Senate Committee Authorization Could Impact PREA Penalties

WASHINGTON — Several pieces of correctional legislation received support from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 18. The committee reauthorized S.1690, also known as the Second Chance Act, at $100 million, and attached an amendment to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) that would exempt certain programs from PREA’s current non-compliance funding fine. This positions both bills for congressional consideration when the body reconvenes after the upcoming November elections.

The Second Chance Act of 2007 supports improvements and expansion to state and local community reentry programs serving both juvenile and adult offenders. However, Cornyn’s attached amendment specifically impacts PREA-related fines. Currently, PREA enacts a 5 percent correctional funding penalty on all states that do not comply with the act, or have not communicated with the federal government their intent to comply.

To date, just New Jersey and New Hampshire have reached full PREA compliance, while an additional 41 states have made assurances to the Department of Justice that they will become compliant within the year. As such, these states can avoid the 5 percent penalty, which impacts a variety of programs, if the money is dedicated to compliance efforts. The governors of Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas and Utah, however, have elected not to comply with PREA, citing reasons ranging from funding to staffing constraints.

Cornyn’s PREA amendment would narrow the field of programs affected by non-compliance. The amendment would protect funding related to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the Violence Against Women Act and the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, which Cornyn said were only included in the penalty as a result of a “misinterpretation” of PREA, according to Chronicles of Social Change.

“I want to protect PREA by making sure it’s not used to harm domestic violence programs and law enforcement officials,” Cornyn told the online news source. “I was a co-sponsor of PREA, but I also care about law enforcement having the resources they need.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee also moved to authorize amendments to the 1974 Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. The act, S.2646, provides financial support for transitional housing programs, street outreach activities and basic shelter for homeless and runaway youth, with an annual appropriation of roughly $100 million. The committee also approved an extension of the maximum basic shelter stay from 21 to 30 days.

Additionally, the move mandated that “trauma-informed and gender-responsive” counseling and services be provided to those in transitional living programs, and would create a compensation fund for victims of human trafficking from monies recovered from sex trafficking sting operations, according to Witness LA.

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