by Kelley Amburgey-Richardson, PREA Program Coordinator, Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs
In 2012, shortly after the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards were finalized, the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WCSAP) began meeting with the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy1 (OCVA) and the Washington State Department of Corrections (WADOC) to discuss implementation of the PREA Victim Services Standards in prison and work release facilities in our state.
The meetings between WCSAP, OCVA, and WADOC were the beginning of an ongoing multi-year partnership, based on the shared beliefs that (1) no one deserves to be sexually assaulted, and (2) people who experience sexual assault while incarcerated should have access to comprehensive confidential advocacy services.
The three partner agencies had worked together on previous projects, which created a foundation for a successful PREA partnership. Although we shared beliefs about services for incarcerated survivors and a history of working together on other issues, the victim service agencies and WADOC still had a lot to learn about each other. During our regular workgroup meetings, we began to understand each other’s terminology, values, and priorities. One of the important lessons learned from this project was that making the time to have these conversations and build trust with each other laid the foundation for productive conversations about challenges that arose down the road.
WCSAP and OCVA also conducted site visits to two prisons, the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Gig Harbor and the Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton, and met with staff there to gain a better idea of the daily lives of inmates and prison operations. These two large facilities with multiple security levels serve as reception centers for all new inmates in Washington State. WCSAP has continued this effort to learn more about the diverse cultures of DOC facilities by visiting two more prisons – Airway Heights outside of Spokane, and the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The benefit of the coalition allocating time and resources to physically visit corrections facilities is another lesson learned from this project. There is no substitute for being able to say to corrections staff, “When I visited your facility…” and being able to say to advocates serving survivors at that facility, “I have seen the options for visitation rooms at that facility. Let’s work together to figure out what will be best for your in person meetings with survivors.”
The partners attended each other’s trainings, had in depth discussions about essential issues such as: facility safety, advocate confidentiality, and protocols for forensic exam transport and advocate response, and developed resources for each other. One example is a document WCSAP developed for WADOC called, “Understanding Community Based Advocacy.” WCSAP and OCVA presented this document at a statewide WADOC Superintendents meeting, and it was later distributed to WADOC staff across the state to help them better understand an advocate’s role in working with incarcerated survivors. The partners even had the opportunity to share their work on a national platform during a webinar. Coalitions that are beginning conversations with corrections entities should make an effort to convey the uniqueness of the advocacy professional and the specialized services that advocates, as opposed to mental health workers, attorneys, or corrections staff, can provide. In addition, we found that it went a long way to share with corrections staff that advocacy services are not specific to inmates; that they are available to corrections staff themselves as members of the general public, as they were often unaware of the existence of such services prior to our relationship.
At several points in the process, we held calls with community based advocates to help them understand PREA and what their role might look like in serving incarcerated survivors. Desiring comprehensive victim services to be available for the inmates in their facilities, WADOC supplied funding to support advocacy services. During the 2014 fiscal year, community sexual assault programs were invited to apply for funding from WADOC, administered by OCVA, to provide advocacy services to prison and work release facilities. Fourteen programs were selected, and this funding has been renewed. Advocates identified at those programs as lead and back-up PREA advocates were required to attend a rigorous schedule of advanced advocacy trainings related to serving incarcerated survivors of sexual violence. The advocates received training from WCSAP on PREA and working with incarcerated survivors, confidentiality considerations, phone advocacy, and supporting survivors at a forensic exam. They also received training from WADOC on facility safety, manipulation and compromise, prison culture, and PREA investigations. If coalitions are considering having a correctional entity provide training to advocates, make sure to select a trainer who understands and values advocacy work. Building a relationship with a trainer like this will help make the content relatable and practical for advocates, and hopefully will mean you can call on that person later when advocates identify the need for more training on a particular issue.
At the current stage of implementation, advocates in Washington State are providing advocacy via two forums. The first forum is over the phone. The PREA partners developed policies for and implemented a statewide confidential Sexual Assault Support and Information Line for survivors in prison and work release facilities. This included codifying in WADOC policies that calls to that hotline would not be recorded like all other inmate calls and that inmates would not be required to enter their identification number to make a call to that line. This line is the initial access point for phone advocacy services. If a survivor needs more ongoing support than an initial call for crisis intervention or gathering information, the PREA Support Specialist who answers that line makes an appointment for the survivor with an advocate at a community program. The survivor calls the line at the appointed time and is patched through to the PREA-trained community based advocate.
Second, advocates at community based programs are supporting survivors at forensic exams. This has included developing protocols, based on statewide guidance, with their DOC facilities and the hospitals that survivors are transported to for the exam. This is where a few bumps in the road have come up. Coalitions should not underestimate the complexity of a correctional entity’s transport and evidence collection procedures, and should allow for some retooling when incorporating advocate response into this process, in particular. Some programs are also setting up multidisciplinary teams in their communities specific to their prison advocacy work to help make the response run more smoothly.
Recognizing that the PREA standards require access to confidential advocacy services, but do not provide many specifics about what those services should entail, the partners all agreed that these services should be as comprehensive as possible. The statewide partners have recently developed written guidelines, with input from community based advocates who are currently doing the on-the-ground work, for in person services at DOC facilities. These were rolled out to the field in August 2015, and local protocols based on the guidelines are being developed by each set of community based advocacy and corrections partners. In person services began in January 2016. From here, we will work towards readiness for the last phase of implementation – legal advocacy support during a correctional facility’s PREA investigation process.
Community based advocates are our most important partners in the effort to provide comprehensive sexual assault advocacy services to incarcerated survivors – without their commitment, input, and work, this project would not be possible. We are proud of the work being done in Washington and are being looked at nationally as a model for service delivery and developing partnerships between victim services and corrections. We look forward to advancing the efforts to support incarcerated survivors and promote zero tolerance for sexual assault in prisons in our state.
For more background on the Prison Rape Elimination Act Standards visit https://www.wcsap.org/prison-rape-elimination-act-resources
1 OCVA is the state funding agency for sexual assault programs in Washington under the Department of Commerce.