Can inmate peer educators be used to deliver the inmate information and education requirements of standard 115.33? If so, under what circumstances and are there any limitations?
Peer education models have been successful in certain confinement settings because sensitive information may be more readily accepted when presented by someone that inmates can identify with, such as a fellow inmate. Sexual abuse is a difficult subject to talk about. It may be easier for inmates to learn about it from their peers, rather than from a staff member. Inmates may be more likely to trust in policies and practices conveyed through peer-led classes than those delivered by staff. Peer educators can make the education presentations more relatable and easier to understand for their peers. PREA standard 115.33 requires generally that inmates receive certain information regarding the agency’s sexual abuse- and sexual harassment-prevention policies and procedures during the intake process, and comprehensive inmate education regarding sexual abuse and harassment prevention and response mechanisms within 30 days of intake.
The PREA standards provide some limitations on an agency’s use of inmate assistants. Specifically, in the context of sexual abuse allegations, incident response, and investigations, the standards prohibit the reliance:
On inmate interpreters, inmate readers, or other types of inmate assistants except in limited circumstances where an extended delay in obtaining an effective interpreter could compromise the inmate’s safety, the performance of first-response duties under standard 115.64, or the investigation of the inmate’s allegations. See 28 C.F.R. § 115.16(c).
However, DOJ has determined that a properly developed and executed inmate peer education program does not violate this provision for purposes of providing the inmate education required by standard 115.33. Consistent with the theme of the PREA standards requiring staff, contractors, and volunteers who have contact with inmates to be screened, trained, and supervised, so too must any inmate peer educators. Inmate peer educators must be effectively screened for appropriateness, be effectively trained in the requirements of the standard, utilize an effective inmate education curriculum, and be effectively supervised by qualified staff.
When determining compliance with standard 115.33 where an agency relies upon an inmate peer education program, DOJ-certified auditors will examine the effectiveness of the program by, among other things, interviewing inmate recipients of the peer education training program to ensure that the recipients received training consistent with the requirements of the standard.