Do the prohibitions in the PREA standards against cross-gender pat searches of female inmates, and male and female juvenile residents; cross-gender strip and visual body cavity searches; and cross-gender viewing of inmates’, residents’, and detainees’ breasts, buttocks, and genitalia extend to confinement facility staff who are supervising inmates, residents, or detainees (referred to inmates in the answer below) outside of confinement facilities?


Yes. In general, confinement facility staff who supervise inmates outside of facilities are required to comply with the PREA standards, and the opposite gender prohibitions identified in this question apply to such staff.

However, nothing in the standards prohibits male staff members from supervising female inmates, or female staff from supervising male inmates. The standards only make clear that agencies, “enable inmates to shower, perform bodily functions, and change clothing without nonmedical staff of the opposite gender viewing their breasts, buttocks, or genitalia [except in exigent circumstances or pursuant to routine cell checks].” See 28 C.F.R. § 115.15(a) and (b).

The Department of Justice has received specific questions regarding prohibitions related to the supervision of female inmates who are pregnant and undergoing related medical procedures in external hospital settings. Male staff members may supervise such inmates. However, male staff are not permitted under the PREA standards to observe disrobed female inmates undergoing procedures during which they can view females’ breasts, buttocks, or genitalia. In such cases, accommodations could be made – through the use of privacy screens, curtains, or other, similar measures – that allow female inmates to receive medical care while male facility staff members remain in near proximity and carry out their supervisory responsibilities effectively, without viewing females’ breasts, buttocks, or genitalia.

In addition, absent exigent circumstances, male staff members are not permitted under the standards to conduct cross-gender pat searches,1 or cross-gender strip and visual body cavity searches outside of facilities. An exigent circumstance is defined in the standards as, “any set of temporary and unforeseen circumstances that require immediate action in order to combat a threat to the security or institutional order of a facility.” See 28 C.F.R. § 115.5.

1This cross-gender pat down prohibition for male staff members applies as of August 20, 2015, or August 20, 2017 for facilities whose rated capacity does not exceed 50 inmates.

Cross-Gender Supervision