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President's Message

What Is PREA? And Why Does It Matter to Law Enforcement?

By Walter A. McNeil

s law enforcement executives, we are faced with many challenges on a daily basis while still remaining well informed to emerging issues. A critical emerging and challenging issue that I want to ensure law enforcement executives from across the United States recognize is our duty to protect the rights and the safety of individuals in custody. Preventing sexual abuse in confinement is an ethical and legal obligation, and it is also an important step in protecting your agency from liability.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was signed into law on September 4, 2003. The goal of PREA is to eradicate sexual assaults in all correctional facilities in the United States. The law also applies to “any confinement facility of a federal, state, or local government, whether administered by such government or by a private organization on behalf of such government, and includes any local jail or police lockup, community confinement facility, and any juvenile facility used for the custody or care of juvenile inmates.”

PREA defines “lockup” as a facility that contains holding cells, cell blocks, or other secure enclosures that are

  • under the control of a law enforcement, court, or custodial officer; and
  • primarily used for the temporary confinement of individuals who have recently been arrested, detained, or are being transferred to or from a court, a jail, a prison, or another agency.

This means that any size agency with any size holding facility—from one room that is used infrequently to hundreds of cells used on a daily basis—used to detain people for any amount of time is responsible for ensuring compliance with PREA and the PREA standards. Additionally, if an agency contracts with another agency or a private entity for lockup services, this agency is equally responsible for ensuring that the contractor is in compliance.

Consequences for not complying with PREA standards include an annual 5 percent reduction in federal funding on a statewide level; while noncompliant local agencies are not directly financially penalized, they are open to significant civil liability. But noncompliance causes the biggest risks to damaging the good faith trust our agencies have with our communities.

National standards for the detection, the prevention, the reduction, and the punishment of sexual abuse in confinement facilities have been developed by the U.S. Department of Justice and should be available in May 2012. The standards seek to prevent sexual abuse and to reduce the harm that sexual abuse in confinement causes when it occurs. Specific standards have been developed for lockups, which are separate from the standards for adult prisons and jails, community confinement facilities, and juvenile facilities.

The IACP recognizes that many local law enforcement leaders may not be aware of PREA or its parameters. To help law enforcement prepare for PREA implementation, the IACP is working with the National PREA Resource Center (PRC), which serves as a national source of direct support, training, technical assistance, and research to assist adult and juvenile corrections, detention, and law enforcement professionals with PREA standards. Learn more about the PRC by visiting

Additionally, the IACP, in partnership with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and the Center for Innovative Public Policies, is launching a nationwide awareness-raising campaign to help local law enforcement recognize and embrace the role that we all need to play in eradicating sexual assaults in confinement. Visit to learn more and connect with a variety of resources, including the PREA standards, guides on enhancing response to victims and addressing sexual offenses and misconduct by law enforcement, the PRC, and more.

I also ask that you watch for and participate in our upcoming PREA Needs Assessment Survey, which will be available soon on The results from this survey will help to develop future resources tailored to the needs of local law enforcement as they assess their current activities and work toward compliance with the PREA standards. Your input on this issue is critical to ensuring that the tools and the resources provided to the field are designed to best meet the specific and unique needs of local law enforcement. If we work together, we can establish a zero-tolerance culture for sexual abuse in confinement areas. I encourage you to join me in committing to this priority. ■

Please cite as:

Walter A. McNeil, "What Is PREA? And Why Does It Matter to Law Enforcement?" President’s Message, The Police Chief 79 (April 2012): 6.

Click to view the digital edition.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 4, April 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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