On June 14, 2005, Texas mother Linda Bruntmyer went before the Congressional Prison Rape Elimination Commission in Washington, D.C., and told the story of her son, Rodney Hulin, and his untimely death. Rodney was only 16, a waif of a boy at 5'2" and 125 pounds, when he was convicted of setting a trash can on fire in Brazoria County, Texas, that caused $500 worth of damage. The judge decided to make an example of him, and he was sentenced to eight years in an adult prison. His small stature made him an easy target for the hardened convicts, and almost immediately after entering the system, Rodney was raped by another prisoner.
After the assault, while her son healed in the prison hospital, Bruntmyer was in constant contact with the prison warden, begging him to protect her son, to segregate him from the general population. Her cries went unheeded.
“The warden said Rodney needed to grow up,” Bruntmyer testified. “He said, ‘This happens every day; learn to deal with it. It’s no big deal.’ ”
Rodney was put back in with grown men and was subsequently beaten and raped, again and again. After less than a year of this torture, he committed suicide, hanging himself in his cell.
Bruntmyer’s testimony was persuasive, as were her years of lobbying for reform. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice finally issued a series of steadfast guidelines for preventing sexual abuse in correctional facilities, under the provisions of the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act. Among other protections, the provisions required that prisons house teenage boys separately from older convicts.
Linda Bruntmyer died shortly after the PREA reforms were announced in December 2012. She went to her grave believing that her son’s suffering had helped protect other teenagers from abuse in the prison system—and in 49 states, she was right.
In Texas, however, where her son was brutalized, those protections are now in jeopardy.
Last month, Gov. Rick Perry penned a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, informing them that Texas refuses to comply with the 2012 guidelines Bruntmyer fought so hard to secure.
“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,” Perry wrote.
Forget that PREA was signed into law by Perry’s gubernatorial predecessor, George W. Bush. Or that the U.S. Department of Justice consulted with states for nine years before issuing guidelines in May 2012 for how correctional facilities should come into compliance with the law. And yes, those consultations included multiple discussions with Texas officials.
Perry’s own head of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Brad Livingston, wrote to the Department of Justice in 2010 applauding the then-proposed regulations: “[I]t is apparent the Department of Justice gave careful consideration to the comments submitted by many interested parties during 2010. The TDCJ has few issues relating to the proposed national standards.”
Yet two years after the guidelines were released, and four years after his own head of corrections praised them, Perry is complaining.
“PREA…separation standards would require Texas to separate l7-year-old adult inmates from 18-year-old adult inmates at substantial cost with no discernible benefit to the state or its inmates,” Perry has said.
Yes, in some cases the age difference between adult and minor inmates could be as little as a year, but that’s an unrealistic best-case scenario, considering why the laws were needed in the first place. More realistically, the age difference could be vast, and there’s good reason to protect children from hardened criminals.
Perry objects to the very protections that may have kept Bruntmyer’s son alive. Activists who knew her and fought alongside her are appalled.
“Rodney suffered in a state system that did not protect him—from procedures that did not protect him,” said Gabriel London, an activist and filmmaker who documented Bruntmyer’s efforts at reform.
According to Chris Daley, deputy executive director of Just Detention International, nearly a quarter of the most sexually abusive male prisons in the country are in Texas. “If any state needs the PREA standards, it’s Texas,” he said.
Advocates are fighting to get Perry to reverse his stance—so far to no avail. Their efforts will be hampered by their no longer having Linda Bruntmyer at their side.
“Linda was a resolute and steely woman with beautiful blue eyes,” said London. “She was committed to honoring her son’s memory—and she had the force of truth on her side.”
London hopes that memory will be enough to overcome Perry’s obstinacy. “She went to her grave with a sense of pride. It is incredibly sad, after all she fought for, that this issue has been repoliticized.”