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Spr Texas Update Tx Prisons Plagued by Sexual Abuse Mar 2008

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Stop Prisoner
Rape: A Brief
Background
Stop Prisoner
Rape (SPR), an
international human
rights organization,
seeks to end sexual
abuse in all forms of
detention. SPR has
three core goals: to
ensure government
accountability for
prisoner rape; to
transform negative
stereotypes about
inmates and their right
to be free from sexual
abuse; and to promote
access to resources
for those who have
survived this form
of violence.
SPR was instrumental
in securing passage
of the Prison Rape
Elimination Act
(PREA), the first
federal legislation
addressing sexual
violence in detention.
Since PREA was
signed into law in
2003, SPR has led the
call for its meaningful
implementation.
SPR provides expert
analysis, survivor
accounts, training, and
technical assistance
to federal agencies
with mandates
under the law, and
to policymakers and
corrections officials at
the federal, state, and
county levels.
SPR’s work takes place
within the framework
of international
human rights law and
norms.The sexual
assault of prisoners,
whether perpetrated
by corrections officials
or by inmates with
the acquiescence
of staff, is a crime
and is recognized
internationally as a
form of torture.

Texas Update

by Stop Prisoner Rape

Texas State Prisons Plagued by Sexual Abuse

O

f the more than 900 letters Stop
Prisoner Rape (SPR) has received
from survivors of sexual abuse
in detention nationwide in recent years,
an alarming 20 percent have come from
inmates at prisons run
by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). In their
letters, inmates speak of
shocking abuses. Each
story is unique; all are
devastating. When read
together, they lay bare
serious systemic failures
of the TDCJ to uphold
its absolute responsibility
to protect the safety of its
inmates.
Against the backdrop of
those survivor letters, it
was not surprising that
the Bureau of Justice
Statistics (BJS), in its first-ever inmate survey on sexual abuse (see sidebar on page 2)
found that five out of the ten prisons with
the highest reported levels of sexual abuse
are run by the TDCJ.
At each of the five TDCJ facilities, between
9.3 and 15.7 percent of inmates reported
that they had been sexually abused in the
previous 12 months alone; the national
average was 4.5 percent. The facility with
Photo by: Phil Morley

the highest prevalence of sexual assault in the
country was the Estelle Unit in Huntsville,
followed by the Clements Unit in Amarillo.
The other three Texas facilities were the
Allred Unit in Iowa Park, the Coffield Unit
in Tennessee Colony, and
the Mountain View Unit
in Gatesville—a women’s
prison.
The BJS inmate survey
tracks staff-on-inmate
and inmate-on-inmate
abuses separately. Alarmingly, TDCJ inmates at
the five worst facilities
reported significantly
higher rates of sexual
abuse by staff than did
those surveyed elsewhere.
Nearly 12 percent of inmates at the Clements
Unit reported abuse by
staff, as did nearly 8 percent of inmates at the Estelle Unit, and
more than 5 percent at both the Coffield
and Allred Units.
Numerous prisoners who have written to
SPR from TDCJ facilities describe inmate
classification policies and practices that fail
to ensure the physical safety of vulnerable
inmates. Many have also highlighted homophobic and dismissive staff attitudes, which
effectively set vulnerable inmates up to be
(Abuse, cont’d. on Page 2)

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BJS Surveys
Prisoners
About
Sexual
Abuse
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) charges
the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) with examining
the prevalence of sexual
violence in detention. As
part of that mandate, the
BJS has begun conducting
annual nationwide confidential surveys directly
with inmates.
In December 2007, the BJS
released the results of its
first such survey, in “Sexual
Victimization in State and
Federal Prisons Reported
by Inmates, 2007.” This
report confirmed the
pervasive nature of sexual
abuse in detention: 4.5
percent of inmates held in
state and federal prisons
reported having been
sexually abused during the
previous 12 months alone.
As a follow-up to the annual BJS inmate surveys,
the federal Review Panel
on Prison Rape is responsible for holding hearings
with the facilities with the
highest and the lowest levels of sexual violence. The
Review Panel is scheduled
to hold one such hearing in Houston, Texas,
on March 27-28, 2008,
highlighting the five Texas
facilities that were among
the ten prisons with the
highest rates of reported
abuse nationwide. SPR
prepared this Texas Update
in anticipation of that
hearing.
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Note on survivor quotes: The quotes that appear in this Texas Update are drawn

from letters SPR has received between 2004 and 2008 from inmates held at Texas
state prisons. The words of the survivors have been preserved, including grammatical
mistakes and spelling errors. Where necessary for reader comprehension, SPR has
added words within square brackets. In order to protect the confidentiality of the
survivors, identifying information has been removed.

(Abuse, cont’d. from Page 1)
victimized. In addition, survivors regularly
emphasize the failure of TDCJ prison officials to respond swiftly and fully in the
aftermath of a sexual assault, leading investigations to fail and rendering victims unable
to access even basic healthcare services.

Classification and Housing
“I am now 20 years old. Right now I am in
TDCJ and I am trying to get put in safekeeping. I have been being sexually harassed
on every unit I’ve been on I am on Allred
Unit on Life Endangerment cause I was
sexually assaulted. It ain’t the first time either but TDCJ keeps putting me in [general
population] where I keep getting assaulted
sexually…TDCJ will not help me so could
you help me some way somehow in getting
put in safekeeping.”
One of the most important tools for preventing sexual abuse in detention is an inmate classification system that ensures that
prisoners who are vulnerable to sexual abuse
and inmates who are predatory are housed
separately. In order to protect vulnerable
inmates, classification policies must take
into account—from the moment an inmate
enters prison for the first time—basic factors that are known to increase the risk for
sexual abuse. Such factors include whether
someone is young, nonviolent, small, transgender, gay, or perceived to be gay. Housing
decisions must also be revisited as soon as
an inmate reports sexual violence, or threats
of abuse.
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A number of survivors in TDCJ facilities
have told SPR that their cellmates sexually
assaulted them. In several of these cases, the
victims had expressed fears for their safety to
prison officials before the assaults took place,
to no avail. An inmate at the Hughes Unit
told SPR that it took officials two weeks to
transfer a cellmate who was manipulating
him into having sex. A prisoner at the Michael Unit writes that he was left with predatory cellmates despite making it known to
prison staff that he was being threatened:
“I told the rank that I was being threaten by
Crip gang members but they still place me in
a cell with 2 of them…they force me to have
anal sex then put there hands on me…this
happen twice by gang members Crips.”
The stark failure of the TDCJ to keep its
vulnerable inmates safe from sexual abuse
is particularly disturbing considering the
existence of its Safe Prisons Program, which
expressly aims to protect such inmates from
sexual victimization. At the order of the
Texas Legislature, the TDCJ began implementing the Safe Prisons Program in 2003,
and it has since become one of the TDCJ’s
flagship initiatives.
As part of the Safe Prisons Program and
related classification policies aimed at
protecting vulnerable prisoners, the TDCJ
must provide safe housing alternatives,
such as single cells or special non-punitive
units, to inmates whom staff are unable to
keep safe in general population. Through
this program, the TDCJ has created a
“Safekeeping” classification category for,
(Abuse, cont’d. on Page 3)
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(Abuse, cont’d. from Page 2)
“offenders identified as being more vulnerable than the average general population
offender.” Under the Safe Prisons Program,
these inmates are to be housed separately
but allowed to access the same programming
and privileges as the general population.

SPR believes that the Safe Prisons Program
is an important initiative that has the
potential to become an effective tool for
preventing and addressing sexual abuse,
and the organization has agreed to serve on
the TDCJ’s Safe Prisons Program Advisory
(Abuse, cont’d. on Page 4)

Photo by: Eliza Snow

Unfortunately, since the creation of the
program, SPR has received numerous letters
from rape survivors who were not placed
in single cells and who were denied access
to safekeeping yards, despite their obvious
vulnerability to sexual abuse. Worse still,
several inmates who succeeded in securing
a bed in a safekeeping unit have reported
being victimized while there.

A Nationwide Human Rights Crisis

T

he U.S. incarcerates a larger proportion of its population than
any other country in the world,
holding almost 2.4 million people—or
well over 1 in 100 adults—in custody.
Of these inmates, a staggering number
experience sexual abuse.
According to the best available research,
one in five men experiences sexual abuse
at some point during his incarceration.
At women’s facilities, the levels of victimization vary considerably, with one
in four women suffering sexual abuse
at the worst ones. A recent nationwide
inmate survey, conducted by the federal
Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that
4.5 percent of inmates held at state and
federal prisons had been victimized in
the previous 12 months alone.
With little or no institutional protection,
victims of sexual abuse are left beaten
and bloodied, are impregnated against
their will, contract HIV, and suffer
severe psychological harm. Survivors of
sexual violence are frequently marked as
targets for further attacks. Treated like

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the property of perpetrators, many are
forced into prostitution arrangements
with other prisoners.
In most women’s facilities, male officials
are allowed to watch female inmates
when they dress, shower, and use the toilet. Some engage in verbal degradation of
prisoners under their supervision, while
others abuse their authority by offering
privileges for sexual favors, coercing
vulnerable inmates into having sex, or
raping prisoners whose safety they are
charged with protecting.
While anyone can become a victim of
sexual abuse in detention, some inmates
are at especially high risk. Male victims
are typically nonviolent, small, shy or
gender non-conforming, and often in
prison for the first time. Among women,
mentally ill inmates and those new to
prison life are particularly vulnerable.
Youth are at high risk for abuse, especially when incarcerated with adults.
Gay and transgender inmates, or those
who are perceived to be gay, are also
disproportionately victimized.

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(Abuse, cont’d. from Page 3)
Council, which monitors the implementation of the program. Based on inmate
accounts, however, SPR believes that the
TDCJ must redouble its efforts to classify
inmates appropriately upon entry into its
prisons and to grant vulnerable inmates
swift transfers into the protective housing
that they need. In addition, the TDCJ must
continue to monitor the safety of these inmates throughout their incarceration, ensuring that the Safe Prisons Program does not
set vulnerable prisoners up for precisely the
kind of abuse from which they purportedly
are being protected.

Staff Attitudes
“I’ve been made to feel that as an openly gay
male, I somehow brought this on myself.”
Rape is not an inevitable part of prison life.
On the contrary, when effective policies

are in place and fully implemented, sexual
violence can be prevented. Unfortunately,
SPR regularly receives reports from inmates
nationwide describing an engrained staff acceptance of predatory behavior by inmates,
paired with a powerful ‘code of silence’ in
the face of staff sexual misconduct. Such
attitudes on the part of prison officials
contribute significantly to an environment
in which sexual abuse thrives.
Within TDCJ facilities, vulnerable inmates
report being set up for sexual violence by
staff who treat reports of abuse—or threats
thereof—with derision or callousness. In
particular, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual,
and transgender) prisoners describe being
treated dismissively by staff. According to
numerous survivor letters, TDCJ officials
tend to conflate homosexuality and transgender status with consent to rape, and
as a result fail to take appropriate action
when these inmates request assistance. A
prisoner at the Telford Unit describes being
(Abuse, cont’d. on Page 5)

“Calvin,” an inmate who has been raped in several Texas prisons,
including the Clements Unit, writes:
“The first two times I did not [file a grievance], I did not know what a grievance
was and at the time I could not read or write. The 3th time I was raped I did and
I was ship off the unit. The 4th time I was raped I was not ship. I was put right
back in my housing area and I was attack by the same man and almost raped
again. The trouble I have had is not being taken serious…I was put in Safekeeping only to be raped 2 more times. It’s like the officials put me in Safekeeping and I
should accept being raped, and they do not want to hear about it anymore.
TDCJ need to know that what they’re doing is not working...The Safe Prisons Program is not being used to protect inmates, it’s being used as a tool by the officers and
other inmates to harass and retaliate against inmates. The inmates that are raping
other inmates are not being prosecuted. In my case, I have been raped 4 times and
no one has been prosecuted.”

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(Abuse, cont’d. from Page 4)
told, when asking for protection, “You’re an
admitted homosexual, you can’t be raped.
We’re denying you. You learn how to defend
yourself.”
Another inmate, who was raped at the
Connally Unit, writes that, after repeatedly
requesting protection, he was told:

In addition to the TDCJ’s failure to take
seriously reports of sexual abuse by other
prisoners, SPR regularly receives letters
from survivors who have been assaulted by
TDCJ staff. Most of these inmates did not
file formal complaints reporting the abuse,
for fear of retaliation or shame, or because
they simply did not expect such reports to
be taken seriously by staff—who, as survivors often describe them, were likely to be
colleagues of the perpetrator. SPR considers
the staff ‘code of silence’ described by TDCJ
survivors alarming, leaving inmates who
have been subjected to staff sexual misconduct with nowhere to turn.
When survivors do report sexual misconduct by prison staff, they often face retaliation, are transferred to punitive conditions
in a segregated housing unit, or are simply
ignored. An inmate who was sexually assaulted by an officer at the Stiles Unit
explains what happened to him after he
reported the incident:
“Since this has happened, I have been
literally laughed at by a captain on the
staff about the situation. Some officers and
inmates have ridiculed me and even say I’m
snitching…It’s hard to believe that after all

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Photo by: Andrew Johnson

“If you file one more life endangerment,
we will physically put you in a cell with
someone who will beat your ass…” The
inmate goes on to say, “I was told by
[another] lieutenant that I needed to find
someone to hang out with who could protect
me. He was telling me I had to ride [enter
into a coercive relationship with a stronger
inmate].”

this, the only step the administration has
taken is to place this officer in [a different
part of the unit].”
While SPR recognizes that the majority
of TDCJ staff take seriously their duty to
protect the safety of inmates under their
supervision, the organization is deeply
concerned by the dismissive staff attitudes
described by prisoner rape survivors, especially toward inmates whom officials appear
to consider less worthy of protection, such
as LGBT prisoners.
SPR believes that the TDCJ must make
an explicit effort, as a matter of urgency,
to shift staff attitudes toward greater recognition of every human being’s inherent
and inalienable right to be free from sexual
abuse. In-depth sexual violence awareness
training is an essential tool for fostering
such a shift, especially if paired with regular
testing of policy awareness, performance
reviews, and the tying of staff responses to
incidents of sexual abuse to promotions and
salary increases.
(Abuse, cont’d. on Page 7)
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“Crystal” is a small-framed transgender woman held at one of the
five Texas prisons with the highest reported prevalence of sexual
victimization. She describes the abuse she has endured:
“This is my first time in real prison. I have been in the TDCJ for almost two years
now and I have found it extremely difficult to live in general population. Here in
Texas there is something called safekeeping which is a set-up for inmates that are
vulnerable because they are gay, weak, scared, ex-gang members, or some other reason.
I found out about safekeeping after I had already run across many safety issues. Once
I did find out that there was a place where I could feel safer, I repeatedly requested a
transfer, but my attempts to get into safekeeping have been ignored. I believe that it is
evident to the officers that I am having major problems in my current unit, but still
they refuse to classify me into safekeeping.
Because officers are not doing anything to protect me, I get into trouble so that I
can be placed in solitary confinement where I don’t have to deal with the general
population inmates. In general population, I have been extorted, I have been forced to
ride with a gang in order to be protected from another,
more violent gang, and I have had to do sexual favors
for gang members. I have also had to do other favors
such as hold contraband, transfer contraband to other
Photo by: Jonathan Parry

inmates, and wash laundry, clean, and cook for gang
members. I am an artist so in order to pay for my
protection I have drawn and sold portraits. I am tired
of being scared and of having to do things against my
will because I am scared. I just can’t seem to get help
from anyone. I did spend two months in safekeeping
at a different unit, and I felt much safer, but then I was transferred and once again
placed in general population where the cycle of extortion and sexual assault continues.
I’m tired and I’m scared and I no longer want to be anybody’s property or have to pay
money so that I won’t be hurt. I have written to several offices of the TDCJ, including
the Office of the Inspector General and the State Classification Committee, but I
have not received a response or any information. It is as if my safety doesn’t matter
to anybody and that’s why I do whatever these inmates tell me to do. I don’t want to
contract HIV or any other STD, but I’m worried that if things don’t change I will
eventually be infected with something.”

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(Abuse, cont’d. from Page 5)

Responses to Abuse
“Getting raped destroys you from the inside
out, and it takes a part of you and puts it
where you can’t reach it.”
The horror of prisoner rape does not end
with the assault. Faced with few options,
incarcerated survivors of sexual abuse tend
to suffer in silence, unable to access basic
mental health counseling and medical care.
In the short term, survivors often experience
shock, disbelief, panic, and fear. Long-term
psychological problems include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety,
depression, exacerbation of pre-existing
psychiatric disorders, drug and alcohol
addictions, and suicidal feelings. To make
matters worse, most inmates choose not to
file formal complaints after being sexually
abused, for fear of retaliation or because they
are unable to navigate the prison grievance
system.
In letters to SPR, TDCJ inmates describe
the intense sense of isolation they experience

after being sexually assaulted, especially
when their requests for assistance have been
ignored or trivialized. One inmate who
wrote to SPR nine months after being raped
at the Coffield Unit says: “I’ve been trying
to get counseling here on my prison unit
but I have not gotten any responses from
the mental health staff.”Another prisoner,
a young man who was transferred to the
Estelle Unit after being raped at another
facility, describes his emotional condition
in the aftermath of a sexual assault:
“I have tried to receive help from the Psychiatric Department [of the Estelle Unit]
for my depression and stress. But they won’t
help me. [A family member]has tried several
times to get them to. I need medication at
the very least. I am unable to even function
some days. I now suffer from frequent panic
attacks that I have never had before. I need
to be able to let this out somehow. I have kept
it all bottled-up inside for too long.” 
Other survivors report that, when they are
offered the opportunity to see a counselor,
the meeting is neither confidential nor safe.
(Abuse, cont’d. on Page 8)

“Derek” has been raped repeatedly during his time at a TDCJ
facility. He writes:
“I am an inmate here in a Texas prison…and I am a known homosexual and
target of rape and extortion that officials are aware of, yet [they] refuse to allow
me the privilege to do my sentence [with other homosexual inmates]. I am
repeatedly placed in harm’s way, and set upon by gang members and thug guards
before the unit will even attempt to help me. TDCJ refuses to help me.
I have been repeatedly raped, extorted, and jumped on and placed back in the
same housing location, at least ten different times from unit to unit! Never once
allowing me to reach the safekeeping that TDCJ preaches to the public they have.
I have never been given this chance at safety and I fear for my life and wellbeing as I awake everyday in general population.”

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(Abuse, cont’d. from Page 7)
On the contrary, counseling sessions often
occur in view or within earshot of correc­
tions officials and other inmates, who may
have participated in the assault. Even worse,
some inmates describe a shocking lack of
professionalism and expertise regarding
the issue of sexual violence among TDCJ
counselors. A survivor who suffers from
severe PTSD reports that a counselor said
to him, “This is prison, stuff like that happens here.”
In addition to the lack of basic healthcare
services in the aftermath of a sexual assault,
many TDCJ inmates who did wish to make
formal complaints have described having
difficulty navigating the prison grievance
process. A survivor of rape at the Hughes
Unit wrote to the Office of the Inspector
General for the TDCJ that, “I am being
restricted in my access to the grievance procedure by not being able to obtain grievance
forms and to access of information concerning TDCJ rules and policy.”
When formal complaints of sexual violence
are not met with appropriate responses,
survivors become less likely to report their
abuse. This trend is evidenced not only in
the volume of letters SPR receives from
survivors who never filed official reports, but
also by comparing administrative reports
of sexual violence to the levels of abuse
reported confidentially in the Bureau of Justice Statistics 2007 national inmate survey.
Rates of abuse reported by TDCJ inmates
in the national survey were 13 times higher
than what TDCJ correctional authorities
officially reported in the year 2006.
In recent years, TDCJ officials have emphasized the importance of filing formal reports
in the aftermath of sexual abuse, enabling

the system to protect victims and to hold
perpetrators accountable. However, inmates
describe to SPR a disjuncture between this
zero-tolerance policy and the reality faced by
survivors, whose reports of abuse are often ignored. An inmate who was sexually assaulted
by an officer at the Estelle Unit explains:
“We are constantly told to report any
attempts at sexual assault…but when we
do, the reports are ignored…Even when
we demand polygraph tests to shore up our
allegations, we are still ignored…There is
so much sexual violence in this system; it’s a
wonder someone hasn’t spoken up sooner…
Something has to be done.”
Each case of sexual assault in prison constitutes a failure on the part of the facility at
which it occurs. Survivors who are treated
with professionalism and respect following
sexual abuse describe to SPR how such treatment has helped them begin their healing
process.
However, at many TDCJ prisons, the devastation of sexual violence is further aggravated by the poor responses to this type of
violence on the part of officials. By leaving
victims to suffer in isolation, and by allowing impunity for sexual abuse to thrive, the
TDCJ has created a vicious circle.
SPR urges the TDCJ to ensure that all survivors of sexual abuse are offered confidential
rape crisis counseling, preferably by an outside counselor, and medical care comparable
to that available in the community. In addition, SPR believes that the TDCJ must
translate its zero-tolerance policy toward
sexual abuse into an environment where
inmates who have been sexually abused are
able to file formal complaints without fear
of retaliation and further abuse.

STOP PRISONER RAPE
3325 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 340
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Tel: (213) 384-1400
Fax: (213) 384-1411
info@spr.org
www.spr.org

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