RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina sent letters yesterday to 23 sheriff’s departments across the state who to date have failed to produce documents that show they are complying with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

Among PREA’s mandates for jails and detention centers is a requirement that inmates under the age of 18 be housed separately from adults – a chief concern in North Carolina, where 16 and 17 year olds are treated as adults by the criminal justice system.

“It is deeply troubling that your facility is making no efforts to comply with PREA given that this law is intended to realize the laudable goal of preventing sexual assault in jails and make reporting of assault easier for detainees,” reads the letter signed by ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston and ACLU-NC Legal Director Chris Brook. “…PREA compliance is not optional and failure to implement the changes required by PREA puts your facility at risk.”

Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2003 to address the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in our nation’s detention centers. In 2012, the Department of Justice announced long-awaited rules for complying with the law, representing the first time that the federal government has issued national standards to help end sexual abuse in prisons, jails and youth detention centers.

According to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, “more than any other group of incarcerated persons, youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse.” Should an incident occur in a jail not in compliance, that facility could be found civilly liable and could face legal fees and civil settlements, according to the ACLU-NC letter.  

The ACLU-NC sent letters to North Carolina sheriffs on January 16, 2014, asking for policies and documents related to their compliance with PREA and offering assistance in preparing proper guidelines for the treatment of youthful offenders in custody. Of those offices that responded by April 1, 23 said they had no documentation about PREA compliance, prompting yesterday’s follow-up letter.

The 23 county sheriff’s departments who received yesterday’s letter are:

  • Alexander County
  • Allegheny County
  • Ashe County
  • Burke County
  • Camden County
  • Caswell County
  • Catawba County
  • Chatham County
  • Clay County
  • Currituck County
  • Granville County
  • Haywood County
  • Hertford County
  • McDowell County
  • Montgomery County
  • Nash County
  • Person County
  • Polk County
  • Rockingham County
  • Rowan County
  • Stanly County
  • Swain County
  • Wayne County

Link to the January 16 letter.

Link to the April 1 letter.