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Santa Monica Supervisor Seeks Progress Report on Efforts to Stop Sexual Assault in County Jails and Detention Centers


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

November 20, 2017 -- Santa Monica's County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl co-authored a successfully adopted motion last Tuesday asking for a review to gauge whether a 2003 federal Act to stop sexual assault in county jails and detention centers is being followed.

“More than 200,000 people report having been sexually abused in U.S. prisons and jails every year,” Kuhel, whose district stretches to the coast, said in presenting the motion with Supervisor Janice Hahn, of the 1st District.

The Board of Supervisors directed the Probation Department, the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission and the Office of Inspector General, in conjunction with the LA Sheriff’s Department, to return with a progress report in 90 days.

With new reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault surfacing daily from Capitol Hill to the entertainment business and beyond, the county report will focus on the extent the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003 has been implemented in county detention facilities.

“Every inmate in our county facilities has the right be treated with dignity,” Kuehl said.

“No inmate should be forced to experience the trauma of sexual abuse and any such acts by county employees in positions of trust will be punished,” she said. "We will do everything we can to end this intolerable violence, and this motion will begin that critical process.”

PREA was enacted by Congress to address the problem of sexual abuse of persons in the custody of U.S. correctional agencies.

The Act requires these facilities to pass an audit every three years on compliance.

No audits have been conducted of Los Angeles county jail system or probation department since the U.S. Department of Justice issued PREA standards in 2012.

PREA requires a zero-tolerance standard for inmate sexual assault and rape; orders development of standards for detection, prevention, reduction, and punishment of prison rape, and collection of information on the incidence of prison rape.

It also includes grant funds for state and local governments to implement the Act.

The Act applies to all public and private institutions that house adult or juvenile offenders and includes community-based agencies.

It addresses both inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse and staff sexual misconduct.
Standards include barring cross-gender strip searches and reporting abuse to an outside, independent entity.

According to county officials from the Sheriff’s Department, PREA is an unfunded mandate and is difficult to implement.

But Hahn said he thinks LA County facilities "have some serious shortcomings in this area and we must act now to protect those in our custody.”

“Sexual assault is abhorrent and inexcusable no matter where it occurs -- but it is especially disturbing when it happens in our detention facilities where victims may feel they have no power and no recourse,” Hahn said in a statement after the vote.

The report back to the board will include funding possibilities for PREA enforcement units within the Sheriff’s Department and Probation Department.


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