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Sexual Abuse and Violence in Texas Prisons Eclipses National Average

Citing figures issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) a preliminary report by the Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR) initiative shows that Texas has five of the nation’s ten worst prisons for reported sexual violence. [SPR has changed its name and is now known as Just Detention International.] During the twelve months preceding they report these five prisons had rates of sexual abuse that ranged from 9.3 to almost 16 percent. The national average for the same period was 4.5 percent.

Of the 2.4 million prisoners nationwide one in five experiences some form of sexual abuse. The Safe Prisons Program is designed to ensure that prisoners at high risk for sexual assault and abuse are housed in a manner that ensures their safety yet still provides them with the same privileges as the general population.

The root of the problems in Texas stem from a dysfunctional classification system. On the worst units factors such as age, stature and sexual orientation are not taken into account when housing prisoners together. This results in vulnerable prisoners being manipulated or violently forced to have sex.

Once inside the system guards present a two-fold problem for at-risk prisoners. Many victims who wrote SPR claim that they have told guards and even ranking officials that they were being sexually abused by their cellmates but nothing was done.

One prisoner, on the Michaels Unit, in Tennessee Colony, said he was manipulated into having sex for two weeks before he managed to get moved. SPR reports that most of the Texas complaints reflect a “code of silence” in which prisoners are abused while staff covers for each other’s neglect.

The study also found that some guards view gay behavior as an invitation for sexual abuse. As one prisoner puts it, “I’ve been made to feel that as an openly gay male, I somehow brought this [sexual assault] on myself.”

Another prisoner who asked for protection after being raped was told, “You’re an admitted homosexual you can’t be raped. We’re denying you. You learn how to defend yourself.”

Sometimes prisoners are sexually assaulted by the guards themselves. One prisoner assaulted by a guard said, “I have been literally laughed at by a captain on the staff about the situation ... [and] the only step the administration has taken is to place this officer in (a different part of the unit.)

On the Clements unit almost 12 percent of prisoners reported being sexually abused by staff.

SPR says they receive many letters from victims who admit that they never file complaints against the guards or the administration. Prisoners said they feared retaliation, shame or simply believed that no one would help.

For those prisoners brave enough to report sexual abuse and are fortunate enough not to be ignored help is usually little more than being placed in the punitive conditions of administrative segregation. SPR concludes that disregard for prisoner welfare causes many victims to suffer in silence.

Many victims also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that many prisoners were battling drug abuse and other social disorders before they came to prison. Consequently, many are released back into society in worse condition than when they came in.

SPR reports numerous letters from prisoners unsuccessfully seeking therapy for trauma endured due to sexual assaults.

“I’ve tried to receive help from the Psychiatric Department for my depression and stress. But they won’t help me,” says a victim on the Estelle Unit.

“I’ve been trying to get counseling here on my prison unit but have not gotten any responses from the mental health staff,” says a Coffield Unit victim.

One prisoner who eventually received counseling was told by that counselor, “This is a prison, stuff like that happens here.”

The letters of victims to SPR is backed up by numbers reported in a 2007 survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. SPR concludes that TDCJ has created a “vicious circle” of abuse by allowing sex abuse victims to suffer in silence while their attackers thrive with impunity. See: Stop Prisoner Rape Texas Update. March 2008.

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