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:
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 :
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.
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."
• 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.
For more information on this topic see the resource page from the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.