Thursday, March 27, 2008

DOJ forums in Houston focus on prison rape

A guest column in today's Houston Chronicle informs us of hearings today and tomorrow in Houston focusing on prison rape ("For the sake of all Texans, stop rape in our prisons," March 27):

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.

These stats are perhaps a tad misleading, at least when comparing Texas to other states, in that we're one of the few states with a fairly comprehensive reporting program, so more alleged prison rapes are identified at Texas units than is probably the case in other jurisdictions that report few or no confirmed inmate on inmate sexual assaults. Still, the numbers reported are high and shocking. If it's really true at some units 9-15% of inmates are sexually assaulted, that's a pretty nightmarish environment and doesn't speak well for management or security at those facilities.

MORE: See additional analysis on Texas prison rape data from the Houston Chronicle.


Anonymous said...

Look at the types of units those 5 are though, I dont know anything about Clements but Allred has a reputation for being pretty bad, Coffield is one of the biggest prisons in TDCJ with 4000 inmates, Estelle I'm told is often used to house inmates recovering from surgery and medical care at Galveston, and the Mountain View Unit houses female inmates including those on DR. All the most vulnerable of inmate groups.

Anonymous said...

Understaffing, poor pay, little or no training, overcrowding..... This is the formula for abuse. Most offenders going in are non violent, a hefty percentage were under the care of mental health systems, most are easy targets of predators. Sexual abuse is only one piece of this mess. Independent oversight and an overhaul of the judicial system would start a process to reform TDCJ. It will take a lot of concerned citizens.

Travis said...

The abuse is horrible in its own right (obvious). I wonder how many of the abused are exposed to disease in the attack. ie HIV (a possible death sentence)

Anonymous said...

travis, the risk to COs from HIV infection on a day to day basis is probably greater than inmate-to-inmate infection.