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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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DHS Issues Standards to Prevent Prison Rape

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Department of Homeland Security issued standards to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and assault at its immigration detention centers.

With these standards, "DHS reiterates that sexual violence against any victim is an assault on human dignity. Such acts are particularly damaging in the detention environment, where the power dynamic is heavily skewed against victims and recourse is often limited. Until recently, however, this has been viewed by some as an inevitable aspect of detention within the United States. This view is not only incorrect but incompatible with American values," the DHS wrote, introducing its new regulations, Friday.

DHS called the standards "comprehensive, national regulations for the detection, prevention, and reduction of sexual abuse at DHS immigration detention facilities and at DHS holding facilities that maintain custody of aliens detained for violating U.S. immigration laws."

The regulation builds on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) standards and responds to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which directs Homeland Security to adopt national standards for sexual assault in its facilities.

The rule covers two types of facilities- immigration detention centers overseen by ICE, and temporary holding facilities used by ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"The standards reflect the characteristics of the population encountered by DHS in carrying out its border security and immigration enforcement missions by providing, for example, language assistance services for limited English proficient detainees, safe detention of family units, and other provisions specific to DHS's needs," the DHS wrote.

DHS regulations now explicitly require immigration detention facilities to keep data about sexual assault and abuse incidents and to complete incident reviews within 30 days of the end of an investigation.

To assess if a detainee is at risk to being either a victim or perpetrator of sexual assault, the department also now requires an evaluation of whether the detainee has previously been incarcerated or detained.

The DHS responded to a number of comments, including one from an immigration advocacy group that requested the regulations include definitions for "gay, lesbian, and bisexual."

The DHS declined to include those terms because the regulation relies on self-identification for purposes of protection and classification, it wrote.

Regarding its definitions of sexual assault and abuse, the DHS clarified that threats, intimidation and coercion involving sex is considered abuse, as is "inappropriate visual surveillance."

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, established in 2003, had conducted a comprehensive study of the impacts of prison rape in the United States, and issued a 2009 report that recommended that "every correctional agency must have a written policy mandating zero tolerance for all forms of sexual abuse in all settings," according to DHS's introduction to the new standards.

"The very nature of correctional environments demands that the government and the public have multiple ways to watch over correctional settings and intervene when individuals are at risk," the NPRE Commission wrote.

The rule is effective May 6.

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