Tuesday, June 16, 2009

$1.3 Million Not as Easy to Ignore as Rape in Prison

In Denver, a female inmate won a lawsuit for $1.3 million after being sexually assaulted by a Colorado Department of Corrections officer. She filed a lawsuit against the officer after suffering sexual abuse by him for over 5 months. The federal judge on the case, Judge David M. Ebel, awarded the female inmate $354,070 in compensatory damages for her medical costs and emotional suffering and $1 million in punitive damages against her assailant. It is a huge sum in order to make a point.

Judge Ebel wrote in his ruling “he hoped the damages would be a deterrent to other correctional officers” because “he believes the DOC does not effectively enforce a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse of inmates.” After pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful sexual contact, the guard only received a sentence of 60 days in jail.

For five months the female inmate was sexually assaulted. The assailant only spends 60 days in jail. The disparity is telling. $1.3 million tries to make up the difference.

Sexual assault is common in both men and women’s prisons across the US. In 2007, the Bureau of Justice Statistics surveyed over one million inmates across the country in state and federal prisons and found that 4.5% had been sexually abused in the previous year alone.

It is not news that the reform system in this country is in need of a serious overhaul, but it is deeply disturbing that human beings, albeit criminals, are being abused by the very people whose duty it is to protect them. Similar to domestic violence in the home, violence in prisons is another reflection of the deeply rooted nature of brutality and rape for power and control.

I’d agree with Judge Ebel: something more needs to be done to protect prisoners from the unchecked abuse of power that leads to rape.

For more information on rape in prisons check out here and here. Also read this interesting NYTimes piece “ReThinking Prison Design".


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