Last year, on the eve of yet another failed GOP presidential primary run, then-Gov. Rick Perry sent the feds a letter saying Texas would not comply with long overdue reforms to end rape in prisons and jails. The letter, first reported by the indefatigable criminal justice blog Grits For Breakfast, portrayed the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act as yet another example of Washington overreach, with Perry calling the law a “counterproductive and unnecessarily cumbersome and costly regulatory mess.”
Never mind that it was that other former Texas governor who actually signed the thing into law in the first place, or that, by flat-out refusing to comply with the new standards (like that inmates should be assessed by staff for their risk for being sexually abused or abusive to determine how and where they should be housed) Perry was snubbing some $810,000 in federal grant money that would have helped make Texas jails and prisons safer.
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predecessor, Greg Abbott, reversed course shortly after taking over the governor's mansion. Earlier this year, Abbott told the feds Texas would work as hard as possible to bring its jails and prison in line with the new federal regulations, but that wasn't enough for federal officials, who said Texas had yet to set aside any money to make that happen. Some time later, Abbott sent the U.S. Department of Justice another letter, vowing it would dedicate 5 percent of some $24.7 million in federal grant money to fix the problem.
Apparently that was all the assurance the feds needed, according to a story in this morning's Houston Chronicle that reports Texas is now in the good graces of the DoJ (at least as far as PREA is concerned) and will not lose out on federal money directed to state corrections this year. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says that 37 of its 109 state jails and prison have been audited and currently meet PREA standards, according to the Chron.
The recent case of Passion Star, a transgender woman who's been in TDCJ prisons since 2003, underscores how commonplace rape has become for some of the most vulnerable people in Texas prisonn
Last year Star sued state prison officials after they refused to put her in what's called “safekeeping,” a classification category for “offenders identified as being more vulnerable than the average general population offender.” According to Star, who was repeatedly raped and assaulted in prison, not only did prison guards ignore her repeat requests for protection and deny the litany of grievances she filed contesting her housing assignment, their ambivalence made her easy pickings inside lockup.