At its most basic, the standard has three parts. First, it prohibits all cross-gender strip and body cavity searches except in exigent circumstances and disallows the use of cross-gender pat searches for female inmates in jails, prisons, and community confinement facilities (the juvenile facility standards prohibit cross-gender pat searches of both male and female residents). Second, it provides for a “knock and announce” practice when an opposite gender staff member enters a housing unit and, more generally, provides that facilities are to implement policies and procedures that 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 when such viewing is incidental to routine cell checks. Third, the standard also provides protection from intrusive searches for the purpose of determining gender for transgender or intersex inmates.
As a practical matter, many agencies already do only same-gender pat-down searches. For example, some juvenile agencies have BFOQ positions based on the privacy rights of girls, and some adult jails that house immigration detainees who are Muslim have banned female staff from searching those detainees. Other agency practices consistent with this standard include knock and announce policies, the use of privacy shields in shower and bathroom areas, and staffing patterns that ensure the availability of male and female staff to perform searches when necessary.
Furthermore, in crafting the final rule, DOJ determined that at least at least 27 states ban the practice, and that it is common practice in several other states for male officers to perform pat-down searches of female prisoners only under exigent circumstances. DOJ believes that adopting such a practice furthers PREA’s mandate without compromising security in corrections settings, infringing impermissibly on the employment rights of officers, or adversely affecting male inmates.
In order to mitigate agency burdens for implementing the staffing changes that PREA standards may require for jails, prisons, and community confinement facilities, DOJ has provided that agencies will have additional time to come into compliance with this particular standard (August 2015, or August 2017 for facilities whose rated capacity is less than 50 inmates).
DOJ is aware that a prohibition on certain cross-gender searches and viewing will not solve the problem of sexual abuse in totality. DOJ is hopeful that adequate training of staff on conducting searches in a professional and respectful manner will decrease the likelihood of reports of sexual abuse due to an intrusive or improperly conducted search.