Arizona, again, can’t show compliance with Prison Rape Elimination Act

The Justice Department said Arizona corrections officials failed for a second year to prove that they are complying with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. (Photo by Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department said that for the second year in a row Arizona was unable to submit proof of compliance or assurances that it was meeting federal prison rape prevention laws.

Arizona was one of just five states and the territory of the Northern Mariana Islands that did not submit the proper paperwork or meet a May 15 Justice Department deadline to show their compliance.

One prisoner-rights advocate in the state said Arizona’s noncompliance is purposeful, but an official in Gov. Doug Ducey’s office insisted the state has met the standards – just not the paperwork deadline.

“We requested a brief extension … such an extension could not be granted,” Kathryn King, deputy general counsel to the governor, said in a letter to federal officials in May.

King noted that eight Arizona correctional facilities passed Prison Rape Elimination Act audits this year, but that the state was unable to schedule an audit of a juvenile facility in time to meet the deadline.

PREA was passed in 2003 and is designed to “eradicate prisoner rape in all types of correctional facilities,” according to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. The law, which was implemented in August 2012, applies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories.

Fiscal 2014 was the first year in which jurisdictions had to show compliance. Arizona has failed to meet the standards now in each of the first two years.

States that don’t comply risk the loss of federal grant funds. The Arizona Department of Corrections lost more than $200,000 last year for not proving compliance. Justice has not determined how much, if any, might be withheld from the state this year.

King said in her May letter that a PREA audit of one of Arizona’s juvenile detention facilities was scheduled for the first week in June, which was why the state asked for an extension.

Without it, state corrections officials would not be able to review the results and determine “if we can certify that Arizona is in full compliance,” King said in the letter.

But the executive director of Middle Ground Prison Reform said state corrections officials intentionally missed the deadline to file with Justice, and that they “deliberately decided not to continue to try to meet the standards.”

The advocate, Donna Leone Hamm, said there were few PREA provisions implemented, but “the Department of Corrections arbitrarily decided that they were not going to comply, and instead were going to risk whatever fines or sanctions were imposed.”

PREA requires that states use at least 5 percent of Justice Department grant funds to ensure compliance, but King’s letter said that expenditure is not needed in Arizona.

“Because we believe Arizona is in compliance with PREA, the use of federal funds in this manner is simply not necessary at this time,” her letter said.

More than the loss of federal funds is at stake though. Hamm, a former lower court judge in Coconino and Maricopa counties, said some PREA requirements, like the removal of shower and bathroom doors, are double-edged swords and are pushing some inmates to complain about the safety measures.

“Some of the prisoners were complaining … because prisoners have very little opportunity for privacy,” she said. Bathrooms are “one of the few areas where they could have privacy.”

The Arizona Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for comments on PREA, directing all inquiries to King’s letter.