By Lily Kuo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. prisons and other facilities where residents are forcibly confined must put in place standards to prevent thousands of incidents of sexual abuse every year, the White House and U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday.
Advocates of a 2003 law to eliminate prison rape see sexual assault in U.S. prisons as rampant and grossly overlooked.
"Sexual assault crimes committed within our correctional facilities can have devastating consequences - for individual victims and for communities far beyond our jails and prisons," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
More than 209,400 people were victims of sexual abuse in prisons, jails and juvenile detention facilities in 2008, the Justice Department said.
Holder on Thursday signed a detailed plan for implementation of the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act that directs adult prisons and jails, lockups, community confinement facilities and juvenile facilities to begin screening inmates for risk of being sexually abused or abusive.
It also mandates background checks on prospective employees of these facilities for any history of sexual abuse.
Officials said the rule also applied to confinement centers operated by executive departments and agencies other than the Justice Department, including immigration detention centers.
Other measures include barring juveniles from being housed with adult inmates, a ban on cross-gender pat-down searches, video monitoring and special attention to lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual inmates vulnerable to abuse.
States which do not come into compliance with the rule, checked by audits every three years, would lose five percent of any Department of Justice grants for their prisons. Facilities would have about two months to come into compliance.
(Reporting By Lily Kuo; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Todd Eastham)