Ignoring Human Rights Crisis, Governor Perry Says Texas Won’t Adopt PREA Standards
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Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., March 31, 2014 -- In a move that puts the safety of thousands of people at risk, Texas Governor Rick Perry has announced that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) will not comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards. Governor Perry’s decision, stated in a letter sent Friday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, ignores the overwhelming evidence of a human rights crisis in Texas prisons.
"Governor Perry’s letter rejecting PREA is a disgraceful illustration of why Texas prisons are among the most violent in the country,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International.
Years of government research, as well as thousands of letters to JDI from Texas inmates, show that rape is rampant in Texas prisons. In a 2013 report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) singled out more detention facilities in Texas than in any other state for having high levels of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse. That report, which was based on a nationwide survey of tens of thousands of inmates, was no aberration; two prior BJS inmate surveys, released in 2010 and 2007, also ranked Texas prisons as having some of the highest rates of sexual victimization in the country.
This research is borne out by the fact that JDI receives more letters from survivors of sexual abuse in Texas prisons than from any other state. These letters paint a harrowing picture of life in a Texas facility. In many cases, staff ignored sexual abuse -- or worse, were themselves the perpetrators. Garrett Cunningham, a JDI Survivor Council member, was sexually assaulted repeatedly by a staff member at a Texas prison. When he tried to report it, officials threatened him. “My fear led me to attempt suicide just to escape the pain of my situation. My previous complaints to prison officials resulted in sharp rebukes. I felt hopeless and knew that openly pursuing my charges against the officer would have led to retaliation from staff.”
Governor Perry’s letter explaining his decision contains outright falsehoods. Perhaps most puzzling is his statement that the rules “appear to have been created in a vacuum with little regard for input from those who daily operate prisons and jails.” In fact, the standards were painstakingly developed over the course of several years. A bipartisan commission created by PREA held public hearings with corrections officials and others, including a 2007 session in Austin, which featured testimony from several TDCJ officials and a Texas state representative. The Department of Justice held two public comment periods on draft standards, and received feedback from corrections departments nationwide.
In defense of the TDCJ’s record, Governor Perry writes that Texas has seen an 84 percent decrease in sexual abuse allegations. He fails to mention that this decrease of formal complaints is not in any way reflected in the federal government’s direct surveys with Texas prisoners, and that it is likely to stem from pervasive fear of retaliation among survivors rather than an actual decrease of abuse. Texas prisoner rape survivors regularly write to JDI about the risk of retaliation for speaking out against sexual violence. Richard, who was sexually abused repeatedly by other inmates, told JDI in a letter that, “I reported the assaults, yet was accused of lying and told to keep my mouth shut. The officials I was supposed to trust turned their backs on me and let it all continue.”
In addition, Governor Perry emphasizes employment discrimination as a reason to reject PREA. This claim is disingenuous and evades the central question that PREA was designed to address: how to stop inmates from getting raped while in the government’s custody.
“It’s shameful for any governor to reject PREA. It’s especially shocking that the governor of the state with by far the worst record when it comes to addressing prisoner rape does so,” said Stannow. “Perry’s letter doesn’t only confirm bad leadership, it also provides a sad indication that things probably won’t get better anytime soon in Texas."