November 29, 2014
GENEVA - The United Nations 53rd Committee Against Torture (CAT) concluded their review of human rights complaints from their session that began on November 3rd and ended on November 28th. During their session the committee heard evidence of several deaths occurring in Texas prisons, including a report from the University of Texas Law School's Human Rights Clinic.
In their report the UN Committee cited the following concerns:
The Committee urges the State party to investigate promptly, thoroughly and impartially all deaths of detainees, assessing the health care received by inmates as well as any possible liability of prison personnel, and provide, where appropriate, adequate compensation to the families of the victims.
The State party should adopt urgent measures to remedy any deficiencies concerning the temperature, insufficient ventilation and humidity levels in prison cells, including death row facilities.
At this time several lawsuits are currently awaiting trial, including a heat litigation injunction case which is under appeal in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans which may determine the outcome of other heat cases seeking injunctive relief.
The UN Committee expressed further concern over states not certifying as being compliant with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). In their report the UN Panel stated:
The panel cited the following recommendations be implemented:The Committee is seriously concerned at the widespread prevalence of sexual violence, including rape, in prisons, jails and other places of detention by staff and by other inmates. It also notes with concern the disproportionally high rates of sexual violence faced by children in adult facilities, as well as the higher rates of sexual victimization reported by inmates with a history of mental health problems and LGBTI individuals. While welcoming the promulgation in 2012 of the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), the Committee is concerned by reports that their implementation at the state level continues to be a substantial challenge. In this context, the Committee notes with concern that six states have not certified that they are in full compliance with PREA standards, and several agencies operating federal confinement facilities are still in the process of issuing their own PREA regulations.
The State party to increase its efforts to prevent and combat violence in prisons and places of detention, including sexual violence by law enforcement and penitentiary personnel and by other inmates. In particular, the State party should:
(a) Ensure that PREA standards or similar standards are adopted and implemented by all states, and that all federal agencies and departments operating confinement facilities propose and publish regulations that apply PREA standards to all detention facilities under their jurisdiction;
(b) Promote effective and independent mechanisms for receiving and handling complaints of prison violence, including sexual violence;
(c) Ensure that any and all reports of prison violence, including sexual violence, are investigated promptly and impartially and that the alleged perpetrators are prosecuted;
(d) Ensure the use of same-sex guards in contexts where the detainee is vulnerable to attack, in scenarios that involve close personal contact or that involve the privacy of the detainee;
(e) Provide specialized training to prison staff on prevention of sexual violence; 11
(g) Develop strategies for reducing violence among inmates. Monitor and document incidents of violence in prisons with a view to revealing the root causes and designing appropriate prevention strategies;
(h) Authorize monitoring activities by non-governmental organizations;
(i) Amend sections 1997 e(a) and (e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act;
(j) Revise the practice of shackling of incarcerated pregnant women, bearing in mind that the regime of the prison shall be flexible enough to respond to the needs of pregnant women, nursing mothers and women with children (see the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules, as adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 65/229 of 21 December 2010, Rule 42.2).
Only 6 states have refused to comply to certifying as PREA compliant, these states are Texas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, and Utah. Their failure to certify has brought on international pressures and scrutiny.
The United Nations expressed concerns about the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) impacting a prisoners right to bring lawsuits. The Federal tort reform law was passed in 1997 after several states, including Texas lobbied for the bill.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act was designed to limit Federal court oversight such as in the case of Ruiz v Estelle where Federal Court Judge William Wayne Justice placed the Texas Department of Criminal Justice under Federal court oversight.
See Report by the United Nations Committee Against Torture
See the 5TH Circuit Amicus Brief filed by AFSCME Local 3807
See New York Times Article November 29, 2014. Section A5
United Nations Committee Documents