by Matthew Clarke
In November 2016, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault and the Prison Justice League (PJL) published a report on sexual assaults in Texas prisons. The report concluded that Texas has failed to stem sexual violence within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) with sexual assault rates increasing each year. The prevalence of sexual assault in TDCJ remains high, with several TDCJ prisons having among the highest rates of sexual victimization in the nation.
The report relied heavily on U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics and a May 2016 PJL survey of prisoners who had self-reported sexual assaults in 15 TDCJ prisons. 100% of the survey respondents said they reported the sexual assault to an official, but not a single report was substantiated. 58.9% of the survey respondents said they had been sexually assaulted by staff. 41.2% of them said they were LGBTQ. 82.3% reported retaliation from prison staff or other prisoners for reporting the sexual assault. The most common form of retaliation was receiving a disciplinary case.
80% of the sexual assaults reported by survey respondents were at three prisons: Estelle Unit (40%), Robertson Unit (20%) and Allred Unit (20%).
DOJ statistics from 2013 showed Texas prisons with an overall sexual victimization rate of 4.5%, over twice the national average. Two prisons, Estelle (15.7%) and Clements (13.9%), had the highest rates in the country.
"Texas operated 25% of the nation's correctional facilities with the worst rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence. Texas also operates three correctional facilities which have the highest rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual assault in the country: the Montfort Psychiatric Facility at 8.4%, the Stiles Unit at 7.8%, and the Clements Unit at 6.8%. ... Tragically, Texas facilities also rank high in staff-on-inmate sexual assault rates: for example, the Clements Unit (9.5%) and the Coffield Unit (6.8%) have among the nation's worst rates. The national average for staff-on-inmate sexual victimization was 2.4%."
The problem is growing. In 2013, there were 1,041 reports of prisoner-on-prisoner sexual assault made to the TDCJ PREA Ombudsman. In 2014, there were 1,467 reports, an increase of over 30% in a single year.
The problem is largely one of staff attitude in some Texas prisons. For instance, one survey respondent who reported being sexually assaulted at the Estelle Unit was given a disciplinary case for consensual sex by the major who said, "How can a fag be raped?" The respondent reported being harassed daily by staff and prisoners for having reported the rape. "This is why so many inmates on Estelle Unit refuse to report being sexually assaulted. They know they will be punished, not treated as a victim."
Survey respondents reported extreme difficulty in obtaining safekeeping status or protective custody even after repeated requests for help. Some reported being gang-raped and sold into sexual slavery by gangs while staff ignored their complaints.
In 2014, there were 766 allegations of staff sexually abusing or sexually harassing prisoners reported to the PREA Ombudsman by unit level staff. Texas has a minimal state jail felony charge for staff engaging in sexual contact with prisoners, but it is rarely enforced. Close to 400 cases of staff sexual assault were referred to prosecutors between 2000 and 2016, but prosecutors dropped half of the charges. Of the 126 who were convicted, only nine were sentenced to state jail. Most received fines between $200 and $4,000 and probation for a few years with the possibility of having the criminal record expunged at the end. Such light treatment does little to discourage staff from sexually assaulting prisoners in their charge.
Sources: "A Texas-Sized Failure: Sexual Assaults in Texas Prisons," Houston Press
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