Texas will not comply with parts of a federal law designed to eliminate prison rape, Gov. Rick Perry said in a letter to the U.S. Attorney General, calling the rules too costly and an infringement on state rights.
Perry’s letter, dated Friday and obtained by The Associated Press from the governor’s office, touches on themes he has railed against in the past, saying "the rules appear to have been created in a vacuum with little regard for input from those who daily operate state prisons and local jails."
Texas could lose some federal grant dollars if it doesn’t comply with Washington’s orders, though it’s not clear how much, and the head of a local union representing corrections officers said the state and prison workers could be exposed to costly lawsuits.
The Houston Chronicle first reported that Perry had written the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed in 2003 under President George W. Bush. But the rules were completed in 2012 and states were given until May 15 to complete an audit of nearly all prisons, jails and lockups. That’s a deadline Perry said was "impossible to meet," especially since there are only about 100 certified auditors nationwide. In Texas alone, there are nearly 300 facilities.
Texas’ state prisons will comply with most of the rules, prison spokesman Jason Clark said in an emailed statement.
In his letter, Perry cited a portion of the law that bars cross-gender searches and seeing inmates without clothing, saying that because 40 percent of prison guards in male units are women and complying with the law may mean the loss of job and promotion opportunities.
Clark said the limitations on cross-gender supervision would have a "substantial operational impact," adding that Texas already has a "zero tolerance policy" on sexual violence in its prisons.
But Lance Lowry, president of a local union representing corrections officers in Huntsville, said Texas already bars male officers from doing patdowns on female inmates - although female officers can and do search male inmates.
"Mr. Perry’s argument on that 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.
Perry also criticized a suggestion from a consultant that prisons remove some security cameras, calling it ridiculous.
"Doing so would not only be a security risk for both prisoners and staff but also increase the likelihood of assaults taking place, defeating the intent of the law," Perry wrote.
The state also will not raise the age - from 17 to 18 - at which it treats inmates as adults, Perry wrote. The rules, he added, do not allow for "differences among the states."
States that do not comply could lose federal grant dollars. Three grants that totaled $23.9 million last year could be subjected to partial cuts, Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said, adding that Texas has not been told how much money could be at stake.
County jails and local lockups can take measures to comply with the federal rules. Some already are, including the Harris County Jail, which revamped policies regarding the housing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inmates.
Most issues can be easily resolved if staffing levels system-wide are corrected, Lowry said.
"The lack of staff is something the politicians need to address," Lowry said. "They have run these facilities short of staff for years."