THE PRISON Rape Elimination Act is binding on federal facilities, and prisons operated by states may lose federal funds if they don’t comply with its standards. But nothing requires local lockups to adopt zero tolerance toward the sexual abuse of inmates — nothing, that is, but common sense and decency. That’s what Montgomery County officials have demonstrated by bringing their correctional facilities into voluntary compliance with the federal law. It’s a move we hope other jurisdictions will follow.
Montgomery corrections officials were recently notified that its pre-release and reentry services now meet all of the requirements established under PREA, the bill Congress passed with bipartisan support in 2003 to root out rape and other unwanted sexual behaviors that are sadly endemic in U.S. prisons. These two were the last of the facilities the county operates to put into place best practices in preventing and dealing with sexual assaults.
Montgomery and Wicomico County appear to be the first jurisdictions in Maryland to undergo audits for PREA; the state reports that it is on track to bring all state-run detention facilities in line. Two states — New Hampshire and New Jersey — are in full compliance, and 47 states and territories have promised to become so. Seven states — including Utah, Arizona, Florida and Texas — balked last year, some citing the costs; Friday is the deadline for states to promise to come into compliance or risk the loss of federal funds.
Robert L. Green, Montgomery’s acting corrections director who once served as warden of the correctional center, told us he and other county officials did not hesitate to abide by the PREA standards, which were developed by a commission and finalized in 2012 by Justice Department officials. He said there is nothing “irrational or unreasonable” about the standards, which include ways to screen inmates to identify possible predators and victims and procedures to ensure that complaints are investigated. PREA also aims to improve safety for corrections staff, and compliance can help deter litigation.
Montgomery County has not had major problems with prison rape, but it is right to put in safeguards so that problems don’t develop. “We take seriously our obligation to protect anyone who comes into our custody,” said Mr. Green. “Why wouldn’t we want to make our facilities safer?”