|PREA Mandates in Juvenile Justice Facilities: Protecting the Health and Wellness of our Youngest Inmates|
|By Jennifer Hulvat, J.D., Full Time Faculty, Undergraduate Criminal Justice, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences|
The month of April brings a change of seasons around the country, and a new focus issue to the table; Health and Wellness. In the area of Juvenile Corrections, we might take this opportunity to revisit a topic I wrote about in February, “Incarcerated Youth at Risk: Is Your Facility Doing Enough to Avoid Liability?” Ultimately, a correctional facility has an ongoing obligation to safeguard the health and wellbeing of its minor inmates. In February, I asked whether your institution was doing enough to avoid liability in this area. This month, with that overarching question in mind, we consider whether your institution is compliant with the mandates of PREA? Juvenile inmates are, indeed, a “special” population, and as such, are particularly vulnerable to victimization while in custody, both from inmate-on inmate conduct, as well as staff misconduct. Ongoing attention to the federal mandates of PREA goes a long way toward ensuring that a juvenile inmate’s time in custody will be devoid of the types of sexual assault issues that have now been recognized and documented in our juvenile correctional facilities around the country. With national standards now established, those institutions choosing, or simply unable, to comply with these mandates, situate themselves as particularly vulnerable, “easy targets” for liability.
Passed in 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was created to combat sexual violence in correctional institutions, including jails, prisons, lockups, and in juvenile institutions. The application of this legislation to juvenile correctional institutions is particularly critical, as the youngest of our inmates often find themselves powerless to defend against sexual victimization while in custody. The Department of Justice, per the PREA mandates, issued standards for implementation on June 20, 2012, outlining the steps that facilities must take to address sexual misconduct prevention, detection, and response. Those standards pertain to juvenile facilities, adult prisons and jails, lockups, and community confinement facilities. The final standards are too lengthy to include here, but can be reviewed at: https://www.bja.gov/Programs/PREA-JuvenileFacilityStanards.pdf.
In 2013, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, BJS, published a special report entitled “Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012”. It was the result of surveys of 8,707 youth in facilities owned or operated by a state juvenile correctional authority and adjudicated youth held under state contract in locally or privately- operated juvenile facilities. The data collected reaffirms the need for a structured response to sexual assault upon juveniles in these facilities. Specifically, BJS reported the following (estimated through weighted sampling): 9.5% of youth nationwide have experienced sexual victimization; 7.7% reported an incident involving facility staff; 2.5% of youth reported an incident involving another youth; 0.7% of youth reported victimization by both staff and another youth. (BJS, 2013). The reported numbers concerning assaults by staff are even more troubling: Most victims of staff sexual misconduct reported more than one incident (85.9%), and among youth reporting more than one incident, nearly 1 in 5 (20.4%) reported 11 or more incidents. (BJS, 2013). These numbers, considering the size of the sampled population, reflect that juvenile institutions reporting these issues remain exposed to litigation if the issues are not addressed and remediated appropriately.
What contributes to the sexual misconduct upon youth in these facilities? The Center for Children’s Law and Policy opines that several factors exist which, once properly addressed by policy and practice modifications, can reduce the likelihood of occurrence and better insulate the institution against liability. Among the factors to consider:
Ensuring the health and wellness of juvenile inmates is a legal obligation, ultimately. PREA and its ensuing regulations are a “floor”, or starting point, for juvenile institutions to construct policy and practice designed to safeguard our most vulnerable inmates from what is now documented sexual victimization. Critically, the policies and day-to-day protocol of a juvenile correctional institution become the focal point in any state or federal lawsuit stemming from sexual misconduct upon a minor in custody. While no facility can remain “judgment-proof” against civil litigation, the broad sweeping mandates of PREA provide an excellent foundation upon which to build a culture of zero-tolerance against sexual misconduct in juvenile facilities. Safeguarding the health and wellness of juvenile correctional populations should remain a priority of these institutions, both in policy and everyday practice.
Since 2009, attorney Jennifer Hulvat, from the Chicago area, has been a full-time faculty member at Kaplan University, where she teaches law-based courses in Criminal Justice, with an emphasis in Juvenile Justice. Ms. Hulvat is a 25-year practicing lawyer, holding law licenses in both Illinois and Florida. She has been a prosecutor in Miami, Florida as well as in the Chicago area, and has spent several years representing the criminally accused. She was a staff attorney for Chicago’s CLEAR Initiative Project, an aggressive, non-state-funded project to review, edit and align the Criminal Code and the Unified Code of Corrections in Illinois.
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