The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) welcomes the long-delayed national standards to end sexual abuse in U.S. correctional facilities, which were issued by the Department of Justice last week. The prison rape standards were mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, a bill that the NAE championed.

“The widespread rape and sexual abuse of prisoners is an affront to the nation’s moral fabric,” said Galen Carey, NAE Vice President for Government Relations. “These very important prison rape standards should have come sooner, but we’re grateful they are here now.”

The prison rape standards include a ban on routine pat-down searches of female inmates by male guards, restrictions on cross-gender viewing of inmates while showering, separation of youth and adult prisoners, and mandatory independent audits of all facilities every three years.

The government also clarified that PREA applies to all detention facilities, although other federal agencies will need to develop their own standards. State prisons will also be encouraged to follow the guidelines, and will face a loss of some federal funds if they do not comply.

Evangelicals have long been concerned for the welfare of prisoners, sponsoring and volunteering in prison ministries. In a 2004 document, the NAE stated that “because God created human beings in his image, all people share in the divine dignity.” As God’s image bearers, those behind bars deserve the same protections against violence as those on the outside.

“While some prisoners have committed heinous crimes, subjection to rape or sexual abuse should never be part of their sentence,” Carey said.

In May 2010, the NAE submitted comments to Attorney General Eric Holder to encourage swift adoption of the standards, which were proposed by the Prison Rape Elimination Act Commission. “The ball is now in your court. With an estimated 165 prisoners being subjected to abuse every day — more than 1,000 per week — any further delay is inexcusable,” the letter stated.

The NAE will advocate for speedy and effective implantation of these standards.