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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Won’t Abide by Prison Rape Law

AUSTIN (CN) - Texas will not abide by parts of a federal law aimed at reducing prison rape, Gov. Rick Perry told U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act was enacted in 2003 under President George W. Bush, a former governor of Texas.

In his March 28 letter, Perry said the law has "good intentions" but that recently adopted rules by the Department of Justice make it impossible for many states to comply with the act.

"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. "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."

The rules give states until May 15 to certify that all facilities under their control comply with the PREA, a deadline Perry says cannot be met.

"PREA requires one-third of these facilities to be audited each year, yet no audit tool for lock-ups has even been developed," Perry wrote. "There is no way that I will certify compliance for facilities that have not even been audited."

Texas will refuse to raise its age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18. To do so would require separating 17-year-old adult inmates from 18-year old adult inmates "at substantial cost with no discernible benefit," Perry said.

Perry disputed the law's "ill-conceived" standards on opposite-gender viewing of inmates, which he claims will cause violations of state and federal labor laws against gender discrimination.

"Approximately 40 percent of [Texas Department of Criminal Justice] correctional officers at male units are female," Perry wrote. "Because PREA standards prohibit most cross-gender viewing, TDCJ would be compelled to deny female officers job assignments and promotion opportunities, simply based on their gender. A consultant referred to TDCJ by the PREA Resource Center absurdly suggested that TDCJ solve this problem by removing security cameras and obstructing lines of sight. That is ridiculous. Doing so would not only be a security risk for both prisoners and staff but also increase the likelihood of assaults taking place, defeating the intent of the law."

Lance Lowry, president of a local union representing corrections officers in Huntsville, disagreed. He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram the state already bans male officers from patting down female inmates, while female officers can search male inmates.

"Perry's argument on that is very shortsighted and from our stance, he is opening the agency and the agency staff to a tremendous amount of liability," Lowry told the newspaper Wednesday.

He said most issues could be resolved easily if staffing levels were corrected.

"The lack of staff is something the politicians need to address," Lowry said. "They have run these facilities short of staff for years."

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