JDI IN THE NEWS - 2008

Bill Murphy, Report Advises How to Prevent Rapes in Prison, Houston Chronicle, August 22, 2008.

Report advises how to prevent rapes in prison
5 Texas facilities are on list where sexual assaults appear to be most prevalent

Rapes in prisons could be greatly reduced if prison staff adopted a zero tolerance attitude toward such crimes and developed a system that identified and protected inmates who could be potential victims, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Recommendations made in the report were intended to aid prisons where rapes appear to be most prevalent, including five state prisons in Texas, said the report by the federal review panel on prison rape.

Inmates were surveyed at only 146 of the state and federal prisons in the U.S. Of these, the Texas facilities where sexual assaults were most prevalent were state prisons: Clemens in Brazoria County, Estelle in Walker County north of Huntsville, Allred, Mountain View and Coffield, the report said.

But the federal review panel's recommendations will have little or no effect unless prison staffs take them seriously, the panel said.

"Unless zero tolerance is clearly and repeatedly conveyed from the top down, the best (federal Prisoner Rape Elimination Act) policy will be little more than a paper facade," the panel concluded.

The act, passed by Congress in 2003, required that statistics be gathered annually on the prevalence of inmate-on-inmate and staff-on-inmate sexual assaults in prisons.

Last year, an arm of the Department of Justice — the Bureau of Justice Statistics — made its first attempt at complying with the law by conducting a survey of randomly selected inmates at a limited number of facilities. The inmates were asked to report whether they had been sexually assaulted in prison in the previous 12 months.

At Estelle prison, 16 percent of the inmates who took part in the survey reported being sexually assaulted — the highest rate of any prison that took part in the study.

Clemens unit on the list

Clemens prison had the second-highest rate, with 14 percent of inmates reporting that they were sexually assaulted.

The three other Texas facilities rounded out the top 10 prisons with the highest prevalence of inmates who said they were sexually assaulted. Allred's rate was 10 percent, Mountain View's 9.5 percent and Coffield's 9 percent. Mountain View is a women's prison in Gatesville, about 40 miles southwest of Waco. Allred is in Wichita County, and Coffield is in Anderson.

Of the 23,398 inmates at 146 state and federal prisons who responded to the survey, 4.5 percent reported they had been been sexually assaulted.

Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said in an e-mail that the department "has a zero tolerance policy against sexual encounters of any kind within the prison system and recognizes the importance of educating offenders about sexual assault and abuse. The Safe Prisons Program is in operation at all TDCJ correctional facilities, including the five units specifically cited in this study."

Panel created by law

The Prisoner Rape Elimination Act also required that a panel be established to review the survey findings and lay out why sexual assaults are prevalent in some prisons.

In its report, the panel said prisons could take steps to reduce sexual assaults:

•They should assess whether incoming inmates will be at risk of being sexually assaulted or could be a risk to commit a sexual assault. Prisons can segregate potential victims and perpetrators of sexual assaults based on risk assessments.

•They can install videocameras in areas where assaults are most likely to occur, including isolated areas of kitchens, laundry rooms, shower rooms and cells of inmates at risk of being victims or rapists.

•Those who investigate sexual assaults should be independent of the prison system.

•Prisons should reduce overcrowding and maintain proper staffing levels.

Many victims are small and young, have spent little or no time in prison, are serving time for a non-violent offense and are not a member of a prison gang, the panel found. Gays and transgenders often are targeted.

Those who commit sexual assaults often are bigger inmates who share cells with smaller ones, the report said. They often have a history of sexual violence or general violence and often have served time on several occasions.

Lyons said a number of the panel's recommendations are already TDCJ policy, including assessing newly arrived inmates to determine whether they are at risk of being raped or committing rapes.

Lovisa Stannow, director of Stop Prisoner Rape, a human rights organization, praised the panel's report, saying it suggests that sexual assaults can be greatly reduced through effective management policies.

"Sex abuse in prison is preventable," she said. "In a well-managed prison, you see low levels of sexual abuse. In poorly managed prison, you'll see high levels of sexual abuse."