February 3, 2020

What inmate education and information must be available to inmates before an external reporting mechanism may be considered compliant with PREA Standard 115.51(b) and PREA Standard 115.33?


PREA Standard 115.33(a) requires that “[d]uring the intake process, inmates shall receive information explaining…how to report incidents or suspicions of sexual abuse or sexual harassment.” PREA Standard 115.33(f) requires that agencies “ensure that key information is continuously and readily available or visible to inmates through posters, inmate handbooks, or other written formats.”

One item that is generally considered to be “key information” is the ability of inmates to “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 inmates to remain anonymous upon request.” See PREA Standard 115.51(b).

Pursuant to these Standards, the general requirements include:

  • Clear and accurate information about which reporting mechanisms satisfy the external reporting requirement;
  • Information must be readily accessible to inmates and available from multiple sources (e.g. signs, admission and orientation materials, etc.);
  • Information must be consistent among the multiple sources; and
  • How to utilize the reporting mechanisms, if the inmate wishes to remain anonymous.

By contrast, the following three examples illustrate scenarios that are not consistent with these standards:

  1. The facility informs inmates only that they “may report sexual abuse or sexual harassment by: (1) telling any staff member, (2) filing a grievance, (3) sending a note to the PREA Compliance Manager, or (4) contacting the PREA hotline at 555-555-5555.” 

This does not satisfy PREA Standard 115.33 or PREA Standard 115.51(b) because the facility does not indicate which avenue, if any, is the external reporting entity. While an inmate could “guess” that the PREA hotline is an external reporting entity, it is at least equally likely that the PREA hotline is an internal agency contact. In addition, there is no indication of how the inmate may request anonymity.

  1. The facility informs inmates only that they “may report sexual abuse or sexual harassment to the State OIG, an external entity, by calling the PREA hotline at #55. Inmates may request anonymity – that their identity will not be provided to agency personal.” However, inmates are required to enter their identification number prior to gaining access to any call, and facility signage above the phones indicates that “all calls are subject to monitoring and recording by facility staff.”

This does not satisfy PREA Standards 115.33 or PREA Standard 115.51(b) because inmates are provided with conflicting information, and there is no reasonable basis to believe that the State OIG permits anonymity.

  1. The facility provides all inmates with a handbook at intake that, among other things, informs them that they “may report sexual abuse or sexual harassment by writing to the State OIG, an external reporting entity, at 555 Maple Lane, Capital, State 55555. To do so, inmates must request a prepaid envelope from their Unit Manager. All outgoing mail is subject to inspection by staff. Mail will not be accepted without the inmate’s name and identification number on the envelope.”

This does not satisfy PREA Standard 115.33 or PREA Standard 115.51(b) because there is no information informing inmates about their ability, or how, to request anonymity. In addition, the procedures listed in the handbook would lead most inmates to believe that their report could not be anonymous.

It is important to note that some agencies change their mechanism for inmates to make external reports pursuant to PREA Standard 51(b) over the course of time. When this happens, agencies should ensure that older signage, handbooks, and other educational materials are updated appropriately. It is not uncommon for facilities to maintain legacy information for inmates describing two or more different external reporting mechanisms, even while some of those mechanisms no longer exist. The presence of conflicting and outdated information for inmates on this issue creates confusion and diminishes the effectiveness of this important reporting avenue, and could potentially lead a PREA auditor to find noncompliance.

Finally, inmate education materials and staff training often provide conflated and confusing information regarding how inmates may access the external reporting entity pursuant to PREA Standard 115.51(b), and how to access outside confidential support services pursuant to PREA Standard 115.53. These standards serve different purposes, and each has distinct requirements (e.g., anonymity versus confidentiality). In addition, confidential emotional support service providers are typically not appropriate entities to serve as the external reporting entity. Accordingly, it is important that educational materials make clear the purpose and mechanisms for each of these services, so they are not conflated.

Inmate Education