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ACLU questions NC sheriffs about prison rape law

The Associated Press//April 7, 2014

ACLU questions NC sheriffs about prison rape law

The Associated Press//April 7, 2014

RALEIGH (AP) — Sheriffs in 23 out of 100 North Carolina counties haven’t showed the ACLU that they are following a federal law to prevent rapes in prison, the civil rights group said.

But a leader at the sheriff’s association said the ACLU’s questions weren’t worded well and the 23 counties may be in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the 100 sheriffs in North Carolina, asking they prove they’re in compliance with the law. Among its requirements is that states must provide separate housing for inmates under 18 years old. The ACLU and others say this is especially a concern in North Carolina, where 16- and 17-year-olds are housed with adults.

The ACLU sent a follow-up letter last week to 23 sheriffs who didn’t respond.

“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,” according to the letter signed by ACLU-NC Policy Director Sarah Preston and ACLU-NC Legal Director Chris Brook.

Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association, said the ACLU asked about new policies to comply with the law. If a county already meets the law, then it wouldn’t have any new policies, he said.

“They’ve made this jump from you don’t have any records we asked for to the conclusion you’re not in compliance,” he said Monday.

The ACLU also requested an explanation of why a county hadn’t adopted a policy. The sheriffs aren’t required to explain that, Caldwell said.

Preston, of the ACLU, said the group carefully crafted the questions to cover both current policies and any adopted because of the law, and the 23 sheriffs responded that they had no records for the request. “The only conclusion we can draw from that is that they’re not complying with PREA,” she said.

Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003 to address rape and sexual assault in the nation’s jails, prisons and youth detention centers. The rules weren’t completed until 2012, and states were given until May 15 to complete an audit of nearly all detention centers.

Earlier this month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said his state won’t comply with parts of the law, saying the rules are too costly and an infringement on state rights. Texas could lose some federal grant dollars if it doesn’t comply, though it’s not clear how much.

In 2011-12, an estimated 4 percent of state and federal prison inmates and 3.2 percent of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staffer in the past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months, a DOJ survey showed. Inmates ages 16 to 17 held in adult detention centers didn’t have significantly higher rates of sexual victimization than adult inmates, the survey showed.

In North Carolina, a bipartisan coalition is working to raise the age so that 16- and 17-year-olds accused of misdemeanors are not treated as adults.

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