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September 16, 2009

What can and should be done about prison staff sex abuse of prisoners?

A helpful reader pointed me to this notable column by in the Washington Post, which is headlined "Chilling Findings in Report on Prison Sex Abuse."  Here is how it starts:

Prisoners don't command much respect. Those who steal, rape and murder make life miserable for the rest of us and should pay for their actions. But when society puts them away, they must be treated decently, humanely and in accordance with the law.

So a report last week from the Justice Department's inspector general was particularly troubling because it detailed crimes by an unexpected group: federal employees who work in the prisons.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine calls it "staff sexual abuse of federal inmates." The document paints a disgusting picture of federal employees who have disgraced themselves, shamed their professions and dishonored the federal service.

As my colleague Carrie Johnson reported Friday, the inspector general found that allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct had more than doubled from fiscal year 2001 through 2008. "These allegations increased at a faster rate than either the growth in the prisoner population or the number of BOP [Bureau of Prisons] staff," the IG's report says. "BOP officials told us they believe this increase is due to the BOP's efforts during this time period to educate and encourage staff and inmates to report abuse."

I suspect that this problem is not unique to federal prison facilities, and I wonder if this new report will lead to some positive developments on this front.  I am not confident that persons involved in this kind of sex abuse are always effectively prosecuted and sentencing, though I am also not confident that a criminal justice response will be sufficient to address this problem that surely grows as prison populations grow.

September 16, 2009 at 09:07 AM | Permalink


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Nominees for best use of understatement in a blog this week:

"I suspect that this problem is not unique to federal prison facilities"


"I am not confident that persons involved in this kind of sex abuse are always effectively prosecuted and sentenc[ed]"

Posted by: anon | Sep 16, 2009 4:21:36 PM

A female BOP Counselor/Case Mgr. at FMC - Lexington (Ky.) was arrested in June 2007, and charged with having sex with an inmate who had been in custody at the FMC and then lying to F.B.I. agents, who were investigating the matter. Inmates cannot legally consent to have sex, so if staff have sex with them, they are de facto guilty of a crime, just like statutory rape. The inmate had served his time and been released into the community. The agents asked her about the matter, and she denied it. They asked her if she had seen the inmate since his release, and she said "no". By law, B.O.P. staff are required to report to the B.O.P. any contact they may have with an inmate for 2-3 years following his release. The F.B.I. aagents then confronted her with the car loan and cell phone contracts she had co-signed for the inmate following his release. She was indicted and arraigned in Federal Court (E.D.Ky.-Lex.) on a Monday and released on bond. The next morning she committed suicide with a pistol in her garage. The Lexington "Herald-Leader" (kentucky.com) reported on this matter in 2007. Staff - inmate sexual contact is a big problem, but is often unreported, because both parties are "consenting adults".

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Sep 16, 2009 9:49:36 PM

Men should not guard women, and women should not guard men. It is abhorrent. The BoP prides itself in being an equal opportunity employer -- rediculous. Pregnant female inmates had to have had sex with someone inside the prison. If an inmate complains about sexual abuse, the abuse only gets worse. Inmates are not believed over guards. The worst guards are women. Power goes to their heads, and they abuse both the inmates and their families in the visiting room. Little children are refused their visits in the hot summer because they are wearing sundresses; the male guards do not weigh and measure. The female guards do. The rules should be consistent and not determined by the power-hungry female guards who won't allow husbands and wives to hold hands or touch at all. The BoP rules say they may hold hands but may not interlock legs. In general the males guards are rational, but there are too many female guards who are not. Inmates should not be abused. Given the Innocence Project and the finding that about 10% of death-row inmates are innocent, then there must be at least that percentage throughout the rest of the system; hence, rules should be made acknowledging the innocent in prison.

Posted by: layperson | Sep 17, 2009 4:22:56 AM

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