Corrections and SARTs: Relationship Building
SARTs can have a range of relationships with the correctional facilities in their service area. There are multiple ways SARTs and correctional facilities can have robust relationships. Corrections may be a member of the team, or corrections can work closely with the team, regularly engaging in conversations with SART members and attending SART meetings.
For SARTs expanding their scope to better include victims/survivors in custody, there are a number of factors that are important to keep in mind when considering the development of these relationships. Particularly for SARTs serving rural areas, it is important to consider the distance between correctional facilities and SART meetings/member offices, and the capacity of SART team members to expand their scope to include facilities. Providing confidentiality and privacy during the SART response (in particular with advocacy services and medical forensic exams) can be challenging while also balancing correctional facilities’ security and safety concerns.
Despite the challenges teams may face, correctional facilities and SART teams have a shared goal of creating a safer community, inside and outside of facilities. By having a coordinated response that serves victims/survivors at its core, regardless of where they live, SARTs and corrections will be able to improve the response to sexual violence for everyone in the community.
Providing trauma-informed and victim-centered responses for inmate-survivors is crucial for promoting their well-being, and it also will serve to help with their transition back into the community following their time in custody. With 95% of the U.S. state prison population at some point leaving custody and returning to the community, which can be a difficult transition in and of itself, it’s important to provide services for victims/survivors in custody that will prevent this transition from being further worsened by their experience of sexual violence.
However you develop or maintain your relationship with correctional facilities, whether they are a member of the SART team or a community partnership, you can consider the following to help strengthen those relationships:
- If you don’t already have a relationship, reach out to your local correctional facilities to introduce the community SART, taking time to describe the SART’s work and functions. If you already have a relationship, take time for a refresher conversation on these topics and remind correctional facilities how the SART can serve as a support and resource for them in addition to helping them meet PREA standards.
- Invite correctional facility leadership to speak at a SART team meeting and share information about their work and field with the team.
- Remember that a trauma-informed and victim-centered approach may be a new concept for correctional facilities. Shifting to incorporate this approach takes time.
- When looking at response coordination with correctional facilities, talk about confidentiality and safety. This should include an explanation of each agency’s approach and obligations, and a discussion of the ways these obligations can be accommodated while also balancing the correctional facility’s concern for security.
- Take care to frame the goals of corrections and the goals of the SART as related to one another. SARTs support victims/survivors handling trauma, improving their sense of safety and support. Providing SART support to inmate-survivors shows that the facility cares for their well-being. This environment can contribute to victims/survivors to being more comfortable and cooperative in the investigation process following a report.
- Consider using trainings to build relationships and shared understandings of one another’s work. These trainings can address myths and false assumptions (both about corrections and about sexual violence), the dynamics of sexual violence and the needs of victims/survivors, how correctional facilities and systems operate, corrections’ policies and procedures, how SARTs and SART members function, SART members’ roles in the SART response and what services their organizations provide.
- Looking for more support when building these relationships? Explore Just Detention International’s resources, the Vera Institute’s guide “Partnering with Community Sexual Assault Response Teams,” reach out to your state coalition, or connect with us here at SVJI!
This month’s blog series was written by Sophia Berg, yearlong fellow at MNCASA focusing on rural advocacy, SARTs, and PREA.