UPDATE: March 11, 2014
The Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center (SIJDC) in Caldwell, Idaho became the first detention facility of any sort to be certified as compliant with the standards of the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The facility houses 90 youth.
PREA was enacted by Congress to “provide for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in Federal, State, and local institutions and to provide information, resources, recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape.”
The Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute for Justice were mandated to conduct research on the issue and the Bureau of Justice Assistance along with the National Institute of Corrections were tasked with supporting efforts in the state, juvenile, community and jail systems.
The latest data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows 70,792 juveniles in detention as of 2010. According to the National Institute for Justice there is no consensus among researchers about the incidence of sexual assault in U.S. facilities. The most recent BJS report, from 2012, indicated that nearly 10 percent of adjudicated juveniles reported being a victim to sexual assault.
The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission was charged with creating standards to implement the law. The standards were released in 2009 and published in the Federal Registry in 2012.
The certification of SIJDC took place in September 2013 through a Department of Justice audit. Using interviews, policy reviews and other research the auditor made recommendations for meeting PREA standards. All changes were in place by February 2014.
Director Steven Jett noted that staff were already committed to many of the 182 standards set forth by PREA rules, including partnering with outside agencies to obtain support and counseling for victims of sexual assault. He also praised the National Partnership for Juvenile Services and its focus on educating members on sexual assault prevention and PREA compliance.
Jett, who is also a PREA auditor, volunteered his facility to undergo auditing. “It was important to show that it could be done,” he said.
He added that many of the best practices and procedures outlined in the PREA guidelines were already in place in Idaho.
“They are beneficial to kids and to the whole organization.”
He stated that his staff has embraced the process of certification and that many of the procedures are useful in other types of incidents as well.
The most important takeaway for Jett? “Under no circumstances should sex abuse be part of anyone’s stay in confinement.”
The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NRPEC) is about to close a second 60-day public comment period on recommendations to Attorney General Eric Holder. The Commission’s report addresses standards to prevent sexual abuse of prison inmates, including juveniles in both youth detention centers and adult prisons. The Attorney General will make a final decision on the proposed standards.
With the deadline for pubic comments fast approaching, the Campaign for Youth Justice is circulating a letter addressed to Attorney General Holder asking for additional signatures. The letter calls on Holder to ban juveniles from adult prisons.
“Adult facilities housing children and youth face a dangerous dilemma,” the letter said, “forced to choose between housing youth in the general adult population, where they are at substantial risk of both physical and sexual abuse, and housing youth in segregated settings which cause or exacerbate mental health problems.”
The Campaign for Youth Justice is trying to get 500 signatures by Friday morning. You can read the letter here.