- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

The sexual abuse of federal inmates by U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) personnel is a significant problem, and the laws that criminalize sex inside America’s prisons — including consensual acts — are deficient, a government report says.

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, in a report this week, said an investigation found that accusations involving the sexual abuse of inmates by BOP personnel, including both men and women, accounted annually for 12 percent of its investigative caseload — with 90 new cases a year.

The report said the prisons bureau “also has recognized that staff sexual abuse is a significant problem,” noting that former Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer told investigators that even though only a small number of staff personnel were involved, the sexual abuse of inmates was the biggest problem she faced.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said, “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.

“Staff sexual abuse of inmates also undermines rehabilitation efforts and increases the difficulty of inmates successfully re-entering society,” he said.

One misconception about the sexual abuse of inmates, the report said, is that it only involves male staff and female inmates. It said the scope of the problem includes female staff with male inmates, male staff with male inmates and female staff with female inmates.

BOP officials were not available yesterday for comment.

It is illegal for a federal prison employee to have sex with an inmate, even if it is consensual, but the federal government treats most cases as a misdemeanor — unless the inmate was forced or threatened. Most states consider any sexual relationship with an inmate a felony.

Mr. Fine, in the report, said that despite the “serious harm” caused by sexual abuse of inmates by prison personnel, the lenient penalties under current federal statutes “hinder the deterrent effect of these laws.”

He said federal laws criminalizing sexual abuse should be strengthened to provide greater deterrence and to cover employees and contractors who sexually abuse federal inmates — including legislation to increase the statutory maximum penalties from one year, a misdemeanor, to five years, a felony.

The report said that many suspected abuse cases are not reported because inmates fear retaliation or do not believe investigators will find the accusations credible, and that it often is difficult to obtain physical evidence to corroborate such accusations.

Investigators also found that guards took advantage of vulnerable or psychologically weak inmates.

In other instances, the report said, inmates targeted prison staff for sex to obtain control, contraband or unauthorized privileges or as leverage for a lighter sentence. It said inmates also used sex to compromise staff members.

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