Nathan Bernier, Lawmakers Move Against Prison Rape, KUT 90.5 FM, April 16, 2010
A group of state lawmakers is trying to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault in Texas prisons.
Texas has the worst rate of prison inmate rape in the country, according to a report by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Six Texas lawmakers learned of that data and wrote to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. The letter asks the TBCJ to explain the measures it is taking to reduce prison rape.
One of those lawmakers is Garnet Coleman. He authored a bill that became law in 2007 to eliminate sex assault in prisons.
“Because you’ve committed a crime, doesn’t make you a non-human being,” Coleman said. “The way our law works is that you serve your time, but it doesn’t say that you serve your time and we can let anything happen to you within that circumstance.”
Officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice say the report on Texas’ prison rape was authored before the law went into effect, and the Safe Prisons Program implemented changes like separating victims from abusers and educating inmates about the risks of spreading disease.
But at least according to one group, a lot of sex assaults still occur in Texas prisons.
Just Detention International receives dozens of letters every week from inmates reporting sex abuse. JDI’s Darby Hickey says about a quarter of them come from Texas.
“We have not noticed a change,” Hickey said. But Hickey believes the bill has some merit.
“I think that bill was important. And it’s important to have legislative action, but there also needs to be strong leadership from within prison agencies to address this issue,” Hickey said.
TDCJ says it has a zero tolerance policy against any type of sexual interaction in prisons.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice is reviewing proposed national guidelines to reduce sex assault in prisons, and the DOJ says it will accept input from the public.