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Smith Consulting & NIC/WCL Project on Addressing Prison Rape, sponsored by National Institute of Corrections (NIC)


From 1999 to 2012, The Project on Addressing Prison Rape (the Project) at American University’s Washington College of Law had a cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) to provide training to high-level correctional decisionmakers on key issues in addressing and investigating staff sexual misconduct. In 2003, with the enactment of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), the Project’s focus shifted to addressing prison rape—both staff sexual misconduct and offender-on-offender sexual abuse. In 2006, Smith Consulting began a collaborative effort with the Project and NIC to focus efforts on addressing sexual abuse of youth in custody. This handbook is based on a training curriculum that the Project produced to address sexual abuse of youth in custody.

Since the passage of PREA in 2003, the sexual abuse of individuals in custody, including youth, received increased national and international attention. The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission proposed comprehensive standards for eliminating sexual abuse of youth in custodial settings. Those proposed standards were largely kept intact or strengthened by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) final standards, which were released on May 17, 2012. In particular, DOJ strengthened PREA’s protections for youth in custody, especially youth in adult facilities, and states have strengthened criminal laws prohibiting the sexual abuse of both adults and juveniles in custody. Reports on sexual abuse of youth in custody have increased. Nongovernmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all documented the issue. In addition, both print and visual media have covered sexual abuse in juvenile justice settings on numerous occasions.

However, this fundamental question remains unanswered: Have conditions that permit sexual abuse of and between youth in custodial settings changed? Although several state and local juvenile justice systems have made strides in addressing sexual abuse of youth in their care, much work remains. With standards as benchmarks, stronger laws protecting youth from sexual abuse, and mandatory reporting requirements that are already in place, progress can be swift and sexual abuse can be significantly reduced in juvenile justice settings.

Work to improve the situations of youth in custody needs to continue to ensure the safety and security of juvenile justice agencies as well as their staff and youth. Law and policy development, consistent enforcement, prosecution and punishment, and training of staff and youth can prevent and reduce sexual abuse.

This publication is a first step in reaching out to staff in juvenile justice settings to help them identify, address, and appropriately respond to incidents of sexual abuse by staff or between youth. We hope that it will deepen the dialogue between staff and administrators of juvenile justice agencies as well as community leaders and criminal justice advocates about strategies to eliminate sexual abuse of youth in custody.