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Reversing Rick Perry

A new Texas governor, a new policy on prison rape.

Striking a very different tone from his predecessor, Gov. Greg Abbott has announced that Texas will fully implement federal standards designed to reduce the prevalence of rape in the state's prisons, jails, and other facilities. On May 15, the deadline for states to respond as to whether they were working on implementation, Abbott sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Abbott wrote, "I cannot yet certify that the State is in full compliance with [the] Prison Rape Elimination Act (‘PREA’) because our PREA audits are still ongoing” and said that 32 out of the state's 110 jails and prisons and 9 out of 14 juvenile facilities have been audited.

Texas has widely been considered to have one of the worst records on prison rape. The state has been the subject of several media reports lately, in part due to an orchestrated campaign by the non-profit organization Lambda Legal, whose client, Passion Star, is a transgender woman who claims she was repeatedly raped and that prison officials knew and failed to help her.

As we reported in February, it was a young Texas man named Rodney Hulin whose suicide in the wake of multiple assaults partially spurred Congress to pass the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Gov. Rick Perry, who presided over the state from 2000 until January 2015, became the unofficial spokesman for a group of seven states who told the federal government they would not comply with the law, which Perry called "counterproductive and unnecessarily cumbersome and [a] costly regulatory mess." In particular, Perry took issue with the requirement that prisoners 17 years old and younger who were convicted as adults be separated from older prisoners.

While Perry attacked the requirement publicly, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice actually began to implement it. In 2012, Abbott — who at the time was the state’s Attorney General — announced that local jails must separate young inmates. In his letter last week, Abbott wrote that the prison agency "is confident it has taken adequate measures to segregate those youthful offenders.”

Texas now joins the vast majority of states who are promising to implement PREA, though how long the implementation takes and whether it actually reduces prison rape remains to be seen. The anti-prison rape organization Just Detention International last year announced that it "receives more letters from survivors of sexual abuse in Texas prisons than from any other state."