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PREA: Zero tolerance for predatory nature

More attention must be paid to the impact of PREA’s implementation in community settings

As law enforcement agencies at all levels continue to implement policies and procedures toward compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), respond to and report incidents, and implement safeguards required by the law, interest is growing about just how PREA influences offender management outside the boundaries of fences and walls.

During the early days of implementing PREA, attention and most efforts were directed to institutional environments, methods of investigation, and training staff and offenders; those efforts are ongoing. Little attention has been paid to the impact of PREA’s implementation in community settings.

As progress toward compliance with PREA standards continues behind the walls, public and private partners should now be working together to ensure expectations are delivered plainly in contractual language, and in other ways, for the safety of offenders managed in the community. Not only should prohibited conduct be clearly defined in contracts and in policies and procedures, but the methods for reporting and investigating allegations of misconduct should be developed and staff trained accordingly.

Offenders under the care, custody, or supervision of an entity may find themselves being supervised outside the walls in a variety of settings managed through public funding or through for-profit company relationships. Contractors, therefore, and their employees, are required to develop and comply with policies similar to procedures for facilities, but adapted for the community setting.

While PREA institutional standards do not apply to community supervision in the same manner, entities are encouraged to take steps to ensure environments acknowledge the PREA law by providing ongoing information to offenders through orientation and other methods, as well as providing staff training. Just as abiding by all laws and following the “house rules” are requirements of offenders being supervised in residential or non-residential settings, complying with PREA becomes an additional safeguard to emphasize requirements for professional distancing and laws prohibiting sexual conduct between staff and offenders.

In other words, current community standards of conduct prohibit consensual sex between staff and offenders, sexual harassment, and discrimination; PREA becomes an additional tool to ensure a full understanding by staff and offenders. Furthermore, in court-ordered supervision settings like probation, drug courts, day reporting, and others, offenders have the right to expect to be supervised and managed in the most professional, lawful way possible, where boundaries, sexual and otherwise, are clearly defined and supported by PREA. Likewise, a culture should be established ensuring a zero tolerance for predatory behavior, and response to victimization.

In community settings when offender orientation includes PREA information, video or take-along brochures, a message is being conveyed about just what zero tolerance really means. And, providing this information in the appropriate format ensures compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendment Act (2008) and allows equal access to services for all offenders, regardless of their limitations. Brochures should contain pertinent contact information for reporting sexual assault and simple language about how to get help.

At long last, cultures where incidents of violence, secrets, threats, intimidation, power and control manifested when sexual conduct among staff and offenders in community settings fails to be acknowledged or addressed are now ensuring stakeholders implement and adapt applicable components of PREA appropriately.

Cherrie Greco is a retired correctional administrator and consultant, having provided technical assistance to a number of criminal justice agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, and the states of Colorado, Texas, Florida, Maine, Alabama, Connecticut and Oklahoma on the topics of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Amendment Act and the Prison Rape Elimination Act. During her career with the Colorado Department of Corrections, she served as Director of Administration, Warden, Legislative Liaison, and Director of Staff Training. In recent years, Greco served as a Senior Consultant for MGT of America and was the Director of Probation for Oklahoma County. She earned a B.A., Ed. from Northwestern Oklahoma State University and an M.A., Ed. from Lesley University, Cambridge, MA. Ms. Greco resides in Oklahoma. She has been a columnist for CORRECTIONSONE since 2011.