Tuesday, July 7, 2009

CCA Staff Allegedly Sexually Assault Inmates In KY

We have previously discussed the record setting number of sexual assaults at CCA facilities.

This article can be found here.

2 Hawaii female inmates allege sex assaults at Kentucky prison
Accusations not first at Otter Creek facility in Kentucky

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer

Two female inmates from Hawaii allege they were sexually assaulted by one or more corrections officers at a Kentucky prison, and police are investigating one of the incidents.

Honolulu attorney Myles Breiner said he is representing the two women, who allege the sexual assaults occurred while they were in isolation in a medical unit at the Otter Creek Correctional Center in Wheelwright, Ky.

One of the assaults was reported June 23 and allegedly involved a male corrections officer, Kentucky police said. The other incident, earlier this year, also allegedly involved a male corrections officer at the same prison, Breiner said.

Kentucky state police spokesman Mike Goble said last week that no arrests have been made in the June 23 case. He added that forensic tests have been conducted and that other evidence has been collected.

An October 2007 report of another sexual assault of a Hawai'i female inmate at Otter Creek by a corrections officer led to his firing.

There are 165 Hawai'i women at Otter Creek, a private prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America. In an e-mailed statement, spokesman Steven Owen said, "CCA has a zero-tolerance policy for any form of sexual misconduct and takes any such allegations very seriously."

He said the company is "in the process of thoroughly reviewing" the allegations, adding that "any public discussion" of the allegations before the completion of an investigation "would be premature and inappropriate."

Tommy Johnson, deputy director of the state Department of Public Safety, said investigations are under way at the prison in two separate incidents. He would not say whether those incidents are sex assaults, but confirmed that one stems from something that was reported June 23.

"At this point, they're just allegations," Johnson said.

Other incidents

The investigations come more than a year after Otter Creek officials said they would change their procedures following a sex assault case involving a Hawai'i inmate and corrections officer. In the October 2007 incident, the inmate alleged the corrections officer came to her room and demanded she perform sex acts.

The officer was fired, and subsequently convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense.

Johnson told that inmate's relatives in a September 2008 letter that after the incident Corrections Corporation of America immediately changed its operating procedures at Otter Creek to require "whenever possible, a female correctional officer is paired with a male correctional officer in the housing dorms/units."

The state renewed its $3.6 million annual contract to house Hawai'i inmates at Otter Creek in November. Johnson said the contract is set to expire in October.

Allegations of sexual misconduct involving corrections workers and Hawai'i inmates have surfaced before in other private prisons, including in Oklahoma in 2000 and Colorado in 2005. Those allegations were followed by the felony conviction of a corrections officer in Colorado and inmate lawsuits in both states.

Otter Creek Correctional Center, a 656-bed prison that houses minimum- and medium-security men and women, was also under scrutiny last year after a secretary got a .22-caliber pistol through the facility's security system, including a metal detector, and then committed suicide in the warden's office.

Here vs. there

Lawmakers and advocates for the inmates say the new sex assault allegations raise questions about the safety of the women at Otter Creek and the procedures in place to prevent assaults. The allegations could also reignite a debate about whether the state should be shipping female inmates to the Mainland at all.

State Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said, "We've always had issues with the women being so far away." Espero added that he believes the women should return.

"There's no reason why we can't begin to bring some of them back," he said.

The state pays about $50 million annually to CCA to house some 2,000 male and female inmates in Mainland prisons because there isn't enough room for them in Hawai'i. All female inmates are at Otter Creek.

The practice of exporting women has been criticized because many of them have children and advocates say long separations can cause irreparable harm to families. Espero said the Hawai'i women on the Mainland should instead be housed at the Federal Detention Center near Honolulu International Airport.

In December, the state Public Safety Department said in a report to the Legislature that holding 164 female inmates at the Federal Detention Center would cost about $84 a day each. That's $5 million a year — about $1.6 million more than the cost of keeping them at Otter Creek. The report said the detention center has enough space for the female inmates now housed on the Mainland, but they could be held at the facility for no longer than three years because the center isn't set up for longer stays.

Johnson added that the annual costs of holding the women at Otter Creek is about half of the cost of keeping them in state facilities in Hawai'i. The report also pointed out that about 64 percent of women at Otter Creek had, as of October 2008, five or more years to go before they complete their sentences or are eligible for parole.

Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.