SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is one of two states not following federal recommendations for preventing prison rape, a decision that has cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grant money, a new federal report shows.
Utah officials believe the recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice undermine ongoing efforts by the state to prevent prison rape, Gov. Gary Herbert’s spokeswoman Kirsten Rappleye said in a statement.
Utah and Arkansas are the only states that haven’t adopted the standards. Nineteen states have adopted the guidelines in the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and 34 others are in the process, the Department of Justice report shows.
Idaho, Alaska and Texas initially rejected the guidelines but have changed their minds since, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/2qK2g4i).
The federal guidelines were passed in 2003 and called for more training for jail staff about sex abuse and allowed inmates to report sexual assaults to outside organizations. It also created a way to track uniform data on the estimated 200,000 prison sexual assaults each year in the U.S.
States that follow the guidelines submit to a federal compliance audits every three years.
The decision not to follow the guidelines cost Utah $146,000 last year in federal grants, according to Bureau of Justice Assistance figures. In 2015, the state lost nearly $135,000 and about $141,000 in 2014.
Other states use the funds to help pay for corrections and law enforcement, juvenile justice and violence against women programs.
Sexual assault prevention groups criticized the state for not joining the federal program.
“It means fewer resources to be able to work on improving these systems and building up resources,” said Mara Haight, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center. “It’s really troubling that our state can’t commit to the bare minimum of what PREA is proposing.”
Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said complying with the program would provide more public information about sexual assaults at state prisons.
“What advocates understand is that sexual violence is never a punishment for any crime,” Bitton said.
Herbert, a Republican, wrote a letter in 2014 explaining the audit system was costly and burdensome. Rappleye said the letter still reflect the governor’s position.
“We would like to work with the federal government in every way to reduce prison rape, but we will not sacrifice results to satisfy an arbitrary one-size-fits-all process,” Herbert wrote in his letter.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com