- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Though 13 people who supervised Arizona prisoners have been charged with felonies for having sexual contact with an inmate or parolee over the last five years, none are serving jail time.

An investigation by The Arizona Republic found (https://bit.ly/1KTWOvb ) that prosecutors in all cases agreed to plea deals that reduced those charges, allowing probation and no prison time, a fact that two of the alleged victims are contesting in court.

Two victims who say they were raped while in state custody have accused the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office of giving their attackers preferential treatment. Both have served their sentences and are out of prison.

The Associated Press does not name victims of sex crimes.

The victims say they were not consulted about the plea agreements, something that is required under the state Constitution. Inmates are excluded from Arizona’s Victims’ Bill of Rights.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office handled 11 of the cases, declined to comment.

Montgomery’s spokesman Jerry Cobb said plea bargains are common throughout the law. The defendants in the cases in question were treated the same as anyone else would have been. They were eligible for lesser charges and no prison time because they had no prior criminal convictions. He said if the cases had gone to trial, sentencing outcomes likely would have been the same.

“Going to trial is a risk for both sides,” Cobb said. “If we lose, there is no chance to charge them again.”

Larry Hammond, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said he was surprised all 13 cases ended in probation.

In the 13 cases, which were in Pinal and Maricopa counties, the offenders pleaded guilty to either misdemeanors or class 6 felonies, which can be changed to a misdemeanor after sentencing and probation.

“I think some people would find it quite stunning that a person in a position of trust who has control over another person could engage in sexual assault, plead guilty to it, and not only not go to prison, but wind up with a misdemeanor,” he said. “It’s a pretty slight touch.”

Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder said sexual misconduct between officers and inmates is rare, but dealt with quickly by the agency. Ten of the 13 defendants were employed by Corrections.

“Sexual conduct with an inmate is a serious criminal act and is treated as such by the department,” Wilder said. “It jeopardizes the safe, secure and orderly operation of the institution and puts other employees, inmates and the public at potential risk.”

One of the former inmates told The Republic she hopes her civil case against her alleged attacker will help shine a spotlight on the sexual-assault problems she faced in state prisons.

“It is systemic,” she said. “I want to hold people accountable.”


Information from: The Arizona Republic, https://www.azcentral.com

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