BARCC believes that all survivors deserve support in healing from the trauma of sexual violence. We also know that sexual violence affects thousands of people who are in the correctional system. That’s why BARCC established the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Project in 2015 to provide vital support to survivors of sexual violence who are incarcerated in Massachusetts. The PREA Project is designed around federal regulations released in 2012 aimed at reducing sexual assault in prison.
Survivors in the system
“The rates of sexual violence in prison are very high,” says Dave Rini, BARCC’s PREA Project coordinator. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found, in its Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011–12 report, that about 4% of people in federal and state prison experienced a sexual assault in the past 12 months—that’s approximately 62,000 people. The percentage for survivors in jail was a little lower at 3.2%, which is roughly 20,000 people. Keep in mind that reported numbers are undoubtedly low given the shame and stigma that make sexual violence under-reported across the board.
In addition, people often come into the correctional system already being survivors. Dave explains, “A lot of people end up in the system in the first place because of incidents stemming from unresolved trauma, including sexual violence.” Examples include young survivors who use drugs as a way to cope with what they’ve experienced or survivors of sex trafficking, who may be prosecuted for prostitution. “We know that most people are coming into the system with multiple layers of trauma,” says Katia Santiago-Taylor, BARCC’s manager of system advocacy.
In prisons, jails, and correctional facilities, survivors face a host of challenges:
- Limited resources: Prisoners can’t use the internet. They have less access to people and materials that will help them process the trauma they’ve experienced, find healing, and explore their options.
- Lack of control: Being incarcerated significantly limits the choices survivors can make. Regaining a sense of control is a paramount aspect of healing and difficult to have in a correctional facility.
- Goal of the prison system: The goal of the correctional facility is not to support healing for survivors. While BARCC works to empower survivors, the prison system works to maintain control over them and their activities.
“BARCC cares about supporting all survivors in their healing, and that’s why it’s important for us to be in prisons and jails,” Dave says.
What is PREA?
Thanks to advocacy from the prison reform community, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed in 2003 and the U.S. Department of Justice released PREA regulations in 2012. “In terms of real implementation of legislation, PREA is still really new, and not many providers are doing this kind of work yet,” shares Dave. “We’re learning about the best ways to do it, which we’ll then be able to share with other advocates to more effectively serve survivors who are incarcerated.”
BARCC’s work is about more than the law, though. “We are working to help prisons not only meet their legal obligations but to help them develop trauma-sensitive ways of interacting with survivors that can work for them,” Katia says. PREA work is about supporting people who have experienced the trauma of sexual violence both before and during the dehumanizing experience of being incarcerated.
What BARCC’s PREA Project offers survivors
BARCC works with three agencies—the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, and the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office, to provide support in 21 facilities throughout the state. “For survivors, we are creating a safer space in which they can be believed and supported, where they can confidentially discuss trauma they’ve experienced,” Katia says in describing what the PREA Project provides survivors.
BARCC’s free PREA services include the following:
- Confidential PREA hotline, 12 hours a day, for survivors to get emotional support, information about making reports, and more
- Accompaniment at the hospital when a prisoner is there for a sexual assault evidence collection exam
- A mail program that provides resources, recommendations, and referrals
- Orientation and education for prisoners on their PREA rights and how to access resources
From August 2015 through July 2016, the PREA hotline answered 108 calls and the mail program responded to 12 letters requesting resources. BARCC also provides training for correctional staff and administrators about the impact of sexual violence. BARCC has conducted multiple trainings for all three agencies on the following topics:
- Understanding sexual violence
- Obligations under PREA
- Impact of trauma
- How to support survivors by providing safety, offering options, walking through the process, and recognizing needs
BARCC is currently working on improving communication and visibility of our PREA services within the facilities we’re working with. “We are providing the most comprehensive PREA rape crisis services in Massachusetts,” says Katia, “and with additional funding we hope to do more. We are starting to see survivors seek services after being released.” Moving forward, BARCC is exploring ideas for reentry services to help survivors with their healing after their time in prison with solid connections and resources.