A planning tool

Phase 3: Incorporating a SART approach in facility policy

Phase 3: Incorporating a SART approach in facility policy

After doing the work in Phase 2 to partner with the community SART, it is time to review the facility’s sexual assault response policy and develop or revise it to comply with PREA standards and incorporate a SART approach.


The exercise below may be helpful to policy committees as they prepare to review their sexual assault response policy and plan to make revisions.

  • Let’s say a resident reports to a staff member that he was sexually assaulted by another resident two hours ago. What would happen?
    • First response?
    • Immediate medical/mental health care on-site?
    • Who is notified of reports within the facility? How and when? Outside the facility?
    • Crime-scene evidence collection and investigation?
    • Is a sexual assault medical forensic exam warranted?
    • Transport to and from the exam site?
    • Advocacy services available?
    • Follow-up medical/mental health care?
    • Follow-up victim support services?
    • Placement of victim upon returning to the facility?
  • How would the response be different if a resident reported being sexually assaulted a week ago?
  • How would the response be different if a resident accused a staff member of sexual assault?
  • How would the response be different if the assault was perpetrated at another facility?
  • What are the anticipated challenges in responding to a sexual assault at the facility? How will facility staff overcome the challenges?


  • Adjust facility policy so that it complies with PREA standards about response to sexual assault. The PREA standards require three things: a written plan to coordinate responses of the facility and other involved agencies; a uniform evidence and sexual-assault medical forensic examination protocol (based on the National Protocol and the Corrections SAFE Guide); and resident access to community victim advocates for emotional-support services related to sexual assault. Also, make sure to incorporate a SART approach in the facility policy, consistent with the Corrections SAFE Guide and the community SART protocol. (See Appendix 2 for the chart “Elements of a Sexual Assault Response Policy.”)
  • Develop tools to assist responders at the facility in carrying out the response according to the facility policy. These tools, such as the flowcharts discussed below, can be used in response situations and for training purposes.


prepare for the work ahead
  • Form a policy committee. Include at least a facility leader, a policy writer, and front-line staff (such as a case manager, treatment manager, or staff supervisor). Rather than randomly assigning committee work, first seek volunteers from staff who have expressed an interest in this issue, have experience or training in this area, and/or have been effective in aiding residents who have been sexually victimized. Consult with the facility training coordinator as needed to ensure that the policy addresses related training needs of facility staff. Plan for the committee to fulfill the following functions: identify issues; schedule meetings to discuss issues; seek input from SART agencies and facility staff and contractors; build consensus on policy decisions; and draft or revise policies.
  • Request that an advocate from the rape crisis center act in a consulting role to the committee, to make sure the policy reflects an accurate understanding of sexual assault and appropriate responses to victims. Also consider reaching out to a representative from an organization that provides services to LGBTQI individuals, to ensure that the facility is competent to meet the needs of LGBTQI victims.
  • Assemble the committee for an initial planning session. The goal is to establish a committee plan that will facilitate drafting the new or revised sexual assault response policy. In addition to identifying key response issues (see chart at right), the committee should review existing policies to see how and where simple changes can be made to comply with PREA requirements. The committee should consider creating some planning aids to advance the work and track the group’s progress. For example, the committee may find it helpful to discuss sexual assault response issues by reviewing a list of questions about reporting, first response, and investigation (see Appendix 5, “Questions for Developing Sexual Assault Response Policies”). A planning chart to keep track of committee discussions and progress on needed actions may also be useful.
  • Consider creating a flowchart to map out the facility’s first responses to some identified assault scenarios. Creating a flowchart or series of flowcharts can be a productive exercise to understand how a facility would respond to sexual assault, help identify gaps in policy or procedure, and acknowledge important variations in potential sexual assault scenarios and their impact on appropriate response protocols. (See Appendix 7, “SARTCP Response Flowcharts.”) The first drafts of flowcharts will likely have many gaps and raise many questions, and will thus require multiple revisions. Because the flowcharts are intended to help the committee through the policy-development process, people should not get stuck on design challenges. You can create flowcharts using simple word-processing software or more elaborate programs, if available. You can also draw them by hand.
  • Discuss confidentiality and informed consent early in the process. Determining the scope of confidentiality afforded to victims in the aftermath of an assault is challenging for facility staff but essential when developing victim-centered sexual assault response policy. Residents who experience sexual assault may choose not to seek help if they fear that others in the facility will find out about their victimization. Although rape crisis centers can typically protect people’s confidentiality more than corrections staff can, administrators may be concerned that any level of confidentiality afforded to residents that is related to a crime committed in their facility could be detrimental to institutional safety and security. It is critical that residents understand facility policy on confidentiality if they disclose sexual assault, so that they can make well-informed decisions about getting help. An advocate from the local rape crisis center can consult with the policy committee to help its members think through these issues and figure out how to protect a person’s confidentiality while maintaining the facility’s safety and security.
  • Hold routine meetings, conference calls, or both, to discuss issues. Each issue should be examined not only from the perspective of the resident and his or her needs after an assault, but also from the perspective of SART agencies and what they need. Identify actions the committee should take to address each policy issue in a victim-centered way, decide who will take the actions, and create a time line for completing the actions.
  • Consider whether it is feasible to create a position of victim resource specialist, a dedicated staff person who will work with victims in the event of a sexual assault, as recommended by the Corrections SAFE Guide. Designating a single individual to do this work helps ensure that victims receive consistent information and guidance during the immediate in-house response and helps them make decisions about getting assistance. This position is meant to complement the role of a victim advocate from the local rape crisis center.
  • Complete actions and update the response flowchart. Identify if and where the policy still has gaps. Ask the victim advocate to participate in this dialogue to assess whether the response is victim-centered and coordinated. Schedule additional meetings and calls as needed to discuss how to address identified gaps.

Design the facility’s sexual assault response policy in a way that addresses victims’ needs and concerns, no matter how delayed their reports or disclosures. A sexual assault medical forensic exam can be conducted many days after an incident; it does not have to be immediate, though some evidence may be lost. Even after a delay, medication can be prescribed to prevent sexually transmitted infections, and support and counseling provided to deal with trauma. Facilities should check with local SAFE/SANE programs for the exam cut-off times used in the jurisdiction. Also, if a facility resident discloses that he is having trouble functioning due to memories of a sexual assault that occurred before his detention at the facility, a SART approach can help facility staff quickly provide a referral to appropriate services. Although a victim may not want to report the incident to law enforcement and may not require medical forensic care, the resident may benefit from victim advocate support, mental health counseling, or both.

draft or revise the response policy
  • Identify who will be responsible and a time frame for drafting or revising the components of the policy. Once all issues have been brought to the table—even if they are not fully resolved—it is time to shift to drafting or revising the policy.
  • Draft or revise the response policy. Those responsible for this work can use the chart “Elements of a Sexual Assault Response Policy(Appendix 2) as a point of reference for merging the best practices of the Corrections SAFE Guide with the PREA standards. (Note that the Corrections SAFE Guide reflects the National Protocol’s recommendations for coordination and victim-centered care.) People writing or revising must be familiar with the facility’s current policy, the committee’s decisions on specific issues, and the updated flowchart, to decide how and where to incorporate each standard and best practice into policy.
  • Keep language simple and clear. The language of PREA is legalistic and complex. Avoid cutting and pasting PREA standards or recommendations verbatim from the Corrections SAFE Guide into policy. Tailor policy and first-responder procedures to the facility’s operations, and write them in simple, straightforward language staff can easily understand and apply.
  • Ensure that the facility policy incorporates directives to conduct periodic review and revision of the response policy. One approach is to conduct sexual abuse incident reviews at the conclusion of each investigation and then collectively analyze summary reports on a periodic basis. (See “Update Response Policy Based on Analysis of Sexual Abuse Incident Reviews” below for more details.) The plan for policy review and revision should include regularly soliciting input from facility staff and SART agencies to identify gaps, weaknesses, or flaws in the policy.
solicit and incorporate comments to finalize policy
  • Seek input on the draft policy from relevant facility staff and SART agencies.
  • Incorporate comments and suggestions and then provide the final policy to facility leaders for approval.
create tools to assist responders
  • Update response flowcharts to match the steps of the policy. If starting flowcharts from scratch at this point, see Appendix 7, “SARTCP Response Flowcharts.” Make charts as concise and user-friendly as possible.
  • Create checklists for immediate responders, based on the policy, that explain their specific roles and tasks and note how the response may change in different assault situations and with different populations of victims (for example, adults versus juveniles). Consider developing laminated pocket cards for easy use and reference.
  • Create tools for residents. Develop educational materials for residents that explain facility policy and response protocols, including the services that are available to them from the local rape crisis center, in easy-to-understand language (ensure that language is age-appropriate for juvenile facilities). Consider developing flowcharts for residents that explain what will happen if a resident is sexually assaulted. (See Appendix 8 for examples from the SARTCP.) Ask an advocate from the rape crisis center and/or the SART to review materials to ensure that they are victim-centered. Consider developing a post-incident feedback form for residents to complete after an assault. This form could be short and simple and include a few questions about whether the resident felt safe, supported, and informed following an incident and was able to access the services he or she wanted. The purpose is simply to give residents an opportunity after an incident to say what worked well and what didn’t. Such feedback could be helpful during post-incident case reviews and for future incidents.
  • Provide front-line facility staff easy access to these tools—online, in a central location at the facility, in the form of pocket cards to carry while on the job, or some combination.
update response policy based on analysis of sexual abuse incident reviews
  • Incorporate sexual abuse incident reviews into the facility’s process for reviewing critical incidents. PREA Standard 286/386 requires that facilities conduct a sexual abuse incident review at the conclusion of every sexual abuse investigation and prepare a report of findings and recommendations for improvement. Sexual abuse incident reviews can be useful for a number of reasons, including helping facility administrators and staff identify strengths and weaknesses in the response, areas of policy or training that may need to be supplemented, and blind spots. See Appendix 9 for a sample sexual abuse incident review form.
  • Use information gleaned from sexual abuse incident reviews to improve response policy and protocols. Convene a committee periodically to analyze summary reports from incident reviews to gain insight regarding trends or ongoing problems. Consider requesting that an advocate from the rape crisis center act in a consulting role to the committee, to ensure that the analysis reflects responses that are appropriate to victims’ needs. Ensure that the facility’s process for reviewing these incidents includes mechanisms for implementing any necessary changes to policy and training. The process should be flexible enough to allow for immediate revisions and actions when a serious problem is identified, and structured enough to allow for periodic systemic adjustments based on any identified trends or ongoing problems. Also share with the SART any findings that involve or affect the collaboration between the SART and the correctional facility. If changes in facility policy or the SART response occur, make sure they are reflected in applicable See Appendix 9 for a sample sexual abuse incident review form.
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