Through a cooperative agreement between BJA and Impact Justice

Frequently Asked Questions

The final Department of Justice PREA Standards became effective on August 20, 2012.  Since then, DOJ, which was responsible for promulgating the final Standards, has provided interpretive guidance in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to address questions of first impression when they raise issues that are broadly relevant to the application and interpretation of the Standards. On this page, you will find all FAQs issued by DOJ to date. DOJ will continue to meet and resolve questions of first impression and the guidance it develops will be posted as it becomes available.

Please note that Standards referenced throughout this FAQ often apply to multiple sets of PREA Standards. Along with different standard numbers, the different sets of standards use different terminology to refer to the population they house including “inmate,” “detainee,” and “resident.” When referencing a standard that applies equally to all facilities covered under PREA, the language in the question and answer will, unless specified, refer to the Adult Prisons & Jails standard numbers and use the term “inmate” to refer generally to the populations in those facilities. The FAQ search functionality uses the standard numbering from the Adult Prisons and Jails, regardless of the specific setting. When a standard is selected, the search will identify all FAQs related to that standard across all standard settings.

When selecting filters below, you may select multiple categories or standard numbers by holding “Ctrl” (or “Command” for Macs) before making a selection. Press “Clear” to begin a new search.

The “Expand All” link will reveal all FAQ search results. To print the results, use the "Print Selection" button, which expands all of them automatically in the printed document. If you want to see all unfiltered results, use the "Clear" button to remove previous selections.

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Jan 14, 2015
Q:What methods of communication may satisfy the external reporting mechanisms required by standards 115.51, 115.251, and 115.351 (b)? What are the required parameters of anonymity set forth by the standards for inmates who wish to make such reports anonymously?

The standards do not specify the precise reporting mechanisms required to satisfy these standards. However, the PREA Notice of Final Rule (NFR) makes clear that the Department intended to provide agencies with a degree of flexibility with respect to methods of reporting. See 77 Fed. Reg. 37156-57 (June 20, 2012). Accordingly, so long as the avenue(s) for external reporting provides all inmates (and residents) access to an external reporting entity allowing inmates to communicate in a manner that does not reveal the substance of the communication to agency or facility officials, and safeguards to the greatest extent possible the fact that the inmate utilized such mechanism, the reporting method may satisfy this requirement. A telephone, inmate correspondence, and email all may be acceptable avenues for inmates to contact the appropriate external entity.

The NFR also makes clear that the standards require the external reporting entity to accept anonymous reports, and also requires the entity to conceal the identity of the reporting inmate from agency and facility officials when the inmate requests anonymity. Supra. However, if the external entity knows the identity of the reporting inmate and the entity has a legal obligation to report allegations of sexual abuse to another external entity (such as law enforcement officials, or a social services agency in the event of a child abuse allegation), then the external reporting entity may reveal the identity of the reporting inmate to another external entity if required by law.

Finally, because the standards expressly permit the reporting inmate to maintain anonymity with respect to agency and facility officials, agencies must take great care to avoid reporting mechanisms that would necessarily expose the identity of the reporting inmate to facility staff and administrators.

Illustration One: A facility provides, as its only avenue for inmate external reporting, a mailing address to an external agency willing and able to fulfill the requirements of the standard. All regular outgoing inmate correspondence is subject to opening and inspection by facility staff. Further, all outgoing inmate correspondence must include a return address for the inmate including the inmate’s name.

To comply with the standard, the facility should ensure that inmate correspondence addressed to the designated external reporting entity remains unopened. Further, if the facility requires the name of the sending inmate on the letter, the facility should maintain strict policies and procedures that prohibit mailroom staff from revealing to other staff or administrators the fact that the named inmate sent correspondence to the sexual abuse reporting entity.

Illustration Two: A facility maintains a disciplinary isolation unit where inmates have extremely limited access to common areas and programming. Generally, in order for inmates in this unit to obtain access to the telephone, email, or materials for composing and sending correspondence, the inmate must request access from security staff supervising the housing unit.

To comply with the standard, all inmates (including those inmates in restrictive housing) must be afforded an avenue reasonably designed to safeguard knowledge within the facility about the fact that an inmate is making an external report of sexual abuse.

If correspondence is the only external reporting mechanism for inmates, then the facility may provide inmates in this unit with regular and timely access to a “lock box” rather than requiring the inmate to provide the correspondence to the unit’s security staff. Such a lock box should only be accessible by a designated agency official or selected officials. Similarly, if a hotline is the only external reporting mechanism, then configuration of the telephone should not make obvious that any inmate using the telephone system is making an allegation of sexual abuse. For example, if the hotline is a dedicated phone, then the phone should also be used for other purposes besides reporting sexual abuse.

Standard Numbers: 115.51
Categories: Definitions
Jan 14, 2015

Does my agency have to audit exactly one third of its facilities each year? We are on an ACA audit schedule and ACA does not audit exactly one third of our agencies per year. Do we need to change the auditing schedule to comply with PREA?


Standard 115.401 focuses on audit frequency, timeframes, and specifies, and requires that the agency shall ensure that each facility operated by the agency, or by a private organization on behalf of the agency, is audited at least once during each three-year period. The standards require an audit during each one-year period of at least one-third of each facility type (prison, jail, juvenile facility, overnight lockup, and community confinement facility) operated by an agency or by a private organization on behalf of an agency.

There are two other FAQs that focus on what happens if an agency does not audit exactly one-third of its facilities each year, as follows:

Please click here to read the FAQ that describes what happens to an agency’s three-year audit timeline if it fails to have the required minimum of one-third of its facilities audited by August 19, 2014.

Please click here to read the FAQ that addresses whether there is a time limit to the number of years that a state can submit an Assurance without a reduction in Department of Justice (DOJ) grant funding.

While agencies are not prohibited from coordinating the timing of ACA audits with PREA audits, agencies must audit one-third of each type of facility as specified in Standard 115.401(b), irrespective of the timing of any ACA audit schedule.

Standard Numbers: 115.401
Categories: Auditing
Oct 22, 2014

How is “housing unit” defined for the purposes of the PREA Standards?


The question has been raised in particular as it relates to facilities that have adjacent or interconnected units.

The most common concept of a housing unit is architectural. The generally agreed-upon definition is a space that is enclosed by physical barriers accessed through one or more doors of various types, including commercial-grade swing doors, steel sliding doors, interlocking sally port doors, etc. In addition to the primary entrance and exit, additional doors are often included to meet life safety codes. The unit contains sleeping space, sanitary facilities (including toilets, lavatories, and showers), and a dayroom or leisure space in differing configurations.

Many facilities are designed with modules or pods clustered around a control room. This multiple-pod design provides the facility with certain staff efficiencies and economies of scale. At the same time, the design affords the flexibility to separately house inmates of differing security levels, or who are grouped by some other operational or service scheme. Generally, the control room is enclosed by security glass, and in some cases, this allows inmates to see into neighboring pods. However, observation from one unit to another is usually limited by angled site lines. In some cases, the facility has prevented this entirely by installing one-way glass.

Both the architectural design and functional use of these multiple pods indicate that they are managed as distinct housing units.

Standard Numbers: 115.15
Categories: Cover-Up Rule, Definitions
Oct 22, 2014

Do employees who have contact with inmates need to be trained pursuant to standard 115.31 prior to being placed in positions that put them in contact with inmates?


Standard 115.31 outlines the topics on which all employees who have contact with inmates must be trained. All employees must receive training on these topics prior to having contact with inmates, except in very rare circumstances where a slight delay may be reasonable and the employee will not have unsupervised contact with inmates until the required training occurs. If, for example, a new employee who has not yet been trained finds himself or herself in a first-responder situation after a sexual assault has occurred, the consequences for the victim and for the investigation could be very serious and possibly beyond remedy. If the new employee does not know how to preserve physical evidence and finds himself or herself in a situation where there is physical evidence of a sexual assault, that evidence could be irrevocably lost because of the individual’s lack of training.

The Department does, however, recognize that in some agencies and facilities, comprehensive PREA training that goes beyond the basic training required in standard 115.31 may be conducted periodically and, as a result, agencies and facilities would have to leave open positions vacant for long periods of time if they waited to fill them until new staff members participated in comprehensive PREA training. The Department recognizes that open positions that are left vacant for long periods of time may have a negative impact on facility safety and security.

In light of these challenges, the Department has determined that while training on the specific topics outlined in standard 115.31 must occur before new staff members have contact with inmates (except as outlined above), agencies and facilities can implement effective ways to ensure that such training occurs, so that vacant positions are not left open for long periods of time. For example, agencies and facilities may offer pre-service orientation training that focuses on a host of issues critical to interacting with inmates and supporting safety and security in confinement settings, including all of the topics identified in standard 115.31. While more comprehensive, in-depth training may be provided later, the pre-service training must cover all of the topics identified in standard 115.31, including providing new staff members with a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities related to preventing, detecting, and responding to sexual abuse in the confinement settings. Such pre-service orientation training can be reinforced and enhanced by on-the-job training, where experienced and knowledgeable staff members partner and work with new hires to educate them further about the topics in standard 115.31. More comprehensive PREA training then could be provided at the next opportunity, but no later than the time required under standard 115.31(c).

Standard Numbers: 115.31
Categories: Training
Oct 22, 2014
Q:When a strip search or visual body cavity search is conducted by same-gender staff or medical staff of either gender, what restrictions are there on supervisors or other staff and personnel of the opposite gender observing the search?

Opposite-gender supervisors, staff, or other nonmedical personnel should generally not be permitted to observe the conduct of a same-gender strip search or visual body cavity search (absent exigent circumstances). In cases where supervisors who are opposite gender to the inmate being strip searched (either live or via video monitoring) are required to supervise or observe the strip search, a facility should use a privacy screen or other similar device to obstruct cross-gender viewing of an inmate’s breasts, buttocks, or genitalia. The privacy screen or other similar device need only be of sufficient height and position to obstruct viewing of the listed areas. In cases where other opposite-gender staff or personnel are in the vicinity of the strip search, similar precautions should also be used, unless the opposite-gender staff or personnel are of sufficient distance where the contours of the breasts, genitalia, or buttocks are not readily distinguishable. This interpretative guidance is not intended to require gender-specific staff posts.

Standard Numbers: 115.15
Categories: Searches, Cross-Gender Supervision
Sep 23, 2014

What is meant by “the use of physical barriers” and “intensive staff supervision” in the definition of a Secure Juvenile Facility in standard 115.5?


Standard 115.5 defines, in part, secure juvenile facility to mean “a juvenile facility in which the movements and activities of individual residents may be restricted or subject to control through the use of physical barriers or intensive staff supervision.”

This definition generally includes both hardware-secure facilities and staff-secure facilities. A hardware-secure facility means a facility that relies primarily on the use of construction and hardware such as locks, bars, and fences to restrict freedom. A staff-secure facility means a facility with continuous staff or contractor presence, and (1) a facility operated or structured so as to ensure that entrances and exits from the facility are under the exclusive control of the staff of the facility, or (2) a facility where staff or contractor duties include physical intervention to prevent residents from the unauthorized exit from the facility.

Standard Numbers: 115.5
Categories: Covered Facilities, Definitions
Sep 23, 2014

Is it ever appropriate for auditors to require the installation of cameras as part of a corrective action plan?


No, with respect to adult confinement facilities. Generally, no, with respect to juvenile facilities. In juvenile facilities that include specific camera coverage in their staffing plan, the absence of such camera coverage may appropriately provide the basis for an auditor to either insist on the camera requirements in their staffing plan or require that the staffing plan be amended. Note that there are different requirements regarding the deployment of video monitoring technology among the four sets of standards.

Prisons, Jails, Lockups, and Community Confinement Facilities

In adult facilities (adult prisons and jails; lockups; and community confinement facilities), the standards require facilities to develop and document staffing plans that provide for “adequate levels of staffing, and, where applicable, video monitoring, to protect inmates against sexual abuse.” See 28 C.F.R. §§ 115.13(a), 113(a), and 213(a). These standards require that facilities consider several enumerated factors in the development of the staffing plan, including, among other things, the physical layout of the facility. See also 28 C.F.R. §§ 115.13(a)(5) (“including ‘blind spots’”). In adult facilities, agencies are required to make “best efforts” to comply with the staffing plan and/or to “document and justify” deviations from it.

The adult standards also require agencies to reassess the adequacy of the “facility’s deployment of video monitoring systems and other monitoring technologies…[w]henever necessary, but no less frequently than once each year…” See 28 C.F.R. §§ 115.13(c), 113(c), and 213(c).

Finally, the adult standards require agencies “[w]hen installing or updating a video monitoring system, electronic surveillance system, or other monitoring technology…to consider how such technology may enhance the agency’s ability to protect inmates from sexual abuse.” See 28 C.F.R. §§ 115.18(b), 118(b), and 218(b).

Within this context, agencies have considerable discretion regarding how best to allocate resources devoted toward developing and implementing their staffing plans. For example, in developing an adequate staffing plan, an agency may choose to emphasize higher staffing levels rather than comprehensive video monitoring. Indeed, best practices suggest that video monitoring is not an adequate substitute for sufficient numbers of staff. In any event, so long as the above requirements are complied with (e.g., make best efforts to comply, document and justify deviations, and consider how technology may enhance protections), then the failure to incorporate or add video monitoring technology does not cause a facility to be out of compliance with the standards. Accordingly, it is not appropriate for an auditor to specifically require the addition of video cameras as a condition of finding compliance.

Juvenile Facilities

Unlike the adult facility standards, the juvenile facility standards require agencies to “implement…a staffing plan that provides…where applicable, video monitoring, to protect residents against sexual abuse.” See 28 C.F.R. § 115.313(a). The staffing plan must take into consideration, among other things, “the facility’s physical plant (including ‘blind spots’ or areas where staff or residents may be isolated)…” Further, the juvenile facility standards provide that the agency “shall comply with the staffing plan except during limited and discrete exigent circumstances, and shall fully document deviations from the plan during such circumstances.” See 28 C.F.R. § 115.313(b) (emphasis added).

By contrast, while adult facility standards require agencies to develop an adequate staffing plan, and to make best efforts and/or to document and justify deviations, the juvenile facility standards require agencies to comply with the staffing plan, absent exigent circumstances.

However, as discussed above with respect to the development of the staffing plan, agencies have considerable discretion regarding how best to allocate resources devoted toward developing and implementing their staffing plans. In developing an adequate staffing plan, an agency may choose to emphasize higher staffing levels rather than comprehensive video monitoring. For example, where an auditor or an agency identifies a “blind spot” that imposes considerable danger of the occurrence of sexual abuse, an agency may choose to reallocate existing staff or add staff to the area in question, rather than to install a new video camera in the area.

Accordingly, so long as the above requirements are met, the absence of a particular video monitoring system or camera would not preclude agency compliance with this standard, and it would be inappropriate for an auditor to specifically insist on the installation of a video camera (as opposed to other enhanced protective measures) in order to find compliance. However, if the staffing plan developed pursuant to this standard requires specific camera coverage, and that coverage is either not provided or inoperable, then it may be appropriate for the auditor to insist on agencies either complying with the staffing plan (absent exigent circumstances) or amending their staffing plan.

Please note the requirements for a periodic staffing plan reassessment and for consideration of the effect of video monitoring technology when installing or enhancing systems is substantively the same between adult and juvenile facilities. See 28 C.F.R. § 115.313(d) and 318(b).

Standard Numbers: 115.13, 115.18
Categories: Auditing, Compliance
Aug 27, 2014

What constitutes a “relevant licensing body” for the purposes of satisfying the required notifications in standards 115.76, 115.77, 115.176, 115.177, 115.276, 115.277, 115.376, and 115.377?


A “relevant licensing body” is an entity (e.g., medical board, board of social work, board of mental health, bar association, etc.) that licenses an individual to conduct work in a specific profession.

Standard Numbers: 115.76, 115.77
Categories: Definitions
Aug 27, 2014

Is an agency that holds inmates on behalf of another agency pursuant to a contract responsible for posting the data and reports described in standards 115.87, 115.88, and 115.89 on its own website, in addition to reporting that information to the agency with which it holds the contract?


Yes. Standards 115.87, 115.88, and 115.89 require the agency to collect and post certain data and reports on its website or, if it does not have a website, to make the data available through other means.

“Agency” (standard 115.5) means the unit of a State, local, corporate, or nonprofit authority, or of the Department of Justice, with direct responsibility for the operation of any facility that confines inmates, detainees, or residents, including the implementation of policy as set by the governing, corporate, or nonprofit authority.

Therefore, a contracting agency is required to do the following with the data described in standards 115.87, 115.88, and 115.89:

Provide the data to the parent agency in the contractual relationship; and

Post the data on its website or, if it does not have a website, to make it available through other means.

The parent agency in the contractual relationship is also required to post the data from the contracting agency on its website or, if it does not have a website, to make it available through other means.

Standard Numbers: 115.12, 115.87, 115.88, 115.89
Categories: Contracting, Definitions
Aug 12, 2014

Under what circumstances may former sex offenders, as identified in PREA standards 115.17(a)/117(a)/217(a)/317(a), be hired or contracted with by a confining agency when that former offender is utilized in programs to aid in rehabilitative programming for inmates, detainees, or residents?


The prohibition against hiring, promoting, or contracting with individuals who have a history of sexually abusive conduct is intended to serve the important public safety goal of protecting inmates from individuals who are likely to have a heightened risk of committing future acts of sexual abuse. Given the unique nature of the correctional setting, and the vulnerability of some individuals in the inmate population, the hiring/contracting limitation generally provides an appropriate protection for inmates.

Promoting effective policies to aid former prisoners in reentering society is also important public policy. The Attorney General has directed Department components involved in proposing new and revising or updating existing regulations or policy guidance to consider whether the regulation or guidance could impose a barrier to successful reentry. If so, the components must also consider whether the regulation or guidance can be more narrowly tailored, without impeding public safety or other legitimate government interests.

Pursuant to the Attorney General’s directive, the Department hereby provides the following policy guidance regarding the interpretation and scope of the hiring, promoting, and contracting provisions of sections 115.17(a)/115.117(a)/115.217(a)/115.317(a) to remove potential impediments to successful reentry, without jeopardizing public safety for inmates in correctional settings:

An agency may hire or contract with an individual who would otherwise be prevented from such employment or contracting without violating the standards only if the agency head or designee1: (1) determines that the individual does not pose a safety threat, based on considerations such as the length of time that has passed since the activity described in standard 115.17(a)(1)-(3), the evidence of rehabilitation on the part of the individual, or other relevant factors, and documents all relevant factors and rationale leading to the safety threat determination; (2) considers the individual to be important to the success of a specialized inmate rehabilitative program; and (3) does not permit the individual to have contact with inmates without staff supervision (e.g., circumstances where an individual would have the opportunity to potentially sexually abuse an inmate, due to the ability to privately interact with, or to supervise, inmates). For example, a presentation by an ex-offender, to a group of inmates, under constant in-person supervision, would be acceptable under this section, so long as the above requirements have been met.

1 The designee may not hold a position lower than a facility head.

Standard Numbers: 115.17
Categories: Non-Facility Staff, Background Checks