- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Department of Correction has formally requested details of the allegations that initiated a federal investigation into possible sexual abuse and harassment at a women’s prison.

In a letter dated Thursday, June 18, and sent to the U.S. Department of Justice Division of Civil Rights, Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley wrote that it’s her department’s duty to investigate any allegations against current staff or that could be endangering current inmates at the McPherson Unit, 90 miles northeast of Little Rock.

She wrote that department officials “respectfully request that the Department of Justice immediately provide us with the details of such allegations so that we can fulfill our duty to undertake an immediate investigation of those allegations, and if warranted, immediate corrective action including the termination of staff found to have violated our zero-tolerance policy, and appropriate action to protect affected inmates.”

The Department of Justice announced on June 11 that it had opened an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and harassment of prisoners by multiple prison staff members, and into the treatment of transgender prisoners at the facility.

Department of Justice officials did not return phone calls and emails to The Associated Press seeking comment Monday and Tuesday.

The Department of Justice sent a letter to the Department of Correction on June 11 that summarized the nature of the allegations, but did not provide names, dates or other information the state officials could use to open their own investigation.

Shortly after the federal announcement, the Department of Correction released details of an investigation into allegations from two female inmates who said they had sexual relationships with former McPherson prison chaplain Kenneth Dewitt for about 3½ years. Dewitt resigned in September during a separate investigation into sexual misconduct after admitting to having a sexual relationship with a subordinate, a former inmate who worked as a contract chaplain.

Department of Correction spokeswoman Cathy Frye said the only allegation of sexual misconduct the department was aware of was the one against Dewitt.

But the Department of Justice said there were multiple incidents under investigation including allegations of prison staff having sex or engaging in sexual acts with prisoners, prison staff exchanging commissary money for sexual favors or sexual acts, prison staff watching prisoners shower or change clothes and making inappropriate sexual remarks, and prison staff taking inappropriate photos or videos of prisoners.

In her letter, Kelley said her department was requesting immediate access to information about former employees or inmates as well as anyone currently in danger of abuse or harassment, because Arkansas prisoners cannot consent to sexual relationships.

“While the need for this information is not as time sensitive as any information related to current staff or inmates, we nonetheless request its prompt disclosure to us so that we can fulfill our duty to report any criminal activity to appropriate law enforcement entities to investigate and preserve any evidence of criminal acts,” she wrote.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide