Oct. 24, 2005 – Last week a jury threw out a civil case against several prison officials who a former inmate had accused of ignoring his repeated requests for protection from rape. Roderick Johnson, a former Texas prisoner, said other inmates had beaten, raped and sold him as a sex slave and that prison guards turned a blind eye to the abuse, refusing to transfer him to an area designated for vulnerable prisoners.
Johnson had gone through numerous official channels, virtually exhausting all means available to him in his effort to persuade prison officials to grant him protection. His attorneys, provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that as a black, "effeminate" gay man, Johnson should have been automatically granted his numerous requests for protective housing.
Texas prisons are notorious for widespread internal violence. In 1999 a federal judge found that there was a "culture of sadistic and malicious violence" in the Texas prison system and that inmates are routinely subjected to violence, extortion and rape. In that case, Judge William Wayne Justice also found that officers were aware of inmate-on-inmate victimization but in many cases did nothing to protect vulnerable prisoners.
The Johnson case had brought the issue back to national attention and carved out a new outlet for litigation when an appeals court ruled that Johnson could sue the officers who allegedly ignored his pleas for help.
But, ultimately, the jury chose not to hold the six officers Johnson sued responsible for his treatment in prison.
In a press statement after the verdict, Johnson said he was "disappointed" by the outcome of the case, but "grateful" to have had the opportunity to tell his story. "This case was never about money but about justice," he said. "Even though I didnâ€™t win my case in court, I know the case has accomplished a great deal. Prison rape is a huge problem. This process has opened some eyes to the violence that takes place everyday, and I hope it will encourage others to get involved in doing something about it."
According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 8,210 allegations of sexual violence were reported by correctional authorities in the first half of 2004. Fifty-three percent of the alleged incidents involved staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct or harassment, while 47 percent involved inmate-on-inmate sexual assault. Almost half of the allegations of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence were from Texas, which houses 10 percent of the nationâ€™s prisoners.