NYSCASA has a broad reach as a statewide coalition, and one of the areas that NYSCASA has taken a step forward in is implementing standards of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, or PREA. PREA was written and created from a need to offer incarcerated people the same services as people who aren’t incarcerated. Sexual assault and rape in prison facilities nationwide are at epidemic levels. The goal is simple: end prison rape and sexual assault with zero tolerance for perpetrators and enhance services to survivors. Being incarcerated adds a number of barriers to receiving services. For example, not having access to phones, to email, to the internet, to letter writing materials, and so on means that channels available to people on the outside need special tailoring to be able to be delivered to people in state facilities. At the same time, there is a higher concentration of identities that are targeted for sexual assault in prison and jail, so there is an increased need to provide services with very reduced avenues to deliver them through. Finding ways to increase access to crisis service providers, ensuring that there is an effective response system in place, and establishing best practices for those responses are the nuts and bolts of PREA.
Although the law was passed almost 14 years ago, it is still quite new in terms of how it plays out. In 2012, PREA standards were passed requiring detention facilities to offer services from third party, community based organizations to survivors. In New York, there are five Rape Crisis Centers who have signed on to deliver services to inmates who have experienced sexual assault. Each Rape Crisis Center has multiple facilities that they take calls from and perform a variety of follow up services. NYSCASA enters the picture here by reimbursing the crisis centers for their PREA services, helping train and educate staff on what PREA is, and offering technical assistance to ensure advocates can deliver their expertise.
NYSCASA is also entering into the national PREA conversation through the PREA Resource Center, Just Detention International, and the Resource Sharing Project. Collaborating with other state coalitions and strategizing with experts from across the nation fits in perfectly with the spirit of NYSCASA’s involvement. Sharing experience, making connections, increasing communication, and furthering our understandings of policies and people’s lived realities are all part of what makes the PREA projects come to life. Having a national communication network also gives NY great examples on which to base our own creations by seeing what has and hasn’t worked elsewhere.
Another vital aspect of PREA work is bringing light to the nuanced taboos that are prevalent to the project. Delivering services to incarcerated people brings up some widely held presumptions about who does or does not deserve care. It is our stance that sexual assault is never acceptable for anyone, regardless of the reasoning or history of those involved. PREA also specifically identifies and addresses several marginalized populations by having space and discussion in trainings about LGBQ people, trans people, people of color, people with disabilities, women, and minors. Each of these identities is at an increased risk for sexual assault in general, which becomes even more potent in prisons and jails. Ensuring that everyone is safe while they are incarcerated includes taking special measures for populations that have historically been discriminated against. For more information about our PREA work, contact PREA Outreach Coordinator Eirik Bjorkman at (518) 482-4222 ext. 306 or firstname.lastname@example.org.