New PREA Regulations Should Apply to Immigration Detainees

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First welcomes today’s release from the U.S. Department of Justice of a final rule to govern standards that protect prisoners from sexual abuse. The new standards are required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed by Congress in 2003 to “prevent, detect, respond to and monitor sexual abuse of incarcerated or detained individuals throughout the United States.” DOJ’s final rule does not apply to immigrants held by the Department of Homeland Security, though it does clearly state that PREA applies to all federal confinement facilities. “DOJ’s PREA regulations should apply to all facilities holding individuals in federal custody, including immigration detainees. Unfortunately, they don’t. Instead, they permit the Department of Homeland Security to develop an entirely separate set of regulations to protect immigration detainees from sexual abuse. It’s a redundant effort and a tremendous waste of government resources,” noted Human Rights First’s Ruthie Epstein. “But we hope that DHS will move forward immediately to ensure that individuals in its custody are safe from sexual abuse by developing enforceable regulations, rather than relying on its current insufficient standards.” The administration has consistently promised to prioritize the safety of immigration detainees – which should include protection from sexual abuse – through an ambitious reform effort announced in 2009. In 2011, Human Rights First released a report, “Jails and Jumpsuits: Transforming the U.S. Detention System – A Two-Year Review,” that was the first comprehensive assessment of the administration’s progress toward meeting its detention reform commitments. The report found that asylum seekers and other civil immigration law detainees continue to be held overwhelmingly in jails and jail-like facilities, with a full 50 percent held in actual jails. Following consultation with prison professional and other experts, the report concluded that a normalized environment – one that replicates as much as possible life on the outside – can help to ensure the safety and security of any detention facility. It also found that DHS and ICE continue to rely on detention standards modeled on correctional detention standards, and had failed to adopt sexual abuse prevention standards as required by PREA. Human Rights First continues to urge the administration to redouble its commitment to immigration detention reform by:

  • Ensuring that all facilities holding immigration detainees are covered by the PREA standards, including the supplemental immigration detention standards developed by the bipartisan federal National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, as clearly intended by Congress and the Commission it created;
  • Ending the use of prisons, jails, and jail-like facilities to detain civil immigration law detainees;
  • After an individualized assessment of the need to detain, using facilities that provide a more appropriate normalized environment for immigration law detainees;
  • Developing and implementing new standards not modeled on corrections standards to specify conditions appropriate for civil immigration detention; and
  • Creating an effective nationwide system of less costly Alternatives to Detention for those who cannot be released without additional supervision, and ensuring that cost savings are realized in the program’s expansion by reallocating part of the detention budget to an increase in the ATD budget.

Published on May 17, 2012


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