Texas Prison Teacher says Inmate Raped her at understaffed unit

    By Keri Blakinger
    December 14,

    A Texas prison teacher tearfully called on Gov. Greg Abbott to charge the inmate she says raped her at an understaffed lock-up north of Huntsville.

    Nicole Truelove plans to file a lawsuit against the state over the Nov. 13 sex assault inside a Ferguson Unit classroom with no working cameras and no guards in sight, she said at a Thursday press conference in Houston.

    "This never should have happened; it could have been easily avoided," her attorney David Lindsay said. "And if changes aren't made by the Department of Criminal Justice, this will happen again."

    The 2,400-inmate unit in unincorporated Madison County has a 25 percent vacancy rate for guards, according to TDCJ data.

    "Whoever made the decision to understaff that unit, they should be held accountable," Lindsay said.

    The department said it is conducting an internal review and has transferred the prisoner to another facility. The 25-year-old has a history of drug and burglary convictions.

    "While correctional settings present unique challenges, the department is committed to providing a safe work environment for all employees," TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said.

    Truelove had only been on the job a few days when she spotted an inmate masturbating in class. After repeated warnings, she wrote him up.

    But when class let out, the four-time felon stayed back, hiding behind the door.

    The officers assigned to the area were nowhere in sight when the violent prisoner allegedly grabbed Truelove by the hair and slammed her against the door before assaulting her and threatening her children.

    The new teacher reported the attack immediately and went to the hospital for a rape kit, she said Thursday.

    "Yet there has not been one charge filed," she said. "Mr. Abbott, when will these charges be filed?"

    Lindsay and co-counsel Randall Kallinen blamed unit security shortfalls for the attack. There were no cameras inside the classroom, and the lack of windows in the solid door made it a possible hiding place.

    "Allowing violent felons to masturbate in front female employees creates one of the most hostile working atmospheres I have ever heard of," Kallinen said. "Combined with known blind spots and lack of guards it is the most irresponsible behavior imaginable."

    Cheri Siegelin, president of the Huntsville-based Texas Correctional Employees union, said there are staffing policies in place to ensure adequate supervision.

    "Can there be a correctional officer stationed in every classroom or next to every teacher's desk? In a perfect world that would be nice, but the answer here is no," she said.

    "It's no secret that staffing is low and these inmates are not dumb or blind to it - they will use it to their advantage in any way possible."

    Inmate-on-staff violence has risen slightly in recent years, TDCJ data shows.

    By the end of September, Texas prisons had seen 67 serious staff assaults in 2017. Last year, the total reported major assaults on staff numbered more than 100 for the first time in at least 10 years.

    Former union chief Lance Lowry pointed to the latest incident as evidence of the staffing shortages he warned about repeatedly in recent months, including during the hurricane and in the aftermath of a failed death row confession plot that forced the state to push back one killer's execution date.

    "It doesn't surprise me that an incident of a sexual assault occurred against staff," he said. "Staff are sexually violated just about every day as far as inmates exposing themselves."

    In addition to the high vacancy numbers, Lowry cited a 40 percent turnover rate as a troubling contributor to the problem.

    "That leaves a massive amount of inexperience on that unit," he said. "This isn't the first employee to be sexually assaulted."

    Texas prison teacher says inmate raped her at understaffed unit

    August 25

    TDCJ 2016 PREA Reporting

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice's 2016 reporting under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, documenting 27,423 "Offender Protection Investigations" initiated that year with the Ferguson, Estelle, Telford, Coffield, Michael, Clemens, Stiles, Smith, and Garza West ranking among the highest.

    The TDCJ's OIG investigators opened 242 criminal cases regarding sexual assault in 2016. Estelle, Ferguson, Lewis, Beto, Michael, Telford, Connally, McConnell, Torres, and Allred were among those units with the highest reported number of criminal sexual assaults.


    Recent report on sexual assault in TDCJ put out by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault and the Prison Justice League.

    Click below to read report.
    A TEXAS-SIZED FAILURE: Sexual Assaults in Texas Prisons


    Nov 20th

    REPORT: A Texas-Sized Failure: Sexual Assaults in Texas Prisons

    Every person, including individuals in jail or prison, deserves to be free from sexual violence. Sexual victimization is not included in a prison sentence, and it should not be part of the punishment. States bear legal responsibility under the Constitution and federal law for protecting prisoners in its facilities from sexual violence and other serious harm.

    Yet, people in prison are at heightened risk of sexual assault.

    In particular, the State of Texas and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) have failed to protect prisoners in their custody from sexual assaults.

    Despite more than a decade of federal legislative efforts and oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice-including the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)-the prevalence of sexual assault remains high in Texas prisons.

    Several prisons in Texas have among the highest rates of sexual victimization in the nation. Regardless of claims that PREA standards are being implemented in Texas prisons, reports from prisoners themselves indicate that sexual assaults in Texas correctional facilities remain a serious problem.

    The alarming frequency of sexual assault in Texas prisons not only contributes to conditions in Texas facilities that are abhorrent to human dignity, but also violates the constitutional and human rights of prisoners in the TDCJ.

    A TEXAS-SIZED FAILURE: Sexual Assaults in Texas Prisons


    March 2

    Government / Sexual assault

    Why Americans Don’t Care About Prison Rape
    And what happens when the problem escapes from behind bars.

    By Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

     In June of 2012, the New York Times “Room for Debate” feature considered whether or not convicted youth offenders should be treated differently than adult convicts in the penal system. Those in favor of trying some youth offenders in adult courts included a victims’ advocate, and an attorney from the conservative Heritage Foundation; those against included an inmate at California’s San Quentin prison, and a human rights activist. The victims’ advocate and the attorney from the Heritage Foundation talked about extreme cases of violence and the benefits of stern consequences. The inmate and the human rights activist talked about rape.

    “The suicide and sexual abuse rates of younger prisoners are higher than those of the physically mature,” Gary Scott, the inmate, noted: “how can rehabilitation be possible in such a dangerous environment?” Scott was incarcerated at age sixteen.

    T.J. Parsell, the human rights advocate, put it like this: “In early 2003, I testified on Capitol Hill with Linda Bruntmyer, a mother from Texas whose 17-year-old son was incarcerated after setting a trash bin on fire. In prison, he was raped repeatedly. He later hanged himself inside his cell. I felt a special bond with Linda, because I too had been raped in prison at 17.”

     Taken together, the accounts of the carceral system featured in the Times’s roundtable on youth offenders span the entire American conception of prison itself. On one hand, prisons are understood as the terminus at the end of a long line of injustices adjudicated by a cold bureaucracy. On the other hand, American prisons are infamous for their brutality, especially when it comes to sexual violence. Being sent to prison is, in this sense, not the conclusion of the criminal justice process but the beginning of long-term torture.

    That prisons routinely house thousands upon thousands of instances of sexual exploitation and rape is at the very least tolerated, and at most subtly appreciated as part of their punitive purpose. Our collective meh at the bracing reality of prison rape may be partially premised on the fact that the problem seems contained; but like most severe sicknesses, it only appears that way, and not for long.

    * * *

    Following the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), an office within the Department of Justice, has conducted various surveys of inmates, former inmates and incarcerated youths to calculate the number of prison rapes occurring annually. BJS surveys conducted between 2011 and 2012 found that 32 people per 1,000 were sexually abused in jail; forty people per 1,000 were sexually abused in prison; and ninety-five youths per 1,000 were sexually abused in juvenile detention facilities. In contrast, the National Crime Victimization Survey, also a product of the BJS, found that the rate of rape and sexual assault among free women was 1.3 per 1,000 females over the age of 12 in 2012, meaning that a prisoner’s likelihood of becoming a victim of sexual assault is roughly thirty times higher than that of any given woman on the outside. Allen J. Beck, a senior statistician at BJS, confirmed to The New York Review of Books that nearly 200,000 people total were sexually violated in American detention facilities in 2011. One of the persistent myths surrounding sexual violence inflicted upon prisoners is that other inmates are chiefly responsible; according to the BJS, inmates in state and federal prisons and local jails all reported greater rates of sexual victimization involving staff than other inmates. Despite all this, sexual assaults that take place within prisons are generally not factored into national crime statistics, as if they are somehow expected.

     Certain factors nudge an inmate’s likelihood of being victimized even higher. The BJS reports that inmates with mental health problems and inmates who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual were all at higher risk for sexual abuse than the general population. Minors contained in juvenile detention facilities were reported to be at much higher risk than adults contained in adult facilities. Vulnerabilities that exist in the free world are magnified in the carceral system.

    Just Detention International, a human rights organization aimed at ending sexual abuse of incarcerated people, collects testimonials from inmates. The accounts are stomach-churning. Micah from California reports residual nerve damage from a torture session involving tasers and stun guns applied to his genitals. He was also anally raped. The prison guard who raped Kimberly in Kentucky to the point of hemorrhaging told her he would hurt her children if she reported the attack, and informed her that he knew their whereabouts. In Louisiana, Rodney was sexually enslaved and prostituted by other inmates, who targeted him because he was gay. Every sickness and pathology in American life—misogyny, homophobia, a legacy of racism and slavery—is amplified in patterns of prison sexual violence.

    Meanwhile, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which has made prison rape statistics available, has done little in the way of its title. Robert Weisberg and David Mills predicted in their 2003 Slate essay ‘Violence Silence’ that PREA would do little more than gather information about prison sexual assault, and a report submitted by Human Rights Watch to the United Nations Committee against Torture this October seems to bear out their foresight:

    The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was enacted in 2003 to help combat sexual assault in confinement facilities. A landmark piece of legislation designed to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual assault in confinement facilities, PREA has yet to be fully implemented—state governors have only been required to designate whether their state was compliant with PREA. Six states—comprising 20 percent of the US population—have refused to comply with PREA: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Texas, and Utah.

    Recently, the US Congress indicated that it may weaken PREA even further. PREA is structured to elicit state compliance by holding back 5 percent of federal grant funds used for prison purposes from states that refuse to comply. However, in September the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed an amendment that would virtually eliminate the compliance mechanism by protecting several large federal grants from being held back.

    If PREA is mostly toothless, it is only because it is allowed to be. It is difficult to conjure up similar legislation applied to any other population that would be met with such a resounding shrug. It appears that prison rape, by insinuating itself into the very punitive and rehabilitative functions of prison, has produced a deadly nonchalance. We have become a culture that tolerates and potentially lauds the rape and sexual exploitation of hundreds of thousands of people every year, many of them minors, mothers, mentally ill. Why?

    * * *

    Tony Kaye’s 1998 American History X features Edward Norton as Derek Vinyard, a disaffected skinhead locked in a karmic cycle of racially motivated hate crimes. The core drama of the film is Derek’s reform: what could possibly be its source, given how deeply embedded he is in low-income neo-Nazi culture? Even his imprisonment seems to have little effect until he is brutally raped.

    In a now iconic shower scene, Derek encounters aggrieved members of a cinematic cognate of The Aryan Brotherhood, who beat him and rape him in frenzied succession. The scene is drawn out in slow motion, thrust by thrust, and concludes with a shot of blood rushing down the shower drain; viewers later learn that Derek needed six stitches to heal from the attack. It’s during his recovery, when he is immobilized on his stomach, that an old high school mentor arrives to set him straight and snap him out of all this neo-Nazi nonsense like a nasty adolescent phase, which works: duly receptive and humbled by his experience, Derek turns his life around.

    It is hard to imagine another genre in which rape is just a transitional necessity, one of the hurdles a character must navigate to grow. But prison rape has that strange valence in popular culture, and not purely in fictional works. Rape is part of forcing prisoners to change, it’s what makes learning your lesson in prison scary, and scary prisons are what keep bad people in line.

    Beyond Scared Straight is A&E’s reality show based on at-risk-teen behavioral modification. The goal is to expose youths who are at risk for incarceration to what prison life is like in order to deter future delinquency. In a 2011 episode, a former inmate forces a 14-year-old to pat Kool-Aid powder onto his lips and then lunges forward to kiss him, intimating in frantic yelling that this routine would conclude in his sexual exploitation in prison. Interviewed at the end of the episode, the 14-year-old admits he was made uncomfortable by the advance, but still claims the former inmate “doesn’t own [him]”; at the Huffington Post, this was tsk-tsked as evidence “he still doesn’t completely get what a different world prison can be.” Sexual exploitation in prison has its uses, in other words, and one of them is instructive.

    Treatment of prison rape in ordinary television is often, with a few exceptions, bizarrely comical. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the iteration of the Law & Order franchise that made its fortune on rape theater, deploys the trope of prison rape with depressing regularity. In a surreal episode involving wild-animal smuggling, Christopher Meloni and Ice-T menace a wannabe hip-hop mogul during his interrogation by rolling dice and suggesting his cellmates will adopt the same procedure to determine the course of his rape. The suspect relents. The same scenario pans out in so many procedural cop dramas, with all due allusions to cellies named Bubba and pretty-boys-like-you. Even The X-Files had a go in a glibly comedic episode, wherein Detective Scully is urged to perjure herself lest she wind up with a Gertrude Stein–reading cellmate called “Large Marge.” The arrests of celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton produce fantasies disguised as news. Fox News reported in 2010 that “lesbian prison gangs” were itching to get their hands on Lohan; whether the “report” was filed under “entertainment” because of the actress or the feverishly implied rape is unclear.

    The logic perpetuated by ongoing ease with prison rape is that certain bad people in particular bad settings either deserve sexual assault or do not deserve protection from it. That prison simply is a site where rape occurs is given as a deterrent and, in the event that an offender is not deterred, implied to be what they had coming all along. But the notion that prisoners who are raped should have behaved better to be less deserving is the apotheosis of the “asking for it” or “had it coming” arguments so commonly employed to dismiss victims of rape in the free population. Some crimes are so egregiously heinous that knee-jerk, visceral reactions tend toward the violent, but when we codify primal impulse into popular consensus, we wind up in agreement that rape is sometimes an appropriate punishment. Hatred or indifference to people in prison, therefore, affirms a particularly poisonous view of rape itself: that it has its place in the order of things, especially where badly behaved people are concerned. So long as some 200,000 people are sexually violated in detention centers annually, rape will never really retreat into the realm of the unthinkable, no matter how many perpetrators we turn into victims.

    * * *

    And what of those victims of sexual abuse behind bars? Here again, the poisonous effects of prison rape slip the grip of the facilities themselves. While some inmates remain in custody until they die, the majority return at some point to society at large. Currently, reintegration and re-entry programs are generally structured around employment rather than psychologically adjusting to the effects of prison itself, and there is no standardized reintegration program with resources freely available to all former inmates. Bryan Stevenson, the attorney-cum-human rights advocate who founded and directs the Equal Justice Initiative, has spoken about the harm done to communities when inmates return home having suffered severe trauma, noting in an NPR interview that “we can’t continue to have a system of justice defined by error and unfairness and tolerate racial bias and bias against the poor and not confront what we are doing to individuals and to families and to communities and to neighborhoods.” So it goes as well for sexual abuse: What sort of stable sexual culture can we hope to produce in communities already unduly affected by the carceral system when former inmates are re-introduced without any source of treatment for sexual trauma?

    A 2004 study authored by Sheryl Pimlott Kubiak of Wayne State University found that the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder acquired in prison can compromise rehabilitation as former inmates re-enter their communities. Kubiak found that inmates treated for substance abuse struggled with post-prison legal problems and drug relapse in proportion to diagnoses of PTSD. Prison can, of course, be traumatic for a number of reasons, but as Kubiak notes, “while [sexual assault] may be glibly referred to as part of the sentence…it is rarely attended to by clinical professionals during incarceration, or in planning reintegration services.” The echoes of sexual trauma inflicted in prison, therefore, can interfere with former inmates’ efforts to put their lives back together post-prison, and put them at risk for further contact with the correctional system. Sexual assault in prison, in other words, has the destructive power to create a cycle of abuse that extends outside prison walls.

    Kubiak’s observation that few programs for inmates or former inmates attend to the ramifications of sexual assault in prison is also notable. In a 2008 article, James Radford, an AIDS activist and attorney, noted that the stigma of prison sexual assault forms a serious barrier to HIV and AIDS treatment for inmates and former inmates. “Rape itself stigmatizes the individual who is now in fear of yet another stigmatizing marker, an HIV diagnosis,” Radford observed of sexual assault victims in prison who elect not to seek treatment, noting that “should the victim come forward, he would receive a drug regimen that inhibits the spread of HIV as well as tested for other STDs.” Due to the stigma of victimization, inmates who have been sexually assaulted may choose not to seek treatment, which (in the case of HIV) puts them at risk for missing a critical period for medical intervention. When these inmates who have contracted HIV and AIDS via sexual assault re-enter the community without having been tested or treated, they put future sex partners at risk for the spread of HIV, in addition to going without adequate healthcare themselves. It is hard to imagine strong intimate relationships—the sort that anchor many of us in our surrounding communities—developing under conditions like these, where trauma and illness worsen under the burdens of stigma and stress. Here again, prison sexual assault poses a risk to the web of relations former inmates enter into when they leave the confines of penitentiaries.

    The ubiquity of rape in prisons has led to a ubiquity of prison rape nonchalance in popular culture, which promotes a rape-as-punishment framework and normalizes rape itself. There is no other element of carceral life so frequently referenced in television, film, stand-up comedy routines, sleazy gossip rag headlines and second-rate porn scenarios. Meanwhile, despite the efforts of PREA, prison rape numbers have shown little sign of changing; drops have generally corresponded to overall drops in prison population, which isn’t much of a trend to hang one’s hopes on: the United States still has the highest incarceration rate in the world, a distinction we have held since 2002, a year before PREA was enacted. Prison overcrowding, loose oversight and an intensely punitive (as opposed to therapeutic or rehabilitative) carceral system are certainly all tied up in the eager habits of US incarceration, and likewise they all seem to be contributing factors in the prevalence of US prison rape.

    Eliminating prison sexual abuse will undoubtedly require a total system overhaul, which is necessary on its own merits, and for all our sake. •

    Why Americans Don’t Care About Prison Rape


    Rape in the American Prison

    In 2003, Congress passed legislation to eliminate sexual assaults against inmates.
    One young man’s story shows how elusive that goal remains.
    By Maurice Chammah

    FEBRUARY 25, 2015

    This piece was reported through The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal-justice system.

    Three years ago, the young man who would later be known as John Doe 1 shuffled into the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan. The town of 11,000 residents, which sits in the remote center of the state, houses five prisons, and over the years, it has earned the nickname “I Own Ya.” John, who was 17, had already gotten over the initial fear of going to an adult prison—he had spent several months at a county jail near Detroit and an intake facility in Jackson—but he also knew he would be spending longer at this lonely outpost, a minimum of three years for a couple of home invasions. It was still wintery in April, and his state-issued jacket was poor protection against the drafts coming through the broken windows, shattered by men who had passed through before. “It was pretty ragged,” he recalled recently, “a tear down.”

    The rituals of intake were familiar. Standing in a line with several dozen other men, John stripped off his navy blue scrubs, squatted, and coughed to prove he wasn’t hiding anything. Once inside, he could try grimacing to look tough, as he had in his early mugshots, but he couldn’t hide his skinny frame or his high-pitched voice.

    Over the next few days, while bringing trays of food around the blocks for his new kitchen job, John would learn that he had been placed in one of the nicer units (another he saw “looked like a basement, with the lights busted out”). But he also noticed that he was one of the youngest prisoners on the block. The other prisoners noticed too. He was what they called a “fish.”

    His first cellmate was an older man, black like John, who was serving a life sentence, and he didn’t say much. But something about him seemed a little off, and that night, John says he awoke and saw this man sitting at a desk, wide awake, and staring right at him. John requested and received a new cell assignment. His second cellmate was also a lifer, and friendly enough, but after a few days the man asked to be paired with another lifer, so John was moved again.

    It was around this time that the letters started sliding under his cell door. John would get a lot of letters from other prisoners over the next few months, and while they weren’t always explicit, some certainly were. “You are one sexy nigger,” one read. “You need a white man to show you how to act ... When the opportunity comes I want to sneak in your house and hit that.” Another letter said he had a “fan club.”

    John didn’t take these letters seriously; he threw many of them away. He settled into GED classes and shifts serving breakfast and lunch. From the prison library he pulled volumes ranging from the poems of Langston Hughes (“They’re so simple, but they explain so much”) to thriller paperbacks by Dean Koontz and James Patterson.

    His new cellmate, whom we’ll call David, had already served a little more than a year out of a minimum of eight for robbery. He was in his early 20s, over six feet with a tuft on his chin and a thin mustache. They talked about their families and the crimes that had gotten them locked up.

    But then David said something that struck John as strange. He asked him if he would ever get involved sexually with a man. John knew himself to be heterosexual; he had lost his virginity to a girl the year before. “I just kind of laughed it off,” he recalled.

    And then it happened. One night after the last count before bed, John says, his cellmate suddenly attacked him, pulling down both of their pants and wrestling him onto the bottom bunk. John tried to resist, but he was less than 140 pounds, and next to David’s bulk of more than 200 he stood little chance as this powerful man forced his way in, slowly and painfully and in silence, without a condom or lubricant.

    John would later estimate that it lasted seven minutes. When David was finished, he told him to keep quiet. John obeyed; though still a fish, he had been down long enough to know that snitches suffer fates worse than rape.

    To Read The Full Story Click Here



    Rick Perry Fails to Get Many Governors to Defy Prison Rape Law

    by Emily DePrang
    Published on Friday, May 30, 2014

    Gov. Rick Perry | Photo By; Patrick Michels

    Back in March, Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declaring his intent to defy a federal law designed to reduce sexual assault in prison. It was a very Perry letter, slinging around terms like “ridiculous” and “unacceptable” and “costly regulatory mess.” But perhaps the most Perry part was his vow to “encourage my fellow governors to follow suit.”

    Now, saying a law is wrong for Texas is one thing. Saying governors of other states—you know, just anywhere—should defy the Prison Rape Elimination Act suggests Perry believes the law is wrong in general principle, not specific application. Or else he’s just grandstanding. (A Google search for “Rick Perry” and “grandstanding” returns 173,000 results.) Either way, Perry appears to have had limited success. May 15 was the deadline for governors either to certify their state prisons were compliant or promise to become so, and the Associated Press reported last week that just four other states joined Perry in saying they planned not to try: Idaho, Indiana, Utah and Arizona.

    “Perry is sort of out on his own on this one, which is fantastic news,” says Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, who works for an advocacy group that fights prison sexual assault, Just Detention International.

    Lerner-Kinglake is one of many observers who can’t work out why Perry picked this particular battle in the first place. The problems with the law that Perry lists are relatively minor, though he describes them as insurmountable—and some don’t actually exist. Lerner-Kinglake says Perry’s letter contains “so many basic errors. It’s really kind of simple stuff that anyone who took a minute to look at the standards would know.”

    For example, Perry writes that governors must certify their state’s compliance “under threat of criminal penalties,” but that’s not true. The only enforcement mechanism is that a state can lose 5 percent of its federal corrections grant money. Perry also says the act’s compliance dates are “impossible to meet,” but governors can—and at least 10 did—give assurance letters by the May 15 deadline promising that they were actively working toward compliance.

    Perry also seems to think the new requirements apply to “local jails” and would be too expensive for small counties to implement, but they wouldn’t have to, since the act covers only facilities under Perry’s operational control.

    The further you get into the letter’s nitty-gritty, the stranger Perry’s defiance seems. “The rules appear to have been created in a vacuum,” Perry complains. But a 2010 letter to the Justice Department from the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said just the opposite. The director wrote, “The agency had relatively few issues” with implementing the act, “because most of the recommendations were similar to agency policy… [I]t is apparent the Department of Justice gave careful consideration to the comments submitted by many interested parties…”

    Livingston’s letter did bring up one of Perry’s big beefs, though: the law’s prohibition on cross-gender viewing of inmates showering, changing, or using the toilets. Perry and Livingston suggested that banning cross-gender viewing could force Texas to violate laws banning gender discrimination, since 40 percent of correctional officers are female. Poppycock, says Lerner-Kinglake. The area in which women couldn’t be stationed, he says, “is so limited in scope, and he’s making it out to be a deal-breaker. It’s just a matter of basic dignity.”

    A 2013 report from an outside agency (uncovered by the blog Grits for Breakfast) also said half-walls could be used to shield inmates’ genitals and suggested more discreet camera positioning at one of the prisons. “[I]t is not a mainstream practice to have cameras pointed directly into toilet and shower areas,” the report noted. But Perry claimed re-positioning cameras would “increase the likelihood of assaults taking place, defeating the intent of the law.”

    Perhaps the most understandable of Perry’s objections is that while the Prison Rape Elimination Act requires the state to keep prisoners under 18 separate from adults, Texas considers 17-year-olds to be adults, so the two standards conflict. But none of the other nine states that incarcerate 17-year-olds as adults appear to have defied the law, and the separation requirement doesn’t kick in for three years. Just in March, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing on raising Texas’ adult prosecution age from 17 to 18. Yet this issue and the alleged gender discrimination problem were the sticking points Perry reiterated in a May 16 letter that was much milder in tone.

    Present in the first letter but missing from the second was Perry’s claim that Texas already effectively prevented sexual assault in its prisons. Actually, Texas reports almost four times as many prisoner sexual assaults as the national average, according to a federally-funded study from the JFA Institute. Elizabeth Henneke, an attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, warned at a House hearing that noncompliance could leave the state open to litigation and pointed out that one ex-inmate, who says he was raped at the Travis County Jail, is already suing for $2 million, alleging officials “displayed deliberate indifference to his safety by failing to comply with PREA.”

    “Of all the misinformation that Perry puts out there,” Lerner-Kinglake says, “about what the standards require and exaggerating how onerous it is, the most problematic thing is that he tries to paint Texas as having prisons that are increasingly safe for inmates. The data from the federal government does not paint that same picture, and neither does what we [Just Detention International] hear from the inmates themselves… We get tons of letters from inmates who have been sexually assaulted in prison, and a disturbing number of them come from Texas.”

    Tags: Criminal Justice, Prison Rape Elimination Act, Prisons, Rick Perry, sexual assault

    Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.

    Rick Perry Fails to Get Many Governors to Defy Prison Rape Law


    Governor Rick Perry tried to start a movement to reject the Prison
    Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards.
    Here’s the good news: HE FAILED.

    PREA Deadline passes: Perry tells Holder Texas won't comply
    Yesterday (May 15) was Texas' Deadline to provide assurances to the US Department of Justice that it would comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.
    Today, Gov. Perry sent this Letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder restating his earlier declaration that Texas would not accede to new federal rules. His latest missive had a much less defiant tone than the first one, but reiterated the state's refusal to fully enact PREA standards. Wrote Perry:
    "No one disputes PREA's good intentions, but the standards as currently written do not adequately allow for differences among states' juvenile laws, impose substantial financial burdens on communities and set unrealistic compliance dates, Texas has shared our successes and challenges with your office and has sought assistance in our efforts to seek compliance. Unfortunately, our legitimate concerns regarding the unfeasible standards on cross-gender viewing, youthful offenders and staffing ratios have not been properly addressed by DOJ."
    Bottom line: Texas will lose some grant money because of Perry's recalcitrance, though his gubernatorial successor will be the one affected, not him. And in the medium to long run, non-compliant state and local facilities may find themselves dealing with these issues in federal civil rights litigation. At that point, the costs of obeying PREA on the front end may, in retrospect, look like a bargain.

    Criminal Justice Data from Feds: Prison Rape
    From the Bureau of Justice Statistics, here are several new reports that may interest readers:
    "PREA Data Collection Activities" (pdf) and a Related Press Release.
    "Administrators of adult correctional facilities reported 8,763 allegations of sexual victimization in 2011, a statistically significant increase over the 8,404 allegations reported in 2010 and 7,855 in 2009." Also, "About 52% of substantiated incidents of sexual victimization in 2011 involved only inmates, while 48% of substantiated incidents involved staff with inmates."


    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)- The Consultant's Report
    Regarding what would be required for Texas' adult prisons to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a document under the open records act following Gov. Rick Perry's letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder announcing the state would not comply with PREA.

    Texas Governor Rick Perry won’t defend the human rights of inmates. Will you?
    Right now, you can take action to help shame Rick Perry – and make sure that Texas’ next Governor does the right thing.
    Texas prisons are rife with sexual violence. In fact, a recent government study that listed the most dangerous detention facilities in the country found that more were in Texas than in any other state.
    Sign our statement today urging Texas’ gubernatorial candidates to pledge their support for the PREA standards. Click on the banner above for more information and to sign the petition.


    28th, 2014
    Perry: Texas won't comply with federal Prison Rape Elimination Act
    The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, but the rules governing its implementation were not completed until June 2012 and standards governing audits of state facilities weren't finalized until August 2013. Governor Rick Perry today sent a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, forwarded by a confidant to your correspondent, declaring Texas would not comply.

    PREA Inmate Education Video
    Every single person in detention
    — no matter what crime they may have committed
    — has the right to be free from sexual abuse and sexual harassment.
    This video, called PREA: What You Need to Know, aims to teach people
    about this basic right and how to stay safe behind bars.


    Complying with Prison Rape Elimination Act Standards

    The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) helps systems resolve the question of next steps on how to comply with Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards by offering a variety of materials and assistance tools. One such offering is a new set of e-courses designed for correctional staff charged with ensuring and demonstrating compliance with selected PREA standards.

    Specifically, those working with standards addressing basic investigations, medical and behavioral health responses, and implementation and compliance coordination.

    The PREA e-courses reflect the national standards and provide implementation guidance in five topic areas. Course titles include:

    Behavioral Health Care for Sexual Assault Victims in a Confinement Setting PREA Coordinators' Roles and Responsibilities PREA Audit Process and Instrument Overview Investigating Sexual Abuse in a Confinement Setting Medical Health Care for Sexual Assault Victims in a Confinement Setting NIC developed the PREA e-courses in response to questions from the field on the new standards.

    As a pioneer on the issue, NIC addressed sexual misconduct concerns prior to the passage of PREA by providing training specific to staff sexual misconduct and later, while the PREA standards wee under development, through its e-course Your Role: Responding to Sexual Abuse. This e-course remains relevant and available.

    Through the new e-courses, NIC aims to help corrections professionals comply with PREA standards effectively and efficiently, ultimately leading to the overall mission of providing calmer, safer facilities and environments for inmates and officers alike.

    As always, each NIC e-course is available at no charge via NIC's website. Click HERE to learn more about PREA or to download the e-courses.

    (Source: National Intitute of Corrections | U.S. Dept. of Justice | 320 First Street | Washington, DC 20534 | 800.995.6423)


    October 24th, 2013

    The Shame of Our Prisons: New Evidence
    By; David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow

    Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011–12:
    National Inmate Survey, 2011–12
    By Allen J. Beck and others
    Bureau of Justice Statistics, 107 pp., available at www.bjs.gov
    Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012: National Survey of Youth in Custody, 2012
    By Allen J. Beck and others
    Bureau of Justice Statistics, 64 pp., available at www.bjs.gov

    As recently as five years ago, American corrections officials almost uniformly denied that rape in prison was a widespread problem. When we at Just Detention International—an organization aimed at preventing the sexual abuse of inmates—recounted stories of people we knew who had been raped in prison, we were told either that these men and women were exceptional cases, or simply that they were liars. But all this has changed.

    To Read The Complete Article, please click on the link below.
    The Shame of Our Prisons: New Evidence

    September 25, 2013


    Letter from JDI's Executive Director

    Ten years ago, we made history together. On September 4, 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) – one of the most significant human rights victories of our time – was signed into law. This landmark law recognizes that the government has a duty to end sexual abuse behind bars.

    In this Action Update, we salute the people behind this remarkable piece of U.S. legislation. These pages contain many inspiring stories of activists, politicians, and corrections officials – the men and women who spoke out against prisoner rape at a time when few others would. Above all, this Action Update celebrates prisoner rape survivors. Without their courage to come forward and boldly speak the truth, PREA would not exist.

    There’s another group that deserves praise on PREA’s tenth anniversary, and that’s you, JDI’s supporters. For more than a decade, you have formed the backbone of this powerful, survivor-led movement. The passage of such an amazing law – and its implementation since – is proof that compassion can make a difference in the lives of prisoners.

    PREA is a historic achievement, but the law alone has not, and will not, eradicate the crisis of prisoner rape. It remains up to all of us to finish that task. With supporters like you, we know we can do it.

    Lovisa Stannow
    JDI Executive Director

    Inmate Sexual Assault: Clements Unit Among Nation's Worst, Survey Says

    Posted: June 22, 2013
    By Mollie Bryant

    AGN Media File Amarillo’s Clements Unit has one
    of the highest rates of sexual assault at correctional
    facilities across the nation, according to a report
    released recently by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    Amarillo’s Clements Unit has one of the highest rates of sexual assault at correctional facilities across the nation, according to a report released recently by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    Of male prisons, Clements ranked eighth highest, with 6.8 percent of inmates reporting they experienced sexual victimization at the hand of another inmate during the past year.

    The report contains results from the National Inmate Survey, which surveyed 92,449 adult inmates in 606 prisons, jails and special confinement facilities between February 2011 and May 2012.

    The anonymous survey collects allegations of sexual victimization, rather than confirmed incidents.

    The current ranking shows an improvement over previous years. Clements’ rate of sexual victimization has declined since 2008, when it was ranked the second highest by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    However, in the current survey, more inmates at Clements report being forced, coerced or pressured into sex or sexual contact with prison staff than any other male prison in the country.

    According to the latest survey, staff sexual misconduct with inmates also decreased from the second highest in 2008 to the fifth highest, with 9.5 percent of offenders reporting sexual activity with staff.

    Clements warden Barry Martin declined to comment, and referred questions to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson Jason Clark, who questioned the report’s accuracy due to the anonymity of surveyed inmates.

    “Many allegations of sexual assault investigated by the Office of Inspector General, even if they accurately reflect the offender’s perceptions, simply do not include the basic legal elements of sexual assault, and could reflect offender attitudes toward other offensive behavior or legitimate security precautions such as strip searches,” he said.

    Two other Texas prisons surveyed were also identified as having high rates of sexual victimization by inmates, with a rate of 8.4 percent at Montford Psychiatric Facility in Lubbock and 7.8 percent at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont. The Clements Unit was one of only two Texas facilities identified as having high rates of sexual misconduct with staff. At the other Texas prison, the Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, 6.8 percent of inmates reported sexual activity with prison staff.

    All in all, the survey identified five Texas jails and prisons with high rates of sexual victimization by inmates or sexual staff misconduct — more than any other state included in the report.

    The survey is a provision of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, legislation that sought to reduce sexual assault in prisons through the development of prevention standards, punishment of sexual assault and standardized data collection on the crime.

    Scott Medlock, attorney and director of the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Prisoners Rights Program, said sexual assault can be devastating to inmates, who often suffer from feelings of shame and depression. Medlock has represented offenders who attempted or committed suicide following a sexual assault.

    “Obviously, sexual assault is never acceptable, but people in prisons have even less access to resources than people in the free world,” he said. “They can’t call a crisis center or go to a shelter for help, and they don’t have access to counseling or services that survivors in the free world have access to.”

    Inmates might also feel reluctant to report a sexual assault, either out of fear their allegation might not be taken seriously or it might put them at risk for further victimization, Medlock said.

    While staff sexual misconduct at Clements is on the decline, 8.1 percent of inmates reported sexual victimization by staff involving force or threat of force, the highest rate of any prison or jail in the country, according to the survey. Clements inmates also reported the highest rate for inmates being coerced or pressured into sex among male prisons, at 8.7 percent.

    The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Office of the Inspector General investigates knowledge or allegations of staff sexual misconduct, said Ralph Bales, the Prison Rape Elimination Act ombudsman for TDCJ. Employees who violate TDCJ sexual abuse policies, federal or state law are subject to disciplinary penalties, including criminal prosecution, he said. Clements Unit staff receive sexual abuse prevention training, Bales said.

    Sexual assault exams for inmates at the Clements and Neal units are performed at Northwest Texas Hospital, said Ric Vogelgesang, facility health administrator of the Neal Unit.

    The TDCJ Safe Prisons Program screens offenders for possible vulnerability to sexual assault or aggressiveness, Bales said. Inmates take a sexual assault awareness course that includes methods to avoid victimization, and the program was expanded in 2010 to include the inpatient mental health population, he said. Almost half of the 3,557 inmates at the Clements Unit are on an inpatient or outpatient mental health caseload, Bales said.

    Inmates held for violent sexual offenses and who are under psychological distress reported higher rates of sexual victimization by another inmate, according to the survey. Gay, lesbian or bisexual inmates are among those who are most at risk for sexual assault, the report said.

    Understaffing, high employee turnover and the level of violence at a facility can contribute to its sexual assault rate, said Michele Deitch, jail conditions expert and professor at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.

    Higher rates can also be associated with facilities in rural locations, which can have reduced transparency, she said.

    Salaries for correctional officers begin at $2,319.05 per month, according to the TDCJ.

    “Prisons are closed environments, and the public and policymakers know very little about what goes on in them,” Deitch said.

    “When people see data like this, it opens up their eyes about what happens in custody, and it should be causing us to ask hard questions about how to make prisons safer. We owe it to ourselves as a society that if we’re going to lock people up, we’ll keep them in safe conditions.”

    Inmate Sexual Assault: Clements Unit Among Nation's Worst, Survey Says

    JUNE 05, 2013

    DOJ: 3 Texas Prison Units, Harris Jail Have Among Highest Sexual Victimization Rates

    Three Texas prison units and one jail (the largest) ranked among correctional facilities where inmates are most likely to be sexually victimized by either other inmates or correctional staff, according to a new report by the US Department of Justice (pdf, see the chart on page 12).

    Reportedly 6.3% of Harris county Jail inmates are sexually victimized, according to DOJ's offender survey. The percentages were 6.8%, 7.8% and 8.4% at Stiles, Clements and the Montford psychiatric unit, respectively (with a 95% confidence rate, see the report for details and limitations on their methodology, etc.).

    Another interesting aspect: Extrapolating from national data on Table 8, p. 18 (these are all survey-based estimates), the number of heterosexual victimizations perpetrated by staff more than doubled the number of times that inmates were victimized by other inmates in same-sex assaults, with an estimated 27,258 heterosexual incidents by staff compared to 13,603 same-sex inmate-on-inmate incidents. Heterosexual inmates are more likely to be victimized by staff. Gay inmates are more likely to be victimized by other inmates.




    The White House
    Office of the Press Secretary
    For Immediate Release

    Presidential Memorandum -- Implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act

    May 17, 2012


    SUBJECT: Implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act

    Sexual violence, against any victim, is an assault on human dignity and an affront to American values. The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) was enacted with bipartisan support and established a "zero tolerance standard" for rape in prisons in the United States. 42 U.S.C. 15602(1).

    My Administration, with leadership from the Department of Justice, has worked diligently to implement the principles set out in PREA. Today, the Attorney General finalized a rule adopting national standards to prevent, detect, and respond to prison rape. This rule expresses my Administration's conclusion that PREA applies to all Federal confinement facilities, including those operated by executive departments and agencies (agencies) other than the Department of Justice, whether administered by the Federal Government or by a private organization on behalf of the Federal Government.

    Each agency is responsible for, and must be accountable for, the operations of its own confinement facilities, and each agency has extensive expertise regarding its own facilities, particularly those housing unique populations. Thus, each agency is best positioned to determine how to implement the Federal laws and rules that govern its own operations, the conduct of its own employees, and the safety of persons in its custody. To advance the goals of PREA, we must ensure that all agencies that operate confinement facilities adopt high standards to prevent, detect, and respond to sexual abuse. In addition to adopting such standards, the success of PREA in combating sexual abuse in confinement facilities will depend on effective agency and facility leadership and the development of an agency culture that prioritizes efforts to combat sexual abuse.

    In order to implement PREA comprehensively across the Federal Government, I hereby direct all agencies with Federal confinement facilities that are not already subject to the Department of Justice's final rule to work with the Attorney General to propose, within 120 days of the date of this memorandum, any rules or procedures necessary to satisfy the requirements of PREA and to finalize any such rules or procedures within 240 days of their proposal.

    This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with the requirements of Executive Order 13175 of November 6, 2000 (Consultation and Coordination With Indian Tribal Governments).

    This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

    The Director of the Office of Management and Budget is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.


    For Immediate Release

    May 17, 2012


    Nine years after passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003 and almost two years after missing its statutory deadline, the Department of Justice releases strong, binding standards to end sexual abuse in U.S. corrections facilities.

    PREA applies to all federal confinement facilities; several agencies – including the Department of Homeland Security – now need to develop PREA standards.

    Ban on routine pat-down searches of female adult inmates by male staff.

    Strong protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inmates.

    Youth in adult facilities will no longer be detained in housing units with adults.

    All facilities must be audited by independent auditors every three years.

    Washington, D.C., May 17, 2012 – Today the Department of Justice finally issued its long-delayed national standards aimed at ending the crisis of sexual abuse in U.S. corrections facilities. Mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, the new regulations are a milestone in the effort to end rape and other forms of sexual victimization of inmates. The PREA standards are immediately binding on federal prisons; other facilities have one year to comply.

    According to the Department of Justice’s own estimates, at least 216,600 people are sexually victimized every year while in prisons, jails, and youth detention facilities. A major new Department of Justice study – also released today – confirmed the crisis of sexual abuse in U.S. detention, finding that a shocking one in ten state prisoners had been victimized during their most recent period of detention.

    “Sexual abuse in detention shatters hundreds of thousands of lives of men, women, and children every year,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International. “We have fought long and hard for the PREA standards. They have the potential to cut prisoner rape dramatically.”

    Today’s PREA standards cover federal and state prisons, jails, youth detention facilities, police lock-ups, and community corrections facilities (such as halfway houses). They detail concrete, common-sense steps that facilities must take to prevent and respond to sexual abuse, incorporating many – though not all – of the reforms championed by Just Detention International. Founded in 1980 by a prisoner rape survivor, Just Detention International was instrumental in developing and securing the passage of PREA and has since led the push for strong, binding standards.

    Unfortunately, the standards include several dangerously weak points. For instance, while banning routine pat-down searches by male staff of female inmates, they fail to prohibit female staff from conducting pat-down searches of male inmates, even though the Department of Justice’s own study released earlier today showed widespread abuse by female staff of male inmates. Additionally, the Obama Administration chose not to apply the PREA standards to immigration detention facilities, contrary to Congressional intent. The Administration did, however, issue a crucial Presidential Memorandum this morning, confirming that PREA applies to “all agencies with Federal confinement facilities.” In response, the Department of Homeland Security, which administers immigration detention facilities, already announced that it has begun developing its own PREA standards and will issue a draft for public comment within 120 days.

    “The Presidential Memorandum rightly points out that all federal agencies must comply with PREA,” said Stannow. “In the coming year, Just Detention International looks forward to working with these agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Defense, to finalize their PREA standards.”

    Among the many strengths of the PREA standards, they require that particularly vulnerable inmates – such as those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender – be housed safely. They spell out requirements for inmate education and staff training on sexual abuse prevention, including specialized training for investigative and medical staff. The standards also demand that facilities offer survivors access to rape crisis counselors – trained experts who provide crisis intervention and emotional support in the aftermath of an assault. The standards require that youth in adult facilities no longer be detained in housing units with adults. Crucially, the standards remove a proposed 20-day time limit for victimized inmates to report the abuse, and they also insist that all facilities be audited by independent auditors every three years.

    Many prisons and jails started adopting draft versions of the PREA standards years ago, in collaboration with Just Detention International. State prisons in California and Oregon and the Miami-Dade County jail are among facilities that already have launched groundbreaking projects aimed at ending sexual abuse of inmates.

    “We know from our extensive on-the-ground work that the PREA standards can transform corrections culture,” said Stannow. “Working inside prisons and jails, we have seen how basic, low-cost changes to policy and practice can trigger enormous improvements in transparency, respect between staff and inmates, and overall safety.”

    Survivors of sexual abuse in detention have been at the forefront of the fight for strong PREA standards. One of them, Jan Lastocy, who was raped several times a week for seven months by a Michigan prison official while serving time for attempted embezzlement, said:

    “I have dreamed of this day for years. The PREA standards aren’t perfect, but they are an amazing tool for making prisons safer,” said Lastocy, a member of Just Detention International’s Survivor Council. “I don’t need revenge. All I want is to know that others won’t have to live through the horror I endured. Now we need to use these standards and stop prisoner rape once and for all.”

    For more information, or to speak with a survivor of prisoner rape,
    please contact Jesse Lerner-Kinglake at jkinglake@justdetention.org.
    Tel 213-384-1400, ext. 113; cell: 424-230-4540.

    The national PREA standards can be found Here.
    The Presidential Memorandum on the PREA standards can be found Here.

    For Immediate Release
    May 17, 2012


    Bureau of Justice Statistics study confirms national crisis of sexual abuse in U.S. detention, exposes systemic problem of staff retaliation, and shatters prisoner rape stereotypes Washington, D.C., May 17, 2012 — A Department of Justice study released this morning provides the most dramatic evidence yet of a nationwide, systemic crisis of sexual victimization in U.S. prisons, jails, and community corrections facilities. Of the former state prisoners surveyed by the Justice Department, 9.6 percent reported being sexually abused during their most recent period of detention, according to “Sexual Victimization Reported by Former State Prisoners, 2008.” Gay and bisexual prisoners were disproportionately targeted in both men’s and women’s prisons; a shocking 39 percent of gay male inmates reported being assaulted by other prisoners.

    Today’s study also exposes the overt and widespread retaliation by corrections officials against inmates who report abuse. Almost half (46.3 percent) of the prisoners who reported to a corrections official that they had been sexually abused by a staff member were themselves written up for an infraction. When prisoners reported sexual abuse by other inmates, they were just as likely to be punished themselves (28.5 percent) as to get to talk to an investigator (28.3 percent) or to see their abuser punished (28.6 percent). Additionally, more than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who reported to staff that they had been abused by another prisoner said that facility staff did not respond at all.

    “With such blatant retaliation for reporting abuse, it’s no wonder the vast majority of prisoner rape survivors choose to remain silent,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International. “The failure of many corrections officials to treat sexual abuse within their facilities as a serious crime — and the cynicism of punishing those who report having been abused — is simply stunning.”

    Prisoner rape survivor and member of Just Detention International’s Board of Directors, Garrett Cunningham, explained: “I was too scared to file a written complaint against my rapist because I feared retaliation from other prison officials. Instead, I wrote the Internal Affairs Department asking to meet with an investigator. They never addressed my concerns and failed to take precautions to protect me.”

    Contrary to common cultural stereotypes, about half of all prisoners reporting abuse were victimized by corrections staff. Female staff were by far the most likely perpetrators. Among survivors of staff sexual misconduct, 79 percent were males reporting sexual activity with female staff. Additionally, female inmates were more than three times more likely to be victimized by another prisoner than were male inmates (13.7 percent versus 4.2 percent).

    “Today’s report reaffirms the crisis of sexual abuse in U.S. detention, and of the government’s utter failure to protect people in its custody,” said Stannow.

    “With this study in hand, we must begin a serious discussion about the large numbers of female corrections officials who abuse male inmates, and about the high numbers of female prisoners who sexually abuse other inmates. Sexual abuse is a crime and has to be taken equally seriously regardless of the gender of the perpetrator and regardless of the custody status of the victim.”

    Other key findings of today’s Department of Justice report include:

    ^More than one third (34 percent) of male prisoners identifying as bisexual and almost two of every five (39 percent) identifying as gay or homosexual reported being assaulted by another prisoner. Female prisoners identifying as bisexual or lesbian were twice as likely to be abused by staff as prisoners identifying as heterosexual (8 percent for both bisexual and lesbian inmates versus 4 percent for heterosexual inmates). The study did not ask about gender identity and the report therefore does not specify rates of abuse of transgender inmates. It is likely, however, that some heterosexual transgender prisoners identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual in order to have their abuse counted under the common category of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT).

    ^Nearly a third of prisoners (32.4 percent) reported staff sexual harassment during showers and searches or while undressing — harassment that did not meet the Department of Justice’s threshold for sexual abuse. Such widespread staff sexual harassment demonstrates an appalling lack of respect for inmates.

    ^The vast majority of prisoners abused by staff were abused multiple times (86 percent).

    ^Almost one in five boys under the age of 18 (18.6 percent) held in adult facilities were sexually abused by staff.

    ^Among prisoners tested for HIV, a significantly higher percentage of those who had been sexually victimized by other inmates (6.5 percent) or by staff (4.6 percent) were HIV-positive than those who had not been victimized (2.6 percent).

    The report notes that it did not gather data on whether former prisoners contracted HIV while in custody.

    Today’s report was produced by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics and mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003. Its findings highlight the importance of the forthcoming national standards to prevent and address prisoner rape, also mandated by PREA. Those much-delayed uniform standards will be binding on prisons, jails, and several other types of detention facilities.

    “Prisoner rape shatters lives and rips apart communities,” said Stannow. “Yet this abuse is preventable. Today’s report shows clearly the need for a massive culture change inside our prisons and jails. It also demonstrates the urgent need for strong government regulations, requiring corrections facilities to do their job and ensure the safety and dignity of all prisoners.”

    Reported By: Just Detention Org.

    Contact: Jesse Lerner-Kinglake
    (Tel) 213-384-1400, ext. 113
    E-mail: jkinglake@justdetention.org

    Welcome To Texas, Prison Rape Capital Of The U.S.A.

    March 22, 2012
    By Kevin Thomas
    Daniel Villarreal; Contributing Writer

    In 2007, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice placed transgender woman Brittney Allen Young into the Powledge men’s prison unit in Palestine.

    Early in her sentence, Young’s cellmate, Charles, began overpowering and raping her, according to a letter Young wrote to Dallas Voice recently.

    Young says when she reported the assaults, the guards simply placed her in a different cell on the same wing where Charles and another inmate continued to rape her.

    When Young reported the assaults to prison officials again, she says the TDCJ dismissed her claim as insubstantial because she didn’t have any witnesses.

    TDCJ representatives failed to respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.

    Young was eventually transferred to the Hughes Unit in Gatesville, but after she arrived there, an HIV-positive offender began raping her — and threatened to kill her if she reported it to guards, her letter states.

    So instead, Young kept quiet and wrote to TDCJ ombudsman Ralph Bales, who’s responsible for implementing the 2003 federal Prison Rape Elimination Act in Texas prisons.

    With Bales’ help, Young got moved to protective custody, where she’s housed with inmates who are suicidal, former gang members and ex-police officers.

    Today, Young says she stays locked up 23 hours a day, unable to participate in the educational, vocational and religious programs her attackers still enjoy.

    Young’s story is not unique.

    Every year, more than 200,000 adults and children are sexually abused in U.S. prisons, jails and immigration detention facilities.

    A 2008 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 4.5 percent of all inmates in America report sexual assaults.

    The same study ranked five Texas prisons among the 10 U.S. prisons with the highest rates of inmate-reported sexual assaults.

    In those five prisons, between 9 percent and 16 percent of all inmates report incidents of rape by fellow prisoners and prison staff.

    And the statistics are even grimmer for LGBT inmates.

    Just Detention International, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group that seeks to reduce prison rapes worldwide, calls LGBT inmates “among the most vulnerable in the prison population,” with 67 percent reporting a sexual assault during their sentences — a rate 15 times higher than the inmate population overall.

    Juvenile LGBT prisoners report sexual assaults 12 times more often than their straight counterparts, according to a 2009 Department of Justice report.

    And transgender adult inmates are sexually abused 13 times more often than other inmates, according to Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

    According to Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, prison rapists tend to target young, physically weak Caucasians — usually first-time, nonviolent offenders who seem kind, unaggressive, shy or intellectual.

    Jody Marksamer, an attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says openly gay or lesbian inmates, or those with an “effeminate” appearance, often get targeted for the most brutal harassment and gang rapes, to initiate them as sex slaves.

    TDCJ inmate Roderick Johnson, who’s openly gay, entered the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls in September 2000 on nonviolent charges of burglary, cocaine possession and cashing a bad check, according to multiple news reports about his case.

    After Johnson’s arrival, he quickly came under the ownership of the Gangster Disciples, a prison gang that hadn’t had a sex slave for a while.

    The Allred inmates gave Johnson a woman’s nickname, “Coco,” and forced him to make food, clean clothes and tidy up the cells while they pimped him out to other convicts for $10 payable in prison commissary credit and cigarettes.

    Johnson spent the next 18 months being orally and anally raped in the cells, stairwells and showers of Allred prison every day by men he called “a pit of vipers” and “a pack of wolves,” the news reports say. Once they even forced Johnson and a mentally ill man to masturbate each other in the shower while forcing the man to repeatedly insert a finger into Johnson’s anus and then lick that finger.

    “I was in prison with people serving two life sentences,” Johnson told The Daily Texan in a 2004 interview. “They don’t care about anything. Their lives are over.”

    Rape survivors like Young and Johnson have to overcome several obstacles before they can even report an incident: They must survive the assault, then deal with the shock and disgust of violation without cleaning the evidence off their bodies by showering, brushing their teeth or drinking.

    Often, fear of retaliation and shame will prevent survivors from immediately reporting attacks. And those who do don’t always have witnesses to help corroborate their tale.

    They might also face a barrage of victim-blaming questions from prison officials such as, “How did you let that happen? Why did you go there in the first place? Why didn’t you tell anyone sooner?” — questions that imply they possibly deserved the assault and should feel ashamed, if they don’t already.

    Johnson reported his rapes through a series of complaints, letters and grievances filed to prison officials.

    He also appeared before the unit’s classification committee seven times to request placement into protective custody.

    But Johnson says the officials didn’t do anything because they considered his proof insubstantial; he says they even took pleasure in his trauma and suggested that he either learn to fight or submit, hinting that he probably enjoyed the rapes because he’s gay.

    Marksamer, of the NCLR, says prison guards can be just as dangerous as inmates, sometimes conspiring with prisoners to beat up or rape gay convicts who complain, placing them in the cells of well-known abusers or leaving LGBT inmates’ cells open to sexual predators. They can also encourage the maltreatment of LGBT inmates by referring to them with slurs or by names of the opposite gender.

    In women’s prisons, guards will sometimes trade sex for goods and privileges, Marksamer says.

    They’re often allowed to watch women shower, disrobe or use the toilet and can harass, degrade, grope and sexually abuse them during frisks and body searches.

    And for undocumented people in American immigration detention centers, American Civil Liberties Union counsel Joanne Lin said the abuses can get much worse.

    “Many immigration detainees do not speak or read English well, and do not know what their legal rights are in the United States,” Lin told National Public Radio recently. “Traumatized by the sexual assaults, they are understandably loath to report the abuse to the same government authorities that have the power to rape, detain and deport them.”

    The American Civil Liberty Union’s National Prison Project eventually sued the TDCJ in April 2002 for violating Johnson’s constitutional rights protecting against cruel and unusual punishment and guaranteeing equal protection under the law, based on his race and sexual orientation. But in 2005, a jury dismissed the lawsuit.

    Johnson now lives on parole in Austin, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, taking anti-depressants and facing nightmares and suicidal thoughts each day.

    But advocates say Johnson is one of the lucky ones.

    JDI’s McFarlane says it’s impossible to know how many prison assaults end in death, how many prisoners pass away due to complications from AIDS, other untreated STDs, and injuries and suicide — the mental and physical toll is enormous.

    A 2006 study of sexual violence in Texas prisons from the criminal justice research company, the JFA Institute, attributed Texas’ higher rates of reported sexual assaults to the 2003 implementation of the Safe Prisons program.

    The Safe Prisons program aims to reduce prison violence by instructing inmates and guards on how to correctly report an assault, separating vulnerable inmates from attackers, and offering survivors psychological care while investigators and medical forensic experts seek out evidence of the alleged assault.

    However, soon after the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2008 study listed Allred and four other Texas prisons among the most sexually abusive in the nation, Just Detention International examined the inmate letters they’d received from Texas —which account for about one-fourth of their inmate letters overall.

    JDI found repeated accounts of the myriad abuses described in this article, which the group says indicates that the situation in Texas prisons hasn’t improved significantly.

    Although President George W. Bush signed the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act into law with a unanimous congressional vote — the PREA even had the support of the anti-gay group Focus on the Family — advocates say there aren’t adequate mechanisms to enforce the reforms or evaluate prison compliance.

    As advocacy groups continue their work, they say the LGBT community can help by pressuring lawmakers and prison officials to adopt standards developed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission in 2009.

    Even though about 1 percent of the U.S. population is in prison, JDI’s McFarlane thinks that the American public has not pressured the government for prison rape reform because it’s easy to ignore an entire population that’s locked away.

    When asked how she feels about prison rape jokes and pornography, or LGBT online commenters who think gay-bashers deserve rape in prisons, McFarlane responded: “We do want to really encourage people to think twice about the reality of what they’re joking about. When American citizens in government-run facilities have no rights, then none of us do.”

    This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2012.

    Welcome to Texas, prison rape capital of the U.S.

    Feb. 3rd

    In Response to VAWA...
    Read Article after Sen. Hutchison's Response:

    Constituent Response From Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

    Dear Friend:

    Thank you for contacting me regarding violence against women. I welcome your thoughts and comments on this issue.

    Violence against women has devastating consequences for the victims, their families, and society as a whole.

    I have always championed legislation supporting the strongest penalties for crimes of violence.

    In 1996, I helped to pass the Interstate Stalking Punishment and Prevention Act which made it a felony to stalk an individual across state lines, extended stalking protection to a victim's immediate family, including minors, and allowed Federal Bureau of Investigation resources to be used to apprehend interstate stalkers.

    More recently, I cosponsored the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

    This comprehensive legislation, originally passed in 1994, created new penalties for gender-related violence and new grant programs encouraging states to address domestic violence and sexual assault.

    I also cosponsored a bill to establish a permanent Violence Against Women Office within the Department of Justice.

    As a strong defender of victims of violence, you may be certain I will continue to support legislative measures which seek to protect women from violence and will work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure these initiatives receive adequate funding.

    I appreciate hearing from you and hope you will not hesitate to keep in touch on any issue of concern to you.

    Kay Bailey Hutchison
    United States Senator
    284 Russell Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510
    202-224-5922 (tel)
    202-224-0776 (fax)

    Due to the volume of mail Senator Hutchison receives, she requests that all email messages be sent through the contact form found on her website at http://hutchison.senate.gov/?p=email_kay.
    Thank you.


    E-NEWS - Jan. 31, 2012

    Tell your Senator: Protect women and girls from rape!

    This week, the influential Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to vote on the 2011 Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA). If Congress fails to renew VAWA, many thousands of women will be left more vulnerable to abuse – including women in prisons and jails.

    Please contact your Senator urgently to demand the reauthorization of VAWA.

    Passed in 1994, VAWA funds vital, community-based sexual assault prevention and counseling programs – programs that survivors of sexual abuse, both male and female, rely on to help them heal from trauma and move forward with their lives.

    JDI [Just Detention International] works with rape crisis centers throughout the country, training them on sexual abuse behind bars and how to work sensitively with formerly incarcerated survivors. These centers count on VAWA funds to keep their doors open.

    Violence against women is unacceptable. But it can be stopped. Join us in taking action against this abuse by writing or calling your Senator today.

    You can find out how to contact your Senator by following This Link.

    When you reach your Senator’s office, here’s what you can say:
    “I support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. VAWA saves lives, makes our communities safer, and reduces long-term costs. Rape crisis centers across the country depend on VAWA funding to help people who have been abused. Please support its full reauthorization today.”

    Let’s take a stand against violence against women, whether in the home, in the community, or behind bars, and end it once and for all.


    Jan. 4, 2012

    Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Training

    Your Role: Responding to Sexual Abuse Ongoing.

    This free online training is available to all corrections staff.

    It details the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 and outlines appropriate response measures for addressing sexual misconduct when it is reported by inmates and staff.

    Jan. 4, 2012

    National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Results Now Online

    The Centers for Disease Control in partnership with the National Institute of Justice have just released the study results of its 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. The report highlights the prevalence of partner abuse across the 50 states and the differences in the types of abuse experienced among adult women and men.

    While not meant to be used for state-by-state comparisons, the data reveal the following findings overall:

    18.3% of women and 1.4% of men have been raped at some point in their lives

    40.8% of female victims and 52.4% of male victims reported being raped by an acquaintance

    42.2% of female victims experienced their first rape before the age of 18

    27.8% of male victims experienced their first rape when they were 10 years or younger

    The survey’s full report, executive summary, detailed state tables, fact sheet, and communications toolkit are all available online.


      Nov. 9th

      Your Tax Dollars Are Paying for Sexual Abuse in Detention

      Dear Friend,

      On November 10, more than 300,000 adults and children in U.S. prisons, jails, and youth facilities will have been sexually abused since Attorney General Eric Holder missed his 2010 deadline to adopt strong national standards to end prisoner rape.

      That's 300,000 fellow human beings who could have been spared the devastation of sexual abuse had the national standards been in place.

      There is an enormous human cost each time anyone, anywhere, is sexually abused.

      What chance does a troubled 12-year-old have to turn his life around if he is sent to a youth detention facility and raped by staff? And what happens if, like most people sexually abused behind bars, he is abused over and over and over again, by other inmates or by the very officials we pay to protect him?

      Sexual abuse doesn't just hurt survivors. It also affects family members, neighbors, and -- 'in the case of Delaware County, Oklahoma' -- entire communities. Last week, Delaware County Commissioners voted to settle a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Jay Blackfox, who is accused of covering up 'the sexual abuse of 15 female inmates' by his jail staff.

      Delaware County tax payers already paid $600,000 in attorney fees to defend against the lawsuit, and now, if the county's insurance company doesn't cover the settlement, Delaware County homeowners will see their property taxes raised to pay for the $13.5 million settlement.

      How much longer will we all have to pay for sexual abuse?

      Please join our campaign through the JDI website or on Facebook to tell the Attorney General that enough is enough. We're sending a quote from a prisoner rape survivor -- who is still behind bars and still desperate for help -- to the Department of Justice every single day until the national standards are adopted. Let's remind the Attorney General what is really at stake.

      We cannot tolerate another 300,000 victims. Indeed, we cannot tolerate even one more victim.

      Please take action, and then help us spread the word! Follow us on Twitter all day tomorrow, November 10; we'll be tweeting survivor quotes and ways that you can take action, in honor of the 300,000 people who have been victimized since the missed deadline.

      Lovisa Stannow
      Executive Director

      TDCJ officials testify during prison rape hearing

      By Matthew Huisman
      Apr. 27, 2011

      On Wednesday, the Review Panel on Prison Rape invited officials from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to testify at a hearing in Washington about efforts to curb sexual victimization inside U.S. prisons.

      The testimony focused on an August 2010 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics which showed that the James V. Allred prison in Wichita Falls has one of the highest percentages of inmate sexual abuse in the country.

      According to the report, 7.6 and 5.6 percent of inmates at the Allred unit reported being a victim of inmate-on-inmate and staff sexual misconduct, respectively. Overall, 10.9 percent of inmates reported being a victim of sexual victimization, which includes incidents ranging from inappropriate touching or groping to rape.

      Gary Christensen, president of Corrections Partners Inc. and one of the panel members, called the facility "very well run in terms of security" but questioned officials about the discrepancies between TDCJ and federal data.

      Christensen said he was perplexed why federal data was 10 times greater than internal data collected by TDCJ.

      Brad Livingston, executive director for TDCJ, said the numbers presented by the Bureau of Justice Statistics "show a startling and negative trend."

      "We are committed to continuing our efforts, with respect to safe prisons and increasing the safety of our facilities, and tackling the tough and challenging issues with respect to sexual assault and sexual victimization," Livingston said.

      However, Livingston said the agency is continuing to combat sexual victimization through the use of education material, security cameras and by investigating and prosecuting predators.

      You can read the entire report HERE:

      TDCJ officials testify during prison rape hearing

      Better Protecting Prisoners

      Published: April 6, 2011

      The Justice Department is finalizing new rape-prevention policies that will become mandatory for federal prisons and state correctional institutions that receive federal money. The rules, based on recommendations from a Congressionally mandated commission, would be a major improvement. But the department needs to remedy several weaknesses before it issues final regulations.

      Rape and other forms of sexual abuse by fellow inmates or correctional officers are a chronic hazard in prisons, jails and juvenile facilities across the country. According to federal estimates, 200,000 adult prisoners and jail inmates suffered some form of sexual abuse during 2008.

      That works out to about 4.4 percent of the prison population and 3.1 percent of the jail population. The numbers are even higher in juvenile institutions, with 12 percent of the total population suffering some form of sexual abuse.

      Statistics showing that some institutions have higher rates of assault than others are consistent with the finding of the rape commission, which reported that some prisons had successfully created an atmosphere of safety while others tacitly tolerated assaults.

      The commission came up with a long and compelling list of rape prevention recommendations, most of which have been adopted by the Justice Department.

      It is demanding a zero-tolerance approach to rape behind bars and will require better training of staff members, more effective ways to report assaults, more thorough investigations and better medical and psychiatric services for victims. In perhaps the most revolutionary development, prisons would be required to make sexual assault data public so policy makers could get a clear view of how well or how poorly vulnerable inmates were being protected.

      Still, there are problems with the Justice Department’s approach. The decision to exclude immigration detention centers holding noncitizens goes against the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which defined a prison as any confinement facility administered by federal, state or local government.

      Victims of sexual assault are often too traumatized to immediately speak out.

      So the provision permitting prisons systems to invalidate most complaints not lodged within 20 days seems arbitrary. Complaints should be taken seriously whenever they are reported. The department has obviously done the right thing by limiting cross-gender strip searches to emergency situations. But it should also set a goal of ending cross-gender pat-down searches.

      Finally, the Justice Department needs to adopt the commission’s call for regularly scheduled, independent audits of prison rape prevention programs.

      That is the only sure way to know whether they are obeying the law.

      Better Protecting Prisoners


      Texas can curb prison sex assaults

      Sept. 19, 2010

      While imprisoned by the state of Texas for a property crime, John was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a prison official. The officer moved John to solitary confinement where no one could see what was happening. There, he forced John to perform oral sex. If John didn't comply, the officer explained, he would never be paroled and would be denied meals. "It was a nightmare," said John. "I lived in dread knowing what he could do to me."

      John's story is far from unique. Based on surveys conducted in prisons and jails across the country, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates that 88,500 inmates nationwide were sexually abused at their current facility last year alone. The results for Texas are especially alarming.

      The Texas Department of Criminal Justice runs three of the five men's prisons with the highest rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse in the country, according to the BJS survey. At the Hughes Unit, in Gatesville, nearly 9 percent of inmates surveyed had been sexually assaulted by another inmate — more than quadruple the national average. The Allred Unit, near Wichita Falls, and the Michael Unit, near Palestine, both had inmate-on-inmate abuse rates more than triple the national average. Texas prison officials also rape inmates at alarming rates. At the Ferguson Unit, in Midway, 7.6 percent of inmates reported sexual abuse by staff in the preceding year - nearly three times the national average. In a similar BJS report released in January 2010, Texas' juvenile facilities fared just as poorly.

      As appalling as these figures are, mere numbers can obscure the real issue. Consider the case of Dwight, a gay inmate at the Allred Unit who has been assaulted again and again by other inmates. Officials have responded to his pleas for help with anti-gay jokes and by stating they don't believe a homosexual can be raped. Dwight wrote to Just Detention International, "The perpetrators have raped and extorted me, but have not been charged, not punished. I am the victim. I have filed grievances to no avail, have written TDCJ to no avail. Please help …"

      Sexual violence does not happen in isolation. In facilities where such abuse is widespread, violence of every kind - including against officials - tends to flourish. When sexual abuse survivors return home, as the vast majority of them do, they bring their trauma and medical conditions with them, back to their families and communities. Ultimately, Texas taxpayers incur the significant - and avoidable - financial burdens of prisoner rape, including for investigations, litigation and medical care.

      The BJS surveys make clear that sexual abuse behind bars is preventable. Such violence flourishes in some facilities, but is rare in others. The differences stem from whether facility leaders are committed to keeping inmates safe, the level of respect among staff for professional boundaries, and the quality of written policies and day-to-day practices.

      The federal law that mandated the BJS surveys, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, also required U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to ratify national standards aimed specifically at ending sexual abuse behind bars. These standards were developed by a federal commission and delivered to Holder last year. By law, he should have finalized them by June 23, 2010, but he missed that deadline and no new date has been set.

      Rather than waiting for Holder to get his job done, Texas must now begin implementing the recommended national standards. That's what Oregon and California have done, and we know that's what many individual Texas prison officials wish to do.

      Rather than yield power to predatory staff members by minimizing the problem of sexual abuse in its prisons, the TDCJ leadership must support the many good men and women in its ranks by providing them with the tools they need to keep inmates safe.

      Continued inaction simply costs too much, especially for prisoners like John and Dwight. No matter what crime someone may have committed, rape must not be part of the penalty.

      Stannow is the executive director of Just Detention International, an international human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention. Medlock is the director of the Prisoners' Rights Program of the Texas Civil Rights Project, an Austin-based nonprofit fighting to protect civil rights in Texas.

      Editorial: TDCJ makes dubious list

      Publication Date: 04/11/10

      Texas shouldn't want to be included on this hideous list.

      It involves a topic no one wants to discuss: prison rape.

      The Bureau of Justice Statistics that of the 10 U.S. prisons with the greatest rates of sexual abuse, five of them are run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      And here is some more ghastly news: One of those five Texas lockups is the William P. Clements Jr. Unit right here in Amarillo.

      BJS stats say that 4.5 percent of prisoners nationally say they've been sexually abused. The Estelle Unit in Huntsville, the leader of this pack, reports 15.7 percent of inmates being victimized. The Clements Unit is among the other four units in this dubious Top 10; the others are Mountain View Unit near Gatesville, the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls and the Coffield Unit near Tennessee Colony.

      It's a dirty secret among those close to the corrections industry.

      Whether they're inmates, corrections officers or prison administrators, it's a subject no one wants to talk about publicly.

      But the Bureau of Justice Statistics has peeled the skin off a problem that needs an airing.

      Prisons by their very nature are an unpleasant place to spend any time. And they are places with a social structure that puts certain categories of criminals in danger of facing the kind of abuse reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. They also expose vulnerable inmates to the most heinous criminals - such as rapists.

      TDCJ needs to take a serious look at the findings of this study. It then needs to ask itself: Are we doing enough to protect inmates from predators who lurk behind bars?

      TDCJ makes dubious list

      © The Amarillo Globe-News Online

      Inmate David Graham starts prison blog

      Jul 06, 2010
      Diane Jennings/Reporter

      Former Air Force Academy cadet David Graham, who is serving a life sentence for murder, has started a blog dubbed Prison News Exposed. Graham and another inmate, Aaron Flaherty, plan to debate prison issues on line for people looking for insight into the corrections system.

      Their first topic: A Story on RAPE in Texas Prisons.
      Clink on link to read the Blog: Prison News Exposed: The Texas Prisoner Journal

      Graham was convicted in 1998 for his role in the death of 16-year-old Adrianne Jones, a case which fascinated the public because not only was Graham a student at a military academy when he was arrested, but so was his girlfriend, Diane Zamora. Zamora was at the U.S. Naval Academy when she told a classmate about the murder, leading to their eventual convictions.

      Graham doesn't mention what Flaherty is in prison for, only that he is a "paralegal and writer." But prison records show Flaherty was sentenced to life in 1996 for capital murder out of Grayson County.

      Graham, who says he has earned a bachelor's degree in criminology while behind bars, does not have access to the internet, but mails his comments to someone in the free world who posts them. " My goal is to show that prisoners can make an important contribution to the debate," he writes.

      Inmate David Graham starts prison blog

      Feds Drag Their Heels on Stopping Prison Rape

      Jun 5, 2010
      By Matt Kelley

      Should we let a price tag stop us from ending prison rape?

      That's the real question facing the U.S. federal government today. While the White House deserves some credit for working to prevent prison sexual assaults, at this point, the feds are moving far too — in fact, shockingly — slowly.

      The Department of Justice is wrapping up two days of hearings on the issue today, but a deadline for the agency to finalize national binding standards for dealing with prison rape is expected to slip by quietly later this month. Attorney General Eric Holder admits he’ll miss the June 23 deadline — by as much as a year. How is that okay?

      More than 10,000 activists have already signed a petition here on Change.org, urging the DOJ to enact the standards recommended a year ago by the blue-ribbon Prison Rape Elimination Commission. The DOJ seems to be listening, and has posted more than public 1,100 comments online. Meanwhile, theNew York Times joined the call this week, chastising Holder for delays in enacting the recommended standards. But the response? Still more delay.

      So why is Holder dragging his feet? It all comes down to cost.

      The Attorney General says he has to move slowly because the new requirements will be costly and difficult for prisons and jails across the country to enact.

      NPR reports that the standards — which include segregating young or weak prisoners and ensuring that male guards don’t supervise female prisoners — could cost more than $1 billion to kick off, and another $1 billion each year.

      But the DOJ has had a year since the prison rape panel issued its recommendations, and seven years since Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. In the last year alone, more than 60,000 prisoners in the United States were sexually assaulted. Every day we wait, more than 100 prisoners are raped. Another year of delay — and another 60,000 victims — is unacceptable.

      Feds drag their heels...


      It’s Up to You, Mr. Holder

      Published: May 31, 2010

      In 2003, Congress acknowledged the serious problem of rape in the nation’s prisons and created a commission to develop a set of national standards for preventing and punishing these crimes.

      The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission spent five years on the task, holding hearings, visiting prisons, interviewing officials, families, inmates, community groups, advocates, medical organizations, prosecutors, police and others.

      It finally finished its work last year and sent a set of rigorous recommendations to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. He now must issue mandatory standards for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and state correctional institutions that receive federal money. Predictably, state and local corrections officials determined to preserve the disastrous status quo are pushing back. Mr. Holder must hold the line.

      The commission’s report makes for disturbing reading. It estimated that in a year’s time, at least 60,000 prisoners were raped. The commissioners also noted that rape in prison is not inevitable. In some places, strong, engaged managers had created “a culture within facilities” that promoted safety instead of tolerating abuse.

      Those leaders appear to be the exception. The commission found that rape victims were often hesitant to report the crime for fear of reprisal. It also found that few correctional institutions ever received the monitoring or oversight that would enable officials to find out why sexual abuse had occurred or how to prevent it.

      The commission’s recommendations are sound. They include better screening of guards and more training to recognize and address the signs of sexual assault, better medical and psychiatric care for assault victims, better protection for the most vulnerable, a system that allows prisoners to report rape without facing reprisal and publicly accessible records that would permit rape prevention programs to be independently monitored.

      Mr. Holder could have adopted the commission’s standards.

      Instead, the Justice Department sought comment on the proposals, further delaying the process and increasing the dangers that the reforms will be watered down. Enough is enough.

      The Justice Department needs to issue the toughest possible standards to end these horrors, and prisons need to rigorously implement them.

      A version of this editorial appeared in print on June 1, 2010, on page A26 of the New York edition.

      It’s Up to You, Mr. Holder

      Prisons chief says rapes are down 40%
      But skeptics insist assault numbers are much larger

      April 10, 2010

      AUSTIN — Texas prison officials said on Friday they have reduced inmate rape by almost 40 percent in the past three years, but that statistic may not reflect reality.

      Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston noted that statistics used in a recent Hearst newspaper article on Texas prison rape are three years old. Livingston said the state has made progress in reducing inmate-on-inmate sexual assault since that time.

      “We continue to ratchet up our review and our involvement and make sure we have a zero tolerance of sexual assault in prison,” Livingston said.

      The state prison system officially had 248 confirmed inmate-on-inmate sexual assaults in 2007; 195 in 2008; and 154 in 2009.

      “From all of the reporting, the alleged sexual assaults in our system, those numbers are headed in the right direction,” Livingston said, adding, “One sexual assault is one too many.”

      But the state's numbers may not reflect the size of the problem.

      These numbers reflect sexual assaults that were reported to the Office of Inspector General and were determined to have some element of non-consensual sexual assault.

      However, a Bureau of Justice Statistics anonymous survey of prison inmates done in 2007 estimated that 15.7 percent of the inmates at the Estelle Unit alone had been victims of sexual abuse. That would have accounted for about 433 inmates in that one unit in 2007.

      If the survey of 15 Texas prison units is correct, more than 2,600 state inmates were victims of sexual abuse in 2007 — almost 10 times what the state is reporting.

      No verification

      Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said because the research study was anonymous, there is no way to verify the numbers.

      She said some incidents that offenders consider sexual assault do not meet the legal definition, and in other instances an offender may claim a security strip search was a sexual assault.

      State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he believes the prison system narrowly defines sexual assault to reduce the magnitude of the problem. Coleman said even in the general population rape is under- reported by victims.

      “The state needs to recognize that this is happening,” Coleman said. “It just opens the issue back up to the reality that we have a problem in our prisons of sexual assault.”

      Coleman said prison inmates may fear reporting sexual assault because of the possibility of retaliation. He said there needs to be a system of anonymity. And when someone is identified as an assailant, he said, they need to be segregated from the rest of the inmate population.

      Livingston said the prison system has hired a sexual assault ombudsman in the inspector general's office as required by legislation passed in 2007 by Coleman and state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D- Houston.

      “They respond to every single incident where there's an allegation,” Livingston said.

      Reporting assaults

      Livingston said the system also is encouraging inmates to report assaults.

      “We have done a very extensive job of making sure we communicate very extensively and widely to the offender population as to how they can report a sexual assault,” Livingston said. “We have done a number of things that would serve to reduce the numbers.”

      The Hearst story reported earlier this week that the prison advocacy group Just Detention receives about 30 letters a week alleging inmate sexual assault and a quarter of them come from Texas.

      The Bureau of Justice Statistics report also found that five of the 10 prisons with the highest rates of sexual abuse in the country were located in Texas in 2007.


      Prisons chief says rapes are down 40%

      New rules to address prison sexual assault, most common in Texas

      April 5, 2010
      Meredith Simons,
      Robert Gavin,
      Hearst Newspapers

      WASHINGTON – Each week, the staff of the prison watchdog group Just Detention International receives about 30 letters from inmates who say they've been sexually assaulted in prisons across the nation.

      More than a quarter of those letters come from one state: Texas.

      Even when adjusted for the number of inmates in a given prison system, Texas stands out as the state where sexual assault in prison is most prevalent.

      Five of the 10 prisons with the highest rates of sexual abuse in the country are in Texas. That includes the top two, the Estelle Unit and the Clements Unit.

      The federal government now is implementing new standards for prisons, jails and other lockups in what advocates and the Department of Justice call a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end sex abuse behind bars.

      New standards were proposed last June by a commission formed after passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. Facilities will have one year to implement the final recommendations, due this year and subject to federal approval.

      The alarming rank of the Estelle Unit in Huntsville, Texas, was revealed after the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics surveyed inmates in hundreds of state and federal prisons, as well as county lockups, for the new law.

      Nationwide, the rate of inmates reporting sexual victimization within a prior 12-month period was 4.5 percent. At Estelle, it was 15.7 percent.

      Four other Texas prisons were in the top 10, including the Clements Unit in Amarillo, the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls, the Mountain View Unit near Gatesville, and the Coffield Unit near Tennessee Colony.

      Those prisons had rates of abuse from 9.3 percent to 13.9 percent.

      State prison personnel say they've already made progress in educating prison employees and inmates alike about the need to combat sexual abuse and the options that are available to them if they've already been attacked.

      Texas is the only state in the country to have a special prosecution unit that specializes in crimes committed in prisons. And the state has implemented the Safe Prisons Program, designed to educate inmates about sexual assault and separate likely abusers from potential victims.

      "Texas is actually at the forefront of trying to stop sexual violence in prisons," said prosecutor Gina DeBottis.

      The inmate protection unit, which DeBottis now heads, was launched in the 1980s to cope with a rash of gang-related murders in Texas prisons. Now, the organization's nine prosecutors and seven investigators handle prison-crime cases involving everything from murder to contraband.

      They also prosecute sexual abuse cases, both when inmates assault other inmates and corrections officials attack inmates.

      Linda McFarlane, deputy director of Just Detention, said there are many individuals within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who are committed to fixing the problem. But she says the sprawling system, with its huge numbers of prisons and prisoners, is difficult to police.

      The Prison Rape Elimination Act commission report said the young, mentally disabled, those with small stature and lack of experience in jails, and gay prisoners all appear to be at increased risk of sexual abuse by other prisoners.

      U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has until June to act on the commission's recommendations, which include use of video to prevent sex abuse; housing changes and transfers for victims; sanctions for any inmates or staffers engaging in abuse and written agreements with outside law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to investigate allegations of sex abuse.

      If Holder acts, the commission's ideas could become mandatory at any prison that accepts federal funds.

      Texas officials say they're working to implement many of the recommendations, even if they don't become mandatory.

      McFarlane says the culture within the Texas prison system appears to be shifting, but slowly.

      Meredith Simons, Robert Gavin,
      Hearst Newspapers

      New rules to address prison sexual assault, most common in Texas

      Survey: Texas prisons lead in inmate rape

      Federal government adopting new standards aimed at ending sexual abuse in lockups

      Published: April 3, 2010

      WASHINGTON — Each week, the staff of the prison watchdog group Just Detention International receives about 30 letters from inmates who say they've been sexually assaulted in prisons across the nation.

      More than a quarter of those letters come from one state: Texas.

      Sexual abuse is a problem in prisons nationwide. But even when adjusted for the number of inmates in a given prison system, Texas still stands out as the state where sexual assault in prison is most prevalent.

      Five of the 10 prisons with the highest rates of sexual abuse in the country are in Texas. That includes the top two, the Estelle Unit, north of Huntsville, and the Clements Unit, east of Amarillo.

      Garrett Cunningham was an inmate at the Luther Unit in Navasota in 2000, when he says a corrections officer twice his size accosted him on his way to the shower, handcuffed him, raped him and then forced him into the shower. Cunningham said the officer threatened to have him transferred to "a rougher unit where I would be raped all the time" if he told anyone about the assault.

      Cunningham told his story to a panel of congressmen investigating sexual abuse in prisons in 2005.

      "Many men and women in Texas experience sexual abuse at the hands of officers and other prisoners," Cunningham said. "Their pleas for help go unanswered by administrators and staff."

      The federal government now is implementing new standards for prisons, jails and other lockups in what advocates and the Department of Justice call a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end sex abuse behind bars.

      "This is something that I think needs to be done, not tomorrow, but yesterday," Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies last month.

      New standards were proposed in June by a commission formed after passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. Facilities will have one year to implement the final recommendations, due this year and subject to federal approval.

      "Protecting prisoners from sexual abuse remains a challenge in correctional facilities across the country," the commission stated in its 259-page report. "Too often, in what should be secure environments, men, women and children are raped or abused by other incarcerated individuals and corrections staff."

      The alarming ranking of the Estelle Unit was revealed after the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics surveyed inmates in hundreds of state and federal prisons, as well as county lockups, for the new law.

      Nationwide, the rate of inmates reporting sexual victimization within a prior 12-month period was 4.5 percent. At Estelle, it was 15.7 percent.

      Four other Texas prisons were in the top 10, including the Clements Unit, the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls, the Mountain View Unit near Gatesville and the Coffield Unit near Tennessee Colony. Those prisons had rates of abuse from 9.3 percent to 13.9 percent.

      Texas officials say that the rates of abuse reflected in that report may have been artificially inflated by the report's methodology, which recorded inmates' complaints without attempting to verify their validity.

      State prison personnel say they've already made progress in educating prison employees and inmates alike about the need to combat sexual abuse and the options that are available to them if they've already been attacked.

      Texas is the only state in the country to have a special prosecution unit that specializes in crimes committed in prisons. The state has implemented the Safe Prisons Program, designed to educate inmates about sexual assault and separate likely abusers from potential victims.

      "Texas is actually at the forefront of trying to stop sexual violence in prisons," prosecutor Gina DeBottis said.

      The inmate protection unit, which DeBottis now heads, was launched in the 1980s to cope with a rash of gang-related murders in Texas prisons. Now, the organization's nine prosecutors and seven investigators handle prison-crime cases involving everything from murder to contraband.

      They also prosecute sexual abuse cases, both when inmates assault other inmates and corrections officials attack inmates.

      Linda McFarlane, deputy director of Just Detention, said there are many individuals within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who are committed to fixing the problem. But she says the sprawling system, with its huge numbers of prisons and prisoners, is difficult to police.

      "What I've picked up is that the culture in those prisons is that each one is sort of an entity unto itself," McFarlane said. "That makes it very difficult to make and enforce policy that is consistent across the entire system."

      Nationwide, inmates report more sexual abuse at the hands of guards than fellow inmates. The same is often true in Texas prisons. At the Clements Unit, 5 percent of inmates said they'd been pressured or forced into sex with other inmates, while 11 percent reported being pressured or forced into sex with prison staff.

      The Prison Rape Elimination Act commission report said the young, mentally disabled, those with small stature and lack of experience in jails, and gay prisoners all appear to be at increased risk of sexual abuse by other prisoners.

      Not all sex between corrections officers and inmates is coerced; an additional 6 percent of Clements inmates reported consensual sex with staff. But even if an inmate expresses a willingness to have sex with a corrections officer, it is illegal.

      Holder has until June to act on the commission's recommendations, which include use of video to prevent sex abuse; housing changes and transfers for victims; sanctions for any inmates or staffers engaging in abuse; and written agreements with outside law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to investigate allegations of sex abuse.

      If Holder acts, the commission's ideas could become mandatory at any prison that accepts federal funds.

      Survey: Texas prisons lead in inmate rape

      The US Department of Justice Should Enact Standards for the Elimination of Prison Rape

      Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder

      JANUARY 5, 2010

      Attorney General Eric Holder Office of the Attorney General US Department of Justice Washington, DC 20530 Re: Prison Rape Elimination Standards

      Dear Attorney General Holder:

      I write to express Human Rights Watch's hope that the Department of Justice will soon promulgate comprehensive and effective standards for the elimination of prison rape. As you may know, Human Rights Watch has been investigating and advocating reforms to address prison rape by staff and inmates for over a decade. We strongly believe the standards submitted to you in June 2009 by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (the Commission), on which I had the privilege of serving as a commissioner, constitute such standards. If adopted, those standards would go far toward eliminating rape in adult prisons and jails, juvenile and immigration detention facilities, and community corrections.

      As you know, the Commission developed its standards over several years of extensive research, direct consultation with stakeholders and experts, including prison and jail administrators, and extended periods of public comment. The resulting standards reflect the best thinking and effective practices from around the country for the prevention, detection, and punishment of prison rape. They do not please everyone-no set of standards will-but they were developed in a transparent, painstaking process in which all were able to participate and all were listened to, and in which the commissioners balanced to the greatest possible extent all legitimate concerns and priorities.

      In your review of the Commission's standards, you may decide that a few should be clarified or strengthened even further. But we strongly urge you to view them as a coherent whole, and not to weaken or eliminate the substance or spirit of any one of them. Indeed, we believe the national goal of eliminating prison rape will best be served if you take the proposed standards as the basis for the final standards you approve.

      We are well aware there are critics of the Commission's standards, including some who do not share the Congress's sense of urgency regarding prison rape, who mistakenly believe costs are the single most important consideration, or who are simply averse to meaningful external regulation and oversight of prison operations. Some may even believe the Working Group process offers them a chance to scuttle needed reforms and to weaken or dilute the standards proposed by the Commission. Human Rights Watch hopes the Justice Department proves them wrong.

      The Commission listened attentively to concerns about cost and feasibility and took them into account. The study you have commissioned may shed some light on the costs of complying with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), although it may not be able to offer significant guidance given the range of facilities covered by PREA and the differences in the steps they have already taken to respond to prison rape, in the quality of their management, and in their institutional cultures of violence and accountability.

      In any event, Congress did not prohibit PREA standards that impose costs, but only the imposition of "substantial" costs, leaving that term undefined. It is safe to say from the record that Congress did not intend to permit facilities or agencies that had done a poor job of protecting inmates to plead expense as an excuse for failing to improve their performance and institute the necessary safeguards.

      In addition, any cost of implementing the standards must be weighed against the continuing costs in human suffering, as well as the expense of defending lawsuits and the very costly settlements, that result from failure to protect inmates from sexual assault.

      We also hope you will meet the congressional mandate of promulgating final standards within a year of the Commission's report and recommendations, that is, by June 2010. Although a growing number of prison authorities are trying to curb sexual violence, data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveal that tens of thousands of adults and juveniles are still sexually abused each year because officials have not instituted basic measures to protect them. Every week without standards is another week of missed opportunities to put an end to this horrific crime.

      With the Commission's standards, you have in your hands sound guidance for how to meet Congress' goal of eliminating prison rape.

      There is no need, quite frankly, to reinvent the wheel, to reconsider strategies already thoroughly vetted during the Commission's painstaking process of research and review, or to delay moving forward.

      Human Rights Watch appreciates the commitment of the Justice Department to the goal of ending the scourge of prison sexual violence and hopes you share our sense of urgency. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss our concerns with you and your staff at your convenience. We will call your office to see if a meeting can be scheduled.

      Jamie Fellner, Esq.
      Senior Counsel
      US Program

      Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder


      House Introduces Crucial Prison Litigation Reform Legislation

      December 16, 2009
      Bill Would Reform Law That Denies Access To Courts For Victims Of Prison Rape And Other Abuses

      CONTACT: (202) 675-2312 or media@dcaclu.org

      WASHINGTON – Congressman Robert Scott (D-VA) introduced landmark legislation today that is aimed at reforming how prisoners can bring lawsuits defending their rights. Congressman Scott’s bill would reform the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) which was originally passed by Congress in 1996 as a way to stem the tide against what were thought to be frivolous lawsuits by prisoners. Since that time, the law has been used repeatedly to deny justice to victims of rape, assault, religious rights violations and other serious abuses. The American Civil Liberties Union has been fighting for necessary reforms to the PLRA on several fronts and lauded the introduction of Congressman Scott’s bill, H.R. 4335, The Prison Abuse Remedies Act of 2009 (PARA).

      “The PLRA was passed to curb what were thought to be frivolous lawsuits but it has instead slammed shut the doors of the courthouse to our country’s prisoners who have suffered true and legitimate harm,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Prisoners can suffer torture, unsanitary conditions and degrading treatment and still not meet the requirements to file a lawsuit under the PLRA. Our nation’s prisoners should not continue to be further shackled when it comes to their legal rights.”

      For over a decade, the ACLU has opposed certain provisions of the PLRA that prevent prisoners from bringing lawsuits about inhumane treatment and undermine constitutional protections. For example, the PLRA requires that prisoners exhaust the internal complaint process of their correctional institution before they can file a lawsuit.

      This requirement may sound simple, but in practice it allows prison officials to apply complex and often arbitrary rules that make it impossible for a prisoner to complete grievance processes, especially if the prisoner is mentally ill, illiterate or a juvenile.

      In addition, this requirement exposes prisoners to retaliation from guards, especially where prisoners are required to give their paperwork to the very guards who have abused them, leading to intimidation, more abuse and a culture where prisoners fear filing complaints because the consequences of standing up for one’s rights can ultimately make life in prison worse.

      "For too long, prisoners have been impeded from seeking redress of their most fundamental constitutional and human rights in federal court,” said Amy Fettig, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “It is imperative that the rule of law be returned to U.S. prisons and jails by restoring the ability of federal courts to hold them accountable for violating the Constitution.”

      One of the worst requirements of the PLRA mandates that prisoners suffer a narrowly defined physical injury in order to get compensatory damages. Under this provision of the law, some courts have found that victims of sexual assault or prisoners who have had their right to religious freedom violated are denied relief under the law because they were not “physically injured” for purposes of the PLRA.

      Application of the PLRA to youth is especially dangerous because children are even more vulnerable than adult prisoners to sexual abuse and other victimization, and many youth either do not know of or do not understand the grievance systems in their facilities, and many more fear retaliation for filing grievances. As a result, the PLRA effectively bars many incarcerated youths, their parents and advocates from being able to address serious problems with their conditions of confinement.

      “The PLRA only worsens an already crippled criminal justice system,” said Macleod-Ball. “The new bill is more important than ever with more than one in 100 Americans behind bars, ever-shrinking state budgets and increasingly abusive conditions of confinement. We urge Congress to pass the Prison Abuse Remedies Act as quickly as possible.”

      For more information on PLRA visit: ACLU/PLRA

      House Introduces Crucial Prison Litigation Reform Legislation

      Why Does Popular Culture Treat Prison Rape As a Joke?

      By Anna Clark,
      Posted on August 17, 2009

      Believe it: There exists a board game called "Don’t Drop the Soap" in which players are tasked with fighting their way through a prison. John Sebelius designed it as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is the son of Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services.

      Gillius, Inc., the company selling Sebelius’ game online, promises a certificate of authenticity to the first 3,000 purchasers of the game that invites players to "steal painkillers from the nurse's desk in the Infirmary, avoid being cornered by the Aryans in the Shower Room, fight off Latin Kings in Gang War, and try not to smoke your entire stash in The Hole.

      "The artistry of each handcrafted piece is matched with comparable humor & intelligence on every card. Stack your smokes, sharpen your shank, and get ready for an experience that only someone on the outside could appreciate." So goes the game’s promotional copy.

      It’s certainly not the first time that rape in prisons is spun for humor (though perhaps it’s the first time that such humor is alleged as intelligent). Untold numbers of YouTube videos, Hollywood movies, and late night talk show monologues play off the soap meme.

      Meanwhile, Andy Borowitz just released the "Bernie Madoff edition" of his 2003 book, Who Moved My Soap?: The CEO's Guide to Surviving Prison.

      This cartooning of abuse renders moot any sensitive and serious response to it. It’s also unique to abuse among male inmates; the ubiquitous caricature comes alongside a relative silence about rape in women’s prisons. There’s no soap-dropping counterpart "joke" referring to the abuse of female inmates. Ultimately, these distorted punch-line/silence memes enforce each other and perpetuate the reality of prison rape.

      This isn’t news to Just Detention International, a nonprofit based in New York City and Washington D.C. Once known as Stop Prison Rape, the survivor-led organization has challenged the perceptions, practices, and consequences of rape in prisons for twenty-nine years.

      "Humor is part of the cultural attitude that (prison) is the one place where rape is okay," said Linda McFarlane, JDI’s deputy executive director.

      McFarlane added that, "Jokes target the pain of a particular group of people and dehumanizes them. … It layers the discourse with a veil of acceptance."

      This dehumanization trades on the well-being of the thirty-some individuals that write letters to JDI each week, telling their stories of abuse and asking for help. A 2007 survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that nearly 1 in 20 inmates -- more than 60,500 people -- experienced some form of sexual abuse in the previous twelve months. That’s considered a conservative estimate since many survivors prefer not to admit the abuse they’ve suffered.

      As well, the study did not include people involuntarily detained in juvenile facilities, halfway houses, or immigration centers.

      Given the prevalence of prison rape -- and the fact that there are 7.3 million people in prisons, jails and halfway houses across the U.S., most of which will return to their communities and all of which have a human right to safety -- the epidemic won national attention with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. PREA, which passed the House and Senate unanimously, was the first federal action that addressed prison rape. It convened the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to delve deeper into the crisis and come up with a response.

      After five years of comprehensive research, including an extensive public comment period, the NPREC presented its final report and proposed standards on June 23, 2009. While Congress proscribed the NPREC from making recommendations that required substantial money -- thereby torpedoing suggestions for single bunking and the redesign of prisons that are difficult to police -- a strong set of recommendations emerged.

      Beginning with an attitude of zero tolerance for any kind of sexual abuse in any facility, the commission’s priorities include: improved hiring practices for facility staff; consideration of the inmates’ risk for rape (including physical stature, sexual preference, gender identity, and age) when placing them in bunks and programs; stringent internal and external oversight; staff training; and medical and mental health services for survivors.

      Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has one year to examine the standards and, if adopted, put them into effect and enforce accountability in local, state, and federal detention facilities. JDI is among the organizations working to put these standards in place.

      The final standards will be binding for federal facilities, but not for state and local ones. However, correction systems that do not adopt the standards will have their federal funding cut by five percent.

      More than just offering up common-sense protocols, the commission made a direct connection between the prevalence of prison rape and casual cultural rhetoric that accepts rape as part of a prison sentence.

      "… (T)here is an attitude of indifference on the part of a lot of people who feel that just because somebody has committed a crime and they’re incarcerated that it’s appropriate for them to be abused while they’re in detention," said U.S District Judge Reggie B. Walton, the commission chair, at the June 23 press conference.

      "We also have to change attitudes of the American populace about this problem. We cannot and should not tolerate jokes being made about prison sexual abuse. We should take offense when the movie industry produces movies that portray this as something that is a comedy. It’s not," Walton said. "The impact on the people who are abused is significant both physically and psychologically."

      While Walton stressed the importance of hiring practices to select for those who recognize that "individuals who are incarcerated have basic human rights," it’s impossible to fathom that the enormous numbers employed in the U.S. corrections system could wholly escape the influence of "the veil of acceptance" perpetuated by a gendered dichotomy of jokes and silence about prison rape.

      The fact is, while federal parties step up to face the pervasiveness of prison rape, public rhetoric is still mired in permissiveness -- and the NPREC standards cannot succeed until that changes.

      "The rape crisis movement worked very hard to make it so rape is never okay, to say that no one deserves it," McFarlane said. "But … if you’re arrested, all bets are off. Survivors hear, ‘What did you expect? You’re in jail." They’re told to learn to fight. This is not acceptable."

      McFarlane said that JDI focuses a great deal on facility response to rape, specifically how someone is treated when they report assault.

      When those who report are treated well, the message gets out to other inmates. When they aren’t treated well -- that is, when staff doesn’t separate the survivor from the perpetrator, or tells jokes in the hall, or treats the survivor in a punishing way -- then other inmates who suffer rape feel less safe reporting the crime and the message sent is that rape is acceptable.

      Ultimately, McFarlane said, appropriate response to rape is part of prevention.

      The culture of jokes about rape among male inmates is juxtaposed with a discomfiting quiet about abuse in women’s facilities -- a fact not addressed by NPREC as explicitly as it addressed the perception of male rape.

      "There’s still a great deal of silence of sexual abuse in women’s institutions," said McFarlane. "But still sexual abuse happens at fairly even rates in male and female institutions, and rape is perpetuated by inmates in both of them."

      There is almost zero acknowledgement of sexual abuse perpetuated among inmates in female facilities.

      "The domestic violence movement had to work very hard to get battering in lesbian relationships taken seriously," said McFarlane.

      But as is evident from the void of information about sexual violence perpetrated by female inmates, the relationship between the abused and the assaulter are still largely ignored -- and so, the abusive acts are ignored too. If anything, rape between female inmates is sexualized, as seen in such films as "Born Innocent," "99 Women," "They Call Her One Eye," "Last House on the Left," and "Chained Heat 2."

      And it is here, in popular culture portrayals of prison rape, that we see most plainly how homophobia and misogyny are the foundations of the permissive public attitude about the abuse of inmates.

      While sexual abuse and rape have nothing to do with sex, soap- dropping jokes and their ilk permit people to escape their discomfort with male-male sexuality by cloaking it in cheap laughs. In turn, female-female sexual abuse does not register as significant in any way -- unless it’s sexualized for the enjoyment of voyeurs. It’s a self-enforcing cycle -- misogyny affirms a narrow view of masculinity as "not womanish" that in turn creates a loathing for the feminization that is presumed to be implicit in male-male sexuality.

      This idea enforces the notion of femininity as something that is abnormal and lesser, which of course is a misogynistic attitude.

      While female rape is ignored or exploited in popular culture, McFarlane said that the public is hearing more about officers who assault female inmates. Still, though, that issue remains politically loaded "because its not just involving prisoners. With prisoners assaulting each other -- it’s like, ‘put the animals in a cage and let them sort it out.’"

      Michela Bowman is the executive director of the Vera Institute for Justice, a 47-year-old nonprofit center for justice policy and practice that the NPREC consulted while developing its standards and final report. She emphasized that the NPREC understands how public perception of prison rape impacts what actually happens inside the walls.

      "The general apathy certainly serves to perpetuate (prison rape)," said Bowman.

      She added, "The jokes people tell in their homes leads to the prosecutor that’s not willing to take a case of rape in a prison, not willing to see the rape as a crime rather than part of a punishment."

      Bowman said that while the NPREC can’t enforce standards on public attitudes, she hopes it will bring national attention to the issue. And she has real reason to back up that hope. Bowman said the NPREC and PREA have resulted in more serious media coverage about prison rape -- coverage that doesn’t subscribe as neatly to the punch-line/ silence dichotomy.

      As well, Bowman said that she’s seen substantial attitude changes about prison rape within prisons themselves. Since the passage of PREA, she said, more grants have gone out and more programs have been initiated that target rape culture within facilities. In her frequent visits to prisons and jails, she said she hears how facilities are giving a great deal of attention to the issue.

      "I think this is a case where the change will move from the inside out, rather than from the outside in," Bowman said.

      Indeed, McFarlane said that there are some correctional departments that are very receptive to working with JDI to stave off prison rape culture. Not every facility sees rape as a laughing matter, she said.

      Indicative of the potential of positive partnerships was an op-ed in The Oregonian published on June 21 and co-authored by Max Williams, director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, and Lovisa Stannow, JDI executive director. The headline? "Rape is Not Part of the Penalty."

      "PREA helped because it gave a federal mandate," McFarlane said. "There isn’t a prison, jail, or detention facility that can say it doesn’t have to deal with (stopping prison rape)."

      McFarlane acknowledges that there is a "really, really long way to go" before the public adopts the same zero tolerance attitude towards prison rape that the NPREC expects from all people directly involved with detention facilities. But she said she’s noticed that the pushback against permissive attitudes is growing stronger and more intersectional.

      "Our organization is working with other organizations including rape crisis centers and LGBT groups that understand that this issue impacts all of our work," McFarlane said. "We cherish and count upon our colleagues doing this work.

      "I couldn’t say for sure that there are fewer jokes, and movies referring to rape as humorous (today, compared to ten years ago)," McFarlane added. "I don’t know that. But I know there’s responses to them coming from people other than us."

      © 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

      View this story online at: Why Does Popular Culture Treat Prison Rape As a Joke?

      June 25, 2009

      Posted by Margaret Winter, National Prison Project
      (Originally posted at Daily Kos.)


      Prison Rape Victims Deserve Ways to Seek Justice And Accountability

      Tuesday’s release of the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) report called vividly to mind dozens of horrendous prison rape cases the ACLU has investigated that were immunized from legal challenge by a 1996 federal law, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) — a law which too often slams the federal court house doors in rape victims’ faces.

      The announced purpose of the PLRA was to curb the filing of frivolous prisoner litigation. In reality, the PLRA makes it almost impossible for most prisoners to file any civil rights claims regardless of the merits: Prisoners are forever barred from seeking redress of their most fundamental constitutional and human rights in federal court unless, within a very few days of the violation, they can successfully navigate a maze of arcane, arbitrary and intricate internal grievance rules set by prison officials — rules which civil rights lawyers themselves often find baffling.

      The PLRA has an especially harsh impact on victims of prison rape, as the ACLU has discovered time and again in interviews of scores of rape victims in prisons and jails around the country. It was the stuff of nightmares to discover (especially in Texas, which at least until recently deserved the name of Prison Rape Capital of the nation) how many young men are forced into prostitution by violent prison gangs (PDF). It is even more chilling to find out that the common response of prison officials to the victims’ desperate pleas for protection is to tell them their only two options were to “fight or fuck.”

      It is equally horrific to discover how commonplace it is for women and men — especially those who are young, gay, mentally ill or otherwise especially vulnerable — to be sexually abused, and sometimes brutally raped, by custodial staff who then warn them that if they report the assault they will be disbelieved, punished and set up on bogus charges that would lengthen their prison terms by years.

      It is nothing short of heartbreaking to have to tell these men, women and youth that they have no right to go to federal court because, while they were still reeling, trembling and bleeding from sexual assault, they did not manage to fill out the proper forms in the proper order.

      Adding immeasurably to the pain and degradation of the rape is the ban on access to the federal courts. Federal civil rights litigation against officials who perpetrate or are complicit in prison rape serves a profoundly important purpose for the individual victim, but beyond that it vindicates the community’s rights: Federal civil rights litigation is a uniquely powerful and effective tool for opening windows into the dark closed worlds of prisons and jails, and letting in the light.

      For over a decade, the ACLU has opposed the provisions of the PLRA that put up virtually insurmountable hurdles to prisoners seeking redress in federal courts for inhumane treatment. The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission’s report agrees on the critical importance of reforming the PLRA. The report not only confirms the massiveness of the problem of prison rape and proposes national standards to eliminate prison rape, it also calls on Congress to reform the statute so that prison rape victims may petition the courts for vindication of their basic constitutional rights.

      After the death last year of legislation introduced in the House by Representatives Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) that would have addressed the worst problems created by the PLRA, time is of the essence. No victim of sexual abuse should ever be left helpless and hopeless. It is critical that Congress act now to restore the rule of law to our prisons by reforming the PLRA.

      Prison Rape Victims Deserve Ways to Seek Justice And Accountability


      Jails must take measures to stop prisoner sex abuse

      June 24, 2009

      “I’m afraid to go to sleep, to shower or just about anything else. I am afraid that when I am doing these things, I might die at any time.

      Please, sir, help me.”

      For years, we have been shocked by stories of the abuse — much of it sexual — of security detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

      But prisoners are not just abused overseas. Rape and sexual violence are all too frequent here in our own backyard.

      If America is to reclaim its moral authority as a defender of human rights and dignity, it must start at home.

      The plea quoted above came from Rodney Hulin, who was just 16 when he entered a Texas prison to serve an eight-year sentence for setting fire to a neighborhood dumpster. He was five feet two inches tall and weighed 125 pounds.

      Rodney was raped almost immediately by his fellow inmates. After receiving medical treatment for tears in his rectum, he was returned to the same unit where he had been raped and where he continued to be raped. Prison officials refused his requests for protective custody.

      According to his parents, he was told that he needed to “grow up.”

      In response to Rodney’s story and many like his of prison rape by other inmates or by staff, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003. PREA established, among other initiatives, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. For the past four years I have had the privilege to serve as one of the commissioners.

      We were charged with undertaking a comprehensive legal and factual study of the impact of prison sexual abuse on individuals, governments, communities and social institutions. Our mandate was to develop zero-tolerance national standards to prevent sexual abuse in prisons, jails, lockups, juvenile, immigration and community correction facilities. As the Supreme Court eloquently stated fifteen years ago in Farmer v. Brennan, sexual abuse is “not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.”

      Fixing the problem starts with determining why prison rape occurs.

      The answer does not lie solely with the perpetrators. Rape is committed by individuals, but it becomes systematic and widespread when officials deny its significance as a psychologically and physically devastating abuse that undercuts the very purpose of imprisonment.

      The commission learned from corrections officials, survivors of rape, advocates and academics that prisons become rife with rape only when officials fail to take rape seriously and do not institute sensible measures to prevent and punish it.

      The commission’s work also confirmed that some prisoners are more at risk of sexual abuse than others. For example, among men, the young, small, physically or mentally ill, or those who appear to be homosexual or transgendered are more at risk of inmate on inmate abuse than others.

      Officials know this — but all too often in the past they have failed to use their knowledge to ensure vulnerable prisoners receive special protection.

      We must educate both inmates and staff about the high costs of sexual abuse and train them on how to recognize and prevent sex crimes in correctional facilities. Inmates should know that they do not have to bargain sexual favors for privileges from staff. They should know that if they report threats of sexual abuse by staff or other inmates that their reports will be taken seriously and investigated, and they will be protected from retaliation by the perpetrators.

      Most important, both staff and prisoners must know that rape and abuse are never appropriate or permissible.

      And they must know that there are consequences. Staff who rape inmates should be fired and criminally prosecuted. Inmates who rape other inmates should also be punished, including through criminal prosecution.

      All too often, perpetrators are allowed to simply walk away, as in the recent case of a principal at a Texas correctional school who subjected his charges to long-term and repeated abuse. He resigned quietly and became principal at a charter school in another part of the state.

      Or the penalties amount to no more than a slap on the wrist: the punishment of the prison sergeant who raped a Colorado inmate for five months in 2006 and brutally sodomized her was only sixty days in a county jail and five years of probation.

      The national standards that the commission has developed will lead to the prevention, detection and punishment of prisoner sexual abuse. I look forward to the attorney general promulgating final rules based on the standards within the next year.

      Unfortunately, it will be too late for Rodney Hulin. After 75 days in prison, he hanged himself.

      Fellner is senior counsel for the U.S. division of Human Rights Watch and a member of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.

      Jails must take measures to stop prisoner sex abuse


      Rape in Prison

      Published: June 23, 2009

      Rape accompanied by savage violence has long been part of prison life. Congress finally confronted this horrendous problem by passing the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. In addition to bringing attention to a long overlooked problem, the new law created a commission that has put forth a broad set of rape-prevention standards that deserve to become mandatory in correctional agencies throughout the country.

      The commission report, released earlier this week, should come as alarming news. It suggests, for example, that rapes carried out by corrections officers and inmates are widespread, but the actual rates of rape vary widely from place to place.

      Drawing on a federal survey of more than 63,000 state and federal inmates, the commission said that about 4.5 percent reported being sexually abused at least once during the previous 12 months. Extrapolating from this data, the commissioners estimate that there were at least 60,000 rapes of prisoners nationally during this period.

      Young people in custody are particularly vulnerable. In pilot study of nine youth facilities, nearly 1 in 5 respondents reported one nonconsensual sexual contact during the previous year.

      Rape is not inevitable, however. Strong leaders who are committed to fighting the problem can minimize these savage and traumatic assaults. For starters, the commission recommends that all correctional agencies develop explicit, written zero-tolerance policies on this issue.

      These agencies, which need to do a better job of screening corrections workers, should adopt the policy that employees who participate in sexual assaults or look the other way while they occur will be fired. Zero-tolerance policies should eventually be integrated into collective-bargaining agreements with unions.

      Beyond that, corrections agencies need to make it easier for people in custody to report rape without facing reprisal. The reports need to be promptly and thoroughly investigated. The agencies need to keep publicly accessible records on the reports and investigations. And they need to develop plans for preventing any rape scenarios that continue to recur.

      The report represents a strong first step in confronting this problem. The next step lies with Attorney General Eric Holder, who can approve the report’s recommendations and thereby make the standards mandatory for federal prisons and state prisons that accept federal money.

      A version of this article appeared in print on June 24, 2009, on page A28 of the New York edition.

      Rape In Prison

      June 23, 2009

      Panel Sets Guidelines For Fighting Prison Rape

      Nearly 6 years after President George W. Bush signed legislation to reduce prison rape, a blue-ribbon commission is calling on corrections officers to identify vulnerable inmates, offer better medical care and allow stricter monitoring of their facilities.

      The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, in a study to be released today, affirms that more than 7.3 million people in prisons, jails and halfway houses across the nation have "fundamental rights to safety, dignity and justice."

      The number of rapes committed by detention staff members and other inmates remains a subject of intense scrutiny. A 2007 survey of state and federal prisoners estimated that 60,500 inmates had been abused the previous year.

      But experts say that the stigma of sexual assault often leads to underreporting of incidents and denial by many of the victims.

      Too often, the report says, sexual abuse of prisoners is viewed as a source of jokes rather than a problem with destructive implications for public health, crime rates and successful reentry of prisoners into the community.

      "If you have a zero-tolerance policy on prison rape and it is known from the highest ranks that this will not be tolerated and there will be consequences for it, that goes a long way in sending a message," said U.S District Judge Reggie B. Walton, the commission chairman. "Just because people have committed crimes and are in prison, that doesn't mean that part of their punishment is being sexually abused while in detention."

      The panel hosted hearings and visited 11 corrections sites before issuing its report. Among the strongest recommendations: Staff members should be subject to robust background checks and given training, which could help victims of sexual assault secure emergency medical and mental health treatment.

      Panel members are preparing to send their report to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who will have one year to prepare mandatory national standards. The recommendations will not bind state corrections officers, but states that do not adopt them will have their criminal justice funding cut, panel members said.

      Jamie Fellner, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, said the panel's recommendations are common-sense steps to prevent, detect and punish prison rape, not "pie in the sky" ideals. "This problem wouldn't exist with good prison management," Fellner said.

      But the recommendations could pose a challenge for wardens who already battle crowding. Corrections officers, who according to inmate surveys commit a significant percentage of inmate assaults, also may protest more oversight.

      Brenda V. Smith, an American University law professor who worked on the commission, said sexual abuse in prison "isn't just a random event that can happen to other bad people."

      Instead, political protesters, people accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and substance abusers have shared harrowing incidents of rape while in custody, sometimes while spending only one night behind bars. "This is something that could happen to a kid who has no priors and who happens to make a mistake," Smith added.

      Hope Hernandez said in an interview that she was raped multiple times by a corrections guard in the District years ago. She said she was suffering through withdrawal in a medical unit while she awaited sentencing on a drug-related charge. Hernandez said the guard led her to a secluded room while nurses slept.

      Hernandez said she wanted to share her story to put a face on the problem of rape in detention facilities.

      After her release on probation, she went on to earn a master's degree in social work. She said she remains unsettled that the guard's only punishment was a week-long suspension. But her work with foster children and substance abusers and her attendance at the White House signing ceremony for the prison rape bill brought her a measure of peace.

      "I'm certainly not bitter over how long it's taken," Hernandez said of the panel report. "I think it's great that it's getting any attention at all."

      (source: Washington Post)

      June 23, 2009

      60,000 inmates sexually abused every year

      A federal commission on prison rape has concluded that the risk of being attacked depends greatly on the type of prisoner, and where the inmate is locked up.

      More than 60,000 inmates are sexually abused every year, according to a report being made public today by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. The eight-member panel was formed under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act.

      Based on a 2007 survey of tens of thousands of incarcerated people, 4.5% of those surveyed reported being sexually abused in the previous 12 months and more prisoners claimed abuse by staff than by other inmates.

      Among the key findings of the report aimed at reducing the amount of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse behind bars, the panel found:

      Who gets abused depends a great deal on where they are incarcerated. 10 facilities studied had high rates, between 9% and almost 16%, whereas 6 facilities reported no abuse at all for the past year. The commission said prison management must show leadership in stopping such abuse.

      Inmates in jails reported fewer instances of rape than in prisons.

      Inmates who were short, young, gay or female were more likely to be victimized than other inmates.

      To fight the problem, the commission says prison authorities should adopt more internal monitoring and external oversight. They also say prison officials need to improve investigation of claims of sexual assault and rape, because currently many victims cannot safely and easily come forward.

      After the prison rape report is sent to Congress, the attorney general is to create new national standards for detecting and preventing rape and sexual assault in prisons, jails and detention facilities.

      On the Net: National Prison Rape Elimination Commission

      (source: Associated Press)

      A Prison Nightmare
      A federal commission offers useful standards for preventing sexual abuse behind bars.

      June 23, 2009

      WHEN T.J. PARSELL was sentenced to four years in adult prison in 1978, he was 17 years old. Less than a day after he arrived, a group of inmates forced him to drink Thorazine and raped him. For years too traumatized and terrified to come forward, he testified years later that the rape "had stolen my manhood, my identity, and part of my soul."

      Mr. Parsell's experience mirrors that of thousands of other incarcerated individuals subjected to this ultimate form of pain and humiliation. A survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2007 revealed that 4.5 percent of prisoners -- almost 1 in 20 -- had experienced some form of sexual abuse within the past 12 months.

      Based on the national prison population, this represents more than 60,500 victims of abuse in the past year alone.

      Given that nearly 1 in 31 Americans is now behind bars, on probation or on parole, prison rape is not just a problem of prisoners. Of the more that 2.5 million people incarcerated, more than 95 percent will return to society within the next 20 years, making prison rape, with its lasting, traumatic effects, a national concern. In 2003, Congress unanimously approved the Prison Rape Elimination Act, setting up a commission to study the problem and propose standards for eliminating it.

      The standards released today are largely common-sense measures, beginning with a zero-tolerance policy. They focus on prevention, detection and response. Priorities include informing inmates about their right to freedom from sexual abuse, instituting more stringent hiring policies for correctional staff, taking into account inmates' risk factors for abuse when placing them in cells and programs, using efficient methods of supervision, and banning intrusive cross-gender searches except in emergencies.

      Leadership commitment to zero tolerance is crucial. In institutions where such commitment exists, many standards are already being met. Without it, even the most stringent standards will not guarantee prisoners' safety.

      Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should implement the standards, heeding especially the recommendation that an advisory committee on prison rape be created to offer continuing feedback and expertise.

      But eliminating inmate sexual abuse depends on more than executive action. Continued legislative support is essential, from providing financial support for programs dealing with sexual abuse behind bars to altering victim protection acts to include prisoners. Congress also must revise the clauses in the Prison Litigation Reform Act that require proof of physical injury and the exhaustion of administrative remedies, both of which impose needless barriers to justice for incarcerated victims of rape.

      Prison rape is cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court has repeatedly found that sexual abuse is "not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society."

      Eradicating it requires a change of mind-set as well as of rules.

      A culture that jokes about prison rape perpetuates the expectation that rape is a legitimate part of a prison sentence. It is not.

      A Prison Nightmare

      June 23, 2009

      Panel to Issue Standards To Reduce Prison Rapes


      A Congressional commission plans to issue recommendations on Tuesday for standards to reduce sexual assaults in the nation’s jails and prisons.

      The commission cited an estimate by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that 60,500 state and federal prisoners were sexually assaulted in 2007.

      Congress authorized the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to conduct the study and to issue binding standards for corrections agencies that will have the force of law. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will have one year to codify anti-sexual assault procedures, and state governors will have an additional year to signal their compliance with those standards or risk losing up to 5 percent of federal financing for corrections.

      The commission recommended that agencies improve training for prison and jail employees for better detection of assaults, do a better job of classifying vulnerable inmates, reduce jail and prison overcrowding, and improve medical and psychological services for victims of sexual abuse.

      Although most sexual assaults in prison involve inmates attacking fellow inmates, the commission also recommended stiffer penalties for correctional officials who tolerate or engage in abuse.

      The commission said it was particularly concerned about sexual assaults among the rising numbers of juveniles confined in adult institutions and among immigrant detainees, many of whom avoid reporting crimes for fear of deportation.

      The commission’s chairman, Judge Reggie B. Walton of the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., said in an interview Monday that despite a 2003 law intended to provide safeguards against sexual assaults, prison rapes had become almost a cliché in public discourse.

      “The sad reality is that there has been indifference by some people associated with the system,” Judge Walton said.

      He said a lack of resources and a “get-tough attitude on crime” by some politicians had led to increased penalties without providing for expanding prison and jail populations.

      “Seems to me that at the same time we’re increasing penalties we should study the impact those new penalties are going to have and how they’re going to potentially create unsafe environments for people,” Judge Walton said.

      Panel to Issue Standards To Reduce Prison Rapes

      US: Congress Should Fix Law on Prisoner Lawsuits

      Double Standard Denies Inmates Relief from Abuses

      JUNE 15, 2009

      The world was shocked by the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But if those abuses had taken place in a US prison, this law would have barred a remedy in most cases.

      David Fathi, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC) - The US Congress should amend a 13-year-old federal law that denies prisoners equal access to justice, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

      The 46-page report, "No Equal Justice: The Prison Litigation Reform Act in the United States," addresses a law passed by Congress in 1996 that singles out lawsuits brought by prisoners for a host of burdens and restrictions that apply to no one else. The report shows that as a result of the law, many cases brought by prisoners seeking the protection of the courts against dangerous conditions of confinement, or a remedy for sexual assault or other abuse by staff or inmates, have been thrown out of court.

      "The world was shocked by the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib," said David Fathi, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "But if those abuses had taken place in a US prison, this law would have barred a remedy in most cases."

      Drawing on interviews with former corrections officials, prisoners denied remedies for abuse, and criminal justice experts, "No Equal Justice" examines the effect of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) on prisoners' access to justice, and concludes with specific recommendations for reform of the law.

      The law limits access to the federal courts for the more than 2.3 million incarcerated adults and children in the United States. Key concerns with the law include:

      Prisoners who fail to follow internal complaint procedures to the letter are barred from the courts; before a prisoner may file a lawsuit in court, he must first take his complaints through all levels of the prison's or jail's grievance system, complying with all deadlines and other often complex procedural rules of that system. If the prisoner fails to comply with all technical requirements, or misses a filing deadline that may be as short as a few days, the right to sue may be lost forever.

      Victims of sexual assault and other abuse cannot sue unless they also suffer physical injury. A prisoner may not recover compensation for "mental or emotional injury" without making a "prior showing of physical injury." Under this provision, prisoners who have been subjected to sexual assault and other intentional abuse by prison staff have been denied a remedy.

      No exceptions for children. The provisions of the law apply not only to adult prisoners, but also to children confined in prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities.

      Restrictions on court oversight of prison conditions. The law restricts the power of federal courts to make and enforce orders limiting overcrowding or otherwise remedying unlawful conditions in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities.

      Limitations on attorney fees. If a prisoner files a lawsuit and wins, the law limits the amount the prisoner's attorneys can be paid.

      The PLRA denies prisoners equal treatment under the law and an effective remedy for violations of their rights, and as such is inconsistent with international human rights law. The United Nations Committee against Torture has specifically called for reform of this law.

      "We have been unable to find any other country in the world with a separate and unequal justice system that applies only to prisoners," Fathi said. "The US holds up its legal system as a beacon for the world, but this is hardly an example we would want anyone to follow."

      Lawsuits brought by prisoners have historically played a key role in enforcing minimal standards of health and safety in US prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities. But the PLRA has had a devastating effect on prisoners' access to the courts. Since it was passed, the number of lawsuits filed by incarcerated persons has fallen dramatically, and far fewer prisons are under court oversight.

      In 2007, Representatives Bobby Scott and John Conyers, Jr. introduced the Prison Abuse Remedies Act, which would have eliminated the PLRA's physical injury requirement, exempted children, and made other reforms to the law, but the bill failed to pass. Human Rights Watch supports the introduction and enactment of similar legislation in the current Congress.

      Prisoners Lawsuits

      In Light Of New Report, ACLU Calls On Congress To Restore Courts As Check On Prisoner Abuse


      (202) 675-2312

      WASHINGTON – In light of a new report showing that a law intended to reduce so-called “frivolous lawsuits” by prisoners has resulted in barring serious prison abuse cases from reaching the courts, the American Civil Liberties Union today called on Congress to amend parts of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (PLRA). The law requires prisoners to exhaust the internal grievance process of their facilities and allege a physical injury due to mistreatment in order to seek redress in the courts.

      The troubling consequences of the PLRA are made clear in a Human Rights Watch report released today which finds that the exhaustion and physical injury requirements of the law have been particularly problematic for juveniles who are at higher risk of sexual assault and other violence. The American Civil Liberties Union has long fought to amend parts of the PLRA known as the exhaustion provision, the physical injury provision and the Act’s application to juveniles.

      The following can be attributed to Amy Fettig, Counsel to the ACLU National Prison Project:

      “For over thirteen years, the Prison Litigation Reform Act has denied access to the courts to countless prisoners who have become victims of abuse, creating a system of injustice that denies redress for prisoners alleging serious abuses, barriers that don’t apply to anyone else. It is time for Congress to pass legislation to restore the courts as a needed check on prisoner abuse.”

      ACLU Calls On Congress To Restore Courts As Check On Prisoner Abuse

      on Change.org

      Mocking Prison Rape for Fun and Profit

      Bill Flanigen
      June 5, 2009

      After four years of taking testimony and doing whatever else it is that they do, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) will release its final report and recommendations later this month. So now seems like a good time to take a moment to revisit our dismissive national attitude toward jailhouse sex crime.

      For Exhibit A, check out the dizzying new heights of un-funny reached by the marketing minds at Fox:

      After four successful seasons, the Fox series Prison Break is going off the air, and the publicity team at Fox sent [to The Advocate] a little reminder to tune in—a press release, accompanied by a bar of soap.

      How about a rape-themed movie? Or maybe a board game. Ezra Klein reported in the Los Angeles Times on that last little nugget of filth:

      How about picking up "Don't Drop the Soap," a board game created by the son of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. The game "is simply intended for entertainment," said Nicole Corcoran, the governor's spokeswoman. What, after all, could be more entertaining then[sic] trying to "avoid being cornered by the Aryans in the shower room" (one of the goals of the game, according to its promotional material)?

      Sadly, many of the people taking prison rape seriously are, well, not doing a very good job of it. See, for instance, reality TV "Judge" Greg Mathis' new video game—which wasn't supposed to be a joke, but obviously is one:

      "The main difference between our game and Grand Theft Auto is that players will have to deal with the justice system and consequences for their actions," said Mathis. "When you go to prison, you gain credibility when you come back on the streets. On the other hand, when you go to prison you can also be raped. So take your chances. We may see young people who make the wrong choice and go to prison and are assaulted repeatedly (in this game)."

      Apparently, prison rape is now a feature, not a bug. Someone should let the commission know.

      If you want a serious take on prison rape from Reason, check out Jesse Walker's August 2003 coverage of the Act that created the NPREC, and then read Cathy Young's May 2007 article, which asks: "How big a problem is prison rape—and what can be done about it?"

      Mocking Prison Rape for Fun and Profit

      Op-Ed Columnist

      Is Rape Serious?

      The New York Times
      Published: April 29, 2009

      When a woman reports a rape, her body is a crime scene. She is typically asked to undress over a large sheet of white paper to collect hairs or fibers, and then her body is examined with an ultraviolet light, photographed and thoroughly swabbed for the rapist’s DNA.

      It’s a grueling and invasive process that can last four to six hours and produces a “rape kit” — which, it turns out, often sits around for months or years, unopened and untested.

      Stunningly often, the rape kit isn’t tested at all because it’s not deemed a priority. If it is tested, this happens at such a lackadaisical pace that it may be a year or more before there are results (if expedited, results are technically possible in a week).

      So while we have breakthrough DNA technologies to find culprits and exculpate innocent suspects, we aren’t using them properly — and those who work in this field believe the reason is an underlying doubt about the seriousness of some rape cases. In short, this isn’t justice; it’s indifference.

      Solomon Moore, a colleague of mine at The Times, last year wrote about a 43-year-old legal secretary who was raped repeatedly in her home in Los Angeles as her son slept in another room. The attacker forced the woman to clean herself in an attempt to destroy the evidence.

      Tim Marcia, the detective on the case, thought this meant that the perpetrator was a habitual offender who would strike again. Mr. Marcia rushed the rape kit to the crime lab but was told to expect a delay of more than one year.

      So Mr. Marcia personally drove the kit 350 miles to deliver it to the state lab in Sacramento. Even there, the backlog resulted in a four-month delay — but then it produced a “cold hit,” a match in a database of the DNA of previous offenders.

      Yet in the months while the rape kit sat on a shelf, the suspect had allegedly struck twice more. Police said he broke into the homes of a pregnant woman and a 17-year-old girl, sexually assaulting each of them.

      “The criminal justice system is still ill equipped to deal with rape and not that good at moving rape cases forward,” notes Sarah Tofte, who just wrote a devastating report for Human Rights Watch about the rape-kit backlog. The report found that in Los Angeles County, there were at last count 12,669 rape kits sitting in police storage facilities. More than 450 of these kits had sat around for more than 10 years, and in many cases, the statute of limitations had expired.

      There are no good national figures, and one measure of the indifference is that no one even bothers to count the number of rape kits sitting around untested.

      Why don’t police departments treat rape kits with urgency? One reason is probably expense — each kit can cost up to $1,500 to test — but there also seems to be a broad distaste for rape cases as murky, ambiguous and difficult to prosecute, particularly when they involve (as they often do) alcohol or acquaintance rape.

      “They talk about the victims’ credibility in a way that they don’t talk about the credibility of victims of other crimes,” Ms. Tofte said.

      Charlie Beck, a deputy police chief of Los Angeles, said that there was no excuse for the failure to test rape kits, but he noted that integrating a new technology into police work is complex and involves a learning curve. Since Human Rights Watch began its investigation, he said, the department had resolved to test rape kits routinely — and as a result, cold hits have doubled.

      While the backlog and desultory handling of rape kits are nationwide problems, there is one shining exception: New York City has made a concerted effort over the last decade to test every kit that comes in. The result has been at least 2,000 cold hits in rape cases, and the arrest rate for reported cases of rape in New York City rose from 40 percent to 70 percent, according to Human Rights Watch.

      Some Americans used to argue that it was impossible to rape an unwilling woman. Few people say that today, or say publicly that a woman “asked for it” if she wore a short skirt. But the refusal to test rape kits seems a throwback to the same antediluvian skepticism about rape as a traumatic crime.

      “If you’ve got stacks of physical evidence of a crime, and you’re not doing everything you can with the evidence, then you must be making a decision that this isn’t a very serious crime,” notes Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

      It’s what we might expect in Afghanistan, not in the United States.

      I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground.

      Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.

      A version of this article appeared in print on April 30, 2009, on page A27 of the New York edition.

      Is Rape Serious?

      Torture Inc. Americas Brutal Prisons

      Savaged by dogs, Electrocuted With Cattle Prods, Burned By Toxic Chemicals, Does such barbaric abuse inside U.S. jails explain the horrors that were committed in Iraq?

      By Deborah Davies

      They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for BBC Channel 4 . It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

      The prison guards stand over their captives with electric cattle prods, stun guns, and dogs. Many of the prisoners have been ordered to strip naked. The guards are yelling abuse at them, ordering them to lie on the ground and crawl. ‘Crawl, motherf*****s, crawl.’

      If a prisoner doesn’t drop to the ground fast enough, a guard kicks him or stamps on his back. There’s a high-pitched scream from one man as a dog clamps its teeth onto his lower leg.

      Another prisoner has a broken ankle. He can’t crawl fast enough so a guard jabs a stun gun onto his buttocks. The jolt of electricity zaps through his naked flesh and genitals. For hours afterwards his whole body shakes.

      Lines of men are now slithering across the floor of the cellblock while the guards stand over them shouting, prodding and kicking.

      Second by second, their humiliation is captured on a video camera by one of the guards.

      The images of abuse and brutality he records are horrifyingly familiar. These were exactly the kind of pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that shocked the world this time last year.

      And they are similar, too, to the images of brutality against Iraqi prisoners that this week led to the conviction of three British soldiers.

      But there is a difference. These prisoners are not caught up in a war zone.

      They are Americans, and the video comes from inside a prison in Texas.

      They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 that will be broadcast next week.

      Our findings were not based on rumour or suspicion. They were based on solid evidence, chiefly videotapes that we collected from all over the U.S.

      In many American states, prison regulations demand that any ‘use of force operation’, such as searching cells for drugs, must be filmed by a guard.

      The theory is that the tapes will show proper procedure was followed and that no excessive force was used. In fact, many of them record the exact opposite.

      Each tape provides a shocking insight into the reality of life inside the U.S. prison system – a reality that sits very uncomfortably with President Bush’s commitment to the battle for freedom and democracy against the forces of tyranny and oppression.

      In fact, the Texas episode outlined above dates from 1996, when Bush was state Governor.

      Frank Carlson was one of the lawyers who fought a compensation battle on behalf of the victims. I asked him about his reaction when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last year and U.S. politicians rushed to express their astonishment and disgust that such abuses could happen at the hands of American guards.

      ‘I thought: “What hypocrisy,” Carlson told me. ‘Because they know we do it here every day.’

      All the lawyers I spoke to during our investigations shared Carlson’s belief that Abu Ghraib, far from being the work of a few rogue individuals, was simply the export of the worst practices that take place in the domestic prison system all the time. They pointed to the mountain of files stacked on their desks, on the floor, in their office corridors – endless stories of appalling, sadistic treatment inside America’s own prisons.

      Many of the tapes we’ve collected are several years old. That’s because they only surface when determined lawyers prise them out of reluctant state prison departments during protracted lawsuits.

      But for every ‘historical’ tape we collected, we also found a more recent story. What you see on the tape is still happening daily.

      It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realise that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.

      In one horrific scene, a naked man, passive and vacant, is seen being led out of his cell by prison guards. They strap him into a medieval-looking device called a ‘restraint chair’. His hands and feet are shackled, there’s a strap across his chest, his head lolls forward. He looks dead. He’s not. Not yet.

      The chair is his punishment because guards saw him in his cell with a pillowcase on his head and he refused to take it off. The man has a long history of severe schizophrenia. Sixteen hours later, they release him from the chair. And two hours after that, he dies from a blood clot resulting from his barbaric treatment.

      The tape comes from Utah – but there are others from Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Arizona and probably many more. We found more than 20 cases of prisoners who’ve died in the past few years after being held in a restraint chair.

      Two of the deaths we investigated were in the same county jail in Phoenix, Arizona, which is run by a man who revels in the title of ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff.’

      His name is Joe Arpaio. He positively welcomes TV crews and we were promised ‘unfettered access.’ It was a reassuring turn of phrase – you don’t want to be fettered in one of Sheriff Joe’s jails.

      We uncovered two videotapes from surveillance cameras showing how his tough stance can end in tragedy.

      The first tape, from 2001, shows a man named Charles Agster dragged in by police, handcuffed at the wrists and ankles. Agster is mentally disturbed and a drug user. He was arrested for causing a disturbance in a late-night grocery store. The police handed him over to the Sheriff’s deputies in the jail. Agster is a tiny man, weighing no more than nine stone, but he’s struggling.

      The tape shows nine deputies manhandling him into the restraint chair. One of them kneels on Agster’s stomach, pushing his head forward on to his knees and pulling his arms back to strap his wrists into the chair.

      Bending someone double for any length of time is dangerous – the manuals on the use of the 'restraint chair’ warn of the dangers of ‘positional asphyxia.’

      Fifteen minutes later, a nurse notices Agster is unconscious. The cameras show frantic efforts to resuscitate him, but he’s already brain dead. He died three days later in hospital. Agster's family is currently suing Arizona County.

      His mother, Carol, cried as she told me: ‘If that’s not torture, I don’t know what is.’ Charles’s father, Chuck, listened in silence as we filmed the interview, but every so often he padded out of the room to cry quietly in the kitchen.

      The second tape, from five years earlier, shows Scott Norberg dying a similar death in the same jail. He was also a drug user arrested for causing a nuisance. Norberg was severely beaten by the guards, stunned up to 19 times with a Taser gun and forced into the chair where – like Charles Agster – he suffocated.

      The county’s insurers paid Norberg’s family more than £4 millions in an out-of-court settlement, but the sheriff was furious with the deal. ‘My officers were clear,’ he said. ‘The insurance firm was afraid to go before a jury.’

      Now he’s determined to fight the Agster case all the way through the courts.

      Yet tonight, in Sheriff Joe’s jail, there’ll probably be someone else strapped into the chair.

      Not all the tapes we uncovered were filmed by the guards themselves. Linda Evans smuggled a video camera into a hospital to record her son, Brian. You can barely see his face through all the tubes and all you can hear is the rhythmic sucking of the ventilator.

      He was another of Sheriff Joe’s inmates. After an argument with guards, he told a prison doctor they’d beaten him up. Six days later, he was found unconscious of the floor of his cell with a broken neck, broken toes and internal injuries. After a month in a coma, he died from septicaemia.

      ‘Mr Arpaio is responsible.’ Linda Evans told me, struggling to speak through her tears. ‘He seems to thrive on this cruelty and this mentality that these men are nothing.’

      In some of the tapes it’s not just the images, it’s also the sounds that are so unbearable. There’s one tape from Florida which I’ve seen dozens of times but it still catches me in the stomach.

      It’s an authorised ‘use of force operation’ – so a guard is videoing what happens. They’re going to Taser a prisoner for refusing orders.

      The tape shows a prisoner lying on an examination table in the prison hospital. The guards are instructing him to climb down into a wheelchair. ‘I can’t, I can’t!’ he shouts with increasing desperation. ‘It hurts!’

      One guard then jabs him on both hips with a Taser. The man jerks as the electricity hits him and shrieks, but still won’t get into the wheelchair.

      The guards grab him and drop him into the chair. As they try to bend his legs up on to the footrest, he screams in pain. The man’s lawyer told me he has a very limited mental capacity. He says he has a back injury and can’t walk or bend his legs without intense pain.

      The tape becomes even more harrowing. The guards try to make the prisoner stand up and hold a walking frame. He falls on the floor, crying in agony. They Taser him again. He runs out of the energy and breath to cry and just lies there moaning.

      One of the most recent video tapes was filmed in January last year. A surveillance camera in a youth institution in California records an argument between staff members and two ‘wards’ – they’re not called prisoners.

      One of the youths hits a staff member in the face. He knocks the ward to the floor then sits astride him punching him over and over again in the head.

      Watching the tape you can almost feel each blow. The second youth is also punched and kicked in the head – even after he’s been handcuffed. Other staff just stand around and watch.

      We also collected some truly horrific photographs.

      A few years ago, in Florida, the new warden of the high security state prison ordered an end to the videoing of ‘use of force operations.’ So we have no tapes to show how prison guards use pepper spray to punish prisoners.

      But we do have the lawsuit describing how men were doused in pepper spray and then left to cook in the burning fog of chemicals. Photographs taken by their lawyers show one man has a huge patch of raw skin over his hip. Another is covered in an angry rash across his neck, back and arms. A third has deep burns on his buttocks.

      ‘They usually use fire extinguishers size canisters of pepper spray,’ lawyer Christopher Jones explained. ‘We have had prisoners who have had second degree burns all over their bodies.

      ‘The tell-tale sign is they turn off the ventilation fans in the unit. Prisoners report that cardboard is shoved in the crack of the door to make sure it’s really air-tight.’

      And why were they sprayed? According to the official prison reports, their infringements included banging on the cell door and refusing medication. From the same Florida prison we also have photographs of Frank Valdes – autopsy pictures. Realistically, he had little chance of ever getting out of prison alive. He was on Death Row for killing a prison officer. He had time to reconcile himself to the Electric Chair – he didn’t expect to be beaten to death.

      Valdes started writing to local Florida newspapers to expose the corruption and brutality of prison officers. So a gang of guards stormed into his cell to shut him up. They broke almost every one of his ribs, punctured his lung, smashed his spleen and left him to die.

      Several of the guards were later charged with murder, but the trial was held in their own small hometown where almost everyone works for, or has connection with, the five prisons which ring the town. The foreman of the jury was former prison officer. The guards were all acquitted.

      Meanwhile, the warden who was in charge of the prison at the time of the killing – the same man who changed the policy on videoing – has been promoted. He’s now the man in charge of all the Florida prisons.

      How could anyone excuse – still less condone – such behaviour? The few prison guards who would talk to us have a siege mentality. They see themselves outnumbered, surrounded by dangerous, violent criminals, so they back each other up, no matter what.

      I asked one serving officer what happened if colleagues beat up an inmate. ‘We cover up. Because we’re the good guys.’

      No one should doubt that the vast majority of U.S. prison officers are decent individuals doing their best in difficult circumstances. But when horrific abuse by the few goes unreported and uninvestigated, it solidifies into a general climate of acceptance among the many.

      At the same time the overall hardening of attitudes in modern-day America has meant the notion of rehabilitation has been almost lost. The focus is entirely on punishment – even loss of liberty is not seen as punishment enough. Being on the restraint devices and the chemical sprays.

      Since we finished filming for the programme in January, I’ve stayed in contact with various prisoners’ rights groups and the families of many of the victims. Every single day come more e-mails full of fresh horror stories. In the past weeks, two more prisoners have died, in Alabama and Ohio. One man was pepper sprayed, the other tasered.

      Then, three weeks ago, reports emerged of 20 hours of video material from Guantanamo Bay showing prisoners being stripped, beaten and pepper sprayed. One of those affected is Omar Deghayes, one of the seven British residents still being held there.

      His lawyer says Deghayes is now permanently blind in one eye. American military investigators have reviewed the tapes and apparently found ‘no evidence of systematic abuse.’

      But then, as one of the prison reformers we met on our journey across the U.S. told me: ‘We’ve become immune to the abuse. The brutality has become customary.’

      So far, the U.S. government is refusing to release these Guantanamo tapes. If they are ever made public – or leaked – I suspect the images will be very familiar.

      Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo – or even Texas. The prisoners and all guards may vary, but the abuse is still too familiar. And much is it is taking place in America’s own backyard.

      Deborah Davies is a reporter for Channel 4 Dispatches.
      Her investigation, Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons.

      (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

      Torture Inc. Americas Brutal Prisons


      Government Report Confirms: Sexual Abuse in Detention is Preventable*

      August 26, 2008

      A federal government report published today makes clear that sexual abuse in detention is preventable – not an inevitable part of prison life. International human rights organization Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR) welcomes the release of “Report on Rape in Federal and State Prisons in the U.S.,” by the Department of Justice Review Panel on Prison Rape.

      The report highlights traits common among survivors of sexual violence in detention, as well as characteristics of perpetrators of this type of abuse. In addition, it spells out features of prisons with especially high and low levels of sexual abuse.

      “Not surprisingly, prisons that are understaffed, have high staff turnover, and don’t track inmate grievances properly are plagued by sexual abuse,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR).

      The report confirms that inmates who are small, young, non-violent, mentally ill, gay or transgender, in prison for the first time, and/or lacking a gang affiliation are particularly vulnerable to being abused while incarcerated. Detainees who have been sexually assaulted in the past are also identified as likely victims of further abuse.

      “The letters we receive on a daily basis from prisoners who have been sexually abused confirm that these are traits that make inmates vulnerable. Corrections officials could prevent countless sexual assaults simply by not housing inmates known to be at risk with those known to be predatory,” explained Ms. Stannow.

      The findings of the “Report on Rape in Federal and State Prisons in the U.S.” are based on public hearings that the Review Panel held in the spring of 2008. At those hearings, corrections officials from federal and state prisons were questioned about policies and practices at their facilities. The prisons highlighted at the hearings had been identified in a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report – “Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates, 2007”.

      SPR is the only non-governmental organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to eliminating sexual violence in detention. SPR was instrumental in securing passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003, which created the Review Panel on Prison Rape.

      For more information,
      please contact Lovisa Stannow at 213-384-1400 ext. 103.

      August 24, 2008

      Federal panel issues prison rape prevention recommendations

      In reaction to the passage by Congress in 2003 of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the Department of Justice in recent years has focused greater attention on documenting, preventing, and encouraging prosecutions of prison rape, gathering data on the problem comprehensively for the first time and setting up a review panel to recommend ways to prevent it. (See transcripts and testimony from their initial hearings.)

      Reacting to their recommendations issued on Friday, the Houston Chronicle ("Report advises how to prevent rapes in prison," Aug. 22) reminds us that Texas has one of the worst documented problems with prison rape of any state:

      Last year, an arm of the Department of Justice — the Bureau of Justice Statistics — made its first attempt at complying with the law by conducting a survey of randomly selected inmates at a limited number of facilities. The inmates were asked to report whether they had been sexually assaulted in prison in the previous 12 months.

      At Estelle prison, 16 percent of the inmates who took part in the survey reported being sexually assaulted — the highest rate of any prison that took part in the study. ...

      Clemens prison had the second-highest rate, with 14 percent of inmates reporting that they were sexually assaulted.

      The three other Texas facilities rounded out the top 10 prisons with the highest prevalence of inmates who said they were sexually assaulted. Allred's rate was 10 percent, Mountain View's 9.5 percent and Coffield's 9 percent. Mountain View is a women's prison in Gatesville, about 40 miles southwest of Waco. Allred is in Wichita County, and Coffield is in Anderson.

      Arguably reporting on prison rape is so poor that Texas might be receiving an unfavorable comparison with other states just because TDCJ is more likely to report sexual assaults, not because more necessarily occur here. But whether the problem is substantially worse than other states or merely better documented, Texas still must address it. On Friday, the federal panel issued the following recommendations:

      • Pornography should be banned among inmates, especially those who have a history of sexual assault or are at risk of becoming sexual predators.

      • Prison staff should receive more and better training about sexual assaults. Staff should be tested to make sure that they have comprehended sexual assault policies.

      • See-through doors should be installed on closets, high-risk cells, laundry rooms and other areas where assaults might occur.

      • Inmates should have access to a hot line that allows them to report assaults to a prosecutor or inspector general.

      • Strip searches of inmates should be conducted only by corrections officers of the same sex. ...

      • [I]nstall videocameras in areas where assaults are most likely to occur, including isolated areas of kitchens, laundry rooms, shower rooms and cells of inmates at risk of being victims or rapists.

      • Those who investigate sexual assaults should be independent of the prison system.

      • Prisons should reduce overcrowding and maintain proper staffing levels.

      TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons told the Chronicle that "a number of the panel's recommendations are already TDCJ policy, including assessing newly arrived inmates to determine whether they are at risk of being raped or committing rapes."

      For more information on this topic see the resource page from the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission - http://www.nprec.us/resources.htm

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
      Labels: sex crimes, TDCJ

      Report advises how to prevent rapes in prison

      5 Texas facilities are on list where sexual assaults appear to be most prevalent

      Aug. 22, 2008

      Rapes in prisons could be greatly reduced if prison staff adopted a zero tolerance attitude toward such crimes and developed a system that identified and protected inmates who could be potential victims, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

      Recommendations made in the report were intended to aid prisons where rapes appear to be most prevalent, including five state prisons in Texas, said the report by the federal review panel on prison rape.

      Inmates were surveyed at only 146 of the state and federal prisons in the U.S. Of these, the Texas facilities where sexual assaults were most prevalent were state prisons: Clemens in Brazoria County, Estelle in Walker County north of Huntsville, Allred, Mountain View and Coffield, the report said.

      But the federal review panel's recommendations will have little or no effect unless prison staffs take them seriously, the panel said.

      "Unless zero tolerance is clearly and repeatedly conveyed from the top down, the best (federal Prisoner Rape Elimination Act) policy will be little more than a paper facade," the panel concluded.

      The act, passed by Congress in 2003, required that statistics be gathered annually on the prevalence of inmate-on-inmate and staff-on- inmate sexual assaults in prisons.

      Last year, an arm of the Department of Justice — the Bureau of Justice Statistics — made its first attempt at complying with the law by conducting a survey of randomly selected inmates at a limited number of facilities. The inmates were asked to report whether they had been sexually assaulted in prison in the previous 12 months.

      At Estelle prison, 16 percent of the inmates who took part in the survey reported being sexually assaulted — the highest rate of any prison that took part in the study.

      Clemens unit on the list;
      Clemens prison had the second-highest rate, with 14 percent of inmates reporting that they were sexually assaulted.

      The three other Texas facilities rounded out the top 10 prisons with the highest prevalence of inmates who said they were sexually assaulted.

      Allred's rate was 10 percent, Mountain View's 9.5 percent and Coffield's 9 percent. Mountain View is a women's prison in Gatesville, about 40 miles southwest of Waco. Allred is in Wichita County, and Coffield is in Anderson.

      Of the 23,398 inmates at 146 state and federal prisons who responded to the survey, 4.5 percent reported they had been been sexually assaulted.

      Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said in an e-mail that the department "has a zero tolerance policy against sexual encounters of any kind within the prison system and recognizes the importance of educating offenders about sexual assault and abuse.

      The Safe Prisons Program is in operation at all TDCJ correctional facilities, including the five units specifically cited in this study."

      Panel created by law

      The Prisoner Rape Elimination Act also required that a panel be established to review the survey findings and lay out why sexual assaults are prevalent in some prisons.

      In its report, the panel said prisons could take steps to reduce sexual assaults:

      •They should assess whether incoming inmates will be at risk of being sexually assaulted or could be a risk to commit a sexual assault. Prisons can segregate potential victims and perpetrators of sexual assaults based on risk assessments.
      •They can install videocameras in areas where assaults are most likely to occur, including isolated areas of kitchens, laundry rooms, shower rooms and cells of inmates at risk of being victims or rapists.
      •Those who investigate sexual assaults should be independent of the prison system.
      •Prisons should reduce overcrowding and maintain proper staffing levels.

      Many victims are small and young, have spent little or no time in prison, are serving time for a non-violent offense and are not a member of a prison gang, the panel found. Gays and transgenders often are targeted.

      Those who commit sexual assaults often are bigger inmates who share cells with smaller ones, the report said. They often have a history of sexual violence or general violence and often have served time on several occasions.

      Lyons said a number of the panel's recommendations are already TDCJ policy, including assessing newly arrived inmates to determine whether they are at risk of being raped or committing rapes.

      Lovisa Stannow, director of Stop Prisoner Rape, a human rights organization, praised the panel's report, saying it suggests that sexual assaults can be greatly reduced through effective management policies.

      "Sex abuse in prison is preventable," she said. "In a well-managed prison, you see low levels of sexual abuse. In poorly managed prison, you'll see high levels of sexual abuse."



      A federal panel on reducing sexual assaults in prisons recommended:

      • Pornography should be banned among inmates, especially those who have a history of sexual assault or are at risk of becoming sexual predators.
      • Prison staff should receive more and better training about sexual assaults. Staff should be tested to make sure that they have comprehended sexual assault policies.
      • See-through doors should be installed on closets, high-risk cells, laundry rooms and other areas where assaults might occur.
      • Inmates should have access to a hot line that allows them to report assaults to a prosecutor or inspector general.
      • Strip searches of inmates should be conducted only by corrections officers of the same sex.

      Source: The federal review panel on prison rape's Report on Rape in Federal and State Prisons in the U.S.

      Report advises how to prevent rapes in prison

      Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

      Texas ranks first in juvenile prison sexual abuse

      AUSTIN — A just-released federal survey says juvenile prisons in Texas had the most incidents of sexual misconduct with youths during 2005 and 2006 than any other state.

      The U.S. Department of Justice survey said Texas reported 21 instances of sexual violence among staff and juveniles. No other state reported more than nine.

      The Dallas Morning News reports Texas also led the nation with 26 instances of "youth on youth non-consensual sexual acts." Wisconsin, with nine, came in second place.

      The survey said Texas' share of youth in juvenile prisons was only 11 percent of the national total, but the state generated 29 percent of sexual allegations nationwide.

      August 1, 2008 -
      The Associated Press
      TX Juvenile Abuse

      Backgate Inquiry leads to investigation of Clemens unit wrongdoing by OIG, administrator reassignment!

      By: Duane Stuart,
      Backgate Website

      Emails the Backgate website recieved just weeks ago disclosed how unit level misconduct may have been swept under the rug. Reports explained how a Clemens unit captain slapped a youthful offender in the face while on video, causing injuries as the inmate lay handcuffed on the ground. Although reports we received from TDCJ disclosed the employee was disciplined and given a suspension and probation, the incident was never referred to the agencies office of inspector general, or children's protective services for action as per policy. The incident occurred in January of 2008.

      Employees inquired as to how any other staff member would be surely fired, and face criminal charges after such an incident, and were curious as to how a captain would go unchecked. They also explained how the felt that someone in that position should be a role model for employees, not a black eye on the agency.

      We contacted Mr. John Moriarty, the chief of TDCJ's investigative branch. He stated that the situation would be looked at, and any action would proceed as per agency policy. An indication to us that proves what we had already learned, they had no idea the incident had even occurred.

      We have also learned through sources in Huntsville that the captain was re-assigned just two days ago after OIG began an investigation into the incident. "That employee has been reassigned and removed from contact with those youthful offenders pending the outcome of an investigation" said the source. More to come!

      Shackled births, prisoner experiments, and rampant TB?
      Just another day on the ward.

      Photo: Mark Allen Johnson/Zuma Press
      July/August 2008 Issue

      48 states allow the shackling of female inmates while they are giving birth.

      The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the practice puts "the health and lives of the women and unborn children at risk."

      Less than 1% of prisons distribute condoms.

      2/3 of gay, bisexual, and transgender inmates in California report being sexually assaulted.

      Disease rates in US prisons compared to general population:

      HIV: 490% higher
      AIDS: 500% higher
      TUBERCULOSIS: 400% higher
      HEPATITIS C: 2,000% higher

      US prisons and jails house 3 times as many people with serious mental illness as US mental hospitals do.

      In June 2006, the Institute of Medicine recommended an increase in the use of prisoners as biomedical test subjects after laboratory scientists complained of a shortage of rhesus monkeys.

      The South Carolina Senate has considered legislation that would take up to 180 days off prisoners' sentences if they donated an organ. In their first two weeks out of lockup, ex-cons are 13 times more likely to die than the average person, according to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Leading cause: drug overdose.

      You go to prison, you get raped. That's the Hollywood version, anyway. "It can be horribly violent," says Nancy Wolff, a Rutgers University professor who studies sexual assault, "but it's not as big of a problem as people think."

      In a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of nearly 24,000 inmates from 146 state and federal prisons, about 1 in 50 reported nonconsensual sex with a fellow inmate last year, with fewer than half of those incidents involving violence. Roughly 1 in 100 reported staff sexual misconduct beyond "touching only." Wolff did a similar survey of 8,000 New Jersey prisoners in 2004. "Many of the men would say, 'You've been watching too much Oz,'" she recalls. "They were actually angry with me at times for wasting their time, when they really wanted to focus on issues that are much more pertinent to their lives. They argued to me that prison rape was much more of a problem in the past, but with the onset of AIDS it's just too risky." When sexual violence does occur, Wolff says, the most likely victims include sex offenders, snitches, transsexuals, effeminate men, and...inmates with gambling debts.
      —Michael Mechanic

      State-sanctioned prison sex makes people squirm, hence the official term for Big House hanky-panky: Some "family visits" reward well- behaved inmates and their better halves with up to three days in a condom-stocked trailer. Mississippi prisoners can score 60 minutes in a "bedroom-like" facility during visiting hours, and last year California became the first to allow overnight visits by domestic partners, gay or straight. (Although lifers need not apply.)

      Outside of those states and three others—New York, Washington, and New Mexico—you won't be gettin' any. Federal prisons don't allow conjugal visits. Ditto state death rows, although the wife of one condemned inmate reports that, back in the 1990s, San Quentin's guards tended to look the other way while they snuck a quickie in the visitors' bathroom. But the spouses posting on sites like PrisonTalk.com want more regular hookups. Notes "Distressed Wife" of Ohio: "Women need more than just a kiss and hug every two weeks in three years."
      —Laura McCllure

      Just another day on the ward

      Stopping Prison Rape


      Dear Friends,

      The national commission which was established by the Prison Rape Elimination Act has issued draft standards for adult prisons, jails, and immigration detention facilities. These standards will guide corrections officials as they work to eliminate prison rape. The standards are the result of an exhaustive process that included eight public hearings, discussions with hundreds of experts, visits to numerous correctional and detention facilities, and extensive work with diverse stakeholders including corrections professionals, medical providers, researchers, rape survivors and their families, advocates and legal experts.

      I am honored to serve on the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, an impressive and dedicated group of leaders. These standards will be the legacy of the Commission's work. Long after the commission disbands, the standards will be in place to hold officials accountable for keeping their facilities safe from prison rape.

      A 2007 Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study found that at least 4.5 percent of the inmates surveyed reported an incident of sexual victimization, either inmate-on-inmate or staff on-inmate, in the preceding year. Given the current U.S. prison population, that means more than 60,500 prisoners were victims of sexual violence in just one year alone. And it is generally conceded that inmates are very reluctant to report being raped. So, this figure probably significantly understates the problem.

      It is a stain on our national honor that men and women are raped while in our custody. No crime, no matter how horrid, includes being raped as part of the sentence. Sexual abuse in our prisons violates the basic human rights of incarcerated men and women, and carries significant consequences for all of society because inmates that have been rape victims carry the physical and emotional scars, as well as potentially communicable diseases, as they return home after their sentences.

      The standards cover a range of issues on ways to detect, prevent, and punish acts of sexual violence behind bars, including training, inmate classification, reporting of incidents, investigation and resolution of complaints, preservation of evidence, medical and mental health care for victims, and data collection. The public has until July 7 to comment on the draft standards.

      The Commission has already met with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, American Correctional Association, Association of State Correctional Administrators, American Jail Association, and National Sheriff's Association to consider their concerns about the standards. Their feedback was very helpful to the commission. We want the standards to be tough, but we don't want them to be impossible for prison administrators to attain. In June the Commission will meet with survivors of prison rape to get their perspective.

      Also in June, the Commission will release draft standards for juvenile, community corrections, and lockup facilities. At the conclusion of the public comment periods, the commission staff will review and integrate public feedback into the draft standards for final approval by the commission. The standards, along with the Commission's final report, will be presented to the President, Congress, and the U.S. Attorney General.

      At that point, it will depend on pressure from the public to insure that the standards are adopted by the Attorney General and by each state's prison system. The release of these draft standards is a very important step toward eliminating rape in our prisons. But now we need to build public support for adopting and applying these standards so that prisoners in every prison in the U.S. are safe from sexual assault while in the custody of our government. Jesus told us that whatever we do for "the least of these", we do unto Him.

      In His service,
      Pat Nolan
      Vice President, Prison Fellowship

      *The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Releases National Standards Addressing Sexual Abuse in Detention*

      May 5, 2008

      Today, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) released draft standards aimed at putting an end to sexual abuse in adult prisons and jails, and in immigration detention centers.

      Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR) considers these standards a crucial step forward in the effort to make zero-tolerance toward rape and other forms of sexual violence a reality in U.S. corrections facilities.

      The NPREC is a bipartisan commission created by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003. Under the law, the NPREC is charged with developing binding standards for corrections systems to address sexual violence behind bars. To help develop the standards, the NPREC held public hearings throughout the country and convened several expert committees in Washington, DC. Representatives from SPR worked closely with the NPREC throughout this process, by serving on the expert committees and by enabling more than a dozen prisoner rape survivors to testify at the public hearings.

      “The general public has until July 7, 2008 to suggest revisions to today’s draft standards. We hope that a broad range of individuals, including current and former inmates, will take that opportunity,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of SPR.

      As part of its commitment to ensuring that the experiences of survivors of sexual abuse in detention are taken into account in the development of the national standards, SPR will gather a group of survivors in Washington, DC in late June, enabling them to express concerns with the draft standards, suggest improvements, and meet NPREC representatives.

      The draft standards for adult prisons and jails are divided into four categories: leadership and accountability; prevention; detection and response; and monitoring. In addition to the supplemental standards for immigration detainees that were also published today, the NPREC is scheduled to release draft standards for juvenile facilities, community corrections, and lockup facilities in June 2008.

      After receiving input from the public, the NPREC will finalize all of the standards and submit them to the Attorney General, who will have one year to ratify them. Once ratified, the standards will be binding immediately on federal facilities. States will have one year after ratification to comply with the standards, or they will lose a portion of their federal funds.

      The draft standards and instructions for providing comments are available on the NPREC website at:
      National Standards Addressing Sexual Abuse in Detention

      For more information, please contact Lovisa Stannow at 213-384-1400, ext. 103, or Melissa Rothstein at 202-580-6971, or visit Stop Prisoner Rape at www.spr.org

      March 28, 2008

      The reality of prison rape remains difficult to research
      Two-day hearing highlights some disparities in how often it occurs

      Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

      Exactly who is getting raped in Texas prisons and why is a jailhouse whodunit that has state and federal officials looking somewhat sideways at each other.

      During a two-day hearing that wrapped up in Houston on Friday, a Justice Department panel questioned wardens, guards and other prison officials over findings that Texas has among the nation's most dangerous prisons for the sexually vulnerable.

      "We are all adults here and we're talking about a gritty subject, so feel free to be graphic," advised Steven McFarland, chairman of the two-person panel. "We're looking for what works and what doesn't," he said of ways to protect prisoners.

      He was told victims tend to be younger, of slighter build and first- time offenders.

      A recent federally mandated survey of many of the nation's prisons asked inmates to anonymously answer questions about rape.

      Results suggested Texas prisoners were more likely to be raped than those in other states and far exceeded the number of claims prisoners filed in person with prison authorities.

      "We're disappointed with the survey," said Nathaniel Quarterman, director of the correctional institutions division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "It is not matching up with our data."

      Regardless of whether the state and federal governments agree on the number or rapes, more can be done, he said.

      "I think even one rape is too much," Quarterman said.

      The survey revealed rapes are much more common at some Texas prisons than others.

      Difference in numbers

      Those housed in the maximum-security Estelle Unit in Huntsville reported 278 instances of non-consensual sex acts per 1,000 inmates in the last year.

      At the Rio Grande Valley's Lopez State Jail — generally a place for those serving less than two years for non-violent crimes — there were zero reported.

      State officials said there were 210 cases of inmate-on-inmate sexual assault filed in 2006 from a population of about 155,000 Texas prisoners.

      With their bosses, and their bosses' bosses looking on, prison employees repeatedly testified that worries about rape were out of proportion with the reality they see when walking cellblocks, showers, kitchens and other areas of prisons.

      No prisoners testified at the hearing conducted on the South Texas College of Law campus.

      McFarland, seemingly perplexed at times over how front-line prison staff said they were aware of so few rapes, rolled up his sleeves.

      "Anybody drop the soap?" McFarland finally asked two ranking correctional officers as he sought to jar them into a discussion of attacks in the showers.

      "No," came the answer.

      Officers said while rape does occur, it is rare, and more rarely seen or heard.

      There was an identical response when McFarland asked a veteran employee if she had any idea what new inmates fear most about going to prison.

      Melissa Rothstein, a program director for Stop Prisoner Rape, a human- rights organization, said the hearing could have gone better for Texas.

      "The defensiveness that they have had at this hearing has in some ways made it harder to see the good efforts they've made," she said of improvements in protecting prisoners.

      Texas has better policies than many states, but it needs to do a better job implementing them, she said.

      "Running a prison is a very hard job, and I think everybody knows that," she said.

      John Moriarty, the inspector general for the prison system, oversees criminal investigations, including rapes.

      He said his team faces the challenges of operating in a world of convicts, including some who falsely claim they've been sexually assaulted in order to reap the benefits afforded victims, such as being put in protected custody or transferred to a new cell.

      "Just as in the free world, the burden or proof for a conviction in a criminal court is to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.

      'Everyone is out to hurt me'

      Each claim is treated as a potential crime with investigators sealing off cells, gathering evidence such as clothing and questioning witnesses, he said.

      Adding to the challenge, the average victim waited more than three months to report the crime, he said.

      Still, prisoners call out for help, with Stop Prison Rape members saying a disproportionate number of letters it receives come from Texas. The hand-scrawled letters are brutal.

      "He covered my mouth and pinched my nostrils together while whispering how easy it would be to kill me," wrote one Texas inmate. "He then took (the) liberty."

      Another prisoner said despite him testing positive for HIV, he still is regularly attacked.

      "I am (raped) all the time," he writes. "To me, everyone is out to hurt me."


      Prison Rape

      March 26, 2008

      For the sake of all Texans, stop rape in our prisons
      System's dismal record affects us all

      Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

      When the government makes the grave decision to remove someone's liberty, it has the responsibility to protect that person's physical safety. No matter what the crime, rape must never be part of the penalty.

      Unfortunately, a shocking number of prisoners do suffer rape and other forms of sexual abuse while incarcerated, at the hands of inmates and of prison staff. In a recent nationwide ranking of the problem of sexual violence in detention, Texas state prisons came last.

      According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice runs five of the 10 prisons with the highest rates of sexual victimization in the country. Today and Friday in Houston, the U.S. Department of Justice Review Panel on Prison Rape is holding public hearings to examine the policies and practices at these five prisons. The hearing provides a unique opportunity for policy-makers, and all Texans, to seek solutions to the systemic problems that have placed the TDCJ so firmly among the nation's most troubled prison systems.

      The BJS prison ranking was based on the first-ever nationwide inmate survey, in which prisoners across the country were asked whether they had experienced sexual abuse at their current facility in the past 12 months.

      Nationwide, the BJS found that 4.5 percent of prison inmates — that's 60,500 people, more than the population of Galveston — reported being sexually assaulted in the previous year alone. At each of the five TDCJ facilities represented at this week's hearing — the Allred Unit, the Clements Unit, the Coffield Unit, the Estelle Unit and the Mountain View Unit — between 9.3 percent and 15.7 percent of inmates reported that they had been sexually abused in the same period.

      While anyone can become the victim of sexual abuse in detention, the most vulnerable inmates tend to be young, small in stature, nonviolent, transgender, gay or perceived to be gay, and inexperienced in the ways of prison life.

      Wherever it happens, sexual abuse is devastating, physically and emotionally. For prisoners, the problems are compounded. Unable to get away from the perpetrator and fearful of retaliation, incarcerated survivors of sexual abuse tend to suffer in silence, without access to mental health counseling or even the most basic medical care.

      Anyone who thinks rape in detention is of little concern to broader society should think again. Apart from being one of the most egregious violations of human rights in our country today, the sexual abuse of prisoners constitutes a significant public health problem. Once released — and 95 percent of inmates do eventually return home — survivors of sexual violence bring back to their communities long- term psychological problems, learned violent behavior and serious medical conditions, including HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

      Sexual abuse is not an inevitable part of prison life. It is the result of ineffective policies and poor prison management. The acute problems in TDCJ facilities are a case in point. Of the letters Stop Prisoner Rape receives daily from survivors of sexual abuse in detention nationwide, an alarming one in five comes from a TDCJ inmate. In their letters, prisoners describe classification policies that fail to ensure the safety of weak inmates. Many highlight homophobic and dismissive staff attitudes, which effectively set vulnerable inmates up to be victimized. Many emphasize the failure of TDCJ prison officials to respond effectively in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

      The need for genuine reform of the TDCJ is evident, as sexual abuse continues to plague Texas state prisons, derailing justice and shattering the dignity of victims.

      For a start, the TDCJ must redouble its efforts to classify inmates appropriately upon entry to prison, and to grant vulnerable inmates swift transfers into the protective housing they need.

      The TDCJ must also, as a matter of urgency, shift staff attitudes toward greater appreciation of every human being's inherent right to be free from sexual abuse.

      In addition, TDCJ must ensure that all prisoner rape survivors are offered confidential mental health counseling and adequate medical care.

      This week's public hearing in Houston has the potential to jump-start such reform, making the TDCJ's purported zero-tolerance toward sexual abuse in its prisons a reality. By taking the opportunity to examine the weaknesses of its system and to improve its policies and practices, the TDCJ can make its prisons — and all of Texas — safer.

      Stannow is the executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape, an international human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention.

      Stop Prison Rape!

      First-Ever National Survey of Prisoners Shows Widespread Sexual Abuse in Detention

      Stop Prisoner Rape;
      Los Angeles,
      December 16, 2007

      A national survey of inmates, released today by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), confirms that sexual abuse plagues American prisons, derailing justice and shattering human dignity.

      According to the report, an estimated 60,500 inmates held at state and federal prisons were subjected to sexual abuse in the past year alone.

      Today’s National Inmate Survey (NIS) is the first of its kind and covers more than 1.3 of the 2.4 million people currently in detention in the United States. Detainees held at county jails, juvenile facilities, and immigration detention centers were not included in the survey, nor were prisoners at half-way houses. The research method used in the new report – asking prisoners directly and anonymously whether they had been subjected to sexual abuse in the past 12 months – sets it apart from previous attempts by the federal government to study the problem, which have relied entirely on data submitted by corrections officials.

      “We know from speaking daily with prisoner rape survivors that the vast majority will never file a formal complaint, for fear of retaliation, stigma, or further abuse,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR). “Not surprisingly, today’s report establishes a 15 times higher rate of sexual abuse than an analysis of formal inmate complaints over a one-year period, published by the BJS four months ago.”

      Garrett Cunningham, a prisoner rape survivor from Texas and a member of SPR’s Board of Directors, is a case in point. “After being raped by a prison guard, I was devastated and terrified. I felt sure that filing a formal complaint with the perpetrator’s colleagues would only have made my situation worse.”

      In today’s report, the BJS identifies the U.S. prisons with the highest and the lowest rates of sexual abuse. Alarmingly, five of the ten worst facilities are prisons run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). This finding confirms SPR’s own data, based on letters the organization has received from some 900 prisoner rape survivors nationwide; 20 percent of these letters come from men and women held in TDCJ facilities.

      SPR urges corrections officials across the country to consider today’s BJS report a wake-up call. “When the government makes the grave decision to remove a person’s liberty, it takes on the responsibility to guarantee his or her physical safety,” said Ms. Stannow. “Whether perpetrated by staff or by inmates, sexual abuse in detention is a problem of poor prison policies and practices. It is not an inevitable fact of life behind bars.”

      -- An international human rights organization, Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR) is the only group in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to eliminating sexual violence against men, women, and youth in detention. SPR was instrumental in securing passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, which mandated the BJS to conduct the NIS and publish the report released today.

      For more information, visit www.spr.org or call Lovisa Stannow at 213-384-1400 (ext. 103) or 310-617-4350 (cell).

      Prison Rape

      New Updates on Prisoner Rape

      Stop Prisoner Rape is pleased to share three of its recent publications:

      1. The Action Update offers highlights of SPR’s recent accomplishments and includes striking portraits of prisoner rape survivors. The Action Update is available HERE

      2. The PREA Update describes in some detail recent efforts of the federal agencies with mandates under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The PREA Update is available HERE

      3. The “Call for Change” is a set of policy recommendations for the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) inmates. The Call for Change is available HERE

      Jailhouse Blues
      Jeffrey Ian Ross

      Keith DeBlasio was 28 when he was sentenced to five years in federal prison for passing $200,000 in forged cashiers' checks across state lines. He had never committed a violent crime. During his first two months of incarceration, he was repeatedly raped, and his cellmate threatened to stab him. He is now HIV positive. A similar fate befell Garrett Cunningham in 2000.

      While incarcerated at the Luther Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, he was repeatedly raped by a correctional officer.

      American jails and prisons don't work.

      Prisons are meant to protect the community, but incarcerating people has minimal effect on the crime rate. Violent offenders are released to make way for nonviolent first time offenders, and most people, if they survive the prison experience, are worse off when they get out. About two-thirds of all inmates released from prisons are rearrested within three years.

      Prisons are meant to punish those who have committed a crime, but usually do so with excessive and unintended cruelty. Violence, including sexual assault, is rampant. The unsanitary living conditions, combined with the absence of adequate health and medical care, mean that prison inmates and workers are highly susceptible to life-threatening diseases like AIDS, hepatitis, TB and food poisoning. These problems frustrate inmates and often lead to anger, depression and more violence.

      Perhaps more importantly, prisons are also meant to rehabilitate criminals and to keep them from victimizing others in the future. But they rarely succeed at that goal. Meaningful vocational and educational programs are rarely offered. And if they are, prisoners practically have to run an obstacle course in order to get access to or complete the classes.

      And yet, despite the failure of our correctional facilities, we're sending more people to them than ever. Over the past two decades, as a result of harsher sentencing laws and the war on drugs, America has experienced one of the largest expansions in its jail, prison and community corrections populations in history.

      In 2004, according to Department of Justice, approximately 2.1 million people were in jails or prisons, and 4.9 million more were in some form of community corrections (typically probation or parole). That is roughly 3.5% of the adult population.

      Unsurprisingly, America leads the world in the number of people it incarcerates per capita. That is why, short of abolishing prisons, which is not as radical as it sounds, we need to examine how correctional facilities in America can be reinvented.

      To begin with, the federal government should implement a "No Prisoner Left Behind" program, which requires state correctional departments to insure that all prisoners pass their GEDs and complete one or more technical training courses. Moreover, university education should be facilitated for any prisoner upon request. We know that most inmates have no marketable skills to rely on when they get out of jail or prison. It is incumbent on the system to ensure that these individuals have at least a high school education.

      We can also reduce prison populations by transferring many nonviolent inmates to community corrections programs. Traditionally, this has meant probation or parole. But, more recently, these programs have also come to rely on electronic monitoring devices, house arrest, chemical castration and intensive supervision, all of which have generally proven to keep inmates in check.

      In December 2003, in order to deal with budget deficits, Kentucky started releasing numerous short-timers (those with less than a year on their sentence) who had been convicted of nonviolent crimes. This action had minimal effect on recidivism rates.

      Once the jail and prison populations come down to a manageable size, correctional officers should be encouraged, through educational and salary incentives, to switch from their current roles--in which they basically function like hotel attendants-- to becoming true "Rehabilitation Officers," implementing and managing meaningful rehabilitation programs.

      Prison systems should be rewarded for their ability to rehabilitate inmates, not for simply preventing inmates from escaping. State corrections departments should be given more money if their released inmates prove to commit fewer crimes. Of course, it must be understood that some individuals will never be appropriate for release into society. These people must be housed in secure facilities. But jails and prisons should really be reserved only for the most violent criminals. They should be smaller, too. Large correctional facilities are costly to run, unnecessarily bureaucratic and impersonal. Smaller physical structures go a long way in minimizing the alienation of prisoners and correctional officers alike. The older facilities can be torn down, used as homeless shelters, or as tourist attractions for the public to see the way that we used to do things. Within the remaining prisons and jails, we need to re-think the way prisoners are housed.

      Older, more experienced prisoners typically prey on younger prisoners. This leads to both physical and sexual violence. Over time, younger prisoners become socialized to prison life, making it more difficult for them to re-enter society. Violent prisoners who have committed felonies should never be mixed with first time offenders or people convicted of nonviolent crimes.

      Over the past 200 years, American jails and prisons have adopted a fortress mentality. Wardens and correctional administrators should be more amenable to continuous inspection, and should even allow the public to take a regular look at what goes on behind bars. This should simultaneously serve as a deterrent against abuse of inmates, and to help "scare straight" juveniles at risk of a life of crime, providing them with a wake up call to mend their ways.

      Until American jails and prisons are reinvented, the number of people wasting away behind the razor wire and high walls will continue to grow. They represent the worst of a failed system that foreigners constantly point to as a lack of American ingenuity.

      Jeffrey Ian Ross, Ph.D. is an associate professor, Division of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Social Policy, and a Fellow with the Center for Comparative and International Law, University of Baltimore. He is the author, co-author, editor and co-editor of 11 books, including Behind Bars: Surviving Prison, Convict Criminology, and Special Problems in Corrections. Ross worked for almost four years in a correctional facility.

      His Web site is www.jeffreyianross.com
      Prison Blues


      Posted on Nov. 01, 2005

      Warrant issued for ex-inmate who lost prison employee suit
      Associated Press

      MARSHALL, Texas - Authorities on Tuesday issued a warrant for the arrest of a former inmate who recently lost his federal civil rights lawsuit against six Texas prison employees.

      Roderick Keith Johnson, a burglary convict who was released on mandatory supervision in 2003, did not show up for a Tuesday summons hearing that was set after he failed five drug tests since August, said Mike Viesca, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      If Johnson is arrested, he will remain in custody until a new hearing, in which a Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles official will hear evidence and determine whether he must return to prison or remain free under supervision. Johnson now lives in Marshall.

      Last month jurors rejected Johnson's lawsuit claims that prison employees ignored his pleas for protection from numerous inmate rapes during his 18 months at the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls. His suit, which sought unspecified damages, claimed the officials violated his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

      Johnson testified during the Wichita Falls trial that he had not used illegal drugs for several months but said he takes medication for anxiety, depression and nightmares and still struggles with drug abuse. Later, his parole officer told jurors that Johnson tested positive for illegal drugs and admitted to using them in recent weeks.

      Johnson was sent to prison in 2000 after a drug arrest, which violated the terms of his probation on a 10-year sentence from 1992 for burglarizing a Harrison County house. He was moved from Allred to another unit in 2002.

      Johnson was released in late 2003 on mandatory supervision, a type of release allowed for certain offenders when their calendar time served - added to their good-time credit - equals the length of their sentence. He is to remain under supervision until 2007.

      Last year Johnson was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after an alleged incident with his roommate in Austin, but he was not indicted.

      © 2005 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

      Inmate's case raises profile of prison rapes
      State officials say the system works; others disagree.

      By Mike Ward
      October 24, 2005

      Seven times in 18 months he pleaded for official help, insisting that his life was in danger. Forty-eight times he reported being sexually assaulted.

      For nearly three years in a Texas prison, convicted burglar Roderick Johnson insists, he was trying to save himself from a nightmarish hell where he was bought and sold as a sex slave among prison gangs. Prison officials investigated and dismissed his claims, saying he was "gaming," prison slang for trying to manipulate the system to his benefit.

      When a Wichita Falls federal jury last week exonerated six prison officials whom Johnson had accused of violating his civil rights, state prison officials said the verdict showed that they were right, that the system for protecting Texas convicts from rape had not failed, as Johnson had asserted. They also say a two-year-old program to curb prison rape is working well.

      Prisoner advocates remain unconvinced.

      In the state with the most prison rapes reported during 2004, the verdict has only intensified the debate over whether Texas does enough to protect its prisoners from sexual abuse.

      "In a 'Cool Hand Luke' culture, there is an assumption that somehow he had it coming," said Kathy Hall-Martinez, interim director of the national advocacy group Stop Prison Rape, referencing the 1967 movie about a man who refuses to conform to life at a rural prison. "You can't say the Roderick Johnson case was handled well. . . . Texas prison officials simply can't shirk their authority back onto the prisoner."

      Top prison officials, in their first detailed discussion of the issue since Johnson filed his lawsuit in April 2002, are just as adamant. "We see a tremendous amount of manipulation in the penitentiary . . . and this case was about manipulation," said John Moriarty, inspector general of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "We did everything in our power to prove what Johnson was alleging. It simply did not prove out.

      "The system worked."

      National statistics indicate that something's afoot in Texas. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that Texas logged 550 reports of an inmate sexually assaulting another in 2004, nearly half of the 1,229 total reported in all prisons nationwide. Ohio reported the next highest number: 86. With 160,703 prisoners, 21,500 more than in Texas, California reported only 23, all of which were substantiated. Texas officials say that shows other states did not report as openly as Texas did.

      Of the reported Texas cases, 197 were dismissed as unfounded. Thirteen were substantiated. The rest were either still under investigation or were unsubstantiated because of lack of convincing evidence either way. Doug Dretke, director of the prison division for the criminal justice agency, said the whopping number of reports supports Texas' official assertion that the state's Safe Prisons Program, initiated two years ago to curb violence, is succeeding. It was prompted by new state and federal laws designed to stop prison rapes.

      "We have more reports because we've made this a priority -- zero tolerance, when it comes to prison rape," he said.

      He said employees are assigned to monitor safety conditions at each of Texas' 112 prisons, and officials now track complaints and predators and closely monitor housing assignments and repeated attacks. With a $1 million federal grant, Texas has bolstered its initiatives to curb rapes with better investigations and education programs for both staff and convicts, much of it since Johnson filed his lawsuit in April 2002. "I want prisoners to come into our prisons and not worry about sexual assault," Dretke said. "We're dealing with a complex issue in a complex environment, and we've made a tremendous amount of progress in addressing this issue. . . . We have a very strong process." Added Moriarty: "One of the reasons the numbers are high is that we're generating them. By putting a priority on it, more inmates are reporting. It's become part of the game."

      So what's going on?

      Prisoner advocates with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Johnson in his lawsuit, and other stop-rape groups express amazement at Texas' defense that the high number of reported rapes is a good sign.

      "I don't think anyone but the officials in Texas look at it as a positive sign," Hall-Martinez said, noting that Texas could soon become subject to federal funding sanctions if its high numbers continue. States with the highest numbers of reported prison rapes are also likely to be called to testify before a federal commission studying the issue, officials said.

      "There's something going on in Texas, but it's not good," Hall-Martinez said.

      Twenty-five years ago, when Dretke was hired as a guard, convict bosses were still allowed to supervise dorms and mete out punishment. Rapes were seldom reported. Much the same was still true as recently as a decade ago, when they were officially logged in dozens, not hundreds. "The first time we had a requirement that it had to be reported was 2000 or 2001," he said. "We now have a very detailed process, a strong, strong focus on this. We work in an environment where we have to be aware of a number of aspects, including the fact that manipulation occurs." And a rape allegation is one way to do that, he and other officials say.

      "We're dealing with people who can be very manipulative, who have been around law enforcement and the (prison) system for a while and know how to play games," Moriarty said. "They say: 'I'm going to get you' or 'I'm going to get even with you.' Sex happens in prison. What may have been consensual at the time becomes rape."

      The state's lawyers raised questions about Johnson's credibility during the trial, pointing to inconsistencies in things he has said.

      Even so, authorities are required to investigate every complaint. And with the high-tech tools now used by prison investigators -- DNA tests, forensic exams, even special gear that can detect body fluids on clothing and bedding -- officials said investigators can better ferret out who is telling the truth.

      "One inmate said, 'This is (my attacker's) semen.' It turned out to be his own," Moriarty said. "Another one has reported being attacked 200 times. It didn't happen . . . and we've got a camera on him now 24/7." Little sympathy Then, too, is the problem that Moriarty and other authorities say they have faced in prosecuting prison sex crimes: Juries are often unsympathetic to inmates.

      In one case, a young convict was raped by a member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. Officials confirmed his story with reports of broken ribs and black eyes, witnesses and forensic evidence, but a jury found the attacker not guilty of sexual assault. Because he used a knife, though, they convicted him of possession of a weapon, and he got 30 additional years in prison.

      In another case a few years ago, investigators accused a parole officer of coercing sex from women convicts at a Gatesville prison. He was acquitted. In places with prison rape problems, prison rape experts say, poorly managed staff, personnel shortages, low morale and lack of training are also a problem.

      "You can have the same manipulation in any system, so why are Texas' numbers so high?" asked Cindy Struckman-Johnson, a psychology professor at the University of South Dakota who is a nationally recognized expert on prison rape. She is also a member of the National Prison Rape Elimination Act Commission, a federal panel that is drawing up rules toaddress the problem.

      Like advocates who have been following Johnson's case, she predicts the jury's verdict will have one positive effect: bringing attention to the issue.

      "Had this happened five years ago, it would have been very ominous for the future, because every prison administrator would probably have said, 'We can beat these cases,' " Struckman-Johnson said. "Now, there is so much pressure on prisons to address the issue, they're not going to be able to do nothing.

      (The verdict) should not take away from what happened to (Johnson).

      "Even if the jury didn't, most people believe his story."

      mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

      Find this article at:

      Oct. 16, 2005

      Lawsuit focuses on rape in prison
      Backers hope the Texas trial sparks reform, despite state's earlier efforts

      Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

      WICHITA FALLS - The first day Roderick Keith Johnson stepped into the notoriously violent Allred prison unit here in 2000, the openly gay man says, he was branded a "punk" by prison officials and inmates, leaving him fair game to predators.

      He was raped by another inmate, Johnson said, beginning 1 1/2 years of being traded among gangs such as the Gangsta Disciples, Mexican Mafia and Mandingo Warriors.

      "(I) felt worthless that I had been violated in the biggest way and just couldn't face anybody," Johnson, 37, testified at trial in his lawsuit that accuses six prison officials of failing to protect him.

      A federal jury here is expected to decide this week whether prison officials violated Johnson's Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from cruel and unusual punishment.

      Johnson's trial has become the flagship case in a national movement to stop prison rapes. The trial's outcome, civil rights activists and criminal justice professors say, could be the starting point for reform.

      "We hope to show these defendants and men and women who work in Texas prisons that they will be held accountable," said Kara Gotsch, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union's Prison Project. "If they're indifferent and calloused to vulnerable prisoners asking for protection from rape, they will face consequences."

      For Johnson's ACLU lawyers, the case epitomizes the problems in Texas prisons despite reforms imposed by the U.S. Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.

      The act requires the gathering of national statistics on sexual assaults; the development of guidelines for states about how to address prisoner rape; the creation of a review panel to hold annual hearings; and grants to states to combat the problem.

      In the 1999 Ruiz ruling on prison reform, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas found sexual assault at the time was a pervasive problem in Texas prisons.

      In 2001, the Human Rights Watch report No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons found that prison rapes in Texas had reached a crisis.

      The ACLU and the California-based group Stop Prison Rape say the system has improved, but they still receive more rape complaints from Texas inmates than from any other state. In 2004, inmates alleged 550 sexual assaults by other inmates in the Texas system.

      But Mike Viesca, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman, said Texas prisons have a zero-tolerance policy regarding prison rape.

      Relocating a victimIf an inmate reports a sexual assault, Viesca said, the TDCJ's Office of Inspector General oversees an interview and medical exam at the prison infirmary or at an outside medical facility. When the victim returns to the unit, he is placed in a different living area.

      The suspect is placed in administrative segregation, and incidents that are substantiated are referred to county prosecutors for further action, Viesca said.

      "Texas is a leading state in efforts directed at stopping prison rape," he said.

      A Houston Chronicle analysis of federal data found that Texas has the highest rate of prison-rape allegations of any state, at about 4 per 1,000 inmates. The national average, according to U.S. Justice Department data, is 1.05 allegations per 1,000 inmates.

      Reported allegations increased nearly 200 percent from 2000 to 2004. Viesca credits rape-awareness campaigns through the Safe Prisons Program with increased reports.

      "We have created an environment where offenders can feel comfortable telling us," he said. "If the numbers were lower, that would raise some flags."

      Helen Eigenberg, a prominent academic on prison rape, tends to agree with TDCJ that an increase in allegations is a good thing.

      "I think allegations are going up because more people feel they can report them in Texas," said Eigenberg, a criminal justice professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

      At the same time, Texas substantiates far fewer rape allegations than most states with large prison populations.

      "That suggests officials have major work to do in their culture," Eigenberg said. "If inmates are reporting increased numbers and the system doesn't respond, the message is pretty clear that there is no change."

      The ACLU's Gotsch views the Safe Prisons Program with skepticism, especially since it wasn't TDCJ's voluntary creation but the result of a legislative mandate after the Prison Rape Act and Ruiz ruling.

      Difficult investigationsJohnson's case demonstrates the difficulties prison officials face when investigating claims by prisoners, who, according to OIG Director John Moriarty, are inherently manipulative people. Johnson was in prison for violating probation on a burglary conviction.

      "Only God knows if he is telling the truth," Moriarty said in an interview last spring. "He alleged 50-plus inmates sexually assaulted him, and we proved that's physically impossible, and we've had inmates say that didn't occur."

      But Ray Hill, a gay activist and former prison inmate, says that once an inmate's "in the sex game, there is no way out."

      By acquiescing to requests for sex from "protectors," inmates are branded "punks" and preyed on.

      Guards and prison officials say they did not violate Johnson's civil rights because he provided no proof that he had been raped. After the ACLU filed the suit, TDCJ officials investigated all allegations and concluded that he was trying to manipulate the system to get out of the Allred Unit.

      Johnson's lawyers face a formidable challenge in persuading a jury in a conservative prison town to rule in favor of an ex-convict the defense has portrayed as a drug addict prone to embellishment. Johnson said he asked prison officials to place him in safekeeping to avoid rapes by inmates who forced him to play the role of a woman named "Coco." Each of his seven "life endangerment" requests for protection was denied by Allred's Unit Classification Committee.

      'Degree of skepticism'Officials said he did not have enough evidence to support his claims, which, on three occasions, prison officials say, were filed after he received disciplinary actions.

      "I certainly would have viewed it with some degree of skepticism," J.P. Guyton, TDCJ's Region III assistant director, said during testimony Wednesday.

      Guyton testified that he wouldn't have approved Johnson's requests even if the Unit Classification Committee had approved them because the paperwork lacked "objective evidence."

      Under cross-examination by Margaret Winter, Johnson's ACLU lawyer, Guyton acknowledged that the majority of protections and transfers approved by the UCC and the TDCJ State Classification Committee lack any proof of victimization.

      In 2002, Johnson was transferred from Allred, less than a week after the ACLU sent a letter to TDCJ Executive Director Gary Johnson. Today, he lives in his native Marshall, where he says he's trying to help ex-cons re-enter society.

      Yolanda M. Torres, a criminal defense attorney in Huntsville and critic of TDCJ, said Johnson's grievance experience is not unique.

      "There seems to be an instinctive denial at the unit level," she said.

      Some statistics show TDCJ may be more effective at addressing guard-on-inmate rape allegations than inmate-on-inmate allegations.

      Between 1999 and 2005, the Special Prosecution Unit, which prosecutes crimes in prison, investigated 1,054 inmate-on-inmate rape allegations, resulting in eight convictions with sentences of two to seven years in prison.

      For the same period, the unit investigated 232 guard-on-inmate allegations, resulting in 43 sentences. That accounts for nearly 19 percent of all guard allegations.


      Prison rape trial hinges on who jurors believe With no physical
      evidence, it's inmates' word versus prison officials

      By Mike Ward

      October 08, 2005

      WICHITA FALLS — Time and again for 18 months, Roderick Johnson pleaded for prison officials to help him, claiming violent gangs with names like Gangster Disciples and Mexican Mafia raped and tortured him as a sex slave.

      Help never came.

      "Learn to fight or accept" being raped, Johnson says a prison official once told him.

      The reason Johnson was not moved to a safekeeping cell, officials say, was that his salacious stories could not be verified. And without corroborating evidence, which prison boss Jimmy Bowman described as "bruises . . . possible broken bones" and perhaps "a little worse," Johnson could not be protected, as he asked.

      Now, as Johnson's federal lawsuit against his former prison keepers enters its fourth week, the outcome could hinge on the same issue: whom to believe.

      Will jurors believe the convicted burglar and a parade of other shackled prisoners who have corroborated parts of his story with sometimes-graphic testimony?

      Or will they side with prison officials who insist they did nothing wrong because Johnson made up the stories to get out of trouble for violating various prison rules?

      As Assistant Attorney General David Harris noted while questioning prison Capt. Joseph Boyle, one of six remaining defendants in the high-profile case: "It basically boils down to your word against his, your credibility against his?"

      "Yes, sir," Boyle replied.

      Both sides agree that the case carries high stakes. Prison officials fear that a win by Johnson — in a situation that they insist was handled by the book — could trigger a wave of similar claims. Johnson fears that if he loses, it will validate a system that condones sexual brutality.

      Johnson, 37, who said the abuses at the hands of other prisoners ended only when he was transferred to another unit and put in protective custody, was paroled to Austin in early 2004 and moved back to his East Texas hometown of Marshall.

      Johnson will have his case decidedinWichita Falls, a city 134 miles northwest of Dallas that is conservative and predominantly white. Six white women, seven white men and a black man serve as jurors and alternates.

      The lawsuit already has sparked changes.

      Since it was filed in April 2002 and Johnson's claims made headlines around the world, curbing rapes has become a priority in Texas prisons, a status that they rarely had before. The Legislature enacted a Safe Prisons Law in 2003 to better train guards to prevent rapes and to require that cell assignments be given with an eye to reducing the risk of rapes.

      A few months later, Congress passed a law to better track, prevent and investigate prison rapes across the country.

      In 1999, three out of every 10 new Texas convicts could expect to be sexually assaulted within their first 48 hours in a prison, according to a prison training document entered as evidence at the trial. The same year, 237 inmate-on-inmate sexual assaults were reported in Texas prisons. In 2002, there were 460.

      Despite Johnson's claims, prison officials say every allegation that he made was checked as thoroughly and completely as possible. At every turn, the allegations either could not be proven or were refuted by investigators, buttressing a belief that he was playing games and trying to manipulate. In fact, they note, a Wichita Falls grand jury refused to indict anyone in the case.

      Because he was gay, Johnson was locked in protective custody at two Huntsville prisons when he initially came to prison in the summer of 2000 for violating his probation on a burglary charge. But each prison has its own committee that makes cell assignments, and that protection ended when he got to the AllredUnit, just a few miles outside Wichita Falls, which has a reputation as one of the toughest prisons in Texas.

      The lawsuit says that Johnson was told: "We don't protect punks on this farm."

      In sometimes-graphic testimony in Johnson's trial, inmates provided a glimpse at the underbelly of Allred.

      In testimony last week, several convicts — including at least one who Johnson claims raped him — acknowledged that such sexual attacks, and even sexual slavery, are common. Their names were ordered kept secret by U.S. District Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn, who said she thinks that they are at "substantial risk" of retaliation for testifying.

      Johnson was not considered a member of a gang, one convict said. What was he then, a lawyer asked.

      "Property," was the answer.

      Gang members could rape Johnson at will, he testified as he sat shackled in the witness box in his white prison uniform. They could rent him out for sex, as well.

      The price was $3 to $7, he said, payable in items purchased from the commissary or in cash that friends or relatives in the free world transferred into the inmates' spending accounts.

      The six defendants all worked at the prison while Johnson was an inmate. They acknowledge that any prison rape is a serious problem.

      But in Johnson's case, "there were no names mentioned" of alleged perpetrators, said Bowman, a prison supervisor who was on a committee that overruled several requests by Johnson for protection during the 18 months he was at Allred.

      "That was a big flag right there" that Johnson was not telling the truth, he said.

      Johnson's lawyers said he gave prison officials nicknames and gang names because in many cases he did not know his abusers' real names. When Johnson had a real name, they said, prison officials did not aggressively follow up.

      Amarillo lawyer Tim Hoffman, who is part of Johnson's legal team, asked what it would take to confirm an inmate's claim of rape — when physical evidence is often lacking, when there are no witnesses, when it usually comes down to one convict's word against another.

      "The evidence (Johnson) had given was not sufficient," Bowman said, echoing answers from several other current and former Allred employees who also investigated Johnson's reports.

      Hoffman and Margaret Winter, Johnson's lead attorney and associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, noted that prison rules allowed for convicts to be placed in protective cells even if their allegations could not be proven.

      Even though the parade of prison officials denied Johnson's claims that their refusal to put Johnson in protection stemmed from homophobia or racism, several made little secret of the fact that they didn't care for him.

      "He acted more like a female more than a male," said correctional officer Dolores Thornton, recalling how Johnson used to wear pants "two sizes too small."

      "To me, it was obvious that he was letting everyone know that he was gay."

      Prison officials testified about catching him in lies, about how he changed his stories of being assaulted when confronted with facts, and how they felt he was manipulating the system.

      In testimony Friday, Johnson's parole officer said that after urine tests indicated drug use, Johnson admitted using cocaine at least five times in recent weeks.

      Winter said Johnson's refusal to provide details about assaults, when quizzed in parts of the prison with other inmates around, was also not unexpected.

      Johnson insists that his repeated pleas for help were dismissed without ever being fully or properly investigated, even when they read like his March 2001 request for safekeeping.

      "I'm going to end up dead or hurt," he wrote.
      "They will try and kill me."

      The official response: not enough detail.

      Find this article at:

      Prison Sex Slave Trial Set to Begin in Texas

      September 16, 2005

      WICHITA FALLS, TX- After enduring 18 months in a Texas prison where gangs bought and sold him as a sexual slave, Roderick Johnson will appear in federal district court Monday for the first day of his civil trial against the prison officials who failed to protect him, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

      CONTACT: media@aclu.org

      WICHITA FALLS, TX- After enduring 18 months in a Texas prison where gangs bought and sold him as a sexual slave, Roderick Johnson will appear in federal district court Monday for the first day of his civil trial against the prison officials who failed to protect him, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

      "Roderick Johnson was brutally raped by prison gang members," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU's National Prison Project and Johnson's lead attorney. "The devastating horror of the first rape was multiplied many times over the next 18 months because prison officials refused to intervene to protect him."

      Beginning in September 2000, Roderick Johnson was housed at the James A. Allred Unit in Iowa Park, Texas where prison gangs bought and sold him as a sexual slave, raping, abusing, and degrading him nearly every day for 18 months. Johnson filed numerous complaints with prison officials and appeared before the unit's classification committee seven separate times asking to be transferred to safekeeping, protective custody, or another prison, but each time they refused, telling him that he must "fight or f**k," according to legal papers filed by the ACLU.

      Prison officials moved Johnson out of the Allred Unit and into a wing designated for vulnerable prisoners in April 2002, only after the ACLU intervened on his behalf. The ACLU lawsuit seeks damages against seven Allred officials for ignoring his pleas for help and failing to protect him against continued sexual attacks.

      Johnson's story is not an isolated case, Winter said. In 2001, Human Rights Watch dentified Texas as the worst state in the nation for prison rape.

      This summer, a Department of Justice publication found that prisoners in Texas reported six times
      as many allegations of prisoner-on-prisoner sexual violence than in any other state.

      Gay prisoners in Texas like Johnson (who is no longer in prison) are highly vulnerable to rape and exploitation perpetrated by prison gangs.

      The trial in Johnson v. Wathen is set to begin September 19 at the Federal Courthouse in Wichita Falls, Texas, located at 1000 Lamar Street, before U.S. District Court Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn in courtroom 222.

      Johnson is represented by Winter and Jeff Monks of the ACLU's National Prison Project, Tim Hoffman of Hoffman, Sheffield & Sauseda in Amarillo and civil rights attorney Edward Tuddenham of Austin.

      American Civil Liberties Union:
      Prison Sex Slave Trial Set to Begin in Texas

      © ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor New York, NY 10004
      This is the Web site of the merican Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation.

      Learn more about the distinction between these two components of the ACLU.

      Prison Abuse Is No New Scandal

      May 20, 2004
      By Amy Phillips

      As we all know, the United States has a problem with prisoner abuse.

      Reported abuses of prisoners by American personnel include:
      • strip searches for the purposes of humiliation, and forcing prisoners to remain naked for long periods of time

      • sexual abuse and the use of sexual threats to force compliance with rules

      • use of restraints in a cruel manner and keeping prisoners restrained for long periods of time in violation of prison policies • lack of access to exercise, fresh air, and other amenities required by the Geneva conventions

      • long periods of isolation

      • beatings and electroshock

      • housing children with violent adult criminals, putting them at risk for physical and sexual abuse

      • male guards improperly supervising female prisoners in violation of their rights to privacy and dignity

      • allegations of rape

      • lack of documentation and oversight by prison authorities of allegations of abuse.
      What might surprise you, however, is that not a single one of the incidents I'm referring to above took place in Iraq. They're all alleged or documented cases of abuse by American guards of American inmates in American prisons right here in the Good Old U.S.A. The cases are as follows:

      • On December 15, 2001, Joann Lanoue was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. When she refused a Breathalyzer test, as is her right under the law, she was forced to undergo a strip- search. All of her clothing was taken from her, and she was left naked in a holding cell for five to six hours, and her detention was videotaped by police.

      • Thirty-one women filed a class action suit against the Michigan Department of Corrections in 1995, alleging sexual abuse of female prisoners by the guards, and even more disturbingly, retaliatory abuse against women who reported the abuse. They and other prisoners have alleged that guards commit acts of rape and sexual assault, offer privileges and perks to women who agree to have sex with them, and use rape as a punishment for infractions.

      • At least four inmates have died in the U.S. since 2000 due to being immobilized in a "restraint chair," sometimes for days at a time. Inmates have also reported being shackled to walls, forced to stand restrained in the hot sun for hours, hooded, and chained against the instruction of medical professionals.

      • Human Rights Watch has found that main local jails lack any exercise or fresh air access for inmates, who are often held there for up to a year.

      • Solitary confinement is used as a punishment in most U.S. prisons, and while human rights standards demand at least 1 hour each day of fresh air and exercise, many prisons do not comply. The use of solitary confinement has also been expanded to children.

      • Hundreds of cases have been brought against prison officials around the country for beating and abusing inmates under their care.
      The electroshock belt, which delivers 50,000 volts of electricity to a prisoner's waist and kidneys, is totally legal, and is a popular tool to ensure compliance with court and chain gang rules.

      • Children charged and sentenced as adults under the law often end up in adult prisons, where they are far more vulnerable to abuse at the hands of other inmates and guards.

      • Women are routinely supervised by male guards, despite international human rights standards calling for limitations on male contact with female prisoners. Women report inappropriate fondling, men present during invasive strip searches, male guards watching them shower, dress, and use the toilet, and other violations of their dignity.

      • Estimates place the number of rapes and sexual assaults on U.S. prisoners at approximately 240,000 per year for male prisoners alone. By contrast, there were only 90,000 male-on-female rapes reported to police in the U.S. in 2002. Guards are often complicit in such abuse.

      • Corrections staff routinely refuse to take reports on alleged abuse, and such reports almost never result in criminal charges against offenders. Prison officials have been known to laugh at abuse victims or tell them they deserved it.

      When the abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison became public this month, President Bush told the Arab world, "In our country, when there's an allegation of abuse -- more than an allegation in this case, actual abuse, we saw the pictures -- there will be a full investigation and justice will be delivered." His promise, however, doesn't seem to apply to prisoners under his care here in the U.S.

      Not only do federal prisoners face unchecked abuse every day, but a federal judge wrote of Bush's leadership in Texas:
      "Texas prison inmates continue to live in fear... More vulnerable inmates are raped, beaten, owned, and sold by more powerful ones.

      Despite their pleas to prison officials, they are often refused protection. Instead, they pay for protection, in money, services, or sex. Correctional officers continue to rely on the physical control of excessive force to enforce order. Those inmates locked away in administrative segregation, especially those with mental illnesses, are subjected to extreme deprivations and daily psychological harm." Apparently the prison abuse in Iraq does, in fact "represent America" after all. And just as the Iraqis deserve better from us, so too do the human beings, criminal or not, who are abused in our nations prisons every day.

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