Texas Gov. Abbott Vows to Prevent Prison Rape

     AUSTIN (CN) – Texas has changed its mind and will try to comply with a federal law to prevent prison rape, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said.
     In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, Abbott said the state has “has taken significant steps” to stop prison rape under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. The law was enacted in 2003 under President George W. Bush, a former governor of Texas.
     “I cannot yet certify that the state is in full compliance with Prison Rape Elimination Act because our PREA audits are still ongoing,” Abbott wrote on May 15. “But every facility that has completed the PREA audit process has been certified as fully compliant. And I can assure you that we will fully implement DOJ’s PREA standards wherever feasible.”
     Abbott’s position stands in contrast to that of former Gov. Rick Perry, who told federal officials in March 2014 it was impossible to comply with the law.
     “The rules appear to have been created in a vacuum with little regard for input from those who daily operate state prisons and local jails,” Perry wrote at the time. “They are inconsistent with other federal laws, such as labor laws and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, mandate staff ratios that impose substantial financial burden on communities and impose compliance dates impossible to meet.”
     Perry also complained about Texas having to raise its age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18. It requires separating 17-year-old adult inmates from 18-year old adult inmates “at substantial cost with no discernible benefit,” Perry said. He also disputed the law’s “ill-conceived” standards on opposite-gender viewing of inmates, which he claimed will cause violations of state and federal labor laws against gender discrimination.
     Abbott wrote that state prison officials are “confident” they have “taken adequate measures to segregate” the 17-year-old inmates under PREA, but that they will not know for sure until next year when the audits of the three prisons that house 17-year-olds with older inmates are completed.
     Of the 110 state jails and prisons in Texas, 32 have completed PREA audits. All of the 28 that have had final reports were certified as PREA compliant, Abbott said.
     The Texas Department of Criminal Justice also manages seven halfway houses and 21 transitional-treatment centers operated by private contractors. Abbott said the agency has negotiated clauses in each of their agreements with contractors that require PREA compliance.
     Advocacy groups were quick to laud Abbott for his surprising decision to seek compliance.
     Jael Humphrey, staff attorney with Lambda Legal, said Abbott took “a necessary first step to stop sexual violence in Texas” prisons.
     “Gov. Abbott and the governors of other states must use their leadership to change the culture in prisons and jails to underscore that sexual violence will not be tolerated, that perpetrators will be punished, and reports of sexual abuse will be investigated,” Humphrey said in a statement on Thursday. “It is only the first step, however, and sustained commitment is needed from all levels of the Texas criminal-justice system to make clear that rape is not an acceptable part of any sentence, for any crime.”
     Inmate Passion Star, a black transgender woman, said there needs to be “some kind of oversight” because those in power are not doing enough to stop prison rape. Since her imprisonment in 2002, Star has been raped and threatened with sexual assault despite filing dozens of grievances and repeatedly begging for help, Lambda Legal said.
     Star was transferred into a TCCJ safekeeping program in March after the advocacy group filed an emergency motion on her behalf.

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