Texas No Longer In Open Defiance of Federal Anti-Prison Rape Law

We're trying.

That's the gist of a letter sent by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch regarding Texas' compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) last week.

"I cannot yet certify that the state is in full compliance with Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA"), because our PREA audits are still ongoing," Abbott wrote. "But every facility that has completed the PREA audit process has been certified as fully compliant. And I can assure you that we will fully implement DOJ's PREA standards wherever feasible."

PREA was signed by President George W. Bush in 2003. It requires that inmates in any jail, prison or juvenile facility not be subject to cross-gender strip or cavity searches nor should they have to shower, change clothes or use the restroom in front of non-medical personnel of the opposite gender. PREA also sets standards for the reporting of sexual assault in jails and prisons and mandates the separation of youth offenders from adults. In his letter, Abbott says that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice continues to search for solutions for 17-year-old offenders in the state, because Texas law mandates 17-year-olds be locked up with adults.

Abbott's letter to Lynch stands in stark contrast to former Governor Rick Perry's stance on PREA. Perry claimed in a March 2014 letter to former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that Texas could not possibly comply with PREA. He complained about the costs implementing the law would create and insisted that the feds were infringing on Texas' right to determine its age of criminal responsibility by mandating that 17-year-olds be kept away from older inmates.

States in violation of PREA are subject to a loss of a portion of federal funds. Plaintiffs can also cite noncompliance with the law in lawsuits against non-complying states.

Jael Humphrey, a staff attorney with Lambda Legal, an organization that's fought hard for PREA in Texas, praised Abbott's letter.

"Governor Abbott has taken a necessary first step to stop sexual violence in Texas prisons and jails. It is only the first step, however, and sustained commitment is needed from all levels of the Texas criminal justice system to make clear that rape is not an acceptable part of any sentence, for any crime. PREA provides a framework to make desperately needed change," he said Thursday in a statement.

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