Measuring the benefits to victims and the Prison Rape Elimination Act

By , March 30, 2011

Victim costs and benefits play an important role in policymaking, as can currently be seen in the discussions around the proposed National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape. The standards proposed by the Attorney General, pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), are available in the Federal Register, and additional materials regarding PREA are available on the Department of Justice (DOJ) website. The public can submit comments on the proposed standards at regulations.gov until April 4.

An analysis conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton of the original standards proposed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission identified only the potential costs to correctional facilities of compliance. In response, DOJ revised the standards and prepared a cost-benefit analysis, contained within the Initial Regulatory Impact Analysis, because the department determined that the rule is a “significant regulatory action.” OMB Circular A-4 requires federal agencies to prepare a cost-benefit analysis for regulations that are economically significant or raise novel legal or policy issues.

The analysis of benefits provides an important dimension, i.e., the perspective of victims, to the policy discussion. DOJ’s cost-benefit analysis factors in the benefits of a reduction in sexual abuse at correctional facilities. The department estimated the cost for each adult rape as approximately $200,000 based on the jury compensation model (also called the victim compensation model) and approximately $300,000 based on the contingent valuation model (refer to CBKB’s victim costs tool to learn about these methods).

According to DOJ’s analysis, if the revised PREA standards reduce the annual prevalence of prison rape and sexual assault by 1 percent, from an estimated baseline of 216,000 incidents per year, the benefits of avoided victimizations would range from $157 million to $239 million annually. DOJ also acknowledged several benefits that can’t be monetized, such as benefits to the families of victims and society at large. The total benefit of a reduction in victimization would be even greater when these additional factors are considered.

Some will dispute the appropriateness of putting a ‘price’ on victimization, while others will debate about what the ‘right’ price should be. But it is critical to shine light on benefits to victims so that policies that improve safety can be appropriately evaluated.

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