Five of the ten worst facilities in the United States for sexual assaults in prison are in Texas, according to a 2008 study by the Department of Justice. “In those five prisons, between 9 percent and 16 percent of all inmates report incidents of rape by fellow prisoners and prison staff,” according to the Dallas Voice. But Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) said last week that he doesn’t plan on complying with new federal standards to curb these assaults.
The standards set by the Department of Justice come more than a decade after federal legislation was passed to address an epidemic of sexual assaults behind bars, particularly among teens and LGBT individuals. They impose basic requirements, such as separating teens from adults, eliminating cross-gender pat-downs in teen and juvenile units, and allotting a certain number of staff to juvenile facilities.
Perry said in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week that these requirements are not feasible for Texas, particularly because the state — unlike the federal government — considers 17 and 18-year-old inmates adults. Perry said it is too costly to separate those individuals from other adult prisoners, and that the cost of adding the required number of staff to some facilities would be “unacceptable” in some jurisdictions.
Just Detention International, an organization focused on sexual abuse “in all forms of detention,” said Perry’s response “ignores the overwhelming evidence of a human rights crisis in Texas prisons.”
The organization rebuts Perry’s claim that the regulations were developed in a vacuum, noting that during one of several public comment periods, Texas corrections department head Brad Livingston wrote to the Department of Justice in 2010, “it is apparent the Department of Justice gave careful consideration to the comments submitted by many interested parties during 2010, the TDCJ has few issues relating to the proposed national standards.”
Just Detention reports that it receives more letters from victims of sexual abuse in Texas than anywhere else, including anecdotes that those who try to report the abuse are threatened into silence. While Perry claims the state has achieved an 84 percent reduction in assaults on its own, Just Detenion suggests those figures may instead reflect “the risk of retaliation for speaking out against sexual violence.”
Nationwide, 1 in 8 detained juveniles are sexually assaulted, according to a Bureau of Justice 2010 survey. And LGBT individuals are 15 times more likely to be assaulted.
While federal facilities are obligated to comply with these new rules, state facilities can opt not to comply in exchange for losing five percent of their federal funding.