New Rules Protect Juveniles in Adult Prisons

The Justice Department released a landmark ruling on Thursday to help protect juvenile offenders from falling victim to sexual abuse in adult prisons.

juvenile prisonThe ruling marks the first-ever federal effort aimed at setting standards to protect inmates, both juvenile and adult, in correctional facilities on the local, state and federal level.

“The standards we establish today reflect the fact that sexual assault crimes committed within our correctional facilities can have devastating consequences – for individual victims and for communities far beyond our jails and prisons,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a DOJ release.

The standard also restricts the placement of juveniles in adult facilities, aiming to protect youth from sexual abuse by limiting contact between youth and adults behind bars through four specific requirements:

  • Prohibiting the placement of youth in the general adult prison population
  • Eliminating contact between adults and youth in common areas,
  • Ensuring youth are under constant supervision
  • And limiting the use of isolation for juveniles.

States that will be most affected by the new regulations are the 13 states that end juvenile court jurisdiction before the age of 18. Although classified by state-law as adults, the new federal rule clarifies that all inmates under the age of 18 deserve special protections.

“The PREA standards will protect hundreds of thousands of kids prosecuted in the adult system every year, and get us one step closer to completely removing youth from adult jails and prisons,” Liz Ryan, CEO and president of Campaign for Youth Justice, said in a release.

The ruling established the DOJ’s final standards on the Prison Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA). Congress passed the act in an effort to stop sexual violence behind bars, but the most recent draft in 2011 failed to address the unique challenges faced by youth in adult facilities.

In response to calls for public comment on the measure, a contingent of advocacy groups, professional organizations, individuals and groups from every state in the nation pushed Holder for a complete ban on the placement of youth in adult correctional facilities.

While not a complete ban, state and local facilities have a year to begin complying with the new rules or risk a five-percent-reduction in federal funding. Correctional facilities around the country will also be audited every three years to assess compliance.

After passing the PREA in 2003, Congress established the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) to develop and recommend a set of standards for the attorney general. Between 2004 and 2009, the NPREC held public hearings and tapped expert committees to draft the standards. The DOJ then released the standards for public comment in 2010 and drafted proposed rules a year later that were open to another round of comment.

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