Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

$1 Million Settlement in Washington DOC Staff Sexual Abuse Suit of Women Prisoners

On June 12, 2009, the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) entered into a settlement agreement in a class-action lawsuit over staff sexual abuse of female prisoners which included $22,500 in attorney fees for future enforcement of the agreement. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the DOC also agreed to pay five named plaintiffs $1,000,000.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in Thurston County Superior Court. It alleged pervasive sexual abuse of female prisoners throughout the prison system. The central goal of the lawsuit was to force reforms on the prison system; how-ever, five individual defendants also sought monetary damages for the sexual abuse they suffered. The lawsuit resulted in the resignation or firing of six prison guard defendants. Other prison staff were convicted of crimes related to the suit’s accusations of “various acts of sexual misconduct against inmates, including voyeurism, exhibitionism, and rape.”

Because of the lawsuit, the DOC made changes to the physical plants of its women’s prisons to reduce the opportunities for staff sexual misconduct. This included the installation of surveillance cameras, restriction of staff access to some closets and rooms which had been previously used for sexual misconduct, installation of viewing windows on doors and installation of privacy curtains for strip-search areas. The DOC also improved staff training on the issue of sexual misconduct, initiated prisoner training on the reporting of sexual abuse, and developed procedures to make it easier to report such abuse and ensure that prisoners reporting sexual abuse would not suffer retaliation for doing so. There were also prison rule changes to prevent favoritism and familiarity and the creation of a staff position for the investigation of prisoners’ allegations of sexual abuse.

The 44-page settlement order detailed aspects of training, complaint and reporting procedures and investigations of allegations of sexual abuse by prison staff. The order puts off further proceedings until January 31, 2010 to give the DOC an opportunity to comply with the order. Although the $1 million settlement ends all claims for monetary damages, the lawsuit continues with respect to requested changes in DOC policies and physical plants. It also prohibits the DOC from rehiring or allowing into the prisons as volunteers or contractors certain defendant guards who were fired or resigned. It requires the DOC to offer prisoners reporting sexual abuse involving body fluids an opportunity for a forensic medical examination and requires the DOC to make mental health services available to women prisoners who allege staff sexual abuse or misconduct.

The order limits the use of protective segregation for prisoners reporting staff sexual misconduct. It requires confidentiality by staff investigating such allegations and that alleged victims be given an oral update on the progress of the investigation every 30 days. Lie detectors are not allowed as an investigation tool.

Seattle attorneys Hank Balson and Nancy Chupp of the Public Interest Law Group and Beth Colgan of Columbia Legal Services won this decisive victory for women prisoners in Washington State. See: Stipulated Judgment and Settlement in Doe v. Clarke, Thurston Co. (WA) Sup. Court, No. 07-2-015130. Documents related to the case are posted on PLN’s website.

Additional Sources: Seattle Spokesman-Review;; Press Releases from Columbia Legal Services; Public In-terest Law Group. PLLC; and Washington DOC

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Doe v. Clarke

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.