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PREA: Tackling the Nightmare of Prison Rape

by David M. Reutter

Movies and television often dramatize prison for entertainment purposes, and just as often the dramatizations are unrealistic. One aspect of prison life that cannot be overly dramatized—and is a reality for many of the imprisoned—is the prospect of being raped. For decades now, PLN has chronicled incidents of this human rights violation and the lawsuit settlements that come at taxpayer expense to compensate the victims that succeed in prosecuting such claims.

Rape inside the confines of a prison can come from predatory prisoners preying on the weak or mentally ill. Juveniles are the most vulnerable, and Congress found that they “are 5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult rather than juvenile facilities—often within the first 48 hours of incarceration.” The culture is such that rape is viewed as part of doing time, so guards are often indifferent to preventing prison rape. As PLN has reported over the years, guards are more often the problem because they are also perpetrators. PLN editor Paul Wright has noted, prison rape is such a pervasive and common issue nationally that it has to be seen as an integral part of modern American prison management.

“It forever changed my life, and not in a good way. I understand that I made mistakes to go to prison, but those mistakes should not have led me to acquire all of this other stuff that I’m having to deal with the remainder of my life,” said Kara Guggino, 35, who was sexually abused and harassed by guards while serving time in federal prisons. “We should have to be punished for the things we do, but the experiences that we have [in prison] should not hinder us further from recovery and from becoming better people and making a life for ourselves. It’s just terrible, and I wish people would become aware of what’s going on.”

Fueled by the 1995 suicide of her son, 17-year-old Rodney Hulin, Jr., Linda Bruntmyer became one of the main advocates for Congress to pass the landmark Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). Rodney was sent to the notorious Clemens Unit in Texas for the crime of setting fire to a dumpster. Within days of his arrival, other prisoners raped and beat Rodney. His pleas for guards to move him away from his abusers were denied, so the beating and sexual assaults continued. With seven years left on his sentence and nowhere to turn, Hulin committed suicide in his cell.

“This is not what we mean when we say justice,” Bruntmyer said at a June 2003 Just Detention International (JDI) rally in Washington, D.C., held to demand PREA’s passage. “Rape should not be considered a part of the punishment. Rape is always a crime.”

Pushed by the outcry, PREA was signed into law on September 4, 2003. Its purpose is to implement standards and policies to prevent prison rape and to “protect the Eighth Amendment rights of Federal, State, and local prisoners.”

While PREA became law in 2003, it was not until June 20, 2012, that the Department of Justice (DOJ) finalized watered down regulations that forced federal and state prison officials to start taking some action to implement PREA’s purpose. With the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape codified at 28 C.F.R. pt. 115, the DOJ set 300 standards that applied to any “unit of a State, local, corporate, or nonprofit authority, or of the Department of Justice, with the direct responsibility for the operation of any facility that confines inmates.”

That groundbreaking regulation set standards for prevention and responsive planning, data collection, review for corrective action, auditing, prisoner education, medical and mental-health care for victims and abusers, employee and volunteer training, and contractor training, supervision, and monitoring. It also eliminated time limits on prisoner grievances to report sexual abuse or harassment.

Failure to comply with PREA will result in states losing 5% of their federal grant funding. To help states meet those standards, the federal government provided PREA specific grants. The City of New York Department of Corrections (NYCDOC), for instance, received a $1.2 million PREA grant. It enabled change. “We’re changing the way we do business,” said Faye Yelardy, assistant commissioner for NYCDOC. “It’s really about making facilities safe.”

In reaction to PREA, states have enacted criminal laws that decree sex between staff and prisoners is never consensual, similar to statutory rape. Prison systems have created new departments and adopted regulations to prevent prison rape and to investigate claims of its occurrence.

Prisoners also have been on alert. In my Florida prison dormitory, big signs in English and Spanish warn that there is “ZERO TOLERANCE for sexual abuse and sexual harassment.” It also details how to report such incidents, including on another prisoner’s behalf, to prison officials or an outside, independent agency or organization. Those signs were funded with a federal grant.

As PLN has reported in detail in the past, it is critical to note what the PREA did not do. It did not give sexual assault victims any privately enforceable rights or legal remedies. Indeed, raped prisoners still face the obstacles to legal redress imposed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), judicial doctrines such as qualified immunity and a lack of counsel and law library access. In its essence, the PREA is a data collection statute, which relies on prisons and jails to self report their own sexual assault statistics with no independent review or auditing of the data. The modest standards the DOJ took a decade to implement were significantly watered down after extensive lobbying by prisons and jails.

As PLN has reported, some states like Texas, have simply refused to comply with the minimal standards set by PREA by claiming it is costly and ineffective and the only PREA remedy, losing 5% of federal grants, does not appear to have ever actually been imposed on any state prison or local jail.

Not All States in Compliance

The changes and reforms look great from a distance, but are they having an effect inside prisons? According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), each year roughly 200,000 prisoners are victims of sexual assault. DOJ has certified only 19 states as being in full compliance with PREA. While PREA has heightened awareness of prison rape, it has not had the full effect of eradicating this violation of the basic human right to bodily integrity.

As PREA has taken root, its reporting requirement is presenting a clearer picture of the extensiveness of prison rape, but doing little to stop it. A 2011-12 nationwide prisoner study by BJS found that about 4% of state and federal prisoners and 3.2% of jail prisoners reported being sexually victimized by another prisoner or staff member.

A 2015 report, which came after PREA’s stricter reporting requirements went into effect, found that allegations of sexual assault in prison had tripled. A 2019 report by BJS found that about 7% of juveniles reported being sexually victimized in 2018, which is down from 9.5% in 2012.

These figures are only part of the story, for even in society many victims of sexual assault do not report it due to shame or fear of not being believed. Such fear is heightened for prisoners.

“People think, ‘Well, criminals, they’re manipulative. They make bad choices. They’re doing things to hurt people. Can we trust what they say?’” said Michelle McCormick, former program director for the Center for Safety and Empowerment at the YWCA of Northeast Kansas, who is now head of victim services for the state Attorney General’s office. “Those are the questions we have as a society, so of course they’re being applied by professionals in the correctional system.”

Guards and other prison officials, in the wake of PREA, are quick to take action when a claim of sexual abuse or harassment is lodged by one prisoner against another. (In fact, a joke amongst prisoners is to kid each other that “I’ll scream PREA on you.”) Such a complaint can be made via a “kite“—a form provided for grievances—or through another grievance process, even through the telephone system in those facilities with hotlines, or by telling a guard. Action on such a claim may be swift, yet we regularly report on prisoners being raped by other prisoners encouraged to do so by staff.

A prisoner’s complaint against another prisoner results in an immediate investigation, which means the complainant and alleged abuser are placed in confinement until the matter is determined to be, as PREA mandates, substantiated, unsubstantiated, or unfounded. “It feels punitive. I know it feels punitive,” said Shannon Meyer, warden at Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF) in Kansas. “But it’s a hard balance when there’s not a lot of options.”

Recently, a prisoner in my dormitory had such a complaint lodged against him. Cameras in the dorm refuted the allegation of the complainant, who had made such claims against others in the past. The alleged abuser was released from confinement after three weeks, and the accuser received a protective custody transfer to another prison, which was apparently his true purpose in making the claim. Had there been no cameras, the complainant’s claim that a rape attempt on him was made would have been given credence, and the accused could have faced long-term confinement or new charges.

‘Sanctuary’ for Guards

According to JDI, in 2015 over 24,000 formal allegations of sexual assaults in jails and prisons were lodged. Of them, 58% were claims that involved staff being the perpetrator. When a sexual abuse allegation is made against a staff member, action on the complaint is not so swift.

A lawsuit filed in September 2020 by 15 current and former prisoners at federal women’s prisons in Florida alleged the prisons, especially the Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) at Coleman created a “sanctuary” for sexual predator guards. [See Beaubrun v. United States, USDC MD FL, Case No. 5:19-cv-000615-TJC-PRL; PLN, Dec. 2020, p. 44].

“The sexual abuse at these female prisons is rampant but goes largely unchecked as a result of cultural tolerance, orchestrated cover ups, and organizational reprisals of inmates who dare to complain or report sexual abuse,” the complaint alleges.

The suit was settled for about $2 million by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in May 2021. We will report the details of the suit and the settlement in an upcoming issue of PLN.

Guggino, the former federal prisoner, was one of the plaintiffs. “I was incarcerated for almost eight years, and I saw it at pretty much every single institution I was at,” she said. “I was at maybe six different places, and this was going on everywhere, but it was by far the worst at Coleman.”

She said her first instance of abuse was from a guard at a federal prison in Florida who stalked, threatened, and forced himself upon her. Guggino was placed in solitary confinement three separate times as punishment for her nonconsensual encounters with another guard, who once pulled up a map of her family’s house and showed it to her. When she refused to cooperate with the DOJ’s Inspector General’s Office, she was threatened with spending her remaining five years in a cell the size of a parking space.

“They basically used that as a bully tactic to get me to comply,” she said, “and then after all of this nothing happened to the lieutenant. He still has his job in Tallahassee.”

The lawsuit described a group of guards who assaulted women with impunity. The women would be trapped in their cells or taken to the woods on the edge of the work camp and forced to perform sex acts. “You know they’ve accused me before of rape, but they’re never going to believe you,” a guard allegedly told one of the prisoners.

“There’s no safe outlet for you to go to speak about this if it’s happening to you because everybody is hiding and protecting one another,” said Guggino. “PREA, that’s a joke.”

She and other prisoners wonder whether PREA is nothing other than wall signs and procedures when a staff member is alleged to be the perpetrator of prisoner sexual abuse or harassment. The investigations surrounding Dr. Thomas Co, who was a dental lab supervisor at TCF, the women’s prison in Kansas where Meyer is warden, support such beliefs.

The dental lab was a coveted assignment where prisoners hoped to learn skills. “It was the closest I could get in the medical field,” said one prisoner, who also coveted the 60-cent hourly wage that came with working in the lab. “So, I did what I had to do.” That included dealing with Co’s sexual harassment and abuse.

Co’s grooming of women prisoners for sexual abuse started before they were even accepted into the program. “When I got interviewed by him, I was asked if I was in a relationship, which I didn’t think mattered, but I answered it because I didn’t want it to be used against me from getting the job,” said one TCF prisoner.

“He always made inappropriate comments: ‘Oh, you look really nice,’ or ‘Have you lost weight? or ‘Your shirt’s really tight today,’” another TCF prisoner said. “Continuously asked me am I with anybody, do I have a boyfriend, have I ever been married.”

Things would progress from there into a storage room. “He would call us in there and say, ‘Be sure to shut the door,’” another prisoner said. “You always know something’s going to happen.”

To beat the camera, Co, 73, would cover it with bubble wrap or block it by stacking boxes on a shelf. Guards would admonish prisoners to clear the view for them, but the camera would be blocked the next day.

“There was a time he tried to kiss me. This was in the back room,” yet another prisoner said. “He tried to kiss me. I tried to hurry up, turn my face, or it would happen. That’s what I did report. There was a time he called me back there and had me sit in a chair, and he was sitting in the chair right in front of me, and just kind of pressed his hands on my leg. Didn’t touch my, you know, woman parts, but I felt that he might as well have.”

Co requested one woman, on multiple occasions, to reach into his pants, which had the pockets removed. He was not wearing underwear, and at his request the woman rubbed his penis until he ejaculated. Co rubbed his genitals against the women’s backs as they sat in chairs and gave them intimate hugs.

The prisoners began filing complaints about Co’s behavior in 2013. They went nowhere, and Co became more confident and the harassment intensified. Women who complained were moved to another part of the prison and lost their job. Co tried to compel silence by giving the women jewelry, painkillers, money, and synthetic marijuana.

When a complaint was lodged against him, he was aware of it. “The next day…he told us he knew and we would pay,” a prisoner said. “He even wrote us notes he left inside our desk instructing us to stay quiet. I gave mine to EAI (the Enforcement, Apprehensions & Investigations Division of the Kansas Department of Corrections). Once again, they lied and said it would be taken care of. It never was, obviously.”

The failure to take action was demoralizing. “One after another would come to me and say, ‘They’re not doing anything,’ and it just had a real adverse effect on the girls,” said a TCF prisoner. “They were upset. They didn’t understand why nothing was done. They’re young. They’re all young. I was appalled. I mean, they did everything they were told to do.”

A few months after Meyer became TCF’s warden in August 2016, she launched an investigation into Co based on a prisoner’s complaint. She recommended in early 2017 that he be fired, as did a federal auditor later that year. Those recommendations were rejected without explanation at higher levels of the Kansas Department of Corrections.

“Things happen, and if you can’t prove things happen, hands are tied. But that’s also really difficult as an employer. I can’t just fire somebody because I have a bad feeling,” said Meyer. “I constantly tell them that doesn’t mean we don’t believe you. That doesn’t mean we don’t care.”

The prison system’s blindfold was removed on October 30, 2018, when a prison employee assigned to the dental lab complained of sexual harassment by Co. He was placed on administrative leave on November 16, 2018, and fired on December 10, 2018. He was charged in February 2019 and arrested in April. Co’s lawyer insisted he would be found innocent at trial. He was convicted on January 20, 2020, on six felony counts of unlawful sexual relations with a prisoner. He was sentenced in March 2020 to a 32-month prison term, after which he will have to register as a sex offender for 25 years.

But it would not have been surprising to see the case go the other way.

That would not be an unusual result. A series of prosecutions brought against guards who worked at Vermont’s Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF) illustrate how justice is rarely obtained in cases where a guard has sexually assaulted a prisoner. Like the prosecution of brutal and corrupt cops, the prosecution of prison and jail employees who rape the prisoners in their custody is all too often characterized by lackluster prosecutions and light sentences when convictions do result.

In 2012, guard Richard Gallow was charged with sexually assaulting a prisoner at the women’s prison. Two juries were unable to reach a verdict, resulting in a mistrial. The charges were dropped after the victim refused to testify at a third trial.

A federal grand jury in 2014 indicted guard Tracy Holliman on charges that he had sex with two female federal detainees. Prosecutors dropped the charges after Holliman pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for deleting emails in which he admitted to the crimes. He was sentenced to five months in jail. See: USA v. Holliman, USDC VT, Case No. 5:13-cr-00121-gwc.

Also in 2014, guard William H. Savaria III, 29, was charged with the sexual exploitation of an 18-year-old prisoner. He admitted to having sex with her after her release, but he denied claims of sexual contact while she was in jail. At his 2016 trial, Savaria’s attorney challenged the prisoners’ creditability. Savaria was acquitted. Later in 2016, prosecutors filed two new charges involving similar claims as those in the first case against Savaria involving two other prisoners. Savaria denied the allegations, and prosecutors subsequently dropped the charges without explaining why.

Lawsuits are always a possibility in cases of sexual abuse and harassment, and this likely plays a role when prison officials try to sweep allegations against staff under the rug. A criminal conviction makes a civil judgment a virtual lock in terms of liability by the guard but in many instances, may foreclose payment of damages as rapes of prisoners will usually be found to be outside the scope of employment thus not subject to indemnification by the government. Which means any damages won’t be paid unless the rapist employee has the financial wherewithal to pay a judgement, which they rarely do. Absent a criminal conviction, civil judgments are difficult to earn due to judicial obstacles in the PLRA, the doctrines of qualified and governmental immunity, and state policies that may or may not indemnify employees for conduct committed while on duty. The latter keeps the perpetrator from having to face financial consequences for violating a prisoner’s human rights.

In an effort to prevent a complaint from being filed, some guards and staff members try the subtle approach Co took with a few prisoners. “The officers who are trading sexual acts for different types of favors, that often is a part of the grooming that often is a first step towards physical contact,” said Sheila Bedi, a clinical law professor at Northwestern University School of Law. “We’ve seen that happen over and over again.”

Author and advocate Leslie Schwartz spent only 37 days at Los Angeles County’s Century Regional Detention Facility in 2014, but in that short time she saw a lot of “obvious, clear flirtations” between the female prisoners and staff. She noted that some prisoners who “knew how to work it” were able to secure privileges.

Such a situation may lead one to think that any relationship that ensues from grooming or flirtation is consensual, but that is not the case under the criminal law in most states. “The bottom line is, given the power dynamics in prison,” Bedi said, “given the absolute control that authorities have over the lives of people who live behind bars, there can be no consent in terms of what the law defines as consent and there can be no consent in terms of equal power in the interaction.”

Often left unconsidered is the harm that comes from grooming. A Vermont prisoner held at CRCF, Penny Powers, claimed that guard Daniel Zorzi pursued a relationship with her after her release. He plied her with drugs in return for sex. “We got high from 10:30 at night ‘til 5:30 in the morning,” she said. “He pretty much fed my addiction.” Presumably Zorzi was then going to work while high.

“I struggled with addiction, as well. I feel like I’ve been put in situations where I felt like I didn’t have options,” said CRCF prisoner Mandy M. Conte. “It’s like they’re preying on women who they see as weak and vulnerable, and they use it for their own benefit. They don’t realize how much their behavior impacts us.”

Former Vermont prisoner Melissa Gaboury said two probation officers left her lewd Facebook messages while she was under supervision. One sought photographs and asked for a sexual rendezvous.

Another, in October 2017, wrote her and said, “I’m drunk and want to have raw sex. Melissa tell me to stop. I should not be talking to you like this. Do you want me to pull on you(r) nipples?”

Gaboury was in and out of prison from the time she was 16 and suffered from mental health issues that resulted in several suicide attempts before her March 2021 death at age 29 from what her obituary called “an accidental drug overdose.” 

“I need help. Everybody in DOC needs help,” she said. “They do nothing but abuse and beat down already hurting, abused people, and show them no other way.”

Zorzi’s drug use was well known at CRCF, and he often was visibly high while on duty. Yet, his bosses in 2018 declared him the “supervisor of the year” and said in a nominating letter that “he has experienced a plethora of situations and challenges that he has met with professionalism, enthusiasm, decisiveness and clarity—all marks of a great leader.”

In October 2020 Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George said an investigation by Vermont State Police had failed to find “sufficient evidence” to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Zorzi had committed any crime.

Sexual abuse and harassment in prisons is not limited to just prisoners. Female guards have complained of being subjected to the culture of sexual abuse and harassment inside of prisons. “It’s horrible. A girl comes in, and it’s like fresh meat. All the guys are after her,” said Brittany Sweet, a former guard at CRCF. “If you have a sexual relationship with a staff member, you’re a slut. But if you don’t have a sexual relationship with a staff member, you’re a stuck-up bitch.”

Sweet alleged she rebuffed advances of a supervisor and that he made comments about her appearance to her colleagues, saying he would “like to fuck anything but her face.” When she complained, he was assigned as her direct supervisor.

Although her complaints were substantiated, the supervisor was left in his position and Sweet was ordered to “respect the chain of command.” She and another guard subsequently received an $85,000 settlement for sexual harassment, but nothing changed. “It was like, ‘Give them the money and get them out of here,’” Sweet said. “Nobody was held accountable, and I was like, ‘That sucks.’”

“In my time at Chittenden, there were many officers that were under investigation for sexual misconduct with inmates. They were allowed to resign, and then faced no further criminal investigation,” said Sweet. “The state doesn’t want to report this because it makes them look bad that it’s happening, so they just sweep it under the rug.”

The Intercept website reported that it found there were 1,224 reports of sexual abuse filed with the federal Office of the Inspector General between January 2010 and September 2017, but only 43 of them were investigated.

In the Coleman lawsuit, it was alleged the women prisoners’ complaints of sexual abuse resulted in their being sent to the county jail to cover it up. “An example of that would be the 2018 audit that was conducted at Coleman where the audit mentions they were not able to interview victims of sexual abuse because they had been transferred to the county jail,” said Bryan Busch, the attorney representing the 14 plaintiffs. “So there’s nobody there to interview for PREA violations because they’ve all been shipped to more secure facilities for reporting any sort of misconduct.”

Sweet’s experience is particularly alarming to advocates. “If it’s hard for a staff member to come forward and report abuse, imagine how it is for inmates there,” said JDI spokesperson Jesse Lerner-Kinglake.

This report could detail numerous accounts of failures to prevent or investigate sexual abuse of pretrial and immigrant detainees and prisoners in federal, state, local, and private facilities as PREA envisions, but space is limited and Lerner-Kinglake succinctly makes the point. “The fact of the matter is, sexual abuse is rampant in facilities across the country,” she said. “But, it’s not inevitable.”

Though PREA has been the law of the land for 18 years, with “mandatory,” yet unenforceable, regulations in place for the last seven of those years, prison rape and sexual harassment is still a scourge affecting thousands of prisoners and staff each year. Some simple solutions are offered by experts to assure PREA’s purpose is met.

“It’s possible to take men out of the unit. It’s possible to have cameras. It’s possible to have a zero tolerance—so if you’re accused, and there’s any type of corroborating evidence, you’re punished for that,” said Sheryl Kubiak, director of the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice at Wayne State University School of Social Work. “The officers are always afraid there’s going to be these false accusations, but what we learned in reading testimony and the investigations is you would hear similar testimony from different women about the same officers.”

Meyer, the prison warden in Kansas, agrees action is needed. “The offenders need to see there’s a consequence,” she said. “I do think that’s important. I also think the staff and people who want to work in corrections also need to see it. I mean, that’s my opinion. People need to know there’s zero tolerance.”

In a 2018 BJS study on sexual abuse in youth prisons, Texas and Florida both reported rampant sexual abuse in many juvenile facilities, though in some there was no abuse at all. “If officials in some Texas and Florida facilities can stop kids from being raped, then officials in every Texas and Florida facility can do so—and indeed, so can officials in all facilities nationwide,” said Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s former executive director, in response to the BJS report. Since sexual assault data under PREA is self-reported, with no audits or verification to its accuracy, the lack of news is itself suspicious.

Another solution is for the public and mainstream media to change their perspective about prisoners. “We’re looked at as a number,” said one of Co’s accusers. “We’re not looked at as a human or somebody’s daughter or somebody’s sister.”

As the #MeToo movement has shown, sexual abuse is not accepted by some segments of society, but that outrage has not reached prison gates. When the rapist is a government employee raping prisoners, it appears to be acceptable, at least to the government.

“If this was any facility other than a prison, people would be rioting over this. Nobody would stand for this,” said Sarah George, the chief prosecutor for Chittenden County, Vermont, following a 2019 exposéon CRCF. “Hopefully, it’s what happens anyways.”

A more peaceful alternative was offered by Victoria Law, author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, “If we want to think about this problem holistically, one way to do it is reduce the number of people sent to prisons and detention centers in the first place.” So the guards have less people to rape.

Prison Rape News by State

Alaska: Two state prisoners in Alaska filed a civil rights action in December 2019 alleging former guard Jimmie Weeks sexually abused them at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. The complaint claims that Weeks, a 20-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections (AKDOC), requested that the prisoners show him their genitals and engaged in improper touching, sexual harassment, and penetration of them with his fingers. He also asked the prisoners to engage in “a dominance and submission relationship with him where they were the subs.” He allegedly had one of the women sign a power of attorney that stated, “I’ll be your slave, you will be my master.” The incidents occurred over several months in 2019. Weeks resigned from AKDOC just before the suit was filed and surrendered his license as a prison guard to state police. He has not faced criminal charges.

Arizona: Four employees at Arizona prisons and jails were charged in 2019 with sexually assaulting state prisoners. One, a guard employed by private prison operator CoreCivic at its Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, was arrested in September 2019 for having sex with a man imprisoned there. The guard, 47-year-old Stephanie Garcia, at first denied the encounter, but admitted after being threatened with a DNA test that she had twice had sex with the unnamed man in the office where she was supposed to be conducting “faith-based counseling.”

The month before that, in August 2019, another guard at the same prison pleaded guilty to having sex with another man held there. The guard, 45-year-old Christina Lopez, admitted she had “a lapse in judgment” in June 2019 when she entered the cell of Justin Fuller, a prisoner from Hawaii, and demanded sex, telling Fuller that she would make his life “a living hell” if he refused. Fuller gave in but also reported the incident. Prison officials then placed him in confinement, lodged bogus disciplinary reports against him, and refused to allow him to call his attorney or a sex abuse-tip hotline, he said. Lopez was given two years of probation and not required by the judge to register as a sex offender.

In July 2019, a woman who worked for Trinity Services Group in the kitchen at the Eyman-Rynning Unit of Arizona State Prison, 26-year-old Kristal Cintron, was charged with having sex with a man imprisoned there. If convicted, she faces a prison term of 24 to 54 months.

In March 2019, former Cochise County jail chaplain Douglas Packer, 64, resigned after he was arrested for sexually assaulting six women held at the lockup since 2014. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in January 2020. Two of his victims, Devan Kingery and Elizabeth Durazo, sued Packer, the county and Sheriff Mark Daniels in October 2019. The suit was dismissed in September 2020 after copies of required notices were lost during a transfer of the case to Pima County the preceding January.

Arkansas: On February 8, 2021, a man held in the Benton County Jail on suspicion of murder was accused of raping an unnamed fellow prisoner. County Circuit Judge Brad Karren ordered 27-year-old David Arthur Adair, Jr., held on the rape charge, though he was already being held without bond after pleading not guilty to capital murder in the February 2020 death of Lavonte Jackson. At the time of his arrest on that charge, he was free on a $35,000 bond to await trial on a 2019 charge of shooting another man in the foot.

Just over two months later, on April 17, 2021, Charles Steven Anderson was charged with raping his unnamed cellmate at the Miller County Jail, where the 62-year-old Anderson was being held on charges that he raped a four-year-old girl who knew him as “Uncle Speedy” in March 2020. The cellmate described losing consciousness after Anderson punched him. A nurse and a guard found then him bound and tied face-down on his bunk with his pants down. Anderson’s bond was raised from $75,000 to $175,000.

California: At a Los Angeles (LA) County juvenile detention facility, a guard was fired in December 2020—over a year and a half after a teenage detainee first reported that he sexually assaulted her. The guard, Detention Service Officer Ray Poole, took the girl to hospital visits, where she said he contrived to isolate her and show her semi-nude selfies in his phone before eventually assaulting her. But the only response to her Suspected Child Abuse Report (SCAR) was that she was moved to a facility in Monterey, where she continued to receive Snapchat messages from Poole. A second counselor to whom she reported the abuse helped her screenshot one of the messages and send it along with another SCAR to Probation Department investigators back in LA County. When nothing happened then, the girl made yet another report to a third counselor, who attached Poole’s name to a new SCAR sent to police in Downey, where the infamous youth jail Los Padrinos had been located. Still it took another year before an investigation was begun, leading to Poole’s dismissal four months later. By that time, the girl had escaped the Monterey juvenile facility and couldn’t be found.

Connecticut: York Correctional Institution (YCI) guard Wesley Applegate, 38, was arrested on March 29, 2021, after investigators determined that he had sex with an unnamed woman being held at the prison. An ongoing physical relationship between the two was exposed when they were caught having sex in November 2020 in the officer’s mess hall, where the woman was assigned to work.

At the end of that same year, in December 2019, a former BOP guard at the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) at Danbury—whose arrest PLN reported the month before—pleaded guilty to engaging “in sexual activity with a female inmate at the prison” on two occasions in July and August 2019. The guard, 33-year-old Carlos Sanchez, was sentenced to ten months in federal prison.

Georgia: After several prisoners at the Coweta County Jail claimed a guard was having sex with a detainee there in 2019, the county Sheriff’s Office asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to look into the matter. That led to charges filed on December 2, 2019 against guard Cody Martin, 25. An employee at the jail since January 2018, he was accused of having sexual intercourse with three prisoners between May and November 2019. He made a blind plea on May 21, 2021, and was sentenced to five years in prison followed by five years on probation.

Hawaii: Two former guards at the Women’s Community Correctional Center near Honolulu were charged in October 2019 with sexually assaulting prisoners there. One of the former guards, Brent Baumann, was charged with sexually assaulting three women held at the prison over a nine-month period in 2015. Another indictment charges that his former fellow guard, Gauta Vaa, sexually assaulted one of the same women four times in 2015. Both former guards were fired by the state Department of Public Safety. They have pleaded not guilty.

Kentucky: Third-degree rape charges were brought in April 2019 against guard Tanya V. Risinger, 34, for having sex with a prisoner in the cafeteria at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center. Risinger admitted to having sex with the prisoner in front of another man while the two were on a work assignment from the neighboring Luther Luckett Correctional Complex. She also admitted to obtaining a second cellphone so she could contact the prisoner. She has since been convicted and forced to register as a sex offender.

Louisiana: On July 7, 2021, former Elayn Hunt Correctional Center guard Deshunta Miller, 22, filed suit against the Louisiana Department of Corrections (LADOC) over poor working conditions at the lockup that resulted in her being raped at knifepoint by one of the prisoners in July 2020. At the time she was the only guard on duty for 64 men. LADOC fired her afterward, when investigators determined that she had been having a consensual sexual affair with another man held at the prison, which is illegal. She was criminally charged with official malfeasance, but her rapist, 30-year-old Erick Dehart, was not. Both her criminal case and her civil suit are still in court.

Minnesota: In May 2019, the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MNDOC) fired former guard Jeffrey C. Anderson, 50, after he was charged the month before with a felony sex offense against a female prisoner at Shakopee Correctional Facility. The victim said that starting in 2017 Anderson began hounding her for sexual favors and made motions for her to expose her breasts as he made rounds at night. Three other guards were also fired for failing to report their knowledge of his misconduct and, in the case of one, retaliating against a victim who reported it. That guard, Daniel Boegeman, was reinstated in February 2020 after an arbitration between MNDOC and the guards’ union determined there was insufficient evidence to support his dismissal. He allegedly then gave the finger to an MNDOC investigator. Officials say Anderson, who had worked at the prison since 2012, had two more pending complaints against him.

Massachusetts: In May 2019, former Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center guard Willie Williamson was found guilty of four counts of a prison guard having sexual relations with a prisoner. Williamson, 30, was fired by then-Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ash after allegations came to light that he had sex with prisoners between December 2015 and September 2016. One prisoner testified she had sex with Williamson numerous times in exchange for whiskey and cigarettes. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Missouri: A federal lawsuit filed in November 2019 alleges that counselor John Thomas Dunn sexually abused female patients at Chillicothe Correctional Center beginning in 2013, and his abuse did not end until he was arrested in 2017. The suit was filed by prisoner Teresa Ketner, 49, who said Dunn sexually assaulted her in his office when she was there for counseling to address her history of trauma. When she reported the incident, an investigator allegedly asked her why Dunn would “go after” her “when there’s young, beautiful women” at the prison. The 66-year-old therapist pleaded guilty in 2018 to sexual conduct with another prisoner. In all, nine women have accused him of sexual misconduct. The FBI is investigating whether Dunn should face federal criminal charges. Dunn was employed by the prison’s contracted healthcare provider, Corizon Health, which enjoyed 2020 revenues of about $800 million.

Montana: Allen Hagstrom, 38, a former guard at Montana Women’s Prison, was charged in September 2019 with having sex with a prisoner. The unnamed woman told investigators she had ten sexual encounters with Hagstrom. He admitted to three of them, saying he unsuccessfully tried to resist her advances. Hagstrom posted a $25,000 bail and was released.

New Mexico: New Mexico State Police arrested a Springer Correctional Center guard in January 2021 and charged him with sexually abusing multiple women who were imprisoned there. By that time, some of the allegations against the guard, Joseph J. Martinez, were nearly five years old. That’s when he allegedly raped his first victim—three times in the first three months she was at the prison. Later, he is accused of getting other prisoners hooked on Suboxone, which he then supplied them in exchange for sex. The state Department of Corrections announced in March 2021 that it would close the facility.

Two months before that, the prison’s chief of security, Robert Gonzalez, and another former guard, Christopher Padilla, were named as defendants in a January 2021 lawsuit filed by an unnamed woman held at the prison. She says Padilla sexually abused her from October 2018 to March 2019 by masturbating in front of her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him, paying her off afterward in food and cigarettes. She also says Gonzalez should have stopped the assaults but didn’t. Padilla was fired in February 2020 after prison officials—tipped off by a phone call the woman made that they were monitoring—administered a lie detector test to both her and the guard. She passed, and he failed.

New York: In February 2020, a former New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision guard at Albion Correctional Facility was sentenced to six months in jail for sexually abusing two women imprisoned there. The former guard, 26-year-old David F. Stupnick, pleaded guilty in December 2020 to a third-degree criminal sexual act. In May 2019, he was charged with four counts of second-degree sexual abuse, two counts of third degree criminal sexual act, and official misconduct. Stupnick was also ordered to register as a sex offender.

Not quite a year earlier, in March 2019, St. Lawrence County jail head cook Jennifer Parker, 43, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of third-degree criminal sexual act, as well as one misdemeanor count of official misconduct. She admitted to engaging in oral sex with a prisoner in 2011 and with another in 2012. She also admitted to forcibly touching another prisoner in 2014. She was sentenced to serve weekends in jail for six months and ten years’ probation.

North Carolina: In November 2019, felony charges of sex acts by a government employee were brought against Sgt. Mark Jason Stout, 44, for having sex with a prisoner at the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women. He was accused of having sex with a woman held at the prison a half-dozen times between September and October 2019. He had been employed at the prison since 2005, having been promoted in 2012. At the time of his arrest, his annual pay was $37,476. He was placed on paid leave and with a $50,000 unsecured bond and ordered to have no contact with the unnamed woman.

Ohio: A former Meigs County probation officer and Middleport Jail guard, 57-year-old Larry Tucker, was convicted in May 2019 of sexual battery and kidnapping for victimizing 11 women between 2011 and 2017. The following March, in the same courtroom where he once worked, Tucker was found by Judge Linton Lewis not be a sexual predator. But he was sentenced to a 246-month prison term.

Two months earlier, in March 2019, former Marion County Jail guard Ian C. Gordon, 22, was indicted on 13 counts of first-degree felony rape and one misdemeanor count of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. The rape offenses occurred between May 2015 and September 2017. Six of the rape charges allege the victims were under 13 at the time of the crime. Six other counts allege he used force or threats to commit the crime, and the last count alleges he used a drug or intoxicant to impair the victim’s judgment.

Oklahoma: After 32-year-old Tulsa Transitional Center employee Brittany Jenae Alexander gave birth in May 2018, investigators with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (OKDOC) determined it was the child of an unnamed 37-year-old prisoner at the halfway house, and they charged Alexander with second-degree rape in March 2019. The guard had resigned ten months earlier, when OKDOC received a tip about her affair with the prisoner and launched the investigation that led them to find incriminating text messages on her cellphone. Both she and the prisoner at first denied having sex. But the man had admitted the truth to his wife, as Alexander did to investigators before she resigned.

Pennsylvania:A prisoner at the State Correctional Institution (SCI)-Fayette in LaBelle, Pennsylvania, filed suit in February 2021 alleging that five guards sexually abused him in October 2018. When he threatened to report them, the suit also claims, they forced the prisoner, 40-year-old Abdul Murray, to cut off his dreadlocks in retaliation. The guards—Lt. Robert Jones, as well as three others not fully named—are accused with Cosmetologist Carrie Holman of conspiring to punish Murray for threatening to report sexual abuse by the fifth guard, Sgt. Justin Bourquin. He allegedly reached into Murray’s cell as the prisoner undressed to shower, ordering him then to jump in place and run while leering and laughing at his nude body.

South Carolina: Five separate lawsuits filed by five women on June 3, 2019, allege that Berkeley County Jail nurse Alexander Lluvera conducted unnecessary vaginal or pelvic exams on them and never sent their pap smear tests away for results. “Lluvera did not wear gloves during the vaginal exam,” one suit alleged. The incidents allegedly occurred between June 2016 and July 2017, when Lluvera was employed by the jail’s contracted healthcare provider, Correctional Healthcare Companies, a division of Correct Care Solutions—known now as Wellpath—which boasted 2017 revenues of $1.17 billion.

Tennessee: Riverbend Maximum Security Institution guard Emily Davis, 22, was arrested in June 2019 and charged with having sex with an unnamed prisoner. Prison officials intercepted letters Davis wrote the prisoner under a pseudonym. Red flags arose because the letters described a May 2, 2019 sexual encounter and said Davis may be pregnant as a result. Davis resigned in mid-May 2019.

Vermont:Cameron Morin, a 22-year-old former guard at Southern State Correctional Facility near White River Junction, Vermont, pleaded guilty in November 2019 to a charge of lewd and lascivious behavior after performing oral sex the year before on a man being held at the prison. State police began investigating Morin in January 2019, after a prisoner phoned a hotline set up by the state Department of Corrections (VTDOC). Morin was also cited for bringing tobacco into the prison and fired from VTDOC. He pleaded no contest to a second charge of sexual exploitation because it carries by definition an allegation of penetration, which he denied.

Washington: Former Clallam County Jail guard Howard Andrew Blair, 55, pleaded guilty on March 6, 2021, to four gross misdemeanor charges of second-degree custodial sexual misconduct. The probable cause statement recited 19 instances of sexual contact with a female prisoner between January and September 2017. Blair, who worked at the jail for ten years, served no jail time. Instead he was sentenced to 364 days in jail, with all but 120 days suspended, and those he is required to serve on electronic house arrest.

In a case arising from a juvenile prison, 31-year-old Green Hill staff member, Samantha N. Washington, was convicted in April 2021 of second-and fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation for a sexually explicit phone conversation she had with a juvenile offender in 2017. 


Sources: The Appeal, Arizona Daily Independent, Arizona Republic, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Batavia Daily News, Chehalis Chronicle, Colorado Springs Gazette, Connecticut Post, Everett Herald, Genesee Daily News, Gothamist, Harrisburg Patriot News, Hartford Courant, Kansas City Star, Marion Star, Meigs Independent Press, Miami Herald, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Morganton News Herald, New York Daily News, Newnan Times Herald, Peninsula Daily News, Pratt Tribune, Reason Magazine, Santa Fe New Mexican, Seven Days Vermont, Springfield Republican, Tampa Bay Times, Texarkana Gazette, Texas Observer, The Guardian, Tribune-Review, Tulsa World, U.S. News, Valley News, Voice of San Diego, Washington Examiner, Witness LA, KAKE, KECI, WCAX, WIBW, WJTV, WKRN, WSOC, WWNY, Just Detention International

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