HARRISBURG, Pa., Jan. 28, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Department of Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel announces that he received notification that the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh has met all applicable Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards following an audit that was conducted earlier in 2014.
"We are pleased to have our first facility become PREA compliant," Secretary John E. Wetzel said. "It signifies that our employees have been successful in their work to increase sexual safety in our prisons and to enforce our agency's zero tolerance policy."
The agency's zero tolerance policy dictates that anyone who engages in, fails to report or knowingly condones sexual harassment or sexual abuse of an inmate shall be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination. Employees also are required to immediately report any inappropriate staff-inmate behavior and are protected against any form of retaliation for doing so.
Wetzel said that this audit is only the first of many. SCI Muncy, located in Lycoming County, was audited in December; and in 2015, nearly half of the state's prisons are scheduled to be audited.
Independent auditors trained and certified by the Department of Justice conduct PREA audits. They look to ensure that victims are treated appropriately when an allegation is made and that prison employees follow a consistent course of action each time. Auditors also ensure that staff and inmates are educated about sexual abuse and PREA.
"During the SCI Pittsburgh audit, which was conducted June 30 through July 3, 2014, the team toured the facility looking to identify any areas that are not compliant with the standards and observed and randomly interviewed staff to see that standards are being implemented appropriately," said DOC PREA Coordinator Jennifer Feicht.
Feicht said the audit included measurement against 43 national standards that ensure the prison has appropriate procedures and documentation in place; that all employees are current with required training; and that inmates have been given the required education and assessments. PREA standards define sexual abuse and sexual harassment to include any form of sexual activity, consensual or otherwise, among inmates or staff-on-inmate.
SCI Pittsburgh's audit is good for a period of three years, and the audit report will be made publicly available on the DOC's website once it is received.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act, was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Sept. 4, 2003. The final regulatory standards to implement PREA went into effect on Aug. 20, 2012.
Since the new regulations were published by the U.S. attorney general in August 2012, all states are required to take a number of actions to prevent, detect, reduce and respond to sexual abuse in confinement facilities. Among these are:
- establishment of a zero-tolerance standard for sexual harassment and sexual assault
- training and education of correctional staff, contractors and volunteers about the nature of prison sexual violence, and how to prevent, detect and respond to incidents of sexual assault
- thorough and appropriate risk assessment and screening of offenders to keep apart potential aggressors and potential victims
- holding corrections administrators accountable for the occurrence of prison sexual violence in their facilities
- disciplining and prosecution of corrections staff who perpetrate sexual abuse against an inmate
- collection and reporting data on prison sexual violence
To learn more about PREA as it relates to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, individuals should visit this page of the DOC's website: http://www.cor.pa.gov/Administration/PrisonRapeEliminationAct(PREA)/Pages/default.aspx
Susan McNaughton, 717-728-4025
Susan Bensinger, 717-728-4026
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Corrections