by Marene Gustin
This morning Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia announced sweeping changes in the department and at the jail facilities for LGBTQI persons in a news release.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed in 2003, provides “for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in federal, state, and local (including county) institutions and to provide information, resources, recommendations, and funding to protect individuals from prison rape.”
PREA also created a national commission that drafted standards for the elimination of prison rape; those standards went into effect August 20, 2012. While much of PREA concerns all inmates, a large portion is specifically directed to the LGBTQI community.
Today Sheriff Garcia announced the culmination of his office’s studies on best practices nationwide to comply with the law. The practices will be enforced for relations between employees and employees and relations between employees and inmates.
In the past, inmates were housed according to physical gender characteristics. Going forward Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) employees will also take into account how the inmates identify themselves, and they will be called by the name they prefer.
The law states: “In deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female inmates, and in making other housing and programming assignments, an agency may not simply assign the inmate to a facility based on genital status. Rather, the agency must consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems, giving serious consideration to the inmate’s own views regarding his or her own safety. In addition, transgender and intersex inmates must be given the opportunity to shower separately from other inmates.”
The Harris County department says there will be extensive staff training on the new policies and zero tolerance for noncompliance by employees.
HCSO believes its new polices to be the most comprehensive LGBTQI policy of its kind in the country.
Founded in 1837, HCSO is the largest sheriff’s office in Texas and the third-largest in the country. It has more than 4,000 employees, and the county jail processes 125,000 booking in and out every year.
For more information on PREA, see prearesourcecenter.org.