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Wisconsin Enacts Law, Prison Reforms Regarding Sex Assaults

by Michael Rigby

On August 31, 2004, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WDOC) announced it would immediately implement sweeping policy changes in the way it views and handles staff-on-prisoner sexual assaults. The reforms come a year after legislation was enacted criminalizing sex between guards and prisoners, and more than 18 months after the Department made headlines for sentencing to a year in segregation a mentally ill prisoner impregnated by a guard.

Pursuant to the changes, prison employees will receive training about the new law, under which guards convicted of sexual assault can be fined up to $100,000 and sentenced to a maximum of 40 years prison; prison investigators will undergo standardized training; all allegations of sexual misconduct will be referred to law enforcement; prison staff will be required to report sexual misconduct by any employee; prison administrators will be required to keep central records of all allegations, investigations, and dispositions of sexual assault cases involving staff; and prisoners reporting sexual assaults will no longer be segregated, but will either be transferred to another unit or the accused guard will be reassigned. (Department administrators can still order a prisoner segregated in limited circumstances).

Hallelujah," said Todd Winstrom, an attorney with the Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy, upon learning of the reforms. It's outstanding. These are precisely the steps that ought to be taken. They will make it more likely that inmates will report sexual exploitation by staff.

Calls for change came after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the plight of four female prisoners at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI). All had been placed in solitary confinement for having personal relationships with guards or for trying to report sexual misconduct.

One of the women, Jackie Noyes, a 24-year-old prisoner with a well-documented history of mental illness, was sentenced to a year in segregation in December 2002 after she was impregnated by guard Mathew Emery, also 24. Both claimed the sex was consensual. [See: PLN, August 2003, p. 4.] However, because Wisconsin was one of only four states at that time without a law banning sex between guards and prisoners (the other three were Vermont, Alabama, and Oregon), Emery was fired but not prosecuted.

The fact that the victim of a sexual assault was punished while the perpetrator walked free outraged prisoner advocates and state lawmakers alike. As a result, a bill was quickly pushed through the state legislature making it a felony for guards to engage in sex with prisoners. (Similar bills had been killed twice before, due in large part to opposition from the guards' union who apparently view their members having sex with the prisoners they oversee as a job perk). The bill became law on August 20, 2003.

State Representative Bonnie Ladwig (R-Racine), the bill's chief sponsor, said the law was necessary. It's a crime to sexually assault somebody," she said. It's especially needed because if you're in prison and a guard is telling you to do this, you probably would because there would be consequences if you didn't.

Molly Farady-Sultze, an advocate with the Reach Counseling Service in Oshkosh, said the statute will help preserve the dignity of prisoners. Even if someone is incarcerated, they don't give up their basic human rights," she said. By putting this into law, at least they will be protected while serving their time.

Although the new law extends to probation and parole officers, employees of county boot camps and work camps, juvenile detention centers, work-release programs, and jails--as well as contractors and volunteers at those facilities--sexual assaults are still occurring in the state's jails and prisons.

In 2004, two Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies were investigated for allegedly sexually assaulting female prisoners. Deputy Delano Terrell, 42, was placed on administrative leave after being charged with sexually assaulting a woman in a jury restroom at the county courthouse, according to a statement released by the Sheriff's Department. In the statement, Sheriff David Clarke called Terrell a rogue officer" who committed boorish behavior.

Apparently, while transporting a group of prisoners to the courthouse on February 24, 2004, Terrell also took a 21-year-old woman who was not scheduled for court that day. Once at the courthouse, Terrell took the woman into a jury restroom and locked the door, removed the woman's handcuffs, then her clothes, and sexually assaulted her.

On April 29, 2004, Terrell was charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in public office. He faces up to 43 years and six months in prison if convicted on both charges. Terrell was acquitted of a similar charge in 2000. In that case, Terrell had been accused of kissing a prisoner and removing her shirt, then exposing himself while on a courthouse elevator.

In December 2003, deputy Tony L. Kearney was fired for allegedly allowing late-night strip shows and sexually assaulting prisoners at the Milwaukee county jail. On June 29, 2004, after hearing testimony from prisoners at the jail, the county's Personnel Review Board upheld the firing.

One prisoner testified that Kearney made us show our bodies," while working alone on third shift. Two male prisoners said Kearney kept open his office blinds so male prisoners could watch the women undress and flash their breasts. These statements corresponded with the statements of other prisoners given independently, said jail investigators.

The review board also heard testimony relating to the sexual assault of two prisoners in 2003, but failed to sustain the allegations.
Kearney categorically denied the charges and said all the prisoners were lying. That's why their called cons--they are con artists," he said.

County attorney Tim Schoewe, who represented the Sheriff's Department, said common threads ran through the prisoners' statements and that Kearney had taken advantage of prisoners and jeopardized jail security. Prosecutors have declined to pursue charges against Kearney.

Meanwhile, the WDOC was taking its time implementing proposed reforms. After news of the Noyes incident exploded, prison officials hired consultants from a branch of the U.S. Justice Department to review department policies and procedures relating to sexual assaults. In a report dated July 2003, they listed numerous systemic problems, many of which were addressed in the current spate of reforms.

However, it is unclear if the WDOC has actually defined what constitutes sexual misconduct. Angie Hougas, Amnesty International's Wisconsin coordinator, said such basic and necessary changes could have been made sooner. They've had a long time to come up with a definition of sexual misconduct," she said.

The consultants were most critical of the prison's policy of segregating prisoners who alleged sexual assault by staff. Yet, as recently as February 2004, the policy continued. On February 3, Christina Maves, a mentally ill female prisoner at TCI, was sent to solitary confinement in handcuffs and leg irons during an investigation of her relationship with a prison captain. She remained there for 25 days. WDOC spokesman Bill Clausius said Maves was segregated to protect the integrity of the investigation and for her safety.

Maves's attorney, Todd Winstrom, saw it differently. This is another very troubling situation where a woman has been placed in solitary when she had done nothing wrong," said Winstrom, who noted that Maves attempted suicide while in segregation.

The captain, James Harper Jr., 53, was initially placed on administrative leave with pay, but later chose to retire. Among Maves's belongings prison officials had discovered Harper's cell phone number, his birth date, and other personal information. In a February 16, 2004 letter to TCI warden Jodine Deppisch, Harper, who had worked for the WDOC since 1975, asked to retire with full benefits in lieu of being dismissed" because of misconduct.

Harper and Maves denied any physical involvement, claiming their relationship was based on religious discussion. Harper told investigators that each night" before he started his duties, the two would do Bible study" and told a reporter he did share personal information" with her over a 16-month period. When investigators asked Maves about their relationship, she said it was strictly spiritual." He is old," she said. There has never been any physical contact.

After interviewing other guards at the unit, investigators concluded that Harper spent an inordinate amount of time" with Maves, failed to truthfully" respond to questions, and participated in inappropriate conduct by conducting religious study/discussion sessions with inmate Maves on virtually a daily basis.

Only time will tell if the WDOC's reforms actually benefit prisoners. Until then, those who have dealt with the system may remain skeptical. They're just trying to get the people who complained off their back," said Samantha Marks, who was released from TCI in June 2004. Policy and procedures aren't always followed. If they were, there would be no sexual misconduct.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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