Combating Sexual Abuse
DOCCS is proud to be a leader in national efforts to improve correctional practices under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), and the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape (the National PREA Standards) adopted by the United States Department of Justice effective August 20, 2012. Through PREA implementation, strategies to address custodial sexual victimization are evolving rapidly. In furtherance of the goal to eliminate custodial sexual abuse, we continue to refine our policies and education programs to maintain compliance with the PREA Standards, improve our sexual abuse prevention and response practices, and to incorporate best practices as they are identified.
Associate Commissioner Effman is the Department’s PREA Coordinator, a member of the DOCCS’ Executive Team, and is responsible for developing and implementing policy and overseeing DOCCS’ compliance with the National PREA Standards. He leads a team of professionals within the Sexual Abuse Prevention & Education Office (SAPEO), both in Central Office and in the facilities. SAPEO strives to maintain full compliance with the PREA Standards, implement evolving best practices for the prevention of sexual abuse and sexual harassment, and facilitate support for incarcerated individuals who have been victimized.
A thorough and objective investigation is imperative to combating sexual abuse and sexual harassment. The Department’s Office of Special Investigations, Sex Crimes Division, was one of the first corrections-based investigative units in the nation dedicated to combating custodial sexual violence. The unit was established in 1996, shortly after legislation was passed making sexual conduct between an employee and an incarcerated individual a crime. Today, these specialized investigators have extensive investigative training and state of the art tools at their disposal to hold perpetrators of sexual abuse accountable for their actions.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has zero tolerance for sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Sexual abuse and sexual harassment violate Department rules and threaten security. All reports of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and retaliation against an incarcerated individual, parolee or staff member for reporting or taking part in an investigation of possible sexual abuse or harassment will be thoroughly investigated. Furthermore, DOCCS deals with any perpetrator of a sexual abuse incident, sexual harassment incident, act of staff voyeurism or relation through discipline and, where there is evidence that a crime was committed, through prosecution to the fullest extent permitted by law.
Any employee who receives a report of sexual abuse must immediately notify his or her supervisor and either the facility Watch Commander or Community Supervision Regional Director to ensure timely notification of the Office of Special Investigations, previously known as the Department’s Office of the Inspector General. In addition, all of our employees are under a duty to report any allegation, knowledge, suspicion, or information regarding any sexual abuse or related misconduct.
In 2015, DOCCS introduced a pair of ground breaking comprehensive incarcerated individual educational films, Ending Sexual Abuse Behind the Walls: An Orientation©, addressing sexual safety in confinement. Using a PREA Demonstration Project Grant through the United States Bureau of Justice Assistance, DOCCS partnered with The Moss Group, LLC, and T.J. Parsell's Fish Films, LLC to develop two orientation films. These films represent a first in the nation approach to sexual safety education by letting current incarcerated individuals tell new incarcerated individuals what they wish they knew when they first started serving their sentences. These short films impart essential information about the Department's Zero Tolerance for sexual abuse, how to report, and what to expect when a report is made. However, they go beyond the usual PREA educational materials by allowing "old timers" to explain what they learned on their own.
Showing a film, no matter how powerful, is not enough to properly address the issue of sexual victimization in custody. DOCCS Program Services and Sexual Abuse Prevention & Education Office staff used grant funding to work with consultants from Just Detention International (JDI) to develop a comprehensive peer education curriculum that goes far beyond what is covered in the films. Through DOCCS’ Transitional Services Phase I, new incarcerated individuals receive a full module on the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Staff and Incarcerated Program Associates (IPAs) facilitate this peer education module that includes explaining incarcerated individuals' right to be free from sexual abuse and sexual harassment, exploring strategies for reporting sexual abuse and sexual harassment, and addressing ways incarcerated individuals can access victim support services. The education program includes a guided discussion on the Ending Sexual Abuse Behind the Walls© incarcerated individual education film and teaches incarcerated individuals about sexual safety in confinement and the Department’s "zero tolerance" policy under PREA through scenarios and other interactive training.
Services for Survivors
In January 2019, DOCCS implemented the PREA Statewide Rape Crisis Hotline. Through a partnership between the State Office of Victim Services, State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and Crisis Services, Inc., DOCCS provides the confidential 777 Rape Crisis Hotline services to individuals incarcerated at all DOCCS facilities state-wide. Hotline operators will also take sexual abuse and harassment reports which they then forward to OSI or the facility when requested by the survivor. This partnership also includes a number of community-based victim assistance programs or “PREA Centers” who provide incarcerated survivors with ongoing emotional support and victim advocacy services.
Through the Statewide Rape Crisis Hotline and the Department’s partner PREA Centers, incarcerated individuals can receive crisis counseling and emotional support for the effects of sexual abuse, whether the abuse occurred during confinement or in the community and the caller is seeking assistance to manage the triggers that often occur while confined. New York is the only state in the nation with a network of centers — specially trained victim assistance programs — to provide emotional support, counseling, and advocacy to incarcerated survivors of sexual victimization.
Report Sexual Abuse
DOCCS investigates all reports of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and retaliation in connection with a sexual abuse or harassment matter. All reports, including third-party and anonymous reports are confidential and will be thoroughly investigated.
Incarcerated individuals are encouraged to report incidents to facility staff to permit the most expeditious response. They may also report by writing to the Superintendent, a member of the facility Executive Team, other facility staff, Central Office, the Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI), or to the Department’s PREA Coordinator. Parolees are similarly encouraged to report incidents to program staff if they reside in a Community Based Residential Program, or to supervisory staff, Central Office, OSI or the PREA Coordinator.
Third-party reports on behalf of anyone under the Department’s custody or supervision can be made by contacting the facility Superintendent or Bureau Chief. Immediate after hours reports concerning an incarcerated individual may be made to the facility Watch Commander. Anyone may report an incident of sexual victimization involving an incarcerated individual or a parolee to the Department’s Office of Special Investigations.
Pursuant to the PREA Standards, the Department conducts PREA Audits of its correctional facilities, and the final report of those audits are available for review. DOCCS contracts with a number of organizations to provide residential programs for parolees and others subject to community supervision upon release. Beginning in 2018, the Community Based Residential Programs (CBRPs) are required to be audited under the PREA Standards for Community Confinement Facilities and to provide the Department with a copy of their final audit report for publication.
For more information on the Prison Rape Elimination Act and national efforts to end custodial sexual violence, you can visit:
- PREA Standards
- PREA Resource Center
- National Institute of Corrections
- Office of Justice Programs
- Just Detention International
- The Moss Group, Inc.
- CBRP PREA Audit Reports
- Final Audit Reports