Everything’s bigger in Texas—except the willingness to prosecute prison rape

Part of the campaign from Just Detention International to raise awareness of the impact of prison rape.
Part of the campaign from Just Detention International to raise awareness of the impact of prison rape.

The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) came into effect in 2003. A mere twelve years later, the state of Texas has finally seen fit to actually to take measures to ensure its compliance with the Act. After its passing, many will remember infamous then-Governor and one-time Presidential candidate Rick Perry’s callous disregard for rape victims, citing the onerous regulation and cumbersome costs as justification for not complying with the law, thus lending his tacit support to sexual assault in public institutions. 

However, this past week, current Governor Greg Abbott registered his intent with federal authorities to ensure the state’s compliance with the Act, detailing the measures to be undertaken to do so, and providing a general budget. But some are concerned that simply registering the state’s intent is insufficient bond—especially given that the state was given a free ride for a dozen years. “’We actually don’t think DOJ should have accepted this as an assurance,” said Daley. ‘We just think there’s clear statutory language and DOJ should have enforced that clear statutory language and should have not created a “Texas assurance.”’” 

Texas’ incredible lag in implementing these measure is particularly confounding, given that sexual contact between staff and prisoners is a felony. Yet as Newsweek revealed earlier this year, officials frequently get a slap on the wrist when it comes to assaults, crowning the state with the dubious title of “Prison Rape Capital of the US.”   The report highlights the gaps in PREA, which do not adequately address the issues of prosecuting prison staff. The result in the case of Texas was that “the PREA commission suggested adopting a rule that jails and prisons seek written agreements with local prosecutors, to encourage the pursuit of criminal charges. But the Justice Department ultimately declined this recommendation, saying it would cause ‘significant burdens’, particularly on resource-strapped counties and municipalities.”

The “significant burden” that resulted from the failure of Texas to take sexual assault in prison seriously, is that for over a decade Texas prison officials were given legal protection to sexually abuse, and/or allow the abuse of, inmates. That’s the kind of burden that’s not easily borne by its victims.