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We really should comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act

It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the law.

During a House County Affairs Committee hearing Monday, local sheriffs said the most problematic provision of the 2003 law is a requirement that minors be housed separately from adult prison and jail populations. Since Texas is one of only 10 states that classifies 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, sheriffs would be required to build separate facilities or seek new housing options for these offenders.

“Most county jails just aren’t in the position to do that,” said Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk, who also represents the Texas Sheriffs Association. He said the mandate makes the law nearly impossible to implement for many counties with small staffs and tight budgets.

The law also prohibits what is known as “cross-gender viewing,” a provision that would bar female guards from supervising male inmates during strip searches, showers and other instances. Since 40 percent of Texas’ guards are women, Perry said that enforcing that provision would mean laying off female staff and hiring more men, a violation of labor laws.

Not coming into compliance brings its own costs and dangers, however. The most immediate is the possible loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants. Since 2003, Texas has received more than $3.5 million from the federal government to become PREA-compliant, far more than any other state. If Perry insists on not certifying the state as compliant with the prison rape law, Texas could lose some federal grants, according to a preliminary analysis from the Austin-based think tank Texas Criminal Justice Coalition’s Elizabeth Hennecke.

See here for the background. Seems to me that if we’ve been taking grant money meant to aid compliance with the law, the least we can do is comply with the law. If that means the Lege needs to revisit the issue of classifying 17-year-olds as minors, then so be it. Grits has more.

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