PREA compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic
What happens to PREA timetables when agencies are preoccupied with preventing coronavirus spread?
The current pandemic calls for an all-hands-on-deck approach to the safety and well-being of everyone in a confinement setting. Agencies face real and daunting challenges in their efforts to prevent and respond to communicable diseases in such a setting. Even when facilities know the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for preventing disease, they may not have the resources to fully implement them. The aerosol means of spread of this virus – it can remain suspended in the air or settle on surfaces – makes those who are incarcerated and facilities particularly vulnerable to a widespread outbreak.
COVID-19 Impact on PREA audits
We can see the impact COVID-19 is having on both correctional staff and inmates, but what about the impact on your agency’s PREA audits and PREA implementation efforts? PREA stakeholders across the country have been asking just that.
In response, the PREA Management Office and PREA Resource Center recently stated that the PREA Management Office will not take any action that affects, either directly or indirectly, of punishing agencies, facilities, Department of Justice-certified auditors, or others whose efforts to address, manage and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 have prevented timely compliance with PREA requirements.
The PREA Management Office and PREA Resource Center have both noted that COVID-19 outbreaks can make it necessary to delay audits and that this may affect upholding requirements of the PREA Standards.
If your agency has to reschedule, cancel, or delay a PREA audit, you may not be able to comply with PREA Standard 115.401(b): “During each one-year period starting on August 20, 2013, the agency shall ensure that at least one-third of each facility type operated by the agency, or by a private organization on behalf of the agency, is audited.”
In such circumstances, the PREA Management Office has indicated it would continue to support agencies, and that auditing delays resulting from COVID-19 would be taken into consideration when reviewing certifications of full compliance with the PREA Standards submitted to the DOJ by governors.
The auditing delays might not always be due to the facility’s challenges. COVID-19 may prevent DOJ-certified auditors from carrying out their obligations. For example, an auditor who becomes ill may not be able to meet the deadlines associated with being recertified by DOJ. In such circumstances, the PREA Management Office confirmed that it will support auditors by making reasonable accommodations to the recertification process.
resources to come from PREA Management Office
According to a recent article published by the PREA Resource Center, the PREA Management Office is in the process of creating a frequently asked questions document to address specific inquiries submitted by confinement agencies and facilities, PREA auditors, victim advocates and others about the impact of COVID-19 on PREA audits and PREA implementation.
The bottom line is that the PREA Management Office and the PREA Resource Center understand the burden on facilities who may not be able during this extraordinary period to comply with PREA Audit Standard 115.401(b) and that the PREA Management Office will take into consideration COVID-19 as a reason for auditing delays.