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Remarks of Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon at the Prison Rape Elimination Act 20th Anniversary Convening, Washington, D.C.
Thank you very much, Heather [Tubman-Carbone], for that wonderful introduction. It’s an honor to join Deputy Attorney General [Lisa] Monaco and to be here with Director [Karhlton] Moore and his outstanding team in our Bureau of Justice Assistance, as well as so many dedicated advocates, correctional leaders, policymakers, academics and survivors of sexual abuse in confinement, who have so courageously shared their stories. Your voices and first-hand experience are critical to our collective mission to create safe and humane environments for people in confinement.
It's extraordinary to rewind 20 years and recall the moment when all members of Congress voted together to pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Not only was PREA introduced with bipartisan support and passed unanimously, but it has also continued to gain traction across every administration since it was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003.
As we recognize the 20th Anniversary of the passage of PREA, I want to thank each of you for your dedication, expertise and very hard work to support the safety and dignity of those who are confined in prisons, jails and juvenile facilities, as well as those who work in those settings. You represent thousands of dedicated practitioners and leaders in corrections, law enforcement and the advocacy community who are committed to eliminating sexual abuse and sexual harassment in confinement. Thank you for your commitment to upholding PREA standards and the important progress it has helped us achieve.
We are especially honored to be joined today by some of the pioneers in the space, including members of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.
The Chair of the Commission—Judge Reggie Walton—recently published a powerful opinion piece that I would encourage each of you to read, if you haven’t already. It’s entitled, “Sexual assault should never be part of a prison term.” In it, he states, quote:
“The Prison Rape Elimination Act was never only about protecting people from sexual abuse in an environment where it is often impossible to protect oneself. It was also about affirming the essential dignity and fundamental human rights of incarcerated people.”
In my view, effective PREA work is critical to everything we’re trying to achieve inside correctional facilities. I want to personally thank Judge Walton, Brenda Smith and the amazing Pat Nolan, who is joining online, for their moral vision and longtime leadership, and for joining us at OJP today to both celebrate progress and push the field forward.
I also want to recognize Alex Busansky, a longtime friend and colleague who has served for many years as leader of the PREA Resource Center team, and whose perspective was greatly shaped by his role as Executive Director of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, which predated the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. Thank you for your leadership, Alex.
We are also joined today by Allen Beck, formerly of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, who helped shed light on this then-invisible problem thru the innovative design, production and publication of never-before collected data. As the saying goes, you can’t fix something you can’t see. Allen helped us “see” the problem of sexual violence in prisons and jails, so that we could effectively understand and address it. And we are grateful.
In addition to significant developments on the data front, I am encouraged that our collective work on the PREA Statute and the PREA Standards over the past two decades has fundamentally changed the way we talk about sexual abuse and sexual harassment in corrections. It’s set new expectations about what is, and is not, acceptable behavior.
PREA is now deeply ingrained as part of the language used in these fields. And in my visits to prisons and jails, I can almost always see the presence—and impact—of PREA implementation efforts that are setting a new tone and making a difference.
People in facilities—both staff members and those who are confined—are communicating about sexual safety, setting clear expectations and committing to continued progress. Most facilities have prominently posted PREA information, emphasizing the agency’s zero tolerance policy and explaining how allegations can be reported and support services can be accessed by survivors.
Thanks in large part to all of you, and to your colleagues, we are making critical progress creating cultures that prioritize sexual safety, reduce the stigma of reporting sexual abuse and promote reporting without fear of retaliation.
In 2013, DOJ received just two submissions from governors of full compliance with the PREA Standards. Last year, we received 27 certifications of full compliance. And we know that hard work is underway in the places that haven’t yet come into full compliance.
But make no mistake: We are not there yet. Across the nation, we continue to see tragic news stories about sexual victimization in prisons, jails and juvenile settings. These stories serve as stark and disturbing reminders of the hard work that remains in front of us, and why it is so essential. And at the Department of Justice, we want to know what we can do to support you and your colleagues in advancing this work nationwide.
At the Office of Justice Programs, we will continue to work with our many partners at the federal, state, local and tribal levels to meet the moment and squarely address the challenges that stand in the way of full PREA implementation.
There is, of course, no acceptable timeline for justice when people’s lives are at stake. Yet the work of implementing new policies and practices and transforming cultures in corrections is well underway. And the positive strides we have made over the past 20 years represent momentum my colleagues and I do not intend to lose.
This conference serves as an important opportunity to look back and look forward. I urge you to lean in, think critically, be candid and bold and constructive, with an eye towards what we can achieve on this front over the next 20 years. I am proud to be your partner, and I am so very grateful for all you do. Thank you for your commitment and for joining us today.
It’s now my great privilege to introduce our next speaker.
As the second-ranking official in the Department of Justice, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco brings deep commitment and experience to this role, having been a career federal prosecutor before going on to serve as a presidential advisor and leader of justice, safety and national security initiatives under three Administrations. She is an unwavering champion of safe communities and a staunch advocate for an effective and humane justice system. In her current role, Deputy Attorney General Monaco has spearheaded efforts to root out sexual abuse at the Bureau of Prisons and in prisons and jails across the country.
We are so fortunate to have her leadership at the Department of Justice. As you can imagine, she has an incredibly busy schedule and will need to leave immediately after her remarks, but it’s an honor to have her here with us today to share her thoughts.
Please welcome the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, Lisa Monaco.