Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Rape Rarely Prosecuted in Texas Prisons

According to recent reports, rape in Texas' prisons is the highest in the nation. Based on research from 19952000, of the 660 cases reported barely 4 percent have been prosecuted. Why does the state that prides itself on having the highest per capita prison population in the nation have such a dismal record for prosecuting prison rape? According to human rights advocate Joanne Mariner, "there is no political advantage to seeing that these cases get resolved." She goes on to say that the public has little "sympathy for (raped prisoners)."

Even Gina DeBottis, chief of the Special Prosecution Unit for handling prison cases concedes that there is a problem. "[Prosecutions] are low, I admit they're low," she said. "I do find it problematic." But DeBottis blames the problem on weak evidence provided by prison investigators.

John Moriarty, Inspector General for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) theorizes that in this "city of 150,000 convicted felons" it is difficult to find witnesses and obtain evidence. However, his analogy does not hold up because the entire population of Texas prisoners is not located in one "city" as he suggests, but is actually scattered throughout over a hundred individual, and in many cases remotely isolated, units.

The problems, however, are not isolated. They pervade the entire TDCJ system. DeBottis and Moriarty both insist that the problems stem from the delays between the actual incidents and the time they get reported. Moriarty goes on to say that punitive sanctions handed out by prison officials, including loss of privileges, like commissary and recreation, and loss of good time are sufficient punishment for reported rape cases. Prison spokesperson Larry Todd defends TDCJ, insisting that all rape cases are taken seriously. However, he also claims that most of the charges brought by prisoners are false. "We may find that there was a lovers quarrel or a vendetta against another inmate," he said.

Ironically, the state whose criminal justice system is most eager to convict, and even kill, its citizens shows little interest in criminal charges brought by its prisoners. Critics of the system point out that the low rate of prosecution and the dismissive attitude exhibited by DeBottis, Moriarty, and Todd are reminiscent of the apathy experienced by female rape victims not many years ago. Mariner describes the victims, saying, "These are the people who want to tell their side of the story. But it's not like they ever get into the courtroom."

Kerry Cook is a prime example. Cook, a wrongfully convicted prisoner, spent 20 years on death row until he was exonerated five years ago. When he spoke with the media about his prison experience his tale was chilling. Squealing to officials about being raped "was my biggest mistake," he said. "I was ridiculed and beaten ... and I never ratted again." As Cook described his two decades of sexual abuse he compared himself to a "deer in the headlights" paralyzed by fear.

A three-year probe by the Human Rights Watch verified that Cook's experience is not an isolated case. The investigation revealed accounts of prisoners being gang raped and turned into sex slaves. One prisoner said, "It would amaze you (as it did me) to see human beings bought and sold like shoes." Another prisoner described how he was "snatched into a cell and raped by two [persons] while a third kept watch for the guard and held a homemade knife" to his throat. "They alternated for an hour ... It was very depressing," he said.

Many would agree that "depressing" is not a strong enough word. Mariner points out that ignoring the abuse only compounds the problem. "Can you imagine the bitterness and the anger that these people will be left with?" she asks. Since most prisoners will eventually be released, a more appropriate question might be, how much of the anger and bitterness of their prison experience will they bring back to society with them, and how will it affect their neighbors?

Source: San Antonio Express News.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login