Friday, May 16, 2014

PREA deadline passes: Perry tells Holder Texas won't comply

Yesterday was Texas' deadline to provide assurances to the US Department of Justice that it would comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. Today, Gov. Perry sent this letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder restating his earlier declaration that Texas would not accede to new federal rules. His latest missive had a much less defiant tone than the first one, but reiterated the state's refusal to fully enact PREA standards. Wrote Perry:
No one disputes PREA's good intentions, but the standards as currently written do not adequately allow for differences among states' juvenile laws, impose substantial financial burdens on communities and set unrealistic compliance dates, Texas has shared our successes and challenges with your office and has sought assistance in our efforts to seek compliance. Unfortunately, our legitimate concerns regarding the unfeasible standards on cross-gender viewing, youthful offenders and staffing ratios have not been properly addressed by DOJ.
Some of this still strikes me as odd because correspondence between TDCJ and a consultant hired to advise the state on PREA compliance did not include any concern that the agency "would be forced to deny female officers job assignments and promotion opportunities," as the letter suggests. Hard to tell where that's coming from. I don't think it's true.

A more legitimate concern stems from the conflict created by Texas' outlier status of classifying 17 year olds as adult offenders under criminal law (we're one of only 10 states that does so). Perry's letter acknowledges that the simplest solution may be to change the age of adult criminal culpability, but notes that the earliest that could happen is next year:
In addition, PREA defines youthful offenders as those under the age of 18 and maintains that offenders be separated from the adult inmate population, The federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDP Act) also requires that juvenile inmates be separated from adult inmates, but defines adult inmates as those who have reached the age of full criminal responsibility under applicable state law, which in Texas is 17. This creates a conflict that would require Texas to either violate the JJDP Act by placing adult 17-year-old offenders in juvenile facilities or violate PREA by keeping 17-year-old adult offenders with other adult offenders aged 18 or older. This could require the construction of new correctional facilities or the extensive modification of existing facilities in order to house only offenders who are 17 years old, An alternative solution would be changing Texas law to change the definition of full age of responsibility to 18. But since our legislature meets only in odd numbered years, the soonest Texas could possibly meet this requirement would be in 2015 and only then if the Texas Legislature changes the law.
Of course, that's not entirely accurate since the Texas governor has authority to call the Legislature into a special session whenever he wants to address any specific issue he chooses. But as a practical matter, he's probably right that the best solution would be for the Lege in 2015 to raise the age of responsibility to 18 to match federal law. That would resolve quite a few situations where that conflict causes problems, not just regarding PREA compliance. The Speaker of the House issued an "interim charge" to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee to study that proposal, and this is another strong argument for making the switch.

Perry also lamented that, "the cost to implement the mandated staffing ratios within juvenile facilities would be unsustainable for many counties with limited operating budgets. Appropriate staffing ratios should be determined by each state based on recommendations from professionals with operational knowledge." But this, too, strikes me as a strange complaint. For starters, the juvenile staffing ratios under PREA that Perry's concerned about (requiring one JCO per 8 youth instead of 12) don't go into effect until 2017. More to the point, local juvenile detention facilities in Texas are not "under executive control" and Perry is not required to certify their compliance. While local facilities may be subject to Sec. 1983 civil rights litigation if they do not comply, that's true whether Perry certifies the state's PREA compliance or not.

Bottom line: Texas will lose some grant money because of Perry's recalcitrance, though his gubernatorial successor will be the one affected, not him. And in the medium to long run, non-compliant state and local facilities may find themselves dealing with these issues in federal civil rights litigation. At that point, the costs of obeying PREA on the front end may, in retrospect, look like a bargain.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Texas is fixing to find out what the legal term diliberate indifference means. The TJJD and TDCJ both have high levels of offender / staff relationships. The hiring standards seem to be anyone without a felony record and has a living breathing pulse. I doubt even if they dropped the no felony hiring standard, they could ever fill these positions with the current pay.

Anonymous said...

Woopity-doo-shat. If you don't like getting a hot rocket served to you while serving time, don't do the crime. Typically if you hang out with criminals, act criminally, think criminally, you probably should expect good things to happen to you. Prison rape is just part of that lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

...shouldn't expect good things to happen to you...

Anonymous said...

To Anon 12:02 and 03:00,

You people are sick and no better than a rapist. Yes I said it, YOU ARE NO BETTER THAN A RAPIST. Child rapist, old woman rapist, baby rapist, teen rapist, little boy rapist, home rapist, work rapist, alley rapist, or prison rapist, rape is rape. "No" means no and people in society don't need to be teaching others any different.

Rape is about power and control for the rapist. It is no different in prison, it is also about power and control behind the walls. Society should not tolerate rape in any form.

90% of these misguided individuals who you think should be taught a lesson in rape will get out one day. I want an ex-convict living near my family to have been reformed with job skills and work ethics, not rape.

Our society punishes these misguided individuals by placing them in government run institutions that restrict their movement, tell them what they will eat, where they will sleep, when they will work, what type of work they will do (unpaid), who they will live with, allowing no physical relationships, when they will shower, what they will wear, and what type of environment they will live in. This is their punishment and a punishment most convicted people don't want, but receive. Rape should not be added to their list of punishment.

If you want individuals to be productive members of society, they need to be taught and placed in a role they can become productive members, not in a gang infested environment where they learn to live in a prison gang warrior culture. A large number of prisoners leave prisons now as a prison gang warriors and not a productive member of society.

Texans should seek to return to the days of Dr George Beto where inmates were taught work skills, work ethics, taught to read, and taught the skills they needed get a job. The prison warehousing model brought on by budget cuts over the last several decades has brought on the rise of prison gangs that run a cartel type of business inside and outside the prison walls. Texas and California's warehousing models have brought criminal enterprises to both states that are worse than the gangs seen during prohibition. Brutal prison warehousing models don't make men productive, either does the ignorant people embracing prison rape.

"No" means no and don't teach society any different, as you are teaching others rape is okay. Teachers of rape are no better than the rapist.

ckikerintulia said...

Perry is just cowtowing to his
TP base. And I'm not talking about the floor of a tent.

Anonymous said...

F%^k the feds is all I can say.

Anonymous said...

Don't understand why so much excitement about PREA anyway. Much, much is done already in TDCJ for abuse education and prevention--not likely any aspect of PREA would improve things. Just because a new federal program crops up is no reason to think it will make any meaningful improvement at all.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:12, much of what "is done already in TDCJ" was done BECAUSE of PREA. TDCJ admin strongly embraced its implementation as did the Lege starting in 2007. Perry's recalcitrance about certification is puzzling in that regard. TDCJ officials fully planned to comply until just a few weeks ago, apparently, and it's puzzling why the state would implement most of PREA then balk 2-3 yards before the goal line.

Anonymous said...

Scott - can you tell us how much Federal grant $$ will be withheld as a result of Gov. Perry's declaration? Is that just a drop in the bucket of what is already received and spent?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@anon 5/5 9:31: My recollection is about a million dollars per year, give or take.

Congress has been reducing those grants (GW Bush wanted them abolished) and so the threat of withholding some portion doesn't provide the feds as much leverage as it used to.