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Louisiana's PREA summits: culture change and sexual safety.

In 2013, Louisiana's Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) hosted a series of leadership summits that helped advance Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) solutions in the South. During planning, OJJ sought to use grant funds from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to move beyond the basics of PREA compliance. The agency felt it was important to address the national problem of disparate intraorganizational culture and the prevailing notion that mere policy changes and camera purchases could not, on their own, create zero-tolerance environments of sexual safety. Agencywide culture change, starting with leadership, had to be dealt with. Even the DOJ's granting agency, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, echoed these concerns in its grant solicitations in 2011. In 2012, the federal government placed the responsibility for agencywide culture change squarely on the heads of correctional leadership. The "Overview" section of the Final Rule for PREA compliance, which is a set of standards created in compliance with the first PREA law passed in 2003 and put forth by the DOJ, reads as such:

The success of the PREA standards in combating sexual abuse in confinement facilities will depend on effective agency and facility leadership, and the development of an agency culture that prioritizes efforts to combat sexual abuse. Effective leadership and culture cannot, of course, be directly mandated by rule. Yet, implementation of the standards will help foster a change in culture by institutionalizing policies and practices that bring these concerns to the fore. (1)

Other publications, even before PREA was written into law, had already looked to leadership as the source for culture change in organizations. For example, in 2001, Dean and Linda A. Anderson asserted that organizational leadership has a responsibility to set good examples for institutional transformation that will lead to a safer environment. They went on to demonstrate that "transformation cannot be achieved solely through isolated, disconnected or random events. Change leaders must ensure that all change-related activity is purposeful and integrated." (2) By 2012, the National Institute of Corrections thought enough of the issue to dedicate an entire volume of its Achieving Performance Excellence Guidebook Series (the APEX model) to agency culture change. The volume, entitled "Culture and Change Management," dissected the problems inherent in some organizational attitudes and presented a series of steps designed to restructure agency culture. It also included a section on PREA implementation. (3)

With these things in mind, OJJ chose to undertake a grant project that would resolve its pockets of cultural disconnect. At the same time, the agency believed it could more positively impact the juvenile justice system if it operated from a grand scale. By inviting delegates from other states, the project would be cost-efficient, contain a more dynamic range of ideas and yield a better set of results. Therefore, OJJ asked the Moss Group--a national consultant with a fresh, third-party point of view and a track record of proven activity in the field--to help OJJ forge a partnership with other states. Together, Andie Moss, president of The Moss Group; Mary Livers, Ph.D., deputy secretary of OJJ; and Ellyn Toney, OJJ's PREA coordinator, planned to bring in knowledgeable guest speakers and executive leadership from five Southern states. The participants were invited to join the efforts in a two-part series of leadership conferences, also called "summits." It was hoped these summits and the geographic closeness of the states would give the PREA project a wide swath of influence that would create some degree of standardization across the South.

The First Summit

OJJ and The Moss Group hosted the first summit in New Orleans in May 2013. Executives from Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas attended. The agenda focused sharply on changing institutional culture through PREA implementation. The overall objective was for organizations to share strategies with one another. Also, The Moss Group asked attendees to consider new models, used both inside and outside the juvenile justice system, for agency culture change.

Activities included presentations by all attendees, who explained what their responses to PREA mandates had been to date. OJJ, for example, showed how it took advantage of PREA guidelines and impending due dates to begin changing mindsets and galvanizing attitudes near the top of the agency's structure. Instead of allowing PREA to overwhelm or fragment employee functioning, OJJ's leadership welcomed the numerous and expansive PREA requirements and viewed them as a chance to renew organizational patterns that worked and correct those that did not. OJJ showed how it culled leadership personnel from every discipline of operations to be part of PREA solutions; involved the quality-control department to ensure proper action; improved the curriculum and reading materials for leadership training; and made sure there was buy-in from leadership on issues regarding PREA's role in youth safety.

One presentation, facilitated by the Moss Group, examined various choices and ideas for heading up organizational change and addressing PREA issues. This piece put all others in context by making it clear that even though delegates were on a quest to create their own best practices for cultural change through PREA implementation, there were a number of starting points to choose from. After identifying common themes, summit delegates agreed on the following key factors that would influence their strategies for the near future:

* Attitude shifts must start at the executive level;

* Other agency leaders must feel empowered to act so they can generate rule/policy/attitude buy-in;

* PREA implementation must emphasize youth and staff safety;

* Planning environments must be supportive of member opinions and open to new methodologies; and

* Gradual approaches must be used in order to give change time to "sink in."

A highlight of the first summit was the agreement that multi-state leadership would continue to work with each other in the coming months. The state leaders saw to it that processes, practices and activities of the first summit were maintained and improved upon in order to develop more advanced PREA solutions for the next summit. Most delegates recognized that by collaborating and refining solutions to PREA compliance, they were, in fact, beginning the culture change they had come to discuss.

The Second Summit

In December 2013, the second summit continued to emphasize how important leadership is in revamping agency culture. This installment included presentations from all five of the states that previously attended. In addition, the Alabama Department of Youth Services joined the summit, adding further to the intended galvanization of Southern states. Most discussions went beyond mere follow-up from the previous summit. State leaders had developed models based on their ongoing strides toward PREA compliance while demonstrating that they had taken lessons from their peers. Leaders from Kentucky demonstrated how it established a youth PREA education initiative, trained the appropriate staff in trauma-informed care and had sexual safety assessments done at three of its facilities.

Another presentation from the American Institute of Research struck a chord because it isolated two key challenges that every juvenile justice organization faces. First, it enumerated common problems of adjudicated and abused youths. It showed how incarcerated youths should not be viewed by staff in the same way that perhaps others are viewed. Juvenile justice clientele have neither the same safety structures that others do, nor do these juveniles possess the same thought patterns. Therefore, it is the leadership's responsibility to make sure staff are trained on how to respond to these types of clientele. The discussion went on to show, in detail, the numerous things that could go wrong for an organization, which provided an extra angle for agency self-analysis and a starting point for planning organizational change.

An educational highlight of the second conference was The Moss Group's facilitated seminar on PREA audits. This discussion underscored important dates in audit cycles and stages of the process. Participants whose agencies had already been audited were able to provide nuanced and useful commentary on the matter. This second summit showed how sustained collaboration and willingness to stick with the program could produce meaningful results.

Outcomes and Benefits of the Summits

Methods to create a learning atmosphere and to enliven attitudes worked well among the delegates. Louisiana State University's Office of Social Sciences Research and Development conducted a scientific study to measure participant learning and "the capacity with which an organizational cultural change regarding sexual abuse can be made." The study suggested that the summits were a productive learning experience and that "juvenile justice organizations may be taking steps to influence a cultural change." Such changes thus far have come in the forms of organizational awareness and alterations to policy and procedure. (4)

The collaborative aspect of the project worked well. At the conclusion of the second summit, it was clear that agency executives had used suggestions and methods presented by their colleagues during the first summit. In some cases, steps taken and guidelines suggested were put forth in greater detail and with more force of knowledge than they had been during the first summit. A pattern of replication began to take shape, which suggested that the idea of standardizing practices across the South had worked. What amounted from the summits was a constellation of plans, actions, programs and movements toward institutional change that yielded a set of emerging best practices.

The Lasting Influence of the Summits

The drive toward change continued with another summit in December 2014. OJJ is working with the Moss Group to create a series of trainings and activities, designed to disseminate the fruits of the first two summits into middle-management levels. OJJ has continued to implement the best practices that came to the fore during the summits, and the agency has instituted trainings that help staff recognize and respond to evidence of youth trauma. OJJ has also established a new employment screening instrument designed to strengthen professional boundaries between staff and youths.

With the help of The Moss Group, OJJ is continuing to address current issues. The next set of activities will also focus on the Bureau of Justice Statistics' finding that nationwide, the juvenile justice system faces a disproportionate breakdown of barriers between female staff and male clientele. These and other grant-funded solutions, including data systems improvement, small leadership retreats and continued scientific analysis, will continue to follow from the set of guidelines and best practices of the first two summits at least through 2017.


With the implementation of the summits, OJJ hoped to create a springboard of activity that would shape the way PREA is dealt with across the South, and there is evidence now that the plan is starting to work. This progress offers the six state agencies and The Moss Group hope and encouragement that the juvenile justice field is on the right track. The final objective, therefore, is to continue down this path and keep working toward sustained culture change, which will produce greater sexual safety for youths in custody.


(1) Department of Justice. 2012. National standards to prevent, detect and respond to prison rape; final rule. Federal Register. 77(119):37,105-37,232.

(2) Anderson, L.A. and D. Anderson. 2001. The change leader's roadmap: How to navigate your organization's transformation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer.

(3) National Institute of Corrections. 2012. Culture and change management: Using APEX to facilitate organizational change. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

(4) Maberry, S., C. Guin and J. Smith. 2014. Prison rape elimination act and culture change (Unpublished study). Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Office of Social Science Research and Development.

Paul Graham, Ph D., is the grants coordinator for Louisiana's Office of Juvenile Justice.
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Title Annotation:Juvenile Justice News; Prison Rape Elimination Act
Author:Graham, Paul
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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