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Harris County Jail Among Worst for Inmate Sexual Assault

by Published on
Jail hands

A massive new study by the U.S. Department of Justice ranked more than 350 jails by the rate of sexual abuse reported by their prisoners. Houston’s Harris County Jail came in third.

On average, 4 percent of the nation’s prison inmates and 3.2 percent of its jail inmates are sexually victimized each year, the DOJ reported. At 1200 Baker Street, the largest of the Harris County Jail’s four locations, that rate was more than double: 7.6 percent.

The survey, given to more than 90,000 inmates at 606 prisons, jails, and special confinement facilities, asked prisoners to anonymously report sexual mistreatment suffered at that facility during the last 12 months. It distinguished between types of victimization (rape versus abusive sexual touch), perpetrator (staff versus other inmates) and level of force (physical force versus pressure or coercion.)

At the time of the survey, 1200 Baker Street had just over 4,600 inmates. One in 20 reported being raped by another inmate in the last year.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia has tried aggressively to stem staff sexual misconduct since an internal investigation last year found some jail employees having sex with inmates and one another, and others helping conceal it. Six staff members were fired, two indicted, and two more resigned during the investigation. Garcia promised more video cameras in the jails, additional training, and a new hotline where inmates could report sexual assault.

This is surely to the good, but even before Sheriff Garcia cleaned house, the rate of staff-on-inmate abuse at 1200 Baker Street—1.5 percent—was actually lower than the national average of 1.8 percent. It’s inmate-on-inmate violence that makes Harris County Jail one of just nine jails designated high-rate facilities in the new DOJ report.

Harris County is the only Texas jail on the list, but two Texas prisons (the Stiles Unit in Beaumont and Clements Unit in Amarillo) and one psychiatric facility (Montford Psychiatric in Lubbock) were also classified as high-rate.

The federal survey is mandated by the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, another requirement of which is a study of youth facilities. The Observer‘s Patrick Michels reports here that more than one in ten youth in Texas detention facilities report sexual abuse despite a massive overhaul of that system in 2007.

Researchers analyzed the jail’s population by age, race, sex, education level, type of conviction, length of sentence and even body mass index, along with other factors. Then they weighted their sample results to be representative of the whole facility’s population. Because the survey anonymously collects allegations rather than proven incidents, and because inmates may have reasons to either over- or under-report sexual assault, the researchers say they can’t know their true margin of error. But, they say, the relative severity of sexual victimization at individual facilities is an excellent indicator of where the worst problems exist.

Houston has a problem.

Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.

  • P/O’d loved one of an inmate

    Inmates are people too. The ones who might have had a chance to rehabilitate and become productive members of society have that chance reduced by a large margin when they are not protected from violent or coerced sexual contact while they are incarcerated. Prison rape also increases the percentage of STD’s that are taken back to loved ones when and if they are released since condoms aren’t provided to inmates (since any type of sexual contact in jail is a felony, not that that fact makes any apparent difference to the victimizers) It makes me sick to my stomach that NOTHING is done to help jail rape victims, even when they are vocalizing what’s happening and BEGGING for medical attention. They are told that their injuries aren’t severe enough to warrant medical attention. Infections from wounds caused by rape KILL, but they aren’t important enough to treat in Harris county jails apparently. What a tremendously fucked up justice system. Does someone who is in jail for a reckless driving warrant really deserve to be brutally raped then told that it’s no big deal? Let’s see some change backed with EVIDENCE.

    • Emily DePrang

      I’m so sorry. If you want to talk with me, I would welcome hearing your and your partners’ story. deprang at texasobserver dot org.

  • g_man1

    I call B.S. your study is full of holes and what would one
    expect from a liberal reporter and a liberal run DOJ. Those innocent little
    lambs will say just about anything to get attention. They will con you and lie.
    I have worked for Harris County for a very long time. I have watched these
    inmates game and play the system. Every day we have inmates that claim that
    they have been assaulted, rapped, drugged and everything under the sun. Even
    when they are in a single cell, by themselves. No other inmate or staff member
    has been near them. They have claimed that they have been sexually assaulted.
    It is all a game to get moved or attention.

    Mrs. DePrang, my suggestion to you. Why don’t you come on
    over and apply for a job. You can work as a jailer for the next year. After
    that year, then you can do a follow up story and explain to everyone how you
    were wrong. You can then tell them how good the inmates have it. These inmates get treated far better than the military…

    Some come on down, we will keep a light on for you.

  • G K

    Ms. Emily,

    I surely appreciate your report. The HCJ sickens me. Not to
    say that there are not “any” good people working there, but some are just plain
    sadistic.

    My brother was picked up on an evading arrest with/veh (very
    serious and ignorant decision on my brother’s part I sincerely agree) he was
    arrested on a Friday officially in the system Saturday. Well my mother spoke with
    him and he was doing alright. Come Sunday we didn’t hear from him and assuming
    his floor was locked down, we didn’t panic.

    Come Monday he missed his court, we didn’t hear anything and
    come Wednesday he missed his court again!! We became suspicious and then his
    lawyer informed us that he was told my brother was quarantined in the jail hospital
    and we were very upset and wondering what happened to him.

    We still did not hear from him come Friday and still no
    word. We started to panic, this time the bailiff told our lawyer my brother was
    on suicide watch. (WHAT A CROCK OF S***)!!!

    Our lawyer became furious and demanded more accurate information
    on my brother. Well come Friday night we finally get a call from him.

    He informed us that he was brutally beaten by the HCJ guards
    in an unprovoked attack. He was also stripped naked and tied in something similar
    to a strait-jacket, threw on the floor while HCJ guards provoked a man with HIV
    to sodomized my brother.

    Now g_man, you tell me where the justification is in all of
    that???? Why was this taken place in the HCJ, why did the guards provoke
    this???

    And you have the audacity to pretend that the HCJ guards are
    all innocent, give me a break, I’m not buying it. Look at the statistics, read
    how many guards have been written up/fired and indicted for the sick actions
    they have committed. You may be good and do your job well, but you can’t speak
    for all of them especially when the evidence proves otherwise.

    Emily, thanks again!

    • Deb

      My nephew just went in on Dec. 30, 2013 and now he is in the jail hospital and they won’t let anyone see him or even say what is wrong. They said if he is moved to ICU the family will be notified. We are worried to no end. No idea what happened.