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DHS proposes sexual assault prevention standards for detention centers

DHS detention facility

The Department of Homeland Security formally moved on Dec. 6 to fulfill a presidential order to develop standards aimed at protecting people housed in government detention facilities from sexual abuse and assault.

DHS submitted a set of proposed new rules to the Federal Register that contained a draft of standards to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse and assault in confinement facilities, in accordance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003. It encouraged public comment.

“DHS has a zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse and assault in detention facilities,” said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in a Dec. 6 statement. “The standards we have put forth today will further enhance our ability to protect the health and safety of individuals in DHS confinement facilities."

On May 17, president Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies with confinement facilities to issue regulations or procedures to satisfy the requirements of PREA.  At the same time, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its final rule to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse in confinement facilities, in accordance with PREA. DHS also simultaneously announced it would undertake its own rulemaking to apply PREA to immigrant confinement facilities, building upon the zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and abuse in confinement facilities the agency has previously adopted.

On Dec. 6, after consultations with Federal, State, and local partners and with input from the public and stakeholders, DHS said it proposed standards for its immigration detention and holding facilities for the detection, prevention, and reduction of sexual abuse to protect the health and safety of individuals in them.

The proposed standards, said the agency, will achieve the three goals of prevention, detection, and response to sexual abuse and assault in confinement facilities by requiring:

  • Prevention planning
  • Prompt and coordinated response and intervention
  • Training and education of staff, contractors, volunteers, and detainees
  • Appropriate treatment for victims
  • Procedures for investigation, discipline and prosecution of perpetrators
  • data collection and review for corrective action
  • Audits for compliance with the standards 

In addition, the standards require regular audits of each immigration detention facility and each holding facility that houses detainees overnight to assess compliance with the proposed standards, said DHS.