ACLU: County Jails Are Not Compliant With Prison Rape Elimination Act

May 15, 2014

Credit Laura Candler

  *Updated 10:11am to reflect Sheriffs Association comments.

A new report from the ACLU of North Carolina suggests many of the state's county jails are not compliant with sexual assault prevention measures. The group says of the state's 100 counties, 58 responded to requests regarding the measures jails take to prevent the assault of prisoners. None of those 58 were in full compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a 2003 federal law.

The group's report focuses heavily on compliance involving inmates under the age of 18. Where most counties seem to be falling down is with keeping incarcerated youth (a particularly vulnerable population) separate from incarcerated adults.

"Their sleeping quarters are separated but the rest of the time they are not separated from the adult population," said Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. She points out that many facilities were not initially meant to house separate populations in the first place.

"The facilities never really were designed for juveniles, and therefore they were not designed to make it easy to keep the juveniles separate," said Preston. "So we're just kind of throwing these 16- and 17-year-olds in with the adult population. And that's something that was a roadblock for some of these facilities that might want to comply."

Nine of the 58 respondents looked to be attempting full-compliance, according to the report.

The group blames the failures on a lack of oversight at the county level. State prisons are required to be certified by the state Department of Public Safety in order to receive federal funding. Local prisons don't fall under that same regulatory structure.  The North Carolina Sheriff's Association had not yet seen the report when we reached them.

"We knew that no one else was looking at whether the county-level jails were compliant," said Preston. "And we knew that was something that might get overlooked."

North Carolina is one of two states that allow placement of 16- and 17-year-olds with adult inmates.