DOJ-certified PREA auditors are not permitted to conduct virtual interviews, either by phone or by video, with inmates, as this does not comport with the requirements in the Handbook and Audit Instrument.
The PREA Standards governing interviews with inmates are as follows:
- 115.401(k) – “The auditor shall interview a representative sample of inmates, residents, and detainees, and of staff, supervisors, and administrators.”
- 115.401(m) – “The auditor shall be permitted to conduct private interviews with inmates, residents, and detainees.
The interview process is among the most important, and most challenging, elements of a PREA audit. During the interview, it is critical that inmates have an opportunity to speak privately with an auditor.4 By conducting private, one-on-one interviews with inmates in person, auditors provide a safe space where inmates can freely discuss their experiences at the facility on sensitive issues related to sexual safety. If privacy cannot be assured, then Standard 115.401(m) cannot be satisfied.
Conducting virtual interviews would introduce significant barriers to meeting the requirements described above. Such barriers include, but not limited to, the following:
- An auditor conducting a virtual interview would not be able to guarantee that the interview is private (e.g., whether anyone else is in the room with the inmate or in hearing distance, or if the phone or video feed is being recorded).
- Inmates may not believe that a virtual interview is private or is not being recorded. This could lead to a chilling effect on interviewee participation or disclosure, which implicates the reliability of an auditor’s compliance determinations.
- Virtual interviews make it more difficult to build rapport, establish trust, read body language, and assist inmates who may experience distress, as a result of participating in an interview.
4 PREA Auditor Handbook, p.47.