State will comply with federal law in plan to end rapes in prisons

In a shift away from his predecessor, Gov. Greg Abbott has informed the U.S. Justice Department that Texas plans to comply as much as possible with a federal law that aims to prevent prison rape.

Last year, former Gov. Rick Perry said Texas would not follow some requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, calling it a “counterproductive and unnecessarily cumbersome and costly regulatory mess.” But in a recent letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Abbott made clear the state is now working to put in place every part of the law that it can.

“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.”

Abbott’s letter to Lynch was dated Friday, the last day governors had to tell the Justice Department whether their state was in compliance with the law or working to bring it up to speed.

The gay rights group Lambda Legal had petitioned Abbott to do more to combat prison rape. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inmates are disproportionately victims of sexual violence, according to advocates.

“Gov. Abbott has taken a necessary first step to stop sexual violence in Texas prisons and jails,” Jael Humphrey, a Lambda Legal staff attorney, said in a statement Thursday. “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.”