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.

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Aug 02, 2019

What determines whether a facility is “primarily used for” a particular purpose under the PREA standards?


The simplest way to make this determination is to determine whether, over a period of one year, the facility holds more people for that purpose than for any other purpose.

For facilities whose populations vary significantly from year to year, agencies may require some predictability for three-year PREA audit cycle planning and scheduling purposes.  In such cases, agencies may rely on the facility’s historical “primary use” calculation over the prior three-year period. Agencies may make this calculation based on: (1) the annual calculation for the prior three-year period (e.g., the primary use in two or more years of the prior three-year period), or (2) the aggregated average daily population use over the entirety of the prior three-year period.

For facilities that have been open fewer than three years, the agency may rely on the “primary use” of a facility since the facility opened.

Revised August 2, 2019. Original posting date July 9, 2013.

Standard: 115.5
Categories: Covered Facilities, Definitions
Mar 20, 2019

For purposes of ensuring that employees and contractors have received required background checks and PREA training, how should agencies determine whether an individual “may have contact with” inmates/residents/detainees?


An individual may have contact with inmates/residents/detainees if, within the scope of that person’s official or unofficial duties or privileges, it is reasonably foreseeable that the person will have physical, visual, or auditory contact with a confined person over any period of time.

An individual may, at one point in time, not fall into the category above. However, a change in that person’s job duties, privileges, or policies and procedures may result in him or her having contact with inmates, residents, or detainees. If such a change occurs, the requirements for background checks and PREA training become immediately applicable to that individual.

“Contact” for purposes of the standards described below may include being in the same enclosure with an inmate/resident/detainee (e.g., dayroom, cell, courtyard, hallway, clinic, intake, etc.), being able to visually observe an inmate/resident/detainee (e.g., via live video feeds, one-way or two-way glass, etc.), or converse with an inmate/resident/detainee (e.g., through talking or shouting, via intercom, etc.).


Relevant PREA Standards

The PREA standards prohibit agencies from hiring or promoting anyone “who may have contact with inmates [or] enlist the services of any contractor who may have contact with inmates” if the individual has committed certain disqualifying acts. See standard 115.17(a)/117(a)/217(a)/317(a). In addition, the PREA standards require agencies to “consider any incidents of sexual harassment in determining whether to hire or promote anyone, or enlist the services of any contractor, who may have contact with inmates.” See standard 115.17(b)/117(b)/217(b)/317(b).

The PREA standards require agencies to conduct a “criminal background records check” and “contact prior institutional employers” before hiring new employees “who may have contact with inmates” and conduct a criminal background records check before enlisting the services of any contractor who may have contact with inmates.” See standard 115.17(c-d)/117(c-d)/217(c-d)/317(c-d). Agencies are also required to “either conduct criminal background records checks at least every five years of current employees and contractors who may have contact with inmates or have in place a system for otherwise capturing such information for current employees.” See standard 115.17(e)/117(e)/217(e)/317(e). In addition, agencies must inquire of “all applicants and employees who may have contact with inmates directly about” [enumerated proscribed conduct] in the course of certain triggering events. See standard 115.17(f)/117(f)/217(f)/317(f).

The PREA standards require agencies to “train all employees who may have contact with inmates” about certain enumerated topics related to sexual safety and to provide periodic “refresher training” and “refresher information.” See standard 115.31/131/231/331.  The PREA standards also require agencies to “ensure that all volunteers and contractors who have contact with inmates” to receive training on certain enumerated topics.”  See standard 115.32/132/232/332.

Standard: 115.17, 115.31, 115.32
Categories: Background Checks, Definitions, Training
Nov 14, 2018

How do I find out more about the Department of Justice grant programs that will be impacted if my governor does not submit a certification of compliance or an assurance?


The DOJ offices operating these grant programs have each released FAQs regarding the impact of PREA on their programs. Click the links below to access the corresponding grant program FAQ:

Bureau of Justice Assistance Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) FAQ

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Title II Part B Formula Grants FAQ

Revised November 14, 2018, January 30, 2017, and April 19, 2016. Original posting date June 3, 2015.

Standard: 115.501
Categories: Governor's Certification, Penalty
Jul 20, 2018

Are there criminal records background check and training requirements for individuals who have regular contact with inmates, residents, or detainees, and who provide recurring services to the agency, or on behalf of the agency?  Such services are provided inside facilities pursuant to an informal arrangement, agreement, or understanding, rather than a written, formal contract or agreement.


In instances where services are provided to a PREA-covered confinement facility by another entity or individual on a recurring basis, the individuals providing those services are subject to the criminal records background check and training requirements of standards 115.17 (115.117/ 115.217/115.317) and 115.32 (115.132/115.232/115.332).

Examples of such services include, but are not limited to, the following: the provision of vocational training, counseling, general education classes, reentry planning guidance, medical or dental treatment, and/or mental/behavioral health treatment. In some cases, these services are provided pursuant to state or local law. Generally, however, they are provided under a memorandum of understanding or an intergovernmental or interagency agreement. In keeping with the Department of Justice’s broad interpretation of the term “contract” for purposes of providing interpretive guidance on the PREA standards, the individuals providing these services are required to receive training equivalent to that provided to individuals providing services under a formal contract.

July 20, 2018 Update: Some practitioners have misconstrued this guidance to mean that agency staff, contractors, and volunteers are only required to submit to an agency criminal records background check and applicable agency-required training if they have regular and recurring contracts with inmates, residents, and detainees. Instead, this guidance is intended to make a distinction between employees, contractors, and volunteers as unambiguously defined in the standards on the one hand, and service providers who have no formal direct relationship with the confining agency on the other hand.  In the former situation, these requirements apply to any person “who may have contact” with inmates. In the latter situation (covered by this FAQ), service providers having no formal or direct relationship with an agency must be subject to criminal background checks and training requirements only if they have regular or recurring contacts with inmates inside the facility.

Revised July 20, 2018 and September 28, 2015. Original posting date December 2, 2014

Standard: 115.17, 115.32
Categories: Background Checks, Contract Services, Training
Jul 20, 2018

If prior objective risk screenings under PREA Standard 115.41 (or other information known to an agency) indicate that an inmate has previously experienced sexual victimization, how should screening staff approach the issue during subsequent screenings and reassessments, so as to be sensitive to the potential for retraumatizing the inmate?


PREA Standard 115.41 requires facilities to screen inmates for risk of sexual victimization or sexual predation during intake at a facility and upon transfer to another facility. Risk screening reassessments are required within “a set time period, not to exceed 30 days from the inmate’s arrival at the facility,” and when warranted due to certain events listed in the Standard. One of the factors that must be taken into consideration during risk determinations is “[w]hether the inmate has previously experienced sexual victimization.” See PREA Standard 115.41(d)(8).

While facilities are required to consider prior sexual victimization during each risk screening, the Standards do not specify any particular manner in which to make such an inquiry, nor do they require that the question be posed in the same manner every time. If an inmate has already reported a history of prior sexual victimization during a previous risk screening by the agency or facility, screening staff could ask during subsequent screenings if the inmate has “previously experienced sexual victimization” that he or she has not already reported to the confining agency or facility. Screening staff must include sexual victimization reported during prior risk screenings, as well as any previously undisclosed sexual victimization, in the risk screening tool.   

This process avoids requiring an inmate to repeatedly report the details of a traumatic event, while: (1) providing the inmate an opportunity to disclose an incident of victimization that occurred after the prior risk screening; and (2) providing the inmate an opportunity to disclose an incident that the inmate did not feel comfortable reporting during prior risk screenings.

Standard: 115.41
Categories: Screening
Jun 20, 2018

In secure juvenile facilities, must security staff be present during medical and mental health assessments and consultations for purposes of meeting the minimum staffing ratio requirements? Also, must security staff be present during clinical group therapy sessions?


If the medical or mental health assessment, consultation, or group therapy session is conducted by a medical practitioner or mental health practitioner and such services require, pursuant to that practitioner’s license or certification, patient-practitioner confidentiality, then security staff need not be present during these services. The absence of security staff during the provision of these services will not be considered a violation of the minimum staffing ratio requirement in PREA Standard 115.313(c). However, the PREA Standards also do not prohibit the presence of security staff.

Who counts as a medical practitioner, a mental health practitioner, and security staff pursuant to the PREA Juvenile Facility Standards?

Medical Practitioner is defined as a “health professional who, by virtue of education, credentials, and experience, is permitted by law to evaluate and care for patients within the scope of his or her professional practice.” See PREA Standard 115.5. Examples of such practitioners may include L.P.N., R.N., B.S.N., P.A., N.P., M.D., etc.

Mental Health Practitioner is defined as a mental health professional who, by virtue of education, credentials, and experience, is permitted by law to evaluate and care for patients within the scope of his or her professional practice.” See PREA Standard 115.5. Examples of such practitioners may include L.C.S.W., LPC, Psy.D., etc.

Security Staff is defined as “employees primarily responsible for the supervision and control of… residents in housing units, recreational areas, dining areas, and other program areas of the facility.” See PREA Standard 115.5. In another FAQ, the Department of Justice explains that certain additional categories of staff not typically thought of as “security staff” may also be included in the minimum staffing ratios under certain conditions.

See For the Department of Justice’s FAQ on how auditors evaluate compliance with the minimum staffing ratios, see

Standard: 115.5, 115.13
Categories: Definitions, Staffing Ratio
May 18, 2018

Do the PREA Standards require that the terminology and/or definitions that a correctional agency uses in policies, lesson plans, educational materials, and other documentation for terms defined by the PREA Standards, including “sexual abuse” and “sexual harassment,” match precisely the definitions in Standard 115.5 and Standard 115.6? 


No. Agencies need not use the precise verbiage of the definitions specified in the PREA Standards when using those terms in policies, lesson plans, educational materials, or other documentation relevant to the PREA Standards. So long as, when referencing a term defined in Standard 115.5 and Standard 115.6, the agency documentation and definitions accurately and completely reflect all of the information contained in the PREA Standard definitions, the agency need not quote the definitions in Standard 115.5 and Standard 115.6 verbatim.

Agencies should be mindful to use respectful and appropriate language, and avoid terminology that could be viewed as offensive, outdated, or a slur. The importance of appropriate and professional language should be conveyed through PREA training and educational materials.

Finally, if agencies choose to deviate from the definitions of “sexual abuse” and “sexual harassment” laid out in PREA Standard 115.6, they should take care not to minimize the weight of these terms with lesser terms such as “sexual misconduct,” “undue familiarity,” or “official misconduct.” If state law uses such lesser terms in prohibiting conduct that is defined as “sexual abuse” or “sexual harassment” by the PREA Standards, the criminal code may be cited, specifically noting the underlying conduct constitutes a violation of the PREA Standards. For example: “The offense conduct for a criminal violation of ‘undue familiarity’ also constitutes ‘sexual abuse’ under the PREA Standards.”

Standard: 115.5, 115.6
Categories: Definitions
Apr 18, 2018

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.”  

Standard: 115.5
Categories: Definitions
Apr 18, 2018

It is sometimes necessary for local facilities to temporarily hold inmates who are transferred from other facilities or agencies, either pursuant to a state statute (with or without a per diem or other financial consideration), or through informal contracts (or a contract providing only for the payment of the per diem), in order to address a function of the judicial system or law enforcement agency, such as adjudication of parole or probation violations or if a state inmate is returned temporarily to the local facility for a court appearance or testimony. Do these arrangements constitute contracts for the confinement of inmates pursuant to PREA Standard 115.12 (Standard 115.212 and Standard 115.312)?


When a local facility houses inmates transferred temporarily from another facility or agency for a function necessitated by the judicial system or law enforcement agency, such as adjudication of parole or probation violations or for a court appearance or testimony, the arrangement does not, in and of itself, constitute a contract for the confinement of inmates for the purposes of Standard 115.12 (Standard 115.212 and Standard 115.312), even if the local jurisdiction is paid a per diem or otherwise compensated pursuant to state statute or informal agreement. The state/agency need not require PREA compliance by the local facilities to maintain arrangements with regard to temporary housing for the purpose of probation or parole violations or temporary transfers for court appearances or testimony.

Revised April 18, 2018. Original posting date February 19, 2014. 

Standard: 115.12
Categories: Contracting, Definitions
Oct 03, 2017

Is comparing the total number of security staff with the total number of residents in a secure juvenile facility an acceptable way to calculate whether the facility is complying with the minimum staffing ratios required by PREA Standard 115.313(c)?


No. Standard 115.313(c) states: “Each secure juvenile facility shall maintain staff ratios of a minimum of 1:8 during resident waking hours and 1:16 during resident sleeping hours, except during limited and discrete exigent circumstances, which shall be fully documented. Only security staff shall be included in these ratios. Any facility that, as of the date of publication of this final rule, is not already obligated by law, regulation, or judicial consent decree to maintain the staffing ratios set forth in this paragraph shall have until October 1, 2017, to achieve compliance.” For additional information regarding who may be counted as security staff, see this FAQ:  

Because the minimum staffing ratios enumerated in Standard 115.313(c) apply to the supervision of every juvenile resident in a facility, compliance will depend on the location of each resident, or group of residents, and the location of security staff at any given time. In order to calculate whether a facility is complying with the required staffing ratios, it is necessary to: 

  • Determine how juvenile residents are housed and programmed within the facility; 
  • Examine how security staff members are deployed throughout the facility; 
  • Review historical juvenile resident placement and staffing deployment; and 
  • Observe actual supervision practices in the facility.

The following hypothetical example, focused on juvenile facility “Alpha,” illustrates why comparing the total number of security staff with the total number of residents in a secure facility is not an acceptable way to calculate whether a facility is complying with the minimum staffing ratios required by PREA Standard 115.313(c), and demonstrates how compliance with the required ratios depends on the location of residents and security staff in a facility at any given time. 

Juvenile facility “Alpha” currently has 80 residents and 10 security staff on duty during non-sleeping hours. 

  • On Alpha facility’s housing unit A, there are currently 16 residents during non-sleeping hours, and there are two security staff posted on this unit actively supervising the 16 residents, creating a ratio of 1:8.
  • On Alpha facility’s housing unit B, there are currently 14 residents during non-sleeping hours, and there are two security staff posted on this unit actively supervising the 14 residents, creating a ratio of 1:7. 
  • On Alpha facility’s housing unit C, there are currently 18 residents during non-sleeping hours, and there are two security staff posted on this unit actively supervising the 18 residents, creating a ratio of 1:9. For 30 minutes during each 8-hour shift during non-sleeping hours, a roaming security staff member enters housing unit C and actively supervises the 18 juveniles, along with the two security staff members who are already posted there. This briefly creates a ratio of 1:6.  

Although juvenile facility Alpha has 80 residents and 10 security staff during non-sleeping hours, it is not in compliance with Standard 115.313(c) because of the staffing ratio on housing unit C during non-sleeping hours. Although the roaming security staff member briefly increases the ratio to 1:6 on unit C, this unit has a 1:9 ratio when the roaming staff is not present. 

The hypothetical example above also illustrates that juvenile facilities which comply with the required staffing ratios for short periods of time are not in compliance with Standard 115.313(c). Compliance with this standard must be “institutionalized” throughout the facility over a sustained period of time. For more information regarding what institutionalized means, see this FAQ:

Security staff members supervising juvenile residents via remote video monitoring do not count in the minimum ratio requirements. Video monitoring and/or control room staff typically cannot hear residents, promptly respond to cries for help, are typically responsible for monitoring countless youth in multiple locations, and often have a myriad of other duties such as controlling movement and answering telephones. However, security staff members in security cages may count, if these staff are dedicated to supervising juvenile residents in a single unit, have a meaningful line of sight into the unit without the assistance of technology (e.g., video monitors), can hear the residents, and are able to respond immediately to any emergencies.

Relevant Definitions from the PREA Standards

Standard 115.5 defines “secure juvenile facility” as a 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. A facility that allows residents with access to the community to achieve treatment or correctional objectives, such as through educational or employment programs, typically will not be considered to be a secure juvenile facility.”

Standard 115.5 defines “security staff” as “employees primarily responsible for the supervision and control of… residents in housing units, recreational areas, dining areas, and other program areas of the facility.”

PREA Standard 115.5 defines “exigent circumstances” as meaning “any set of temporary and unforeseen circumstances that require immediate action in order to combat a threat to the security or institutional order of a facility.”

Standard: 115.13
Categories: Compliance, Definitions, Staffing Ratio