WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security has finalized comprehensive Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards to detect, prevent, reduce and respond to sexual abuse and assault in DHS immigration facilities. The move to finalize standards also meets a May 2012 Presidential Directive, and builds on current DHS sexual assault safeguards, detention policies and practices.
“DHS is committed to upholding a culture that promotes safety and refuses to tolerate abuse,” said Secretary Jeh Johnson in the recent announcement. “This rule will strengthen standards in DHS confinement facilities and ensure robust oversight.”
These new PREA regulations, which will cover facilities overseen by both ICE and U.S. Customs Border Patrol, include a zero tolerance policy for any sexual abuse of immigration detainees, and establish mandatory training for all staff. They also require that DHS detention facilities undergo at least one outside audit for PREA compliance every three years. Additionally, they prohibit cross-gender searches of women, establish oversight and limitations when it comes to isolating alleged sexual abuse victims, and increase protects for transgender and intersex detainees.
“DHS reiterates that sexual violence against any victim is an assault on human dignity,” the DHS wrote. “Such acts are particularly damaging in the detention environment, where the power dynamic is heavily skewed against victims and recourse is often limited. Until recently, however, this has been viewed by some as an inevitable aspect of detention within the United States. This view is not only incorrect but incompatible with American values.”
The act was first introduced in 2003, and was met with broad bipartisan support. The recent finalization also received strong endorsements, particularly from the American Civil Liberties Union.
“For the tens of thousands of immigrants held unnecessarily in detention every day, today’s rule…is a hugely important development that will help ensure their safety and dignity,” said Amy Fettig, ACLU senior staff counsel, in a release. “DHS must move swiftly to implement these standards in detention facilities nationwide, including in those that are privately run and the county jails that hold most immigrants in custody. We welcome the U.S. government finally coming to terms with the tragic history of sexual abuse in immigration detention and are encouraged that these standards will go a long way to addressing this problem.”
According to a release issued by the department, DHS will continue to develop policies, procedures and practices that advance PREA’s goal of preventing sexual abuse in confinement facilities, and is fully committed to the full implementation of these new regulations as well as continued oversight of the detention system.