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Pregnant Wisconsin Prisoner Punished for Sexual Contact While Guard Walks Free

In December, 2002, a mentally ill female prisoner at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI) in Wisconsin was given a year of solitary confinement after being impregnated by a prison guard, while the guard, Mathew Emery, was fired but not prosecuted.

Prisoner Jackie Noyes, 24, who has a well-documented history of mental problems, was given the punishment for confessing to four sexual encounters with Emery, also 24, at the mental health unit where she was supposed to be receiving treatment. Prison officials found her guilty of "sexual conduct" and "soliciting staff" and ordered the year-long segregation. Emery confessed only to two sexual encounters with Noyes, although both agreed the relationship was consensual.

However, the focus of this case has centered on the injustice created when a mentally ill prisoner is given any punishment at all while the perpetrator the guard virtually walks free. Wisconsin state Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (D-Milwaukee) described the situation as "tragic" and an embarrassment." And legislators from both sides of the aisle acknowledge Noyes was a victim, and expressed their dismay at the way prison officials have treated her.

Wisconsin, however, is one of only four states that do not criminalize sexual contact between prison staff and the prisoners in their charge.

Perhaps as a result of the outcry, in late December, 2002, the TCI warden reduced Noyes' sentence to 180 days. Noyes, though, has since been transferred back to the prison's mental health unit after attorney Todd Winstrom of the Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy, protested her punishment to Division of Adult Institutions administrator Steve Casperson. "The initial disposition was not appropriate, and therefore it was modified. This is something we're going to have ongoing discussion and education about." In all, Noyes was held in segregation from the time she confessed to the sexual contact on November 12, 2002, to mid-February, 2003, when Casperson modified her sentence.

The relationship reportedly began when Noyes was assigned to pick up garbage in the offices of the mental health unit and Emery was her supervisor. Emery then began to write sexually graphic notes and letters to Noyes, which he would either give her personally or slip under her cell door.

"Girl, you just don't know how good it felt to hold you in my arms and kiss you again," one of the printable letters began. "You seem to be holding back this time, what's up with that?"

Prison officials began investigating the improper relationship on November 10, 2002, after finding one of the love letters Noyes had left in the staff break room. Emery was quickly suspended and later fired but was not prosecuted, as Wisconsin has no law banning such conduct.

Twice since 1999, bills have been introduced in the Wisconsin legislature making it a felony for prison staff to have sexual contact with a prisoner. But both times the bill was killed due, in large part, to strong opposition from the union representing the guards who feel sex with prisoners is a job perk. Both bills unanimously passed the state Assembly but were never brought to a vote in the Senate.

New legislation, supported by the state Department of Corrections, has now been introduced that would impose a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for sexual contact with a prisoner. The head of the state union representing the guards said on February 12 that the guards would continue to oppose any such bill. As this issue of PLN goes to press the legislation is still pending.

Alabama, Oregon and Vermont are the three other states that do not make sexual contact between staff and prisoners a felony.

Source: The Journal Sentinel

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