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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Becoming compliant with Prison Rape Elimination Act

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  • A detention center inmate should be safe from sexual abuse or harassment—as should the law enforcement officers working there.
    The Prison Rape Elimination Act's (PREA) goal is to increase the capacity for prevention, detection, and response to sexual abuse in confinement. It applies to every adult and juvenile prison or detention center where state or federal prisoners are held.
    In order to keep their contract to house federal inmates, Harvey County Detention Center will need to become PREA compliant in time for an audit August, 2015.
    “It's a huge undertaking,” said Sheriff T. Walton.
    There are 52 PREA standards with which to comply. “It changes our whole operations at the dentention center and how we run,” said Walton. There will be new forms, new screening tools, different ways to treat inmates and more. He noted that they have not had any cases of sexual abuse.
    For the last several weeks, and even weekends, the sheriff has been writing a PREA policy and redoing their policy procedure manuals. He noted the positive aspects of “shoring up the policies and revising the manuals” and the fact that he is capable of writing them.
    Walton has chosen a deputy from the detention center to work with him in September as a full-time PREA coordinator. However, the center is already running at “bare minimum,” said Walton.
    He suggested to the county commission that they hire a new deputy. However, none of the PREA costs, a new hire or overtime costs, are in the 2015 budget. Walton said PREA took him by surprise and they are scrambling.
    No changes will need to be made to the physical building. Fortunately, the detention center was built with private showers and bathrooms in separate cells.
    The sheriff will be working to show they are in line with the standards on certain points, such as on technology and monitoring. Cameras were recently installed and Walton said they do an excellent job of covering the center.
    Other places have assigned whole committees to work on becoming PREA compliant. Sedgwick County has been working on this for two years, said Walton.
    Educating staff and volunteers will be a major issue. Even those coming in with contracts for mental health, food service, medical or repair work will all need to go through a PREA training. Walton is having trouble finding where to get this.
    Computer-based training is complicated with deputies needed on the floor and limited computers. Walton hopes to get a classroom setting to teach many at a time. Brochures, video clips and posters will need to be made as well.
    Detectives, who already have training in investigating sexual crimes, will need to get specialized confined inmate allegations training.
    Page 2 of 2 - Walton said PREA was born out of concerns and group studies from the 1970s-1990s. They found a plethora of assaults and rapes were not reported, whether inmate-on-inmate, inmate-on-deputy or deputy-on-inmate.
    Legislation was passed in 2003. It was originally written for large prisons. It was broadened to include everywhere federal or state prisoners are held and final standards became effective in 2012.
    Not being compliant would mean losing the contract for federal inmates, which brings $800,000 to over $1 million to Harvey County. Walton estimated the tax mill levy would go up 2.5 mills to replace that income. Department of Justice grant money would not be available any more either. Walton indicated that not being compliant was not an option.
    “This is another federal mandate that's not funded,” said Sheriff Walton. He believes he can have the PREA program running by January, 2015.

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