In the summer of 2000, allegations of widespread sexual misconduct by staff in South Carolina prisons began to come to light. Investigation of a tabloid report that Susan Smith had been beaten in prison propelled the controversy into the public spotlight. Smith is notorious for having drowned her two infant sons by rolling her car into a lake in 1999 and then claiming a black man had taken them in a carjacking. Smith later confessed to the murders.
Smith told prison investigators that earlier that year she had four sexual encounters with Lieutenant Houston Cagle, a supervisor at South Carolina's Women's Correctional Institution (WCI) where she is confined. Cagle admitted having sex with Smith and another prisoner and was charged with the offenses in August 2000. State law makes intercourse (but not other sexual acts) with prisoners a felony punishable by 10 years imprisonment. Nor is Smith alone. On September 1, 2000, DOC spokesman John Barclay said that in the previous 20 months, 51 staff members had been fired for "improper treatment" of prisoners, which includes having sex.
The allegations prompted Republican state senator David Thomas of the Corrections and Penology Committee to schedule a legislative hearing for September 12. Corrections Department director William "Doug" Catoe was scheduled to appear before the committee. Thomas, a harsh critic of the Department, expressed concern that sex between prisoners and staff was much more widespread than previously reported, judging from the number of individuals involved.
In an apparent damage control effort, Catoe sent a letter to Governor Jim Hodges on September 11, 2000, claiming that the DOC was on top of investigating the sex stories, disciplining the people involved and cracking down on the problem. Catoe also announced that he had invited the National Institute of Corrections to evaluate his Department's policies and practices in light of the sex scandals and had taken other actions. Catoe blames high turnover and inexperience for the problems, but at least several of those involved were DOC employees of long tenure.
Apparently unconvinced that the DOC could or would do so legitimately, Senator Thomas asked the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the body charged with investigating official misconduct, to conduct an investigation in the wake of the scandals. The governor, also apparently having little confidence in DOC investigative inclinations and capabilities, announced on September 11, 2000, that he had ordered the SLED to conduct all future misconduct investigations in state prisons involving sex and contraband.
SLED chief Robert Stewart announced the investigation on September 13, 2000. However, he characterized SLED's duty as "to ferret out misconduct and corruption on the part of public officials" but "not to taint or ruin the careers of honest public officials& not [to] conduct fishing expeditions." On September 15, Senator Thomas asked Stewart to broaden his investigation. Stewart agreed, but limited it to specific allegations. Coupled with Stewart's earlier comments and additional denigration of "fishing," that suggested law enforcement solidarity would prevent SLED from looking very zealously where prisoners might have been afraid to make charges against vindictive captors or that might incriminate themselves.
On September 14, Stewart announced that the state grand jury would monitor the sex investigation to see if there was a corruption case big enough for that statewide body to investigate. Pete Logan, the grand jury's chief investigator, said the results would be reported to the state's attorney general, Charlie Condon. However, the context and the fact that the grand jury gets its investigators from the SLED suggest executive logrolling: lots of entities' investigations corroborating each other and the conclusion that all is well.
The investigations confirmed only 11 cases of sex between South Carolina prison staffers and prisoners, with seven others still under review, by late September. Whether this stems from a Clintonesque legal definition of sex considering that only actual intercourse by staff with prisoners is illegal is unknown. Given SLED chief Stewart's comments about not fishing and investigating only specific allegations and the climate in South Carolina prisons, it is certain there were many more cases.
Whether it was because of or in spite of the investigations, the following tip of the prison sex scandal iceberg emerged. Captain Alfred Rowe of WCI was charged by SLED with having sex with a prisoner; the arrest warrant says he confessed. Lt. Cagle, maintenance supervisor Joe Hetrick and prison guard Steven Royster were similarly charged and fired. Dacia Florencio, a Ridgeland Correctional institution guard, was fired and charged for having sex with a male prisoner. Two prisoners on a labor crew from Goodman Correctional Institution were disciplined for impregnating two women at WCI. A chaplain, a food service supervisor and a recreation coordinator, all males, were also found to have engaged in sex with female prisoners, according to spokesman Barclay, who refused to name them.
On January 23, 2001, McCoy Spears, 60, a kitchen worker at Department of Juvenile Justice was arrested and charged with having sex with Gail Brown, 29, a female prisoner who also worked in the kitchen. Spears was also charged with giving the prisoner fast food, money and unspecified personal items. Spears was fired the next day and released on bail pending trial.
Additional South Carolina prison employees who have been arrested include Evans Correctional Institution guard Pamela Blackburn who was charged on October 5, 2000, with having sex with prisoner Robert Johnson Jr. On October 12, 2000, four unidentified guards at the Perry Correctional Institution were fired for betting on football games. On October 24, 2000, guard Latrice Bell was charged woth having sex with prisoner Thomas Motgomery at the Manning Correctional Institution. On November 17,2000, Turbeville Correctional Institution guard Terry Collins was charged with having sex and giving contraband to prisoner Tony Burney. On November 29, 2000, Larry Legrant, an inventory superviser at the Women's Correctional was charged with having sex with prisoner Tabitha Rikard. On December 22, 2000, Kershaw Correctional Institution guard Victor Brooks was charged with having sex with a minor female prisoner and pleaded guilty to a non sex offense of assault and battery.
Whether the various agencies will be allowed to investigate the sex scandal and the conditions that allowed it into invisibility so business as usual can
continues to remain to be seen. The prison employees fired and charged were those who were caught or confessed and were sufficiently on the outs with the hierarchy to be made the sacrificial pigs, so to speak. The only other official to take a hit so far is WCI warden Mary Scott, who was moved to another job in the DOC in midSeptember.
PLN has reported the widespread sexual abuse of women prisoners by prison employees that is endemic in American prisons and jails. The problem is not new and appears to be far from resolved. The ongoing pattern is one of abuse, sometimes followed by media attention, and then back to abuse as usual. [Editor's Note: PLN frequently reports on successful litigation by prisoners raped by their captors. The South Carolina DOC settled one such lawsuit on October 16, 1999, for $115,000 after she was raped by prison guard Anthony Green. See: PLN, Aug 2000. Once prison officials pay out enough high damage verdicts reforms will be enacted to minimize the sexual abuse of prisoners.
Sources: APBNews.com, CNN.com, CourtTV Online, Associated Press, The State, Columbia, South Carolina
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