REXBURG — The Madison County Jail recently became one of only two facilities in eastern Idaho that is federally certified with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
The act was passed in 2003 to provide an analysis of the effects of prison rape at the federal, state and local level. PREA provides information and resources to protect inmates from being sexually assaulted while incarcerated.
“It makes sure inmates rights are protected and they can be free of sexual assault from anyone,” Madison County Jail Commander Lt. Jared Willmore tells EastIdahoNews.com.
Willmore says Madison County began implementing PREA in 2017 and has now met all standards required by the federal government.
He says when an inmate is booked, they are notified of their PREA rights and every 14 days, every person in custody is given a refresher on the law.
If an inmate is sexually assaulted by an inmate or employee, there are a few ways to report the crime. They can tell someone outside of the facility, such as a family member, who can then report it to the jail on their behalf. Inmates can also inform jail staff that they have been victimized through a phone system.
The jail then investigates every claim of harassment and if the claims are legitimate, the perpetrator could face criminal charges and be sent to a different facility.
Willmore says PREA not only protects inmates from sexual assault committed by other inmates, but also from the staff who observe and provide care for those who are incarcerated.
In the most recent report filed in May 2018, the Madison County Jail had no substantiated claims of prison rape. A representative for the Department of Justice completed an audit that showed Madison County held 670 inmates over 12 months for 72 hours or more, with 26 jail staff who may have contact with inmates.
“We are successful here as a jail because we treat people like people,” Madison County Sheriff Rick Henry tells EastIdahoNews.com. “We have mutual respect and vision and show compassion to all regardless of who they are.”
The Madison County Jail is the sixth largest jail in Idaho and Henry is glad the facility has finally reached PREA requirements.
“It’s a standard and we are maintaining that standard. It protects the community, the inmates, our staff and everybody involved,” Henry said.
State and local PREA
Teresa Jones, the PREA coordinator for the Idaho Department of Correction, says when the federal PREA standards where announced, the IDOC and the Idaho Sheriff’s Association were concerned about the financial impact.
The IDOC and the ISA created minor modifications to lessen the cost while still providing appropriate safety. In December 2014, Ray says the IDOC decided to work toward full federal PREA compliance.
Two years later, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter submitted paperwork to the federal government saying all facilities in Idaho are working toward PREA compliance, Jones said.
“IDOC has made great strides in moving toward compliance the past three years,” Jones said. “This past year, the agency adopted a new standard operating procedure that moves the agency toward about 85 percent of compliance. All staff and inmates received training on the new elements which enhance safety, reporting options, and support for victims of sexual abuse.”
Several facilities in eastern Idaho are working toward being federally PREA certified as soon as possible.
The Bonneville County Jail completed its most recent Idaho PREA audit in 2017 and three substantiated instances of sexual misconduct were found. Details on the incidents were not released.
Bonneville County Jail Lt. Laurie Kendrick said there are disciplinary measures in place to handle each situation.
Under Idaho law, any sexual contact from staff with an inmate is a felony and punishable up to life in prison. In instances where the contact is between inmates, procedures are followed to protect all involved.
“The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office policy is zero tolerance for any sexual abuse and harassment,” Kendrick says.
Jail staff said if a family or friend outside of the jail hears of sexual abuse or misconduct, they are encouraged to report it to the jail without the fear of retaliation.
Kendrick said the Bonneville County Jail is working to complete their federal PREA compliance by 2020.
The Bannock County Jail was the first facility in eastern Idaho to be federally PREA certified.
“The occurrence of sexual abuse at the Bannock County Detention Center is very low. Upon reviewing the aggregated data for 2018, we only had one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse. This occurrence was staff to inmate sexual misconduct (and) an internal investigation was completed by an outside agency,” Capt. Tad Bybee said in a statement.
Bybee said the staff member who engaged in sexual activity was terminated. Further details on the incident were not released.