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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Oct 22, 2014

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: 115.15
Categories: Searches, Cross-Gender Supervision
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: 115.15
Categories: Cover-Up Rule, Definitions
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: 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: 115.13, 115.18
Categories: Auditing, Compliance
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: 115.12, 115.87, 115.88, 115.89
Categories: Contracting, Definitions
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: 115.76, 115.77
Categories: 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: 115.17
Categories: Non-Facility Staff, Background Checks
Aug 04, 2014

What screening is required for detainees in lockups that are never placed in a holding cell with other detainees?


The determining factor in this situation is whether the detainee will be confined in a cell or room with another detainee. If a detainee is never placed in a holding cell with another detainee and is never placed in an area with other detainees absent continuous staff supervision, then no screening for risk of sexual abusiveness or victimization is required. This is so, regardless of whether the detainee is housed overnight or whether the facility is used to house detainees overnight.

Standard: 115.41
Categories: Screening, Placement Decisions
Jun 11, 2014

When a confining agency maintains relationships with one or more facilities that are operated by a private organization on behalf of the agency and with a private organization with whom it contracts for the confinement of inmates, what is the confining agency’s obligation under the auditing standards and the audit count calculation?


A facility “operated… by a private organization on behalf of an agency” is required to be audited in accordance with the agency’s audit schedule, and will count as an agency’s facility for purposes of determining the “one-third” annual audit calculation. 

A mere “contract facility” pursuant to standard 115.12 does not count in the contracting agency’s audit requirements.  However, the contracted agency is considered its own “agency” for purposes of PREA, and has its own independent obligations to comply with the PREA standards (including the auditing standards).  This obligation becomes explicit when a contracting agency enters into, or renews its contract with a contracted facility pursuant to the standards.

If a public agency maintains relationships with both types of agencies, the agency should determine which facilities fall within each of the two categories, and include only the former category within its audit timelines and obligations.

See also related FAQs by clicking here or by searching for Categories Auditing, Compliance, and Contracting.

Standard: 115.12, 115.401
Categories: Auditing, Contracting, Covered Facilities, Definitions, Governor's Certification
Jun 11, 2014

Do any of the conflict rules governing who can conduct an audit of a given agency’s facilities apply to the staff they hire to help them conduct that audit?


The same restrictions regarding auditor conflict of interest also apply to staff who auditors hire to help conduct the audit.  Consistent with PREA Standard 115.402: 1) the auditor cannot be part of, or under the authority of, the agency (but may be part of, or authorized by, the relevant state or local government); 2) an auditor cannot be a person who has received financial compensation from the agency being audited (except for compensation received for conducting prior PREA audits) within three years prior to the agency’s retention of the auditor; and 3) the agency cannot employ, contract with, or otherwise financially compensate the auditor for three years subsequent to the agency’s retention of the auditor, with the exception of contracting for subsequent PREA audits.

Standard: 115.402
Categories: Auditing, Audit Process