Prisons: Sex Abuse of Federal Inmates by Guards "A Significant Problem," Justice Department Says 5/13/05

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The sexual abuse of inmates in the federal prison by US Bureau of Prisons (BOP) personnel is a significant, ongoing problem that is often ignored by administrators and prosecutors, a report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General has found. Accusations of sexual abuse by BOP personnel accounted for 12% of the office's caseload, with an average of 90 new cases a year.

Southern Correctional Institution, Troy, NC
According to the BOP, the current federal inmate population sits at an all-time high of 183,000. More than 110,000 of them are serving time for drug offenses.

Under federal law, any sexual contact between an inmate and a BOP employee is a crime, even if the prisoner consents. Unless the act involves violence or an overt threat, it is usually treated as a misdemeanor, "yet, misdemeanor penalties do not adequately punish those prison employees who commit this crime," Inspector General Glenn Fine complained.

"Sexual abuse of inmates can corrupt staff members, lead to the introduction of contraband and expose the BOP and staff to civil and criminal liability," Fine noted. "Staff sexual abuse of inmates also undermines rehabilitation efforts and increases the difficulty of inmates successfully reentering society," he said.

The BOP has "also recognized that staff sexual abuse is a significant problem," Fine reported, noting the former Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer told investigators called it the biggest problem she faced.

While the Inspector General reported reviewing 351 complaints of sex abuse from 2000 to 2004, many more went unreported, the report said. "One of the reasons for the underreporting of staff sexual abuse is that inmates fear that staff will retaliate against them if they bring forward allegations of sexual abuse. Inmates also believe that investigators will not find their allegations credible. Moreover, it is often difficult to obtain physical evidence to corroborate allegations of staff sexual abuse. In addition, as noted below, some inmates may not report sexual abuse because they receive unauthorized privileges or contraband in exchange for the sexual acts."

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Issue #386 -- 5/13/05

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