Sunday, 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.

34 comments:

poopyhead said...

One thing that would surely put pressure on the Prison-Industrial Complex is allowing defense attorneys to explain to juries what really happens in prison.

By keeping juries in the dark about prison realities we've got a system where the punishment assesd by the jury is not the jury's actual intent.

Anonymous said...

I work at one of the female units as a mid level administrator. We have reports and allegations of sexual assaults every day it seems, sometimes more than one a day. That may seem as if it is excessive, but you must realize that if an offender taps another on her fully clothed buttocks, it counts as sexual assault. If one offender accidentally touches another one in passing (or bumps into another while walking) and it gets reported, we must document it as sexual assault if the hand touches the covered or uncovered buttocks, breast, inner thigh or crotch area in any manner (a brush against it counts the same as an intentional grab). Those types of incidents count as sexual assaults and are reported as such.

I do not believe open records would allow you to review the reports we must file on these, but if you could see the reports, you would see that we interview numerous offenders in the living areas where these actions are alleged to have happened. If we get 10 witness statements, 8 of them will generally say that the alleged victim was telling other offenders that she wanted to go to where her lover was housed, and that she was going to file an OPI (Offender Protection Investigation) to get there. Sometimes she will pay an offender to allow her to use their name as the alleged aggressor. Even when we find that this allegation is most likely false, we are still required by policy and by law to investigate these incidents fully. A full investigation will usually uncover evidence that the process is being manipulated to obtain a housing move either to a lover or after a "divorce" away from a lover (the same lover she will be manipulating the system to get housed with next week after they make up on the recreation yard).

Just completing the documentation and investigation for one alleged "she touched me on my buttocks when we were in line in the chow hall" costs the taxpayers over $300.00 just in staff time alone, as we must interview numerous witnesses, call the Office of the Investigator General, compose and type numerous reports, move the offender to an area where she will be safe from further harm, allow her to see Unit Classification Committee, etc. and I would say that the $300.00 is a conservative estimate of the amount. The time that the staff spends doing that investigation that is being used as a way for an offender to manipulate housing moves keeps key staff from being able to supervise other offenders.

Even when the evidence overwhelmingly shows the report is being filed as manipulation (we find letters from the offender saying she is planning on filing the false report to get moved, several offender witnesses hear her say that she is going to do that, she has a documented history of using the system to manipulate moves) the unit has no recourse against the offender. We can not impose disciplinary on them for it, we can not elect not to file the report, we are forced by the Safe Prisons Law and Policies to spend our many hours completing the documentation and investigation and taking the necessary steps to ensure the offender is protected.

In reference to the Federal Panels recommendations:

Porn in any form has been banned for several years in Texas Prisons.

Staff is well trained, very well trained on sexual assault issues, and receives training on it during yearly inservice and refresher classes at least monthly on the unit.

When you have one officer watching 60+ offenders, you can not watch all of them at the same time. It is impossible. Even if every cell door was clear (like on the HBO series OZ) Offenders will find ways to distract or otherwise get rid of the officer if that officer is somewhere they want to do something that is against policy. They do things such as have another offender do something to get the officers attention such as faking illness, arguing with another offender, fighting, have an offender ask random TDCJ related questions or just wait until the officer is busy doing a cell search, which is required during their shift.

Offenders can "drop an I-60" which is a form to officials to report sexual assaults, they can report it to the unit supervisors (and if nothing else, they are available on all units in the dining halls where offenders turn out three times a day), officers and supervisors make rounds in housing areas. The ability to report is there.

Strip searches are not allowed by staff of the opposite sex. Thats been written into policy and has been policy since about 1998 for the males offenders, and even longer for the female offenders.

Video cameras would be wonderful. If we could have video cameras in all the areas of the unit, it would be fabulous. Unfortunately our budget doesn't cover video cameras for the housing areas, nor are we allocated staff that could watch those monitors if we did have the cameras.

I would also ADORE it if an independent investigator handled the investigations. An independent investigator would free our staff up to do the job of watching the offenders.

Even if every unit is properly 100 percent staffed according to the "Staffing Plan", adequate staff is not required or allocated by the agency to watch all of the offenders, all of the time. Some units have 3 officers supervising over 200 inmates spread out over three or more sections of a building. Some of the older units for females have one officer watching a building that has two dorms, and you can't see into one dorm when you are in the other, or one officer working a floor with two or more dorms in it. Without raising the required number of officers you need on each unit (and we can't get to 100 percent as it is) you are never going to have complete and total supervision.

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating study done for the U.S. Department of Justice, which I thought would be good to share with you. It is 76 Pages long, but touches on many of the issues you discussed.

Sexual Assault in the Texas Prison System:
http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/215774.pdfd

Anonymous said...

What about conjugal visits as a prison rape prevention tool?

That is a lot of sexual assault going on in prison despite efforts to prevent it and investigate it when it does happen.

The first Anon seems horrified that inmates use the rules against sexual assault to manipulate the system. Never mind the system has used the rules to manipulate the inmates lives ------to the ------ max!

Any and all efforts to prevent prison rape are worth it! No doubt about it in my mind. The judicial system has locked these folks up, now the same system has to take care of them. The Citizens and Legislature need to stop crying and put up the money to do the job properly.

Anonymous said...

Prison rape is a terrible thing, and I don't wish it on anyone, regardless of the crime. But doesn't it seem that people get a whole lot more worked up about prison rape (which conjures up stereotypes of male on male rape) than the male on female rape that is so much more a risk to people in our society generally? I am not sure we can fix rapists and keep them from raping again when they get out, I think it is part of who they are. Yet all this energy on prison rape, and not a lot really on preventing rape in free society or on keeping rapists from raping again.

Dale Kemp said...

I thought that on your first day in prison you were supposed to find the biggest toughest guy and kick his ass. Everybody leaves you alone after that because they either figure you are the meanest one there or one crazy SOB capable of anything.

Or we could make violent rape a capital crime as it ought to be.

sunray's wench said...

to anon @ 12.23 ~ though I am all in favour of conjugal visits, and extended family visits in general, prison rape has little to do with sex and everything to do with power.

Porn has been banned in TDCJ prisons for a while now, since 2002 I believe. If the figures are still rising for prison rape in TDCJ, then it obviously wasnt the porn that was the problem.

Perhaps it's having female officers in male units, and male officers in female units?

wilhelm said...

There is a simple solution to prison rape that will also send the rate of serious crime toward zero: If you are stupid enough to get yourself sent to prison then we cut off your junk. No exceptions.

This would probably guarantee a polite society. Just a few more years until we get cloning technology just so and we won't even be bothered by the reproductive rights lost by those few wrongfully convicted. With all the money we save on police and prisons we can afford to give everyone accused two attorneys, an investigator, and an expert.

Its a wonder someone didn't suggest this sooner!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"people get a whole lot more worked up about prison rape (which conjures up stereotypes of male on male rape) than the male on female rape"

What friggin' planet do you live on, 12:38? There's an absolute frenzy over male on female sex crimes, while prison rape is for many in the public a subject of jokes and derision. Are you nuts? That's a preposterous view!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Wilhelm, I realize you were probably joking, such as it was, but you're a chump. There are 2,324 separate acts labeled felonies in Texas, and you want everyone sent to prison castrated? We'd be better off IMO castrating anyone dumb enough to believe that's a reasonable or serious suggestion.

Soronel Haetir said...

An easier solution, turn prison into an all-solitary system. Even better if outside sound cues can be removed. Give the offender a good long while to think about their sins.

Ideally there would be no direct interaction between prisoners and guards, just remote controlled automatic doors and such.

If the cells are sealed properly you don't even need to move the convict for execution, just pump the cell full of nitrogen or carbon dioxide.

Anonymous said...

ok, its the female unit mid level administrator again. While its true that the only way to prevent prison rape entirely an all solitary lockup would have to be developed, however, its been shown that that does nothing to rehabilitate an offender, and does more harm than good.

The incidents of male staff sexually assaulting (actual rape by force with penetration) are practically nil. It has happened, and when it does the staff member needs to be charged with and convicted of the crime, but the overwhelming majority of "sexual assaults" on the female units are by contact from other female offenders, not penetration, or forced sexual activity.

The majority of the relationships (which constitutes sexual assault, as an offender is not considered able to give his/her consent) are relationships the offender seeks out in order to gain benefits. They seek out these relationships in order to manipulate the staff into bringing in contraband for them or to get the staff member to provide them with special privileges that they would not otherwise have.

Rape-forcing someone into sexual activity is never about sexual desire. Rape is about power and force..."I'll show you who is in charge here", not about sex. Thats why it is so prevalent amongst male offenders. What better way to show that "your my bitch" than to force you to do something demeaning and degrading?

Even when offenders who are potential victims are placed in protective housing areas where they are allowed to recreate, go to school, work, eat with others potential victims, there are offenders who take advantage of the power vacuum to become aggressors. You have to realize that the majority of the offenders have been manipulating and taking advantage of people their whole lives, and that is just what they do. Its their nature to seize the advantage whenever they can, even if it means someone else is harmed by their actions. They did it when they stole the money from their mothers purses, robbed the liquor store to get cash, pimped out their children to get money, lied to their friends, employers, family in order to gain something, abused their friends, family and strangers. And they do it when they rape and abuse the guy in their cell to make him provide them commissary, do their laundry and otherwise provide them services.

In response to the males only working male units and females only working female units, that is unreasonable because first you couldn't get enough men to staff the male prisons, AND there are many instances where same sex staff become involved with offenders too.

Have they done a study that specifically asks offenders if they were forced to have sexual intercourse entirely against their will by staff? I'd be interested in those figures.

Anonymous said...

Grits, you wrote, "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." WHY THEN did you not give TYC the same benefit of the doubt when that silly waste-of-time BJS Sexual Violence Reported by Juvenile Correctional Authorities report came out from which you and the DMN branded Texas as the most abusive of youthful offenders? The same caveat should apply: TYC has a sophisticated reporting and tracking system compared to most states. The states reporting low rates of sexual "violence" possibly just aren't keeping very good records and so had little to report.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:40 - Some TYC readers are in denial - pretending no kids were sexually assaulted and no staff did anything wrong. What I wrote about the BJS report is that it put the lie to the claim that TYC had experienced no sexual abuse incidents at all and that all staff were innocent.

The extent of the problem compared to other states at TYC is an issue. But some readers want to pretend there is no problem at TYC. That's the claim I have rebutted and will continue to do so. It does no good for TYCers to pretend they're all victims and the agency doesn't really need to change.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 9:43, under the law there is no consensual sex between inmates and staff.

Anonymous said...

Question -

Why is the elimination of pornographic reading materials important for the reduction of prison rape? Wouldn't having an outlet be a good thing so that prisoners feel less inclined to rape?

Anonymous said...

Because for many people (inside and outside of prison), porn only reinforces the desire for "the real thing" rather than serving as an outlet. Porn tends to cause the viewer to regard people as objects that exist solely for their (sexual) gratification, rather than as people. The more desensitized they become to the humanity of others, the more likely they are to use violence (including rape) as a demonstration of power to obtain what they want.

Anonymous said...

The government wants to prevent prison rape? Why would they do that? After all, they'd have to come up with a different threat so they can scare the accused into confessing during interrogations.

Anonymous said...

It looks like rape is a way of life in our culture. With the gang culture growing and expanding each year we can look at how young females get initiated into their gang in the first place.

The young man in this culture can inflict this on a good percentage of the girls in his neighborhood - one after another. It becomes no big deal - just one of those things. Just another way the American culture is shifting.

Anonymous said...

At TYC we have had a certain number of females who were drawn to this locked environment because they were looking for some action. It has been something that nobody spoke about but because it happened so often it was hard to ignore.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I am 10:40. Please listen this time.

You wrote, "pretending no kids were sexually assaulted and no staff did anything wrong. What I wrote about the BJS report is that it put the lie to the claim that TYC had experienced no sexual abuse incidents at all and that all staff were innocent."

I don't remember ANY poster saying no kids were sexually abused. I certainly never have. One could not even say that about the homes in my quiet neighborhood of mostly retired people. There were problems, and probably still are. My assertion, rather, is that rampant rape and molestation did not exist.

In my 10:40 post, I repeated my complaint that you and the DMN placed Texas at the top of the list as worst among all 50 states! That isn't fair, for the same reason it wouldn't be fair to say TDCJ is so much worse than other states.

Are you now saying that you can give TYC the same benefit of the doubt you give TDCJ? If not, that is proof that the over-the-top media coverage and the self-serving current regime have forever skewed the picture, and not even Bill Bush could sort it out.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 6:49, you write, "I don't remember ANY poster saying no kids were sexually abused." Well, they did, so your memory must be lacking. I don't have time to go back through old comments, but the post you're talking about referred directly to them.

The rest of your comment reacts to things I did not say and therefore do not feel obligated to defend.

If certain TYC employess hadn't come on this blog trying to downplay abuse allegations in ways that were flat out delusional, I'd have more sympathy for your anonymous complaints that I didn't give every caveat you'd prefer. However, because that HAS occurred, the post on TYC made a different point than this one, reacting to (those always anonymous) commenters who insist, like yourself, on downplaying TYC staff on youth sexual abuse, pretending it's typical and not a matter for concern. I'm not sure what you think is gained by that approach.

Anonymous said...

"downplaying TYC staff on youth sexual abuse, pretending it's typical and not a matter for concern..." Why do you insist on putting words in my mouth? I don't think any TYC staff member would say staff-on-youth sexual abuse is typical and not a matter of concern. That's too sick to contemplate and I don't think you really believe your own comment.

I'm not pretending anything or downplaying anything. What I'm hoping to gain is some fairness. The hysteria of last year caused a needless slash-and-burn and has not really helped TYC youth. There is no way to go back and fix it, but what I am hoping for every day is to begin to see a little more balanced perspective, that's all. Instead, we have supposedly smart people continuing to pile.

Mid Level Administrator said...

Grits, as I said in my post at 9:43
"The majority of the relationships (which constitutes sexual assault, as an offender is not considered able to give his/her consent) are relationships the offender seeks out in order to gain benefits."...I understand there is no consensual sexual relationships between staff and offenders, but I wanted to point out to those reading, that some of the staff sexually assaulting an offender is not a "forced" sexual encounter...which is what the majority of the public thinks happens every day. There are cases when we suspect an offender and officer are involved in an inappropriate relationship, but just can't catch him (or her), and the offender denies that anything is going on....then when the offender is released from prison that staff member suddenly quits; later we find they are married or living together. In those cases, when the offender was in prison, even though obviously the offender was willing, it would count as assault.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:57, apparently your goal is for any discussion of sex assault figures at TYC to say something like, "but this happens in other states and isn't really worse at TYC though the reported numbers are higher." I don't think it's putting words in your mouth to say that's wanting to downplay the problem or portray it as not different from elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Grits, 9:47 here. The sound you hear is me throwing up my hands.

Victoria Placeo said...

As a recent rape survivor, heres my thoughts

http://rape-and-sexual-assault.blogspot.com/2008_08_23_archive.html

Victoria Placeo

Anonymous said...

In prison rape is all about power....even offenders who have been themselves victims of rape will rape others to gain that power. I worked in an ad seg unit for over a year, at one point we were sent a young man who was only 17 he was placed in the close custody section and celled with one other person. He previously came from TYC, they could not control his behaviour and so he was sent to TDCJ. This 17 year old came to the unit a generally happy kid, yes he had some problems, yes he had committed some crimes, his was mainly drugs and stealing a car for a joy ride, his grandmothers. I saw him one month later, he was not the same person. He reported that he had been a victim of SA, the offender who raped him was brought up on charges and moved of course. Three months later he was a vicitim of SA yet again, this was reported also, and dealt with accordingly by TDCJ officals. (all Criminal charges have been filed and are pending) By the end of a 9 month period he went from a vicitm of SA to perpetrator. Charges are now pending against him. When asked about the assault and why his only reason was he saw his chance to show the other who was is charge of that cell.

Anonymous said...

OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS SO SAD

Brukewilliams said...

In prison rape is all about power....even offenders who have been themselves victims of rape will rape others to gain that power. I worked in an ad seg unit for over a year, at one point we were sent a young man who was only 17 he was placed in the close custody section and celled with one other person. He previously came from TYC, they could not control his behaviour and so he was sent to TDCJ. This 17 year old came to the unit a generally happy kid, yes he had some problems, yes he had committed some crimes, his was mainly drugs and stealing a car for a joy ride, his grandmothers. I saw him one month later, he was not the same person.
================
Brukewilliams
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Anonymous said...

don't be silly you can't give conjugal visits to prisoners, i for one wouldn't give a shit if i got locked up if i was allowed conjugal visits and trust me that is not something society wants - i'm quite sure there are a lot of people like me too...

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Curious said...

Hi,
Does anyone have a list of which units in TDCJ have the highest prevalence of rape, or able to direct me to a website with that information? I did read the 2007 PREA report on BJS so I do know that Allred, Coffield, Clements, and Estelle were among the top ten nationwide, and I read an article that said that in around 2004 or so Telford was the worst...but what comes right after that? Which ones are the worst besides those I've already listed? I tried looking online but could not find an answer.

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