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Abbott Wins Over Civil Rights Group With Pledge To Implement Federal Prison Rape Prevention Standard

Ryan E. Poppe
Gov. Greg Abbott Pledges Texas Will Be PREA-compliant by 2016

Governor Greg Abbott is doing what his predecessor wouldn’t, by implementing federal rape prevention standards at state prisons and jails.    The move has prison guard unions and civil rights groups applauding the governor’s efforts.

The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act or PREA was signed into law in 2003, it asks states to record the number of sexual assaults reported inside their prisons and jails and then detail what action was taken to prevent that from happening in the future.  It’s a federal act that both Abbott and the director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, Jim Harrington agree creates a safer prison system.

“For example, how people got classified in prison so that violent assaultive prisoners are kept separate from vulnerable prisoners, you want guards to report when it happens so that you can take corrective action,” Harrington said.

A 2008 federal study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics ranked five Texas prisons as having the highest rate of inmate reported rapes in the country at the time.

In 2014, former-governor Rick Perry refused to sign the PREA pledge, citing that there was no way for the state to track down that kind of data, so the federal government withheld an $810,000 matching grant that was tied to this effort by the Department of Justice.  Lance Lowery, President of Texas’ Prison Guard Union says ultimately these standards exist to create a safer work environment.

“When you have an unsafe system that creates a vacuum for more weapons, potential for more assaults and violence and it’s just not good to have an escalated atmosphere,” Lowery explained.

The Governor’s office indicates that a quarter of Texas jails and prisons have completed their PREA audit and are in compliance with the federal standard and the rest are on their way for completing their assessment ahead of the DOJ deadline set for May of 2016.   

There were 316 allegations of “offender on offender” sexual assault reported in calendar year 2014.