Can an answering service be used to satisfy the requirement in standard 115.51 (b) that the agency provide an outside reporting mechanism?
No. Section 115.51 (b) states that, “The agency shall also provide at least one way for inmates to report abuse or harassment to a public or private entity or office that is not part of the agency, and that is able to receive and immediately forward inmate reports of sexual abuse and sexual harassment to agency officials, allowing the inmate to remain anonymous upon request.” A number of state agencies have reported to DOJ and the PREA Resource Center (PRC) that they have had difficulty finding an outside agency willing to take reports of sexual abuse from its prisons and have, as a means of satisfying the requirement in standard 115.51 (b), sought to hire an answering service to take such calls with the understanding that the answering service would then relay the report back to the agency immediately. This does not satisfy the requirement of the standard because an answering service is not a “public or private entity or office that is not part of the agency.” The intent of the standard is to provide inmates with a means to report to an entity or office with some autonomy. It is anticipated that availability of such an entity or office will increase the likelihood that victims will report sexual abuse within confinement facilities. An answering service in this context is, essentially, no more than an agent of or a contractor to the agency.