Skip Navigation Links Home » Facts and Frequently Asked Questions » PREA Q&A


What is PREA?

PREA stands for the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which was signed into law by President Bush on Sept. 4, 2003. The final regulatory standards to implement PREA went into effect on August 20, 2012.

What is the purpose of PREA?

PREA is intended to address the detection, prevention, reduction and prosecution of sexual harassment and sexual assault in all correctional facilities in the country.

To what facilities does PREA apply?

PREA applies to all confinement facilities in the state. This includes all prisons, jails, police lock-ups, juvenile facilities, immigration detention centers, court holding facilities, and community corrections facilities (home monitoring, probation, parole, half-way houses).

What constitutes staff sexual misconduct with offenders?

Staff sexual misconduct with offenders is generally defined as any behavior or act of a sexual nature by:

  • a correctional employee (sworn or civilian, managers, administrators, supervisors, line officers, supervisors of offenders on work release)
  • a contractor
  • a food service employee
  • a maintenance worker
  • a volunteer
  • a medical or mental health staff member (clinical staff and counselors)
  • a member of the clergy
  • vendors
  • youth workers
  • teachers

Are offenders the only potential victims of sexual misconduct under PREA?

No. Sexual misconduct can target not only a person under the care and custody of any correctional authority, but also offender's family members and any other person who has official contact with the Department on behalf of offenders (lawyers, social workers, mental health professionals or victim advocates).

What are the possible dispositions of PREA reports?

There are three possible dispositions: substantiated, unsubstantiated and unfounded. Substantiated reports are those where an investigation determines that an incident did occur. Unsubstantiated reports are those where evidence is insufficient to make a final determination that an incident occurred. Unfounded reports are those where an investigation determines that an incident did not occur.

How much of a problem is sexual assault within the Montana Department of Corrections?

Although the issue remains significant, the number of substantiated incidents has declined sharply in recent years. In 2008, the department had 54 substantiated reports of inmate-on-inmate non-consensual acts and 10 substantiated staff-on-inmate incidents. In 2011, nine reports of inmate-on-inmate non-consensual sexual acts were filed. Of these, three were substantiated, four were unsubstantiated, and two were unfounded. The two reports of inmate-on-inmate abusive sexual contacts filed that year were determined to be unfounded. Also in 2011, the department had nine allegations of staff sexual misconduct, of which one was substantiated, five were unsubstantiated, and three were unfounded. The two allegations of staff sexual harassment were determined to be unfounded.

What does the federal law require of each state?

Since the new regulations were published by the U.S. attorney general in August 2012, all states are required to take a number of actions to prevent, detect, reduce and respond to sexual abuse in confinement facilities. Among these are:

  • establishment of a zero-tolerance standard for sexual harassment and sexual assault
  • collection and reporting data on prison sexual violence
  • training and education of correctional staff, contractors and volunteers about the nature of prison sexual violence, and how to prevent, detect and respond to incidents of sexual assault
  • thorough and appropriate risk assessment and screening of offenders to keep apart potential aggressors and potential victims
  • disciplining and prosecution of corrections staff who perpetrate sexual abuse against an inmate
  • holding corrections administrators accountable for the occurrence of prison sexual violence in their facilities

What is the Department of Corrections doing to implement PREA in Montana?

The department has implemented a zero-tolerance policy relating to sexual violence in custody, and recognizes offenders who are sexually harassed or abused as victims of a serious crime. The department immediately responds to allegations, fully investigates all reported incidents, pursues disciplinary action, and refers those who perpetrate such conduct for investigation and prosecution.

Who leads the PREA effort within the Department?

While all employees are responsible for ensuring compliance with PREA, the agency has two employees dedicated to the program: The PREA coordinator and the PREA investigator. The coordinator is responsible for monitoring compliance with Federal law, and for ensuring that all confinement facilities in the state also comply with department sexual assault policies and procedures. The investigator is a sworn law enforcement officer who is responsible for the investigation of allegations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct in all the facilities and programs under the authority of the department, which includes all contract facilities and programs.

How is DOC attempting to educate offenders and staff about PREA?

In addition to implementing policies and procedures, the department requires every offender and every employee to attend regular training on prison sexual dynamics, and on ways to detect, prevent and respond to incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and inappropriate relationships between staff and offenders. With the publication of the new standards in 2012, the department began redesigning and delivering new training programs for all offenders and employees, to ensure compliance with federal law and the state’s zero-tolerance policies and procedures.

What happens if Montana doesn't comply with PREA requirements?

Montana could face a 5 percent reduction in federal criminal justice funding for each year that the State is not in compliance.

Who determines whether a state is in compliance?

The governor certifies compliance to the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. attorney general verifies state compliance with the PREA standards. Part of the PREA coordinator’s job is to provide evidence of compliance to the governor. PREA regulations require external audits on facilities and programs to ensure an independent assurance of compliance. Competent auditors, clear evidence and rigorous documentation are very important to the PREA process, to ensure that a state’s certification is genuine and meaningful. In the event that a state is not in compliance in a given year, the governor must certify that 5 percent of the federal criminal justice funding will be allocated specifically to achieving PREA compliance.

What is the cost of implementing PREA in Montana?

The department has used two federal grants totaling $635,512 and state funds of $447,237 to implement and operate the PREA program from 2006 through 2014.

Is the PREA program working with other organizations in its efforts?

The department previously partnered with the Missoula YWCA to provide a sexual assault reporting hot line and counseling for inmates housed at Montana State Prison. The department plans to develop new partnerships with local advocacy and counseling groups throughout the state to make certain that it is able to provide appropriate medical and mental health services to those who are victims of sexual violence in confinement.

How do we know whether PREA is having an effect?

Department data indicated an early increase in reported cases following the passage of PREA and implementation of the PREA unit. This increase is attributed greater awareness of the program as it began. With stabilization of the program and growing awareness of sanctions for false reporting, the numbers have leveled off. The department believes the frequency of sexual violence in confinement in Montana is declining as a result of effective program development, including data collection and reporting; thorough investigations of all allegations of offender-on-offender and staff-on-offender sexual harassment, sexual abuse and misconduct; and appropriate disciplinary action and prosecution. Offenders and staff are more willing and feel safer in reporting incidents of sexual abuse, which enables the department to remain vigilant and deal decisively with occurrences of sexual violence.

What is the Biggest challenge in implementing PREA programs?

The "code of silence," which refers to the reluctance of some staff and inmates to talk openly about incidents of an illegal, unethical or questionable nature. Staff and inmates may refuse to cooperate in the investigation of critical events, in order to protect fellow staff members or other inmates. Most staff members and inmates would rather risk discipline and continued violence than violate the code of silence within the correctional community and inmate population. This silence protects wrongdoers. The department works to overcome the code of silence, and to ensure and safe environment of zero tolerance for sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct and related concerns, including retaliation and ignorance.

What should someone do if they suspect a sexual assault has occurred in a correctional facility?

Anyone who suspects or has knowledge of any sexual harassment, sexual assault or sexual misconduct in any juvenile or adult correctional facility should report it to a staff member, volunteer, supervisor, administrator, human resources official or the PREA unit. Inmates may file grievances, tell their case manager or unit manager, or talk with a correctional officer or any staff member with whom they feel comfortable and trust. Anyone who receives a report of sexual abuse in any confinement setting must send it up the chain of command for investigation and disposition.

What is the penalty for not reporting a suspected sexual assault in a correctional facility?

Disciplinary action, including termination, may face a department employee or volunteer who fails to report an allegation of sexual misconduct, or coerces or threatens another person to submit inaccurate, incomplete, or untruthful information with the intent to alter a report. The department takes very seriously its PREA responsibilities in order to ensure public safety, secure correctional facilities and a safe environment for all offenders.