JDI IN THE NEWS - 2008

Mike Ward, Texas leads U.S. in rates of prison rape, survey finds: Officials dispute that five of 10 prisons with highest prevalence of sex assault are in state, Austin American-Statesman, March 28, 2008.

In a national survey of imprisoned criminals, Texas has gained a dubious new distinction: Five of the 10 prisons with the highest reported rates of rape are in Texas.

They are the Estelle Unit outside Huntsville, Clements in Amarillo, Allred near Wichita Falls, Coffield near Tennessee Colony and Mountain View outside Gatesville. All are men's prisons except the one at Gatesville.

Nationwide, more than 60,500 convicts reported being sexually victimized in prison — either by another prisoner or by staff — during 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics' December survey of more than 1.3 million of the 2.4 million total U.S. prisoners.

Of those Texas prisons, Estelle had the highest reported prevalence of sexual victimization, with 15.7 percent of inmates reporting. Clements had 13.9 percent; Allred, 9.9 percent; Mountain View, 9.5 percent; and Coffield, 9.3 percent.

The U.S. total was 4.5 percent.

Texas prison officials said only 234 cases of alleged sexual assaults were reported statewide in all Texas prisons during 2007.

"The actual reports we have are not consistent with the results in the survey," said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "But because it's anonymous, there's no way for us to verify that additional number."

Even so, as the U.S. Justice Department's Review Panel on Prison Rape opened a two-day hearing in Houston on Thursday, the opinion that Texas has a big problem persisted.

"The need for genuine reform of the (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) is evident, as sexual abuse continues to plague Texas state prisons, derailing justice and shattering the dignity of victims," Lovisa Stannow wrote in an op-ed column in Thursday's Houston Chronicle. Stannow is executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape, a human rights organization.