Part III: Special
Part II: Responding to
Victims and Perpetrators
Part I: Understanding and
Preventing Sexual Abuse

National Prison Rape Elimination Commission logo



Sexual abuse is among the most destructive of crimes, brutal and devastating in the moment and carrying the potential to haunt victims forever. In the recent past, our society often blamed victims of sexual abuse for being attacked, and many perpetrators were not held accountable. Americans now recognize sexual abuse as a violent crime with life-changing consequences. Yet the public has been slow to incorporate that perspective into its understanding of sexual violence in correctional environments. Many still consider sexual abuse an expected consequence of incarceration, part of the penalty and the basis for jokes; some people doubt that incarcerated victims of sexual abuse experience trauma or terror and may even believe they are willing participants in the assaults against them.

In reality, sexual abuse in correctional environments is a serious concern with dire consequences, especially for victims. Individuals confined in correctional facilities or under supervision in the community must be protected from sexual predators. They do not relinquish their fundamental human rights when they are incarcerated or otherwise constrained. They still have the right to be treated in a manner consistent with basic human dignity, the right to personal safety, and the right to justice if they become victims of crime. Prisons, jails, and other correctional environments are part of the justice system, not apart from it.

More than 7.3 million Americans are in prison, jail, a residential facility for adults or juveniles, or supervised in the community, at a cost of more than $68 billion annually. These numbers reflect America’s increased reliance in recent decades on incarceration as a criminal justice tool. This tough-on-crime approach was intended to improve public safety, and some would argue that declining crime rates demonstrate its success. However, it has also resulted in the largest prison population in the world and has stretched correctional resources to their limits.

Our society depends on correctional agencies to protect the public from dangerous individuals, to punish those who engage in criminal activity, and—most important for public safety in the long term—to change negative patterns of behavior among the incarcerated and supervised.
Institutional violence and sexual abuse in particular undermine the very purposes of corrections. They make facilities less safe for everyone, they consume scarce resources, and their consequences extend into our cities and towns as 95 percent of all prisoners are one day released.

Congress affirmed the duty to protect incarcerated individuals from sexual abuse by enacting the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, taking the first national step toward a new understanding of the problem. Supported by the work of advocacy groups from diverse perspectives and political positions, the House and Senate voted unanimously to pass the Act. As part of that work, Congress created the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to study the causes and consequences of sexual abuse in confinement and to develop standards for eliminating abuse.

Since its formation, the Commission has convened public hearings and committees of experts around the country. Corrections leaders, survivors of abuse, health care providers, researchers, legal experts, advocates, and academics shared their knowledge and experience with the Commission. We conducted a thorough review of the existing literature and tasked others to conduct new studies to resolve some of the unanswered questions about causality and intervention.

At the center of this work was our effort to develop standards to prevent, detect, and punish sexual abuse in all correctional settings. The Commission customized these standards to address the specific circumstances under which sexual abuse occurs in facilities for juveniles, in the growing field of community corrections, and among immigrants detained in the course of removal proceedings. Persons on probation and parole or otherwise supervised in the community, either before or after their criminal case is adjudicated, are within the scope of the standards, which encompass staff sexual misconduct and sexual abuse between prisoners. Although the issue of prisoners sexually assaulting staff is a serious matter, it is not included within the statutory mandate of PREA and thus is not addressed directly in the Commission’s standards or report. However, the Commission believes that our standards and the requirements they outline to protect prisoners from sexual abuse will also make institutions and individual staff members safer.

The Commission consulted informally with Native American leaders and heard distressing testimony at a public hearing about the conditions of tribal detention facilities (those operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other facilities where Native Americans are detained). Correctional facilities in Indian Country are certainly within PREA’s ambit. However, the time-consuming work of consulting with numerous and diverse sovereign nations and entities posed an insurmountable challenge. We encourage Native American leaders to adapt the standards to their cultures and communities. The Commission also hopes that military detention facilities funded by the Federal Government and correctional facilities in the territories will implement similar standards to protect prisoners from sexual abuse.

Two 60-day periods of public comment proved to be critical junctures in the development of the standards. The Commission received written comments from more than 225 institutions, entities, and individuals. Additionally, both during and after the periods of public comment, we convened a series of roundtable discussions involving key stakeholders, including representatives of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, associations of corrections professionals, diverse advocacy groups, law enforcement associations, large and small correctional facilities, community corrections agencies, and survivors of sexual abuse. In the course of these discussions, participants conveyed their particular concerns and offered important and useful suggestions for refining the standards.

During the public comment period, the Commission also conducted a Standards Implementation Needs Assessment (SINA) project. The Commission used the SINA process to elicit feedback on the standards through a series of “case studies” at particular facilities. More than 40 facilities from around the country applied to participate in the SINA process; the Commission selected 11 sites that reflected differences in capacity, populations, and geographic settings and that included jails and prisons; facilities for men, women, and juveniles; and community corrections facilities. Each site visit took place over 1-and-a-half days and included a facility tour and five structured interviews: one with the warden or superintendent, the others with small groups discussing general issues, training, medical and mental health, and investigations. With the exception of the meeting with the warden or superintendent, interviews involved a variety of staff with experience relevant to the particular interview topic.

The specific practical advice and constructive feedback we received throughout the standards review process were extremely useful and resulted in significant and substantial revisions. One outstanding area of concern was the anticipated cost of some changes required by the standards as originally drafted. Although concerns about cost are understandable, Congress, State legislatures, and county and city officials must provide adequate resources to ensure safe correctional and detention facilities. The Commission acknowledges that this is a formidable task, especially in the current economic climate. From the outset, we have been mindful of the statutory prohibition against recommending standards that would impose substantial additional costs compared to current expenditures. With the assistance of information provided during the public comment period, the Commission attempted to further limit potential new costs and to shape realistic standards that represent what is minimally required to meet Congress’ mandate to eliminate sexual abuse in confinement.

Many of the requirements set forth in the standards reflect basic obligations already mandated by existing laws on the health and safety of confined persons, and many correctional systems and facilities currently meet those mandates. To the extent that the standards create new costs, those expenditures are necessary to fulfill the requirements outlined in PREA. And those costs are not substantial when compared to the significance of lives damaged or destroyed by sexual abuse and the broader costs of undermining the purposes of corrections in America.

The Commissioners invite readers of this final report to consider what we discovered about sexual abuse in confinement. Our core findings open each chapter. What follows is a discussion of the facts that led us to reach that conclusion and to formulate specific standards to ameliorate that aspect of the problem. The nine chapters are grouped into three parts, beginning with a look at the prevalence and nature of sexual abuse and broad strategies to prevent abuse, ranging from leadership, to screening, to oversight. It is followed by chapters on how to respond to victims and perpetrators. The final part of the report encompasses chapters exploring the problem of sexual abuse among three special populations: juveniles, people under supervision in the community, and immigration detainees.

The Commission worked assiduously to ensure the accuracy and credibility of all sources of information. We have attempted to communicate complex concepts through a combination of personal accounts and reflections, many of them conveyed in sworn testimony to the Commission; historic and contemporary research; data; and information about current policies and practices provided by corrections administrators and staff. In the case of accounts of sexual abuse and other comments by survivors, the Commission held itself to a significantly high standard, typically requiring that information be drawn only from court cases, most of them resolved, or through sworn testimony to the Commission. As a result, several incidents of sexual abuse described in the report occurred many years ago. Nevertheless, the Commission believes they illustrate continuing problems and challenges in correctional facilities today.

Relevant standards appear in the margin of the report for easy reference and are briefly discussed in the text.* Neither the content of the report nor the discussion accompanying each standard modifies the mandatory nature of the standards. A complete list of standards is available as an appendix to the report. Separate volumes of each set of standards also contain helpful checklists and further discussion. Readers can learn more about policies, practices, and programs implemented in facilities across the country by consulting the sample of PREA Initiatives also included as an appendix. Despite fiscal and other constraints, conscientious administrators have made impressive progress in the facilities they manage both before and since the passage of PREA.

The Commission has formulated recommendations about what leaders in government outside corrections can do to support PREA. We discuss these recommendations throughout the report, and a complete list is included as an appendix. In particular, additional resources are needed to continue the research, training, and technical assistance begun and funded through PREA and to make the aims of the legislation a reality. Also, given the Commission’s own arduous journey, we are mindful of the resources the Attorney General will need on receipt of our report and standards.

The Commission sunsets 60 days following the submission of our report and standards to Congress, the President, the Attorney General, and other Federal and State officials. The real work of implementation begins then, on the part of the Attorney General and his staff; corrections and detention professionals throughout the United States; and the many survivors, advocates, and service providers committed to this issue. Within a year of receiving our report and standards, the Attorney General is required to promulgate national standards for the detection, prevention,
reduction, and punishment of detention facility sexual abuse.

The Commissioners remain ready to assist the Attorney General, Congress, our Nation’s many corrections and detention leaders and staff, and others as they move forward on this matter of moral and legal consequence to incarcerated individuals, those who are responsible for their safety, and the American public.

Chair Reggie B. Walton

The Honorable Reggie B. Walton is a Federal district judge, appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2001. In June 2004, President Bush appointed Judge Walton Chair of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.

Before joining the bench of the U.S. District Court, Judge Walton was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to be Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where he had served as Deputy Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division. When called upon by President George H.W. Bush to become Associate Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Executive Office of the President, Judge Walton resigned his Superior Court judgeship to assume the Associate Director’s responsibilities. Later, Judge Walton served President George H.W. Bush as Senior White House Advisor for Crime. President George H.W. Bush reappointed Judge Walton to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where he thereafter served as Presiding Judge of the Family Division and Presiding Judge of the Domestic Violence Unit.

Judge Walton earned his Bachelor of Arts from West Virginia State College in 1971 and his Juris Doctor from American University’s Washington College of Law in 1974.

Vice-Chair John A. Kaneb

Commissioner John A. Kaneb is Chairman of the Board of Directors of HP Hood LLC. He is also President of The Catamount Companies and a partner in the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise.

In addition to his other duties, Mr. Kaneb is a Trustee Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame. He is also an Emeritus Trustee of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Emeritus Trustee and former Chairman of the Board of McLean Hospital. Mr. Kaneb has served numerous other boards, committees, and task forces, including the Board of Fellows of the Harvard Medical School.

Mr. Kaneb earned his Bachelor of Arts in economics from Harvard College. He holds Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Saint Anselm College and the University of Notre Dame.

Commissioner James E. Aiken

Commissioner James E. Aiken, President of James E. Aiken &
Associates, Inc., consults with attorneys and testifies as an expert witness in death penalty and civil cases.

Mr. Aiken has more than 33 years of experience in correctional administration, facility operations and management, inspection and assessment of facility performance, and technical assistance consulting. Mr. Aiken has served every level of government—Federal, State, county, and local—in the areas of correctional leadership, organizational development, management of prison disturbances, system productivity, cost containment, prison security system enhancement, management of violent youthful offenders in adult prisons, gang and security threat group management, new wardens’ training, super-maximum security facility management training, assessment of prison security/operational performance, prison staffing analysis, reduction of prison critical security, and development of prison classification systems designed to better protect inmate populations.

Mr. Aiken earned his Bachelor of Arts from Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, and his Master of Arts in criminal justice from the University of South Carolina.

Commissioner Jamie Fellner

Commissioner Jamie Fellner is Senior Counsel for the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch. The U.S. Program focuses on human rights violations in the United States.

In addition to her own research and writing, Ms. Fellner works with researchers and advocates in the areas of excessively high criminal sentences; over-incarceration; prison conditions, including treatment of mentally ill offenders, prison rape, and super-maximum security confinement; ex-offender reentry problems; mistreatment of immigrants; and human rights abuses resulting from antiterrorism policies.

Ms. Fellner served as Director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch from 2001 to September 2007 and as Associate Counsel from 1994 to 2001. Before beginning work on U.S. criminal justice issues, Ms. Fellner worked as a researcher and advocate for the organization’s Americas Division, focusing on several South American countries. Additionally, Ms. Fellner has worked with several U.S. foundations that operated Latin American social justice programs.

Ms. Fellner earned her Bachelor of Arts from Smith College and her Juris Doctor from Boalt Hall at the University of California, Berkeley. She also completed doctoral studies in Latin American history at Stanford University and has practiced law in the District of Columbia.

Commissioner Pat Nolan

Commissioner Pat Nolan is the President of Justice Fellowship, the public policy arm of Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries. Mr.
Nolan is also the author of When Prisoners Return, describing the important role the church can play in helping people lead healthy, productive lives following their release.

Mr. Nolan brings a unique background to Justice Fellowship. He served for 15 years in the California State Assembly, including four years as the Assembly’s Republican Leader. Mr. Nolan has long been a leader on crime issues, particularly on behalf of victims’ rights, and was one of the original sponsors of the Victims’ Bill of Rights. Parents of Murdered Children awarded Mr. Nolan its Victims’ Advocate Award, and many groups named Mr. Nolan “Legislator of the Year.” Then, as part of a Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation, Mr. Nolan was prosecuted for a campaign contribution he received and pled guilty to one count of racketeering. He served 25 months in a Federal prison and 4 months in a halfway house, and that experience changed the course of his life and work forever.

Mr. Nolan earned his Bachelor of Arts in political science and his Juris Doctor from the University of Southern California.

Commissioner Gustavus A. Puryear IV

Commissioner Gustavus A. Puryear IV is Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of Corrections Corporation of America. As General Counsel, Mr. Puryear is responsible for Corrections Corporation of America’s legal and regulatory affairs, including its litigation and risk management, contract management, labor and employment issues, corporate governance matters, and compliance with Federal securities laws. Additionally, Mr. Puryear supervises the company’s compliance and ethics program as well as its quality assurance program.

Mr. Puryear graduated from Emory University with highest honors in 1990. He earned his Juris Doctor with honors from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1993.

Commissioner Brenda V. Smith

Commissioner Brenda V. Smith is a Professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, where she teaches community and economic development law, legal ethics and women, and crime and law. Her research interests center on women in conflict with the law and on sexual abuse of individuals in custody. Professor Smith is also Project Director and Principal Investigator for the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Corrections Cooperative Agreement on Addressing Staff Sexual Misconduct with Offenders. She is an expert on issues affecting women in prison, a topic about which she has widely published and spoken.

Before her appointment to the faculty of the Washington College of Law, Professor Smith was Senior Counsel for Economic Security at the
National Women’s Law Center. She has also served as the Director of the Center’s Women in Prison Project and its Child and Family Support Project.

Professor Smith earned her Bachelor of Arts from Spelman College and her Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center.

Commissioner Cindy Struckman-Johnson

Commissioner Cindy Struckman-Johnson is a Professor of Psychology at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. For nearly 25 years, Professor Struckman-Johnson has taught social psychology, sex roles, sexuality, and prejudice classes. Together with her partner, David Struckman-Johnson, a Professor of Computer Science, she has researched sexual coercion in prisons since 1994 and has received two national awards for her work in this area. To date, Professor Struckman-Johnson has studied sexual coercion rates in 10 male and four female prison facilities.

Professor Struckman-Johnson earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of Kentucky.


Margaret M. Chiara, General Counsel and Executive Director (Acting)

Jenni Trovillion, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer

Julia Dempewolf, Program Associate

Sobha Ketterer, Administrative Officer

Joya Taft-Dick, Research Associate


The Moss Group, Inc.

National Academy of Public Administration

Palladian Partners, Inc.

The Raben Group

Vera Institute of Justice


Sarah Alexander

Justin Barasky

Isra Bhatty

Amanda Bosquez

Michela Bowman

Angela Browne

Sharon Brett

Taavona Brooks

Christopher Britten

Alexander Busansky

Alissa Cambier

Christopher Campbell

Sherry Carroll

Kathleen Dennehy

Mara Dodson

Erica Drucker

Robert Dumond

Christopher Erlewine

Kathryn Fanlund

Rachel Farbiarz

Nicole Garnett

Mark Glaze

Tara Graham

Haley Griffin

Gabrielle Guzzardo

Allison Hastings

Jennifer Haymes

Kristen Henning

Jane Hereth

Richard Hoffman

Meaghan Hohl

Katharine Huffman

Henry Huggins

Leonard Jackson

Juliene James

Anita Khashu

Jessie Kirchner

Christy Lopez

Tony Marks

Pamala Micheaux

Marcia Morgan

Anadora Moss

Steven Newman

Emily Niedzwiecki

Robert Raben

Thomas Santaniello

Margo Schlanger

Kerri Sherlock Talbot

Jeff Shorba

Nina Siulc

Jessica St. John

Richard Tewksbury

L. Jackson Thomas, II

Jennifer Trone

Jaime Yarussi

Jason Zeidenberg

The Commission’s work would not have been possible without the significant contributions of a wide array of individuals and entities. Foremost, Senators Edward Kennedy and Jeffrey Sessions, with their colleagues Senators Mike DeWine, Richard J. Durbin, and Dianne Feinstein and Representatives Frank Wolf and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, sponsors of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, have never wavered in their dedication to eliminating sexual abuse in confinement and their support for the efforts of this Commission.

The Office of Justice Programs of the U.S. Department of Justice has provided able administrative support to the Commission throughout its tenure. The Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the National Institute of Corrections, and the National Institute of Justice have been spirited collaborators as we each labored to fulfill our mandate under PREA.

The National Institute of Corrections/American University, Washington College of Law Project on Addressing Prison Rape has provided a valuable service to the Commission by identifying legal resources and subject matter experts and by keeping the Commission abreast of emerging trends in the area of prison rape.

Professional organizations and associations in the field of corrections have provided significant input to the Commission throughout the development of the standards and report. They include the American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the American Probation and Parole Association, the International Community
Corrections Association, and several labor unions, among others. The Commission is also grateful to the many individual corrections professionals who helped inform us about current policies and practices intended to prevent and respond to sexual abuse.

Just Detention International (formerly Stop Prisoner Rape) played a pivotal role in our public hearings by identifying survivors of sexual abuse willing to testify and also by providing emotional and other support to those survivors throughout the process. And to the courageous individuals who shared their stories of abuse with us, we hope you realize how much your voices and experiences shed light on a problem that is misunderstood by many. In this way, you helped protect others from the kinds of harm you have suffered.

Many generous and gracious hosts provided space for our public meetings and hearings. They included the University of Notre Dame Law School in Indiana; the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC; the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California in San Francisco; the Federal Detention Center in Miami, Florida; the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts; the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse, Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit; the U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles, California; the University of Texas School of Law in Austin; and the U.S. Federal District Courthouse, Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans.

Finally, the Commission is deeply indebted to the many corrections leaders, researchers, legal experts, advocates, and academics who shared their knowledge and experiences through public hearings, expert committees, roundtable meetings, and public comment on the Commission’s draft standards. We regret space does not allow us to acknowledge everyone by name.