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?


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.”