Comments To the PREA Regulations re Staffing
The Youth Law Center joined other advocacy organizations in submitting formal comments to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulations retain staffing ratios for juvenile facilities. PREA regulations were issued in June 2012 calling for juvenile facilities around the country to comply with a comprehensive set of requirements designed to prevent sexual misconduct and harassment, and to response appropriately if it does occur. Although the proposed regulation on staffing for juvenile facilities called for a 1:8 staff to youth ratio, additional comments were requested on 12 specific questions. Together, the advocacy groups researched existing standards, cases involving sexual abuse and harassment, and the legislative record from PREA, to develop comprehensive comments on the proposed staffing ratios. The comments strongly support the Department of Justice inclusion of minimum staff-to-youth ratios in the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) juvenile facility standards as one of the best ways of preventing and detecting sexual misconduct. The comments urge that, by establishing a minimum level of direct supervision, agencies and facilities will be better equipped to prevent and detect the red flags associated with victimization. When implemented alongside other tools to combat sexual misconduct such as staff training, youth education, supervision of staff, and reporting mechanisms, the minimum staff-to-youth ratios present the best opportunity to protect youth from sexual misconduct. In fact, the comments urge an even stronger staffing ratio of 1:6 during resident waking hours, already being used in some jurisdictions and by the Department of Justice itself in federal civil rights investigations, but if that is not feasible, urge the retention of the 1:8 ratio as a minimum standard to prevent sexual abuse and harassment in juvenile facilities. The comments also call for a strengthening of the definition of “exigent circumstances” that allow for a departure from minimum staffing requirements. They encourage a strengthened definition that limits exceptions to situations that present a serious threat to the safety of an institution and that requires agencies to plan ahead for foreseeable occurrences. The comments call, further, for a clarification that the staffing ratios include only staff who directly supervise and interact with youth when computing staffing ratios. They also call for a requirement that all juvenile facilities have at least two direct care staff on duty at all times when youth are present. And finally, the comments call for the Department to require immediate steps to comply with the standard, with full compliance by August 20, 2014. This will give jurisdictions a full two years to meet the standard.