Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Consultant: TDCJ 'receptive' to prison rape recommendations, 'confident' proposed solutions were 'reasonable and viable'

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) this week sent me the consultant's report regarding what would be required for Texas' adult prisons to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a document I requested 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.

TDCJ brass were closely involved in the development of recommendations by The Moss Group, the consulting firm referenced in Perry's letter. According to the report, "top-level central and regional office executives and unit based senior management staff actively engaged in the analysis and remedy process along with the consultant team. Their daily participation and interaction with the consultant team is a testament to the value and importance they have placed on realizing compliance with this PREA standard."

Indeed, it appears the Governor's letter significantly overstated the scope and negative impact of the consultants' recommendations. Wrote Perry:
Because PREA standards prohibit most cross-gender viewing, TDCJ would be compelled to deny female officers job assignments and promotion opportunities, simply based on their gender. A consultant referred to TDCJ by the PREA Resource Center absurdly suggested that TDCJ solve this problem by removing security cameras and obstructing line of sight. That is ridiculous. Doing so would not only be a security risk for both prisoners and staff but also increase the likelihood of assaults taking place, defeating the intent of the law.
As it turns out, that was an exaggeration. The recommendations would by no means "prohibit most cross-gender viewing." In fact, the limitations suggested were remarkably modest and narrow.

As far as "removing security cameras," there were two references. They suggested that cameras shouldn't be "pointed directly into the dormitory bathrooms allowing remote cross gender viewing of inmates," noting that "it is not a mainstream practice to have cameras pointed directly into toilet and shower areas." If it's true that's "not a mainstream practice" and other correctional facilities across the country operate without aiming cameras at the bathrooms, why can't TDCJ?

Similarly, regarding "obstructing line of sight," the consultants suggested that "privacy mesh screens could be used to obscure the inmates' buttocks and genital areas during strip searches while still affording staff appropriate views of the inmates for security purposes." In documents that TDCJ (inexplicably) did not include in their response to my request, "The process of identifying the precise spots on the floor or ground that could be marked where inmates could stand to be outside of camera or other view was laid out." The goal was to "moderate or curtail" cross-gender viewing, not to ban it.

The other mention of obstructed viewing involved work areas and housing pods "where inmates could be viewed showering or using the toilet facilities," but the consultant said those "were less of a challenge. The team found that many of the areas currently open to cross-gender viewing could be easily mitigated with half shower doors and privacy panels that would not impede security viewing of the offenders."

The report did not suggest eliminating female CO positions nor that women officers couldn't staff men's prisons, nor would the recommendations forbid viewing inmates in showers and restrooms for security purposes. They recommended slight modifications in how pat down searches were conducted but didn't say women couldn't do them. And they recommended that female "escort staff" move out of the line of sight when strip searches were being performed. But if they're not performing the strip searches, anyway, such a restriction hardly means TDCJ would be "compelled to deny female officers job assignments and promotion opportunities, simply based on their gender."

Overall, the consultant found that TDCJ for the most part complies with the law already and did not have far to go to meet PREA standards. "Prior to the onsite work, TMG Consultant Jeff Shorba conducted a review of TDCJ policies related to cross gender viewing and searches. He found the policies to be comprehensive and well written and needing only very minor refinement. It is clear that TDCJ has expended enormous effort in the timely address of PREA requirements." That and the fact that TDCJ's general counsel seemed unaware of the governor's concerns makes one wonder about the defiant tone in Gov. Perry's letter.

Indeed, nobody at TDCJ seemed to have told the consultant their concerns were "absurd." Instead, "The department and unit staff appeared receptive to the recommendations offered and seemed confident that the solutions proposed were reasonable and viable." It's difficult to understand how Texas got from there to Gov. Perry calling the recommendations "absurd," "ridiculous," "ill-conceived," and "inconsistent" with federal laws.

I was only sent this six-page memo, but it appears there should have been more documentation that was responsive to my open records request. I sent TDCJ a followup email yesterday declaring:
I'd also asked for any correspondence to and from the consultant. Is it the case that no one at TDCJ had any email exchanges with the consultant before or after this report was issued? That seems unlikely. If there was such correspondence, please find it and forward it, including any attachments.

In addition, according to the report, "At the end of each unit analysis, a comprehensive, facility-specific closeout detailing findings, conclusions and recommendations was conducted." However, those facility-specific recommendations were not included in your response. Could you please locate them and forward them? That information to me seems as though it should be responsive to my March 28 request.  
If I get more details in response, obviously I'll post them at a future date. The whole episode strikes me as peculiar. You'd think if TDCJ found the consultant's recommendations untenable, somebody would have mentioned it to The Moss Group before the governor issued his letter.

MORE: Via the Texas Prisons blog from the president of the TDCJ guards union, Lance Lowry, who called Perry's claim of potential gender discrimination because of PREA compliance "nonsense."

See prior, related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Scott, you might inquire of TDCJ's legal counsel through Oliver Bell, the Board chairman.

Anonymous said...

I'm just wondering what the fuss is all about regarding cross-gender viewing when there are already policies in place. These policies have been in place for decades and now it's a problem? What does it have to do with eliminating prison rape? Isn't that what PREA is all about? Many TDCJ units have female supervisors and wardens on male prison units. They have to do their jobs.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:39, the fuss is because Congress unanimously passed a federal law, signed by then-President George W. Bush, and failure to comply has consequences, both in loss of federal grant funds and potential civil liability.

To judge from this consultant's report, that statute and the rules promulgated last year do not prevent female COs or supervisors from working in male units, despite Gov. Perry's misstatement and the obfuscating implication in your comment.

Anonymous said...

Grits, 2:39's last sentence revealed that he / she either hasn't read the posting prior to commenting or felt compelled to down right yank chains.

A shorter reply if one felt compelled to is - Read the posting(s) and get back to us. Or, silence, since he / she obviously works in the prison system due to advocating on their behalf with half ass wondering. How else would he / she be so knowledgeable about Units and the staffing.

Anonymous said...

In place for decades you said it. Times are changing women got equal rights now. What we did in the past might not be right today. . Women gaurds do strip searches when they want to it was done to me in tdcj. A female border patrol searched me real good and never found the j i had on me in my pocket. She just fondled me for minutes in my area while the male partner searched my truck. Sad they shook me down let me go no drivers license or insurance no stickers valid and open container of liquor and the smell of green

Anonymous said...

Say Scott, are you going to apply to be a PREA auditor. You sound qualified.

Anonymous said...

History of the Coble case for anyone who is interested:

In 1977, two citizens of the state of Texas filed a class action lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the Texas Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants had violated their rights by discriminating against them on account of their sex when they applied for employment.

On December 20, 1982, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas (Judge Norman William Black) held that the TDC’s policy of not hiring women to perform any correctional officer functions at male prison units violated Title VII, but the court further held that the TDC’s policy of not utilizing female correctional officers in “contact” positions in male prisons did not violate Title VII. The court ordered the defendants to prepare a plan whereby female correctional officers would be routinely employed and utilized at the male prison units in those positions that would protect the privacy interests of inmates. Coble v. Texas Dept of Corrections, No. H-77-707, 1982 WL 1578 (S.D.Tex. Dec. 20, 1982).