Prison and jail officials have a legal duty under the Constitution to protect people from sexual abuse, both from staff and from other people in custody. Jail and prison authorities in New York also should comply with National Standards to Prevent, Detect and Deter Prison Rape (the “PREA Standards). You can read them here.
If your friend or loved one is subjected to sexual abuse or harassment, you or they should be able to report it confidentially, described in more detail below. Once they receive the report, officials are required to take action to protect the person and investigate the allegation. Since sexual abuse is a sensitive matter and since people in custody always face a risk of retaliation, we suggest you make sure that the incarcerated person wants you to report the abuse to jail or prison officials before you do so.
You can report sexual abuse in the City jails either by contacting the City of New York by calling 311 or by emailing the NYC Department of Correction at ConstituentServices@doc.nyc.gov. In making the report, you do not have to leave your name or contact information. While the information that is provided is supposed to remain confidential, the report will likely be referred for investigation. You can also tell the person in custody that they can call the Safe Horizon Hotline. While it is provides an additional way for reporting abuse, Safe Horizon will only share the report with DOC if the person in custody gives them express permission to do so. Their 24-hour hotline, which accepts collect calls, is 212 227-3000.
To report abuse in the State prisons, you or the person in custody can contact the PREA Deputy Superintendent at the person’s prison or the DOCCS Office of Special Investigations. Information on how to contact them can be found here. If the person wants to talk about what happened and receive crisis support services, they should contact #777. All State prisons have contracts with rape crisis providers; they cannot share the information they receive, and calls and letters to them should be treated as confidential
If your friend or loved one is thinking about filing a lawsuit, there are different options. Suits brought under State law can be brought if the State was negligent, either in its supervision of staff or if it failed to protect the person from a foreseeable risk of harm from other people in custody. A suit for the violation of a person’s Constitutional rights can be brought if the jail or prison was “deliberately indifferent” to a serious risk of sexual abuse. This is a more difficult standard to meet than negligence. In either case, it’s important they file Notice of Claims with the City or State within 90 days of the abuse to preserve the right to bring State law claims. The Prisoners’ Rights Project can provide more information about how to file these lawsuits.
We are very concerned about custodial sexual abuse in our jails and prisons. Please contact us for further information and help.
The information in this document has been prepared by The Legal Aid Society for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon any information without retaining professional legal counsel.
Last Updated: 19 September 2019
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