Phase 3 of the pilot: Incorporating a SART approach in facility policy
After meeting with community SART agencies and confirming their support, the leaders and staff of the ARC and the JDC were poised to develop sexual assault policies that would incorporate a SART approach among internal and external responders. To advance this effort, each facility formed a committee composed of a program administrator, a case manager or treatment manager, and a policy writer. Each sought input from the DOC training coordinator as needed. A Vera staff member acted as a coordinator for each committee, helping to maintain the focus on incorporating a SART approach into the policies, in accordance with the PREA standards, the National Protocol, and the Corrections SAFE Guide recommendations.
During an initial meeting, each committee mapped out actions to take in response to disclosures, reports, and discovery of sexual assault; assessed where the facility stood with existing policies; and identified areas where additional information, discussion, and policies were needed. Each committee met periodically for about a year to discuss relevant issues and establish new policies or procedures to address the gaps that had been identified. DOC leaders decided that one of its treatment coordinators should function as a department-wide victim resource specialist, as suggested in the Corrections SAFE Guide. During the course of the project, the treatment coordinator assumed the role of providing victims general information and guidance during the immediate in-house response. The committees used two primary tools to guide this process: planning charts and sexual assault response flowcharts. The policy writers updated planning charts to reflect discussions, actions to take, and due dates to complete actions. They added other details to the flowcharts about appropriate responses.
Communication among facility staff and contractors and SART agencies was critical in clarifying policy provisions, coordination issues, scope and logistics of services, training and education issues, and specific population needs. Many questions arose, including the following:
- Which procedures does the facility versus a SART agency need to initiate—and how and when should facility staff and contractors reach out to SART agencies?
- What are the logistics of the medical forensic examination? Is it necessary for juvenile residents to be shackled while being transported to and from the exam site and during the exam?
- What is the scope of services and level of confidentiality that MOCSA could offer residents, particularly juvenile residents? What are the logistics involved in offering victim services?
- What are the confidentiality policies for contracted mental health providers when counseling residents?
- What information should be relayed to victims during an immediate response, and when is their informed consent needed?
- Do responses vary depending on when the incident occurred? If yes, how?
- What offenses require internal investigation versus those that may also involve law enforcement?
Finding answers to these questions sometimes required the ARC, the JDC, and/or SART agencies to consider how to adapt existing policies to address unique issues facing sexual assault victims in the facilities. The Corrections SAFE Guide served as a resource for identifying the response elements to adapt.
The committees began drafting policies while they were still exploring answers to outstanding questions. As they determined the answers, they incorporated the information into their drafts. By early 2014, after a lengthy review and comment period, the DOC, with Vera’s assistance, had finalized response flowcharts and reference response checklists for facility staff.
POLICY DEVELOPMENT TAKES TIME
The policy development process took longer than anticipated. A key reason was that the committees were working not only to comply with PREA response standards, but also to weave other PREA standards into their policies (such as those that refer to data collection). Another reason was that incorporating PREA response standards and best practices from the Corrections SAFE Guide in the policy was complicated work that had not been done before in these facilities. The committees had to decide whether each standard or best practice was appropriate for the facility, where to include each one in the policies, and how to tailor PREA and best-practice language so that it was meaningful for their facilities. Based on the experience of the SARTCP, Vera recommends that facilities beginning to grapple with PREA and develop policies allow approximately 6-12 months from start to finish (up to 18 months for the whole process).
Concurrent with the policy development that occurred in Phase 3, SARTCP evaluators were surveying facility staff and interviewing residents for baseline information on policy awareness, attitudes, and beliefs related to sexual assault in each facility. This information helped guide training efforts in Phase 4 and led to revisions of some of the resident educational materials. Vera recommends that facilities undertake a staff survey at an earlier point in this process, so that they have the opportunity to incorporate the information in project planning and activities. If facility leaders and staff want to understand more about resident awareness, attitudes, and beliefs, they should work with an external researcher to design surveys or interview protocols, conduct the surveys or interviews, and analyze the results. Appendix 4 contains a proposed interview guide for residents that an external researcher can consult when working with a facility. To elicit the most honest feedback and ensure that residents do not feel coerced into responding, outside professionals must conduct resident interviews or surveys.