Is Texas Complying with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)?
This is a featured article from TAASA’s Summer 2015 Newsletter, authored by Annette Burrhus-Clay, TAASA’s Executive Director
In 2014, then Governor Rick Perry declined to certify Texas as being in full compliance with PREA. He expressed the state’s support in making our prisons and juvenile detention facilities safe from sexual assault for inmates but also commented on the national standards as being “counterproductive and unnecessarily cumbersome and costly.” Our discussions with his staff illuminated primarily two sticking points for our state, housing our 17 year olds with the adult population (17 is the age of criminal responsibility in TX rather than 18 which is the national standard) and cross-gender staffing patterns which impacted privacy standards for showering, etc. As a result of non-certification, Texas, as well as several other states, were penalized 5% on specific federal law enforcement funds as well as VAWA, resulting in an approximate $800,000 loss to Texas annually.
May 15th, 2015 was the deadline for State Governors to make their second progress report to the Department of Justice and Governor Abbott did submit his letter by the deadline. His letter said he was not able to certify complete compliance with PREA, however the letter also conveyed his assurance that the state intended to meet the national standards “wherever feasible.” The Justice Department has said this is not enough to count as formal assurance under the law and Texas can expect to be penalized again this year.
Governor Abbott’s letter to the U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch spelled out our progress and where we have fallen short of the PREA standards. Judging from the letter, the remaining barrier to compliance is 17-year-old offenders being housed with adult offenders. TDCJ has said it has taken steps to segregate youthful offenders but until audits for the units housing 17 year olds are completed we do not know if we meet DOJ standards.
Texas also needs to complete all of our PREA audits. We have 110 state jails and prisons in Texas and only 32 units have been audited so far, with 28 final reports completed. Of the 28 completed audits all have been certified as fully compliant. Additionally, Texas has 19 juvenile facilities subject to PREA and 10 have completed audits and certified fully compliant. All other adult and juvenile facilities have audits scheduled later in 2015 or 2016. There is clearly movement in the right direction but our future audits will give us a clearer picture. For now, it’s safer to say Texas is working towards a goal of PREA compliance.
Want to learn more? Click here to download or order TAASA’s PREA brochure!
TAASA supports communication with correctional facilities and encourages local programs to offer support and assistance (as appropriate) to make said institutions safe from sexual violence and predation.