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State Lawmaker Wants Utah To Sign On To Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act

Photo of a chain link fence
Steve Gehrke of the Utah Department of Corrections
Utah is one of two states that has not signed on to a federal set of standards to prevent and respond to sexual assaults in correctional facilities. Gov. Gary Herbert has said many of the standards have already been implemented.

Utah is one of only two states that has not signed on to a federal set of prison standards to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment in correctional facilities. But state Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, plans to sponsor a bill early next year to change that.

There are 128 pages of standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, with rules including creating a zero tolerance policy and offering survivors a free forensic medical examination to collect evidence.

The federal law was passed in 2003 and includes funding for states to implement these policies. Romero said it would help survivors seek justice, whatever that means for them.

“My main goal is to make sure if somebody has been sexually assaulted that they don't feel ashamed, that they have the resources they need, and they have access to someone to talk to so that they can move forward in their life,” Romero said. “I don't care if they're incarcerated or if they're not incarcerated. That, for me, is a basic human right.”

The Utah Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.

Gov. Gary Herbert sent a letter to the Department of Justice in 2014 declining to join the program because he said the required audit process was too burdensome and he wanted more flexibility.

“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.

But, Herbert also wrote that the state had already implemented many of the law’s standards.

Herbert’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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