Last month, we lost an important opportunity to ensure the safety of youth in the juvenile justice system. On May 29, Governor Heineman announced that Nebraska would not comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (otherwise known as PREA). This makes us 1 of only 7 states not taking action to protect youth and adults in prisons and jails from abuse and also means that we will lose federal funding.
Why does PREA matter?
Nationally, our prisons and jails have long struggled with preventing and addressing sexual abuse. The statistics are especially grim for youth. While about 4% of adults reported sexual victimization by staff or other inmates, nearly 10% of youth in juvenile facilities reported abuse.
In 2003, Congress unanimously adopted PREA, a set of basic standards and practices to help reduce the incidence of sexual abuse in prisons and jails. Given the particular vulnerability of youth in juvenile facilities, the law incorporated specific standards to protect youth. You can find a full list of standards here, but to name just a few PREA requires:
- adopting zero-tolerance policies for sexual abuse;
- ensuring adequate staff-to-youth ratios, to ensure adequate supervision;
- creating protections for youth during searches; and
- providing better education and training to both staff and youth.
In 2012, over 3,000 Nebraska youth were either detained and/or committed to facilities to which PREA should apply.
PREA is about taking common sense and basic steps to protect Nebraska’s youth in detention or at the YRTCs. Our youth and the staff that serve them deserve to have PREA fully implemented in our state.
At Voices for Children, we sincerely hope that this is a decision that Governor Heineman or his successor reconsiders.