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.

Search FAQs

Feb 07, 2013
Q:What types of staff count toward an agency’s staffing ratio?
A:

Only security staff are included in the minimum staffing ratio requirement. The PREA standards define security staff as “employees primarily responsible for the supervision and control of inmates, detainees, or residents in housing units, recreational areas, dining areas, and other program areas of the facility.” 28 C.F.R. 115.5 (definitions).

Standard Numbers: 115.13
Categories: Staffing Ratio
Feb 07, 2013
Q:Please explain the adult cross-gender viewing and searches standard.
A:

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.

Standard Numbers: 115.15
Categories: Searches, Cross-Gender Supervision, Cover-Up Rule
Feb 07, 2013
Q:Do community corrections standards apply to juvenile community confinement settings?
A:

No. Juvenile community confinement facilities are covered by the juvenile facility standards. See 28 C.F.R. § 115.5 (definition of community confinement facility). The community confinement facility standards do not apply to juvenile community confinement facilities.

Standard Numbers: 115.5
Categories: Covered Facilities, Final Rule, Definitions
Feb 07, 2013
Q:What are appropriate ways to use PREA screening information? Should we base housing decisions on the PREA risk screening information?
A:

PREA screening information should be used to inform agency or facility decisions regarding a particular inmate/resident’s housing unit, security level, and programming needs and interventions. For example, if, upon intake, an inmate/resident is a risk of committing predation, an agency would not place him/her in a two-person room with an inmate/resident who classified as at risk for victimization. Agencies should note, however, that DOJ, in its final standards, directed agencies to implement appropriate controls on the dissemination of information gathered during assessment so that the information is not used to the inmate/resident’s detriment. See, for example, Standard 115.41(i).

Standard Numbers: 115.41, 115.42
Categories: Screening, Placement Decisions
Feb 07, 2013
Q:

Do all inmates under the age of 18, regardless of court adjudication, need to be housed and managed in an area totally separate from adult inmates while residing in an adult jail or prison?

A:

PREA Standard 115.14 provides that youthful inmates, which the standards define as “any person under the age of 18 who is under adult court supervision and incarcerated or detained in a prison or jail,” must be housed separately from adult inmates in a jail or prison, but may be managed together outside of a housing unit if supervised directly by staff. Standard 115.114 provides analogous but abbreviated standard requirements for lockups.

The standard includes three requirements. First, no youthful inmate may be placed in a housing unit where he/she will have contact with any adult inmate through use of a shared day room or other common space, shower area, or sleeping quarters. Second, outside of housing units, agencies must either maintain “sight and sound separation” between youthful inmates and adult inmates—i.e., prevent adult inmates from seeing or communicating with youth—or provide direct staff supervision when youthful inmates and adult inmates are together. Third, agencies must make their best efforts to avoid placing youthful inmates in isolation to comply with this provision. Finally, absent exigent circumstances, agencies must comply with this standard in a manner that affords youthful inmates daily large-muscle exercise and any legally required special education services, and provides access to other programs and work opportunities to the extent possible.

Persons under 18 who are charged with status offenses and/or delinquent offenses are not covered by Standard 115.14, but they are covered by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and regulations promulgated pursuant to the JJDPA. These requirements ensure that states do not securely detain status offenders in adult facilities and severely limit the time in which accused delinquent youth may spend in adult facilities; status offending and delinquent youth must always be sight and sound separated from adult inmates in prisons, jails, and lockups. More information about JJDPA requirements is available at www.ojjdp.gov/compliance.

In crafting this standard, DOJ was cognizant of agency concerns regarding cost, feasibility, and preservation of state law prerogatives related to youthful inmates. Accordingly, this standard affords facilities and agencies flexibility in devising an approach to separate youthful inmates. In particular, agencies can achieve compliance by 1) confining all youthful inmates to a separate housing unit; 2) transferring youthful inmates to a facility within the agency that enables them to be confined to a separate unit; 3) entering into a cooperative agreement with an outside jurisdiction to enable compliance; or 4) ceasing to confine youthful inmates in adult facilities as a matter of policy or law. Agencies may, of course, combine these approaches as they see fit.

Standard Numbers: 115.14
Categories: Definitions, Youthful Inmates
Feb 07, 2013
Q:Do the standards apply to locally operated facilities?
A:

Yes. PREA standards apply equally to locally operated facilities, such as lockups, jails, juvenile detention centers, and locally operated residential community confinement facilities. The statute imposes certain financial consequences on states that do not comply with the standards. However, for local facilities or facilities not operated by the state, PREA provides no direct federal financial penalty for not complying.

If a local facility has a contract to hold state or federal inmates, however, it may lose that contract if it does not comply with PREA standards. If a governor should certify compliance, he/she must certify that all facilities under the state’s authority, including all local facilities the state contracts with to hold inmates, are in compliance. Furthermore, states that operate unified systems must demonstrate that all state-operated facilities, including jails, comply with the PREA standards.

Finally, all agencies, state or local, have obligations under federal and state constitutions to provide safety for individuals in their custody. While PREA does not create any new cause of action, private civil litigants might assert noncompliance with PREA standards as evidence that facilities are not meeting constitutional obligations.

Standard Numbers:
Categories: Covered Facilities, Final Rule, Act