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Justice Department Reports Corrections Employees Assaulted Women In Custody: NPR

The justice released a report on cases of sexual assaults by guards against federal prisoners.

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Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Justice Department Reports Corrections Employees Assaulted Women In Custody: NPR

The justice released a report on cases of sexual assaults by guards against federal prisoners.

Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Federal prosecutors must use “every tool available” to hold federal corrections workers accountable for sexually abusing women in their custody – including a new law that provides for a sentence of up to 15 years behind bars, a Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a new memo. late Wednesday to Justice Department officials and obtained by NPR.

“The Department’s obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of those in our care continues,” Monaco wrote.

His directive follows a high-level review this year that found hundreds of complaints of sexual misconduct by Bureau of Prisons employees over the past five years, but only 45 federal prosecutions over the same period.

“The recurrence of this egregious conduct at multiple facilities raises serious concerns,” according to the review’s findings.

The task force identified weak or no administrative discipline against some prison workers – and flaws in the way prosecutors assessed reports of abuse.

In one case in Florida, authorities declined to prosecute prison officer Jimmy Highsmith after first receiving reports about him in 2010, only to reverse the trend years later. In March 2022, a judge sentenced Highsmith to 48 months in prison for repeated sexual misconduct against a woman who had been incarcerated for nine months.

The report highlighted the need to prevent sexual misconduct in the first place – highlighting recommendations to develop an early warning system taking note of officers who routinely show up late after prison rounds; reinforce the presence of security cameras to block the “blind spots” inside penitentiary establishments; and increase the pay of guards who work at 29 women’s prisons across the United States.

Salary was tied to the security level of a prison. Institutions for women are designated as low or medium security compared to the higher level designations for men’s prisons.

The task force urged the Bureau of Prisons to develop a hotline that incarcerated women and their families and friends could use to report sexual abuse and to highlight the availability of confidential reporting. This is essential as many women in prison face threats of reprisals, including threats from abusers to limit visits by women with their children.

The group also recommended that moving women who report abuse to restricted-access accommodation be a “last resort”. Often these women are moved to special housing units, where they lose access to phone calls, access to the police station and other privileges, which can add to their trauma.

Finally, the group said, the Bureau of Prisons should rethink who and how it investigates complaints of sexual abuse by women behind bars. Currently, prisons assign officers to take initial statements who may be friends or colleagues of the alleged perpetrators, raising questions about conflicts of interest.

Instead, the Justice Department should consider creating a Special Unit or Task Force of Sex Crimes Investigators, a kind of special victims’ unit that could include agents from the FBI or the Inspector General, and align with the number of major cities already investigating sexual abuse.

The new report cautiously moves forward on a matter of ongoing deliberation: whether women who report abuse and agree to testify against their abusers should be eligible for reduced prison terms or US visas. The study said prosecutors and the BOP should make case-by-case assessments of these issues, and said they may be better suited after a case or investigation is over.

The task force said the authorities who originally prosecuted the women should be consulted on such a step, as well as the victims of the underlying conviction.

Survivors of abuse at a Dublin, California prison where five Bureau of Prisons workers have been charged with crimes, including a warden and a chaplain, have been pushing for a humanitarian release.

“They weren’t sentenced to be raped in prison, and not only were they, but they turned around at great expense and cooperated with the investigation of this warden and this chaplain,” Kevin Ring said. , which defends people in prison and their families. . “And you’re going to say that we don’t have the power to relieve them, that they’re supposed to heal in a prison?”

The report says Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters is considering changing the prison’s current policy on compassionate release.

The task force, led by Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Marshall Miller, met with formerly incarcerated women who survived abuse in prison, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Centro Legal De La Raza and the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women.


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