- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ENGLAND, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Department of Correction anticipates that more sexual assaults will be reported because it’s establishing additional channels for inmates and staff members to do so.

The state agency is launching a Prison Rape Elimination Act hotline and mandating annual training of all staff members on how to compassionately and immediately respond to assaults, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1HO58xX ) reported.

“Sexual assault is the most underreported crime out there,” said Tami Aikin, a Department of Correction deputy warden and the agency’s Prison Rape Elimination Act coordinator. She said that immediate action will be taken when a sexual crime report is submitted.

“Even if it’s a rumor, we will start that investigation,” Aikin told a class of almost 60 cadets Tuesday at the department’s training facility.

In May, Arkansas became one of five U.S. states to decline to offer certification or an assurance of compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. Though the state trains its detention staff members on the law’s standards, the state can’t certify full compliance or confirm compliance in the future, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a letter to the Justice Department.

Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley said last month that legal barriers prevented compliance, and other standards would limit opportunities for inmates and staff members. The law specifically bans cross-gender viewing and pat-downs of female inmates.

A 1995 lawsuit against the state and its Correction Department by the federal Justice Department claimed the state discriminated against female employees because they weren’t allowed to work in male housing units.

As part of a $7.2 million settlement, the state prison system now allows women to work in all housing areas, except in positions where routine strip searches of male inmates are a major part of their job duties.

Kelley said Tuesday that the state would reconsider complying with the law if the standards were modified so that they wouldn’t limit staff working in housing areas by gender.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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