San Antonio attorneys potentially representing inmates at Bexar County Jail

The news that Texas Governor Rick Perry is refusing to comply with some federal mandates for prison reform isn’t surprising to many Texans – as well as Austin, Dallas and San Antonio attorneys familiar with Texas’ penchant to give “the finger” to federal oversight and regulatory impositions. This article in My San Antonio Online reports on Gov. Perry’s letter to Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, and its contents rebuffing the federal reforms for detention centers targeted toward eliminating prison rape nationwide.

The reforms were issued as part of the Prison Rape Elimination Act passed in 2003 under President George W. Bush, but the details weren’t completed until 2012. Some of the reform measures include regulations on cross-gender supervision and searches, as well as requirements of housing inmates who identify as transgender with their identified gender, rather than biological gender. San Antonio attorneys representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients along with those advocating for their civil rights might take issue with Perry’s refusal to comply if Bexar County Adult Detention Center doesn’t see the benefits of these reforms in due time.

The timeline given by the Prison Rape Elimination Act from 2012 gave states until May of 2014 to complete an audit of virtually all incarceration facilities in the states. Perry is saying this is impossible. Indeed, Texas’ facilities are extensive, with almost 300 prisons, jails and lockups, and only about 100 certified auditors nationwide. Texas also houses more prisoners than any other state, and with 152,000 detainees statewide, San Antonio attorneys caution that the risk of liability lawsuits with noncompliance of the federal standards is pretty high.

Lance Lowry, president of a local union representing corrections officers in Huntsville, thinks so, too. “Mr. Perry’s argument is very short-sighted and from our stance, he is opening the agency and the agency staff to a tremendous amount of liability,” Lowry said. But Perry remains unconvinced.

Arguing the old, “we already do that stuff,” Perry insists that Texas’ “zero tolerance policy” on sexual violence in its prisons is doing the job without complying with additional federal regulations. Furthermore, such regulations are disruptive to jobs, Perry argues. Compliance with the law “may mean the loss of job and promotion opportunities for women,” who, as guards, would be barred from searching and supervising the male inmates who make up the majority of the prison population.

San Antonio attorneys wonder about Bexar County’s compliance plans, since despite what Gov. Perry is saying, jails like the one in Harris County have already revamped policies regarding housing LGBT inmates. Gov. Perry claims his non-cooperation is due to the cost associated with the reform, and the federal mandates’ infringement on state rights. Texas has historically been in favor of state rights supremacy, but this time, like others, it could be costly. If facilities in Texas don’t follow the federal law, they could lose federal funds, and $23.9 million from federal grants for prisons is at stake. State rights enthusiasts should probably be made aware of this cost, and taxpayers may argue that they should get some of the say in the matter if they’re to shoulder an additional burden of more than $23 million in the coming year.

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