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FAQs: Working with Incarcerated Survivors and Correctional Facilities

Q: What correctional facilities does the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) apply to?

A: Most detention facilities are required to comply with PREA. This includes state and federal prisons, jails, juvenile detention, work release, community confinement, lockup, and immigration detention facilities.

All of the PREA standards can be found on the PREA Resource Center's website.

Q: What does PREA say about access to sexual assault advocacy services for inmates who experience sexual assault in detention?

A: Correctional facilities must provide access to outside confidential support services (advocacy) for hospital accompaniment, investigatory interviews, emotional support, crisis intervention, information, and referrals.

For more details, read these WCSAP resources about the victim services standards.

Q: What about confidentiality?

A: PREA requires correctional facilities to enable reasonable communication in as confidential a manner as possible. Community-based sexual assault advocates' confidentiality obligations apply in this setting and conversations between an inmate sexual assault victim and an advocate are privileged in Washington State.

For specific language, read these WCSAP resources about the victim services standards.

Q: Our agency has begun working with a correctional facility to provide advocacy services to inmates who are sexually assaulted. The correctional facility told me that I have to report back to them if an inmate tells me they were sexually assaulted in the facility. Is that true?

A: No. Almost everyone who enters a correctional facility - staff, contractors, volunteers - is required to report to the facility if they see or hear about a sexual assault that occurred in the facility. However, community-based sexual assault advocates who work for an outside agency are not required to report back, and should not do so, unless the survivor requests this or an exception to confidentiality applies (e.g. mandated reporting of child abuse or abuse of a vulnerable adult), because they would be violating their confidentiality obligations.

Q: A correctional facility has asked us to be available to provide advocacy services to inmates who experience sexual assault in their facility. They also want us to serve as an external/outside reporting entity. What is this and should we do it?

A: Correctional facilities are required to provide inmates with many different options for reporting sexual assault that occurs in their facility. One of these options must be reporting to an entity that is outside of the correctional facility and is not affiliated with it. This entity receives reports of sexual assault, including anonymous reports, and then is required to provide information about the assault back to the facility where it occurred for investigation purposes.

Correctional facilities are also required to provide access to outside confidential support services (advocacy). This requirement is in a different PREA standard than the external reporting entity requirement and it is not the intention of PREA for the same agency to serve in both roles. Serving as the external reporting entity would not be an appropriate role for a community-based sexual assault advocacy program, because the program would be part of system-based response, and would have to determine if a survivor was calling for support or to report. It should be clear to survivors that calling the community-based sexual assault program is for the purpose of confidential support and that the program will not report information back to the correctional facility.

The PREA Resource Center recently put out a fact sheet, Untangling the PREA Standards: Outside Reporting, Confidential Support, and Third-Party Reporting Fact Sheet to help correctional facilities understand these different standards and their obligations related to them.

Reviewed: March 21st, 2017