ANCHORAGE -

Eight inmates were sexually assaulted while behind bars in Alaska correctional facilities in the last two years, and more than 30 were victims of sexual harassment or misconduct, according to a state Department of Corrections spokesperson.

The department on Thursday finalized its “zero tolerance” approach on sexual abuse and sexual assault in correctional facilities. 

The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requires all states to adopt and implement such policies.

This is the first time Alaska has adopted a written policy on prison rape, said Sherrie Daigle, deputy director of Alaska Department of Corrections. Previously, the procedure was to have Troopers investigate all reports of sexual assault.

PREA sets new standards for reducing sexual assault and sexual abuse in prisons and jails. The law also expands the definition what is considered inappropriate conduct. For example, touching and harassment are now reportable offenses.

In 2012, two sexual assaults were reported. According to the newly expanded definitions, however, there were eight incidents of abuse, harassment and misconduct—what DOC called “PREA incidents.”

In 2013, four sexual assaults and five PREA incidents were reported.

This year so far, two sexual assaults and 19 PREA incidents have been reported so far.

“With the implementation of PREA the reporting requirements have increased dramatically on what is considered a reportable incident, and that is why there is a large increase in the  number of PREA reports so far this year,” said Daigle. “As you can see, though, the actual number of sexual (assaults) has remained fairly consistent.”

In the last two years, corrections officers in Alaska have received specialized training to detect and prevent such acts during training academies, Daigle said.

A copy of the policy is required to be posted in each inmate’s cell.

Federal inspectors will audit the state for compliance within the next 12 months, Daigle said.