|PREA Rule: DOJ Takes First Steps to Protect Prison Rape Victims|
Last week, the Department of Justice released the long-awaited Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulations, representing the first time that the federal government has issued national standards to help end sexual abuse in correctional facilities. The regulations are two years late and a lot of harm has been done in their absence, but now they will help protect important constitutional and human rights and ensure safe and fair correctional facilities that assist prisoners in rehabilitation rather than needlessly brutalizing them. This is the first of three blogs marking the occasion.
Last Thursday’s release of the long-delayed national Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulations by the Department of Justice reminds us of the hundreds of prison rape victims we’ve heard from over the years who could not seek justice because the prison officials who failed to protect them were essentially immunized from liability by a 1996 federal law, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The announced purpose of the PLRA was to curb the filing of frivolous litigation by prisoners. In reality, the law makes it impossible for most prisoners to file any civil rights claims, regardless of their merits. Last week, the Department of Justice took a first step to solving the problems created by this discriminatory and harmful law.
For nearly 20 years, the PLRA has slammed the federal courthouse doors on rape victims who happen to be prisoners. For instance, the law requires prisoners who have been sexually assaulted while incarcerated to navigate the full internal grievance process at their facility before going to court – no matter how complicated, unrealistic or illogical that process may be. Due to trauma, hospitalization or other medical or mental health issues, most rape survivors are unable to meet the deadline for filing a grievance, which often falls within days of an assault. In some places, prisoners are required to file their complaints with a specific officer, even if that officer participated in the abuse.
To make matters worse, these harsh provisions of the PLRA also apply to incarcerated youth even though no one has ever claimed that children were part of the problem PLRA was allegedly designed to fix. Detained and incarcerated kids do not file frivolous litigation, and children behind bars are the most vulnerable to abuse and sexual assault, but PLRA undermines the ability of parents, guardians and advocates to keep them safe.
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