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PREA Audit at Montana Women’s Prison Amid Sexual Misconduct Complaints

by Matt Clarke

A June 2017 audit at the Montana Women’s Prison (MWP) found the facility was not in full compliance with 20 of 43 standards promulgated under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), enacted in 2003. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.1; Sept. 2013, p.1].

The prison, which has a design capacity of 206 prisoners, held 212 women as of February 2018.

According to the lead auditor, Jillian Shane, findings of noncompliance are common in PREA audits. She also said prison officials have 180 days to achieve compliance with any standard found lacking. A re-audit in October 2017 indicated that MWP met all – but exceeded none – of the 43 PREA standards.

The audit took place against a backdrop of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of prisoners by staff at MWP. Conducted while Joan Daly-Shinners was warden, the initial audit faulted the facility for inadequate or nonexistent PREA training for staff and prisoners; failing to have a full-time PREA coordinator; blind spots in the prison’s video surveillance system; failing to timely screen newly-arrived prisoners for risk of abusiveness or victimization; and failure to protect people who reported sexual abuse from retaliation.

One particularly important deficiency was an inadequately trained PREA investigator. Of 68 administrative investigations triggered under PREA in the year preceding the audit at MWP, none resulted in criminal investigations of sexual abuse. The primary PREA investigator at the prison “was unaware of the possible outcomes, preponderance of evidence requirements and evidence collection,” noted the June audit.

“It appears to the auditor that the investigations were neither thorough nor objective,” the report concluded.

Jennie Hansen was appointed warden after Daly-Shinners retired in November 2017. The audit described Hansen as “enthusiastic about the positive changes” related to PREA, and expressed hope that “cultural based concerns identified during the first visit” would be less of a problem under her watch. Since Warden Hansen arrived, she has hired a full-time PREA coordinator to oversee sexual misconduct claims.

Of 81 PREA investigations in all Montana state prisons in 2017, just five were referred for criminal prosecution – two involving staff-on-prisoner incidents and three involving prisoner-on-prisoner incidents. Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training (PSOST) executive director Perry Johnson said there were currently 70 open investigations regarding PREA allegations at MWP.

One involved prisoner Chanda Kline, who has filed a lawsuit alleging she was raped by a guard while incarcerated for forgery and drug possession at MWP two decades ago. Her alleged abuser was fired for workplace misconduct in 2013 but has never faced criminal charges. Kline said she was afraid to report the rape when it occurred due to fear of retaliation.

“I did what I had to, to survive,” Kline stated. “It’s bad enough that you go [to prison] and you feel guilty and horrible and small to begin with, but to have someone stomp on you in that condition and be left hopeless somewhere was the worst feeling I ever had.”

MWP guard John Goodnight lost his Peace Officer Specialized Training (POST) certification in 2016 after allegedly exchanging romantic letters with a prisoner. That same year another guard, Michael Mansfield, was fired amid allegations of sexual harassment of both prisoners and female staff. A POST investigation revealed he had offered any staff member or prisoner $100 to find him a girlfriend age 22 to 35, and had later married a woman who had been incarcerated on his watch.

Manuel Zuniga, a 12-year veteran guard at MWP, lost his POST certification in 2017 after he was discovered having unwanted sexual contact with multiple prisoners, intimidating witnesses and providing contraband to favored prisoners he called his “princesses.” [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.63]. That same year, guard John Koenig, a 13-year veteran, also lost his POST certification; he was accused of having sexual contact with a parolee and flirting with and favoring certain prisoners.

During the PREA audit, MWP human resource officials admitted that when performing background checks on new guards, they failed to ask whether applicants were the subject of an open investigation. As a result, they reviewed all new hires over the previous year. None of the reviews raised red flags.

Another portion of the audit found that among prisoners who were placed in segregation to protect them from being victimized, one was left in solitary confinement for 67 days. Only when the auditor intervened was that prisoner returned to the general population. Intervention by the auditor was also needed to reinstate a prisoner in her job at MWP, which she had lost after reporting a sexual assault by prison staff.

Under Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) rules, employees are required to report allegations of sexual misconduct; failure to file a report is punishable by termination. But after MWP guard Daniel Root passed on allegations against his supervisor, Lt. Paul Law, he was skipped over for a promotion in January 2018. As a result, Root filed a grievance with the DOC.

Prison officials then asked him to suspend his grievance while they investigated. The DOC later notified Root that it was denying his grievance but also disciplining Lt. Law. In November 2018, Root filed a lawsuit against the DOC, Law and Assistant Warden Alex Schroeckenstein, alleging that prison officials failed to conduct an adequate investigation into both Law’s conduct and the retaliation he faced. That case remains pending. See: Root v. Montana Department of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (D. Mt.), Case No. 1:18-cv-00164-SPW-TJC. 

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Sources: www.billingsgazette.com, www.ktvq.com, www.kulr8.com, www.cordilleramontana.worldnow.com

 

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