We’re Number Eight! We’re Number Eight!
June 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
The other day you read my chicken scratches about the latest of Texas’ many dubious first place/last place accomplishments, in “We’re Fifty-One! We’re Fifty-One!”
Well today I am somewhat happy to say that we are not number one in one of the country’s most shameful activities, just number eight. Amarillo’s Clements Unit has only the country’s eighth highest rate of inmate-on-inmate sexual assault at male correctional facilities, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
At Clements, just 6.8 percent of inmates report they experienced sexual victimization at the hand of another inmate during the past year.
The report is based on the National Inmate Survey, an anonymous survey of 92,449 adult inmates in 606 prisons, jails and special confinement facilities between February 2011 and May 2012. Caveat: the survey collected allegations of sexual victimization, rather than confirmed incidents.
The survey is a child of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, enacted in an attempt to reduce sexual assault in prisons through the development of prevention standards, punishment of sexual assault and standardized data collection on the crime.
Clements’ new ranking is an improvement over previous years. In 2008 Clements was ranked second highest in terms of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
So much for the good news. As the old saying goes, “Every cloud has its silver lining.” I don’t exactly know what the opposite of this sagebrush observation would be (maybe “Every sunny summer day has its health-threatening ozone level”), but regardless of how it might read, it’s as common as dust devils in West Texas.
To wit: (1) in this latest survey, more inmates at Clements report being forced, coerced or pressured into sex or sexual contact with prison staff than any other male prison in the country.
While staff sexual misconduct at Clements is on the decline, 8.1 percent of inmates reported sexual victimization by staff involving force or threat of force, the highest rate of any prison or jail in the country, according to the survey. Clements inmates also reported the highest rate for inmates being coerced or pressured into sex among male prisons, at 8.7 percent.
In response to questions from an Amarillo Globe-News reporter, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson Jason Clark questioned the report’s accuracy due to the anonymity of surveyed inmates.
“Many allegations of sexual assault investigated by the Office of Inspector General, even if they accurately reflect the offender’s perceptions, simply do not include the basic legal elements of sexual assault, and could reflect offender attitudes toward other offensive behavior or legitimate security precautions such as strip searches,” he said.
Two other Texas prisons surveyed were identified as having high rates of sexual victimization by inmates, Lubbock’s Montford Psychiatric Facility with a rate of 8.4 percent and Beaumont’s Stiles Unit with 7.8 percent. The Clements Unit was one of two Texas facilities identified as having high rates of sexual misconduct with staff. At the Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, 6.8 percent of inmates reported sexual activity with prison staff.
(2) All in all, the survey identified five Texas jails and prisons with high rates of sexual victimization by inmates or sexual staff misconduct — more than any other state included in the report.
To be fair, here’s TDCJ’s side of the story, courtesy of the Globe-News.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Office of the Inspector General investigates knowledge or allegations of staff sexual misconduct, said Ralph Bales, the Prison Rape Elimination Act ombudsman for TDCJ. Employees who violate TDCJ sexual abuse policies, federal or state law are subject to disciplinary penalties, including criminal prosecution, he said. Clements Unit staff receive sexual abuse prevention training, Bales said.
Sexual assault exams for inmates at the Clements and Neal units are performed at Northwest Texas Hospital, said Ric Vogelgesang, facility health administrator of the Neal Unit.
The TDCJ Safe Prisons Program screens offenders for possible vulnerability to sexual assault or aggressiveness, Bales said. Inmates take a sexual assault awareness course that includes methods to avoid victimization, and the program was expanded in 2010 to include the inpatient mental health population, he said. Almost half of the 3,557 inmates at the Clements Unit are on an inpatient or outpatient mental health caseload, Bales said.
Inmates held for violent sexual offenses and who are under psychological distress reported higher rates of sexual victimization by another inmate, according to the survey. Gay, lesbian or bisexual inmates are among those who are most at risk for sexual assault, the report said.
Understaffing, high employee turnover and the level of violence at a facility can contribute to its sexual assault rate, said Michele Deitch, jail conditions expert and professor at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Higher rates can also be associated with facilities in rural locations, which can have reduced transparency, she said.
Salaries for correctional officers begin at $2,319.05 per month, according to the TDCJ.
You get what you pay for, I guess.