April 2010 – Each week, the staff of the prison watchdog group Just Detention International receives about 30 letters from inmates who say they’ve been sexually assaulted in prisons across the nation.

More than a quarter of those letters come from one state: Texas.

Sexual abuse is a problem in prisons from Rikers Island to Albany, N.Y. But even when adjusted for the number of inmates in a given prison system, Texas still stands out as the state where sexual assault in prison is most prevalent.

Five of the 10 prisons with the highest rates of sexual abuse in the country are in Texas. That includes the top two, the Estelle Unit and the Clements Unit.

Garrett Cunningham was an inmate at the Luther Unit in Navasota, Texas, in 2000, when he says a corrections officer twice his size accosted him on his way to the shower, handcuffed him, raped him, and then forced him into the shower. Cunningham said the officer threatened to have him transferred to “a rougher unit where I would be raped all the time” if he told anyone about the assault.

Cunningham told his story to a panel of congressmen investigating sexual abuse in prisons in 2005.

“Many men and women in Texas experience sexual abuse at the hands of officers and other prisoners,” Cunningham said. “Their pleas for help go unanswered by administrators and staff.”

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