: (1) providing the inmate an opportunity to disclose an incident of victimization that occurred after the prior risk screening; and (2) providing the inmate an opportunity to disclose an incident that the inmate did not feel comfortable reporting during prior risk screenings.

Standard Numbers: 115.41
Categories: Screening
Jun 20, 2018
Q:

In secure juvenile facilities, must security staff be present during medical and mental health assessments and consultations for purposes of meeting the minimum staffing ratio requirements? Also, must security staff be present during clinical group therapy sessions?

A:

If the medical or mental health assessment, consultation, or group therapy session is conducted by a medical practitioner or mental health practitioner and such services require, pursuant to that practitioner’s license or certification, patient-practitioner confidentiality, then security staff need not be present during these services. The absence of security staff during the provision of these services will not be considered a violation of the minimum staffing ratio requirement in PREA Standard 115.313(c). However, the PREA Standards also do not prohibit the presence of security staff.

Who counts as a medical practitioner, a mental health practitioner, and security staff pursuant to the PREA Juvenile Facility Standards?

Medical Practitioner is defined as a “health professional who, by virtue of education, credentials, and experience, is permitted by law to evaluate and care for patients within the scope of his or her professional practice.” See PREA Standard 115.5. Examples of such practitioners may include L.P.N., R.N., B.S.N., P.A., N.P., M.D., etc.

Mental Health Practitioner is defined as a mental health professional who, by virtue of education, credentials, and experience, is permitted by law to evaluate and care for patients within the scope of his or her professional practice.” See PREA Standard 115.5. Examples of such practitioners may include L.C.S.W., LPC, Psy.D., etc.

Security Staff is defined as “employees primarily responsible for the supervision and control of… residents in housing units, recreational areas, dining areas, and other program areas of the facility.” See PREA Standard 115.5. In another FAQ, the Department of Justice explains that certain additional categories of staff not typically thought of as “security staff” may also be included in the minimum staffing ratios under certain conditions.

See https://www.prearesourcecenter.org/node/3254. For the Department of Justice’s FAQ on how auditors evaluate compliance with the minimum staffing ratios, see https://www.prearesourcecenter.org/node/5414.

Standard Numbers: 115.5, 115.13
Categories: Definitions, Staffing Ratio
May 18, 2018
Q:

Do the PREA Standards require that the terminology and/or definitions that a correctional agency uses in policies, lesson plans, educational materials, and other documentation for terms defined by the PREA Standards, including “sexual abuse” and “sexual harassment,” match precisely the definitions in Standard 115.5 and Standard 115.6? 

A:

No. Agencies need not use the precise verbiage of the definitions specified in the PREA Standards when using those terms in policies, lesson plans, educational materials, or other documentation relevant to the PREA Standards. So long as, when referencing a term defined in Standard 115.5 and Standard 115.6, the agency documentation and definitions accurately and completely reflect all of the information contained in the PREA Standard definitions, the agency need not quote the definitions in Standard 115.5 and Standard 115.6 verbatim.

Agencies should be mindful to use respectful and appropriate language, and avoid terminology that could be viewed as offensive, outdated, or a slur. The importance of appropriate and professional language should be conveyed through PREA training and educational materials.

Finally, if agencies choose to deviate from the definitions of “sexual abuse” and “sexual harassment” laid out in PREA Standard 115.6, they should take care not to minimize the weight of these terms with lesser terms such as “sexual misconduct,” “undue familiarity,” or “official misconduct.” If state law uses such lesser terms in prohibiting conduct that is defined as “sexual abuse” or “sexual harassment” by the PREA Standards, the criminal code may be cited, specifically noting the underlying conduct constitutes a violation of the PREA Standards. For example: “The offense conduct for a criminal violation of ‘undue familiarity’ also constitutes ‘sexual abuse’ under the PREA Standards.”

Standard Numbers: 115.5, 115.6
Categories: Definitions
Apr 18, 2018
Q:

The PREA Standards provide many obligations that are “facility specific,” such as staffing plans, the auditing timeline, coordinated response plans and, in most cases, a facility-based PREA Compliance Manager. When institutions have multiple components or serve diverse populations, how does the term “facility” apply for purpose of compliance with the PREA Standards?

A:

The PREA Standards define “facility” as “a place, institution, building (or part thereof), set of buildings, structure, or area (whether or not enclosing a building or set of buildings) that is used by an agency for the confinement of individuals.” See PREA Standard 115.5.

Because the definition of “facility” may include, on the one hand, a part of a building and, on the other hand, a set of buildings, the standards are not highly prescriptive on this determination.  Agencies have some discretion with respect to how they define “facility” for purposes of PREA.

In most cases, the determination about what constitutes a “facility” will be common sense and obvious. For example, a (fictional) single ten-story building known as the Sunshine County Jail that houses adult inmates who are pre-adjudication or serving short sentences, with housing units containing a variety of security levels acting under one set of policies and procedures, and that is overseen by a single warden will be considered one jail “facility.”

As institutions become more complex, the determination about what constitutes a “facility” also becomes more complex. For example, assume that the Sunshine County Jail also has one small Annex building for work-release inmates across the street from the main building, and a court-holding area on the second floor of the Sunshine County Courthouse three blocks away from the main building. In this case, some may assume that all three areas are part of the one “facility” known as the Sunshine County Jail, while others may believe that there are three facilities: a jail, a lockup, and a community confinement facility.

The PREA Standards do not dictate which determination is correct. Rather, the Department of Justice has identified a number of factors that agencies should consider when making such determinations. While not exhaustive, the factors below provide suggested guidance on whether to classify an institution as a single “facility” or multiple “facilities.”

Factors Indicating Single “Facility”

Factors Indicating Separate "Facilities"

Single Responsible Agency Multiple Responsible Agencies
Single Superintendent/Warden Multiple Superintendents/Wardens
Same Policies and Procedures Different Policies and Procedures
Same/Similar Inmate Populations Distinct/Different Inmate Populations
More Inmate Mingling Less Inmate Mingling
Many Staff Interchangeable Few Staff Interchangeable
Unified Mission Different Missions
Geographically Close Geographically Distant
Identical Inmate Reporting Mechanisms Different Inmate Reporting Mechanisms

First, regardless how a specific facility is defined, it should be defined consistently for all PREA purposes. For example, if the three Sunshine County Jail buildings are defined as one “facility” for purposes of having a single “facility-specific” staffing plan, then it should be defined the same way for purposes of determining the agency’s PREA audit schedule, during any given three-year PREA Audit Cycle.While agencies have some discretion in determining what constitutes a “facility,” there are a number of caveats necessary to remain consistent with the PREA Standards.

Second, an agency may not define “facilities” in order to defeat or avoid the requirements in the PREA Standards. For example, if the main building in the Sunshine County Jail contains two housing units on the second floor for youthful inmates (inmates under age 18), the agency may not define those two housing units as a separate “juvenile facility” in order to avoid the separation requirements of the “Youthful Inmate Standard.” This PREA Standard (115.14) is applicable in prisons, jails, and lockups, but not in juvenile facilities.

Third, agencies do not have discretion with respect to determining which set of facility standards applies to its defined facilities. The PREA Standards define each of the five facility types, and the determination of which set of standards apply to a defined “facility” is determined by the facility’s “primary use.” See PREA Standard 115.5. For example, the vast majority of individuals confined at the Sunshine County complex are considered to be “inmates” under the PREA Standards. Assuming that Sunshine County defines all three of its buildings as a single “facility,” then the Prison and Jail PREA Standards apply to the entire facility – and not the less onerous Lockup PREA Standards.

Fourth, agencies should be aware that the larger and more inclusive the agency’s use of the term “facility” is, the more difficult, complex, time-consuming (and hence, more costly) the audits of those facilities may be. Accordingly, agencies should avoid being over inclusive in their use of the term “facility.”  

Standard Numbers: 115.5
Categories: Definitions
Apr 18, 2018
Q:

It is sometimes necessary for local facilities to temporarily hold inmates who are transferred from other facilities or agencies, either pursuant to a state statute (with or without a per diem or other financial consideration), or through informal contracts (or a contract providing only for the payment of the per diem), in order to address a function of the judicial system or law enforcement agency, such as adjudication of parole or probation violations or if a state inmate is returned temporarily to the local facility for a court appearance or testimony. Do these arrangements constitute contracts for the confinement of inmates pursuant to PREA Standard 115.12 (Standard 115.212 and Standard 115.312)?

A:

When a local facility houses inmates transferred temporarily from another facility or agency for a function necessitated by the judicial system or law enforcement agency, such as adjudication of parole or probation violations or for a court appearance or testimony, the arrangement does not, in and of itself, constitute a contract for the confinement of inmates for the purposes of Standard 115.12 (Standard 115.212 and Standard 115.312), even if the local jurisdiction is paid a per diem or otherwise compensated pursuant to state statute or informal agreement. The state/agency need not require PREA compliance by the local facilities to maintain arrangements with regard to temporary housing for the purpose of probation or parole violations or temporary transfers for court appearances or testimony.

Revised April 18, 2018. Original posting date February 19, 2014. 

Standard Numbers: 115.12
Categories: Contracting, Definitions
Oct 03, 2017
Q:

Is comparing the total number of security staff with the total number of residents in a secure juvenile facility an acceptable way to calculate whether the facility is complying with the minimum staffing ratios required by PREA Standard 115.313(c)?

A:

No. Standard 115.313(c) states: “Each secure juvenile facility shall maintain staff ratios of a minimum of 1:8 during resident waking hours and 1:16 during resident sleeping hours, except during limited and discrete exigent circumstances, which shall be fully documented. Only security staff shall be included in these ratios. Any facility that, as of the date of publication of this final rule, is not already obligated by law, regulation, or judicial consent decree to maintain the staffing ratios set forth in this paragraph shall have until October 1, 2017, to achieve compliance.” For additional information regarding who may be counted as security staff, see this FAQ: www.prearesourcecenter.org/node/3254.  

Because the minimum staffing ratios enumerated in Standard 115.313(c) apply to the supervision of every juvenile resident in a facility, compliance will depend on the location of each resident, or group of residents, and the location of security staff at any given time. In order to calculate whether a facility is complying with the required staffing ratios, it is necessary to: 

  • Determine how juvenile residents are housed and programmed within the facility; 
  • Examine how security staff members are deployed throughout the facility; 
  • Review historical juvenile resident placement and staffing deployment; and 
  • Observe actual supervision practices in the facility.

The following hypothetical example, focused on juvenile facility “Alpha,” illustrates why comparing the total number of security staff with the total number of residents in a secure facility is not an acceptable way to calculate whether a facility is complying with the minimum staffing ratios required by PREA Standard 115.313(c), and demonstrates how compliance with the required ratios depends on the location of residents and security staff in a facility at any given time. 

Juvenile facility “Alpha” currently has 80 residents and 10 security staff on duty during non-sleeping hours. 

  • On Alpha facility’s housing unit A, there are currently 16 residents during non-sleeping hours, and there are two security staff posted on this unit actively supervising the 16 residents, creating a ratio of 1:8.
  • On Alpha facility’s housing unit B, there are currently 14 residents during non-sleeping hours, and there are two security staff posted on this unit actively supervising the 14 residents, creating a ratio of 1:7. 
  • On Alpha facility’s housing unit C, there are currently 18 residents during non-sleeping hours, and there are two security staff posted on this unit actively supervising the 18 residents, creating a ratio of 1:9. For 30 minutes during each 8-hour shift during non-sleeping hours, a roaming security staff member enters housing unit C and actively supervises the 18 juveniles, along with the two security staff members who are already posted there. This briefly creates a ratio of 1:6.  

Although juvenile facility Alpha has 80 residents and 10 security staff during non-sleeping hours, it is not in compliance with Standard 115.313(c) because of the staffing ratio on housing unit C during non-sleeping hours. Although the roaming security staff member briefly increases the ratio to 1:6 on unit C, this unit has a 1:9 ratio when the roaming staff is not present. 

The hypothetical example above also illustrates that juvenile facilities which comply with the required staffing ratios for short periods of time are not in compliance with Standard 115.313(c). Compliance with this standard must be “institutionalized” throughout the facility over a sustained period of time. For more information regarding what institutionalized means, see this FAQ: www.prearesourcecenter.org/node/3217.  

Security staff members supervising juvenile residents via remote video monitoring do not count in the minimum ratio requirements. Video monitoring and/or control room staff typically cannot hear residents, promptly respond to cries for help, are typically responsible for monitoring countless youth in multiple locations, and often have a myriad of other duties such as controlling movement and answering telephones. However, security staff members in security cages may count, if these staff are dedicated to supervising juvenile residents in a single unit, have a meaningful line of sight into the unit without the assistance of technology (e.g., video monitors), can hear the residents, and are able to respond immediately to any emergencies.

Relevant Definitions from the PREA Standards

Standard 115.5 defines “secure juvenile facility” as a facility “in which the movements and activities of individual residents may be restricted or subject to control through the use of physical barriers or intensive staff supervision. A facility that allows residents with access to the community to achieve treatment or correctional objectives, such as through educational or employment programs, typically will not be considered to be a secure juvenile facility.”

Standard 115.5 defines “security staff” as “employees primarily responsible for the supervision and control of… residents in housing units, recreational areas, dining areas, and other program areas of the facility.”

PREA Standard 115.5 defines “exigent circumstances” as meaning “any set of temporary or unforeseen circumstances that require immediate action in order to combat a threat to the security or institutional order of a facility.”

Standard Numbers: 115.13
Categories: Compliance, Definitions, Staffing Ratio
Aug 17, 2017
Q:

Is an agency compliant with Standard 115.42(g) or Standard 115.242(f) if it places Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Intersex (LGBTI) inmates or residents in a dedicated facility, housing unit, or wing solely on the basis of such identification or status, absent a consent decree, legal settlement, or legal judgment?

Standard 115.42(g) states: 
“The agency shall not place LGBTI inmates in dedicated facilities, units, or wings 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.”

A:

No. Placement in a dedicated facility, housing unit, or wing that houses only LGBTI inmates or residents violates Standard 115.42(g) or Standard 115.242(f), unless it was established in connection with a consent decree, legal settlement, or legal judgment for the purpose of protecting such inmates. In practical terms, placement is based “solely” on LGBTI status when only LGBTI inmates or residents are eligible for such placement. This is true whether such placement is made pursuant to policy or in practice, and regardless of whether an inmate volunteers for—or requests to be placed in—such a facility, housing unit, or wing.

For example, because they are evidence of de facto placement based solely on status, absent a consent decree, legal settlement, or legal judgment, a facility, housing unit, and wing are prohibited under Standard 115.42(g) or Standard 115.242(f) if they: 

  • House only vulnerable LGBTI inmates or residents;
  • House only another subset of LGBTI inmates or residents; and/or
  • Otherwise exclude all non-LGBTI inmates or residents

Some agencies and facilities have had success establishing housing units or wings reserved for inmates or residents who are designated as potentially vulnerable through the screening process. In addition to LGBTI inmates, who are at an increased risk for sexual abuse and sexual harassment, these units or wings may, for example, house male inmates who are small in stature, inmates who have a gender non-conforming appearance, a disability, and a past history of being sexually abused. It is important to ensure that these units or wings for vulnerable inmates or residents do not include individuals who screen positively as likely perpetrators of abuse. For example, a convicted sex offender may be designated as vulnerable because of his charges or other factors, and may require protective custody, but he would not be an appropriate candidate for a vulnerable persons’ unit or wing, if screening information indicates that he may be sexually aggressive towards other inmates. A strong screening and classification system enables these units or wings to provide increased safety for vulnerable inmates without requiring restrictive measures, such as 22-hour in-cell confinement, that are often found in protective custody.

Standard Numbers: 115.42
Categories: LGBTI Inmates/Residents/Detainees/Staff, Placement Decisions, Screening
Aug 17, 2017
Q:

Is there a limit to the number of years that a state can submit an assurance without a reduction in Department of Justice (DOJ) grant funding?

A:

Pursuant to the PREA amendment under the Justice for All Reauthorization Act (JFARA), signed into law on December 16, 2016 (Pub. L. No. 114-324), the assurance option will sunset six years following JFARA’s date of enactment. See 34 U.S.C. §30307(e)(2)(D)(ii). Therefore, the last year that governors will have the option to submit an assurance to DOJ will be for Audit Year 3 of Cycle 3, ending on August 19, 2022, which will impact FY2023 DOJ grant funds. 

The PREA amendment under JFARA also provides that for two years following the assurance sunset in December 2022, a governor who can certify that the state has audited at least 90% of facilities under the operational control of the executive branch may request that the Attorney General allow submission of an emergency assurance. See 34 U.S.C. §30307(e)(2)(D)(iii). Therefore, the last year that governors will have the option to request and submit an emergency assurance to DOJ will be for Audit Year 2 of Cycle 4, ending on August 19, 2024, which will impact FY2025 DOJ grant funds.

Revised August 17, 2017. Original posting date May 16, 2014.

Standard Numbers: 115.501
Categories: Governor's Certification