Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $250,000)
The New Jersey Department of Corrections:
Strengthening the PREA Shield
Education, Data and Correctional Culture Change
The New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) has seen a rapid increase in allegations of sexual victimization over the years. PREA allegations have increased not only as a result of overall awareness; but also, due to upgraded staff education in response to NJDOC’s substantiated “staff on inmate” allegations. The overhaul of staff education has led to more comfort in reducing apprehension when conducting official duties. However, the most prevalent concern heard by staff and inmates alike has been that PREA has been misused. Instead of being the shield to protect individuals from sexual abuse, sexual harassment and retaliation as designed, PREA has at times become a sword leveraged against other inmates and staff.
Creating a well-informed population that can feel confident in reporting allegations begins with education, conducting thorough and objective risk assessments and collecting data focused on prevention. NJDOC’s project design is focused on providing gender-specific education to the inmate population, in order to ensure they are aware of all methods available to them to report sexual abuse. NJDOC identifies the increase of sexual victimization allegations through research by BJS on a national scale and via data collected on the NJ Survey of Sexual Victimization reported annually. However, there is a need for utilizing aggregate data collected through an electronic risk management system which will allow staff to be competently trained in conducting objective risk assessments while guaranteeing proper system utilization.
To accomplish the outlined objectives, NJDOC plans to conduct a root-to-stem holistic approach to our inmate education, risk assessment tools and practices and data collection mission. During the grant period, NJDOC plans to gain increased knowledge of the current institutional culture, update our inmate education based on the assessment, and follow through with the recommendations to implement the culture change. Trained designated staff are instrumental in offering institutional knowledge, fostering support for the initiative among the inmate population, and providing staff the training they need to succeed at their facility. NJDOC plans to work with a designated coach to formulate a detailed implementation plan, design a sustainability plan and share our success. By focusing on standards 115.41-42, 115.33 and 115.87, NJDOC will apply this framework to PREA correctional culture and cultivate positive change.