The purpose of this descriptive study was to identify and document promising practices for the prevention and response to sexual assault in juvenile residential facilities and adult jails in the United States. The ultimate goal of the study was to gather information on best practices and promote their adoption within other correctional agencies.
Researchers developed an on-line survey for distribution to correctional facilities to identify those that demonstrate appropriate responses to sexual assault. The survey assessed facilities' existing protocol for preventing and responding to sexual assault, which researchers used to select for site visits eight facilities that demonstrated positive prevention or intervention initiatives. The eight facilities included five adult jails and three juvenile residential facilities, each of which researchers visited to conduct interviews with staff and review documents to ascertain safety practices.
Researchers concluded early on in the study that "providing safety from sexual assault translated to a larger, more intrinsic focus on overall institutional safety." This general observation informed the identification of 11 "promising practices" that were common across the facilities. They address valuable leadership qualities and diversity in hiring; open communication between staff, inmates, and residents; standardized and ongoing staff training; direct supervision of residents and inmates; comprehensive investigation processes to respond to assault; a reliable system of data collection and incident tracking; and programs and services that effectively respond to the needs and interests of prisoners and juvenile residents.
In light of the 2003 passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, this study demonstrates a renewed commitment to sexual assault prevention and response for populations that have been grossly underserved in this area. Its set of promising practices reflects consideration of some of the interpersonal, structural and environmental factors that influence overall institutional safety and may serve as a template by which to model reform within other correctional agencies.
However, there are key areas of inquiry that are absent from the study and its subsequent report. Researchers neglected to thoroughly consider important identity categories that put certain communities at increased risk of physical and emotional abuse and also limit their access to appropriate social support and medical services. In their identification of 11 promising practices, the authors fail to sufficiently address the needs of LGBTQ people, particularly youth, who are typically denied inclusive and effective sexual and reproductive health care and are often survivors of gender-based violence, including sexual assault.
While researchers acknowledge that men who have sex with men are at greater risk of sexual assault in jails, the report would benefit from more deliberate and comprehensive analysis of the interactions between sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sexual violence. The Center for HIV Law and Policy recently released a set of three standards to ensure that sexual health care is included in basic medical services for young people in detention and other types of state custody, and that it meets minimum requirements for competent care. These standards are an important supplement to this report, as they fill a critical gap in the resources currently available to youth in state facilities. They can be downloaded here.