Their report represents a significant bit of research. They examined federal Bureau of Justice Statistics data on sexual assault in Texas prisons and sent a voluntary, confidential survey to prisoners who had self-reported sexual assaults at some point during their incarceration. This research was supplemented by correspondence with inmates who responded to the survey.
A disproportionate number (41.2 percent) of inmate sexual assault victims self-identified as LGBTQ, the survey found, confirming a pattern where inmates deemed gay or even just effeminate may be more likely to become victims.
Survey respondents reported sexual assaults at 15 prison units across the state with the majority of reports coming from three units: Estelle (Huntsville), Robertson (Abilene), and Allred (Iowa Park). A whopping 58.9 percent of respondents said they were assaulted by a staff member, which jibes with past investigations into sexual assault at TDCJ. "In 2014, 766 allegations of staff-on-offender sexual abuse and sexual harassment incidents were reported to the PREA Ombudsman by unit-level TDCJ staff." They cited a 2015 Marshall Project report showing that, nearly half the time, local prosecutors refuse to pursue cases involving staff-on-inmate sexual abuse. When they do, "Of the 126 staff members convicted of sexual misconduct or assault, only nine were sentenced to serve time."
Just as there's an argument for creating a division at the Attorney General to prosecute police misconduct to take decisions out of the hands of local prosecutors, there's an equally good argument to be made for doing the same thing when prosecuting TDCJ guards. Elected, rural prosecutors understandably are reticent to go after workers at the largest employer in town, and may feel more in common with TDCJ staff than their victims. That's a recipe for justice denied.
The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act has created new tracking and record keeping to shine a light on prison rape, the report found, but the Ombudsman function is notably underdeveloped. TDCJ employs 152 people in its Safe Prisons/PREA management offices around the state, but only one Ombudsman and an assistant to process 1,041 allegations of inmate-on-inmate alleged sexual abuse incidents across 109 facilities in 2013, and 1,467 in 2014. That's simply not enough warm bodies to perform the job properly.
The report included the following recommendations:
- Establish independent oversight to evaluate TDCJ facilities. (Paging Michele Deitch!)
- Halt the practice of placing sexual assault victims in solitary confinement "without thoroughly exhausting alternative protective measures."
- Increase resources to the PREA Ombudsman office.
- Improve the offender grievance system with better training for staff and accountability for failing to respond to victims.
- Involve outside agencies in assessing PREA compliance.