Archive for Thursday, October 22, 2009

A few too many

State officials are right to shine the spotlight on allegations of drug trafficking and sexual misconduct by Kansas prison employees.

October 22, 2009

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Allegations, and at least one conviction, related to Kansas prison staff members trading illegal drugs for sex with female inmates certainly demands the full attention of state officials.

Recent reports in a Topeka newspaper indicated that inmates and staff at the Topeka Correctional Facility estimated that up to a third of the prison’s 250 employees had been involved in a black market that exchanged drugs for sex with female inmates. Corrections Secretary Roger Werholz countered by saying only 2 percent of the department’s 3,000 employees statewide had engaged in sexual misconduct.

That’s a lot less than one-third, but it’s still a disturbing number. If ever there was a place for a zero tolerance policy, this would be it.

There’s nothing to indicate that Werholz is satisfied to have 2 percent — or about 60 — state prison employees involved in drug trafficking and sexual misconduct. In fact, he welcomed last week’s decision by Gov. Mark Parkinson to ask the National Institute of Corrections to help locate an independent expert to conduct an outside review of the situation in Kansas prisons. It is hoped Werholz also will applaud this week’s decision by state legislators to initiate their own review of state prisons through the Legislature’s Division of Post-Audit. The goal is for both reports to be completed by early next year, in time for lawmakers to consider whether tougher laws are needed to deal with this situation.

The newspaper report was prompted by the conviction last year of a former vocational instructor at the Topeka prison on charges of trafficking in contraband and having sex with a female inmate, who became pregnant and had an abortion. It’s already illegal for prison employees to have sex with inmates, but legislators might consider tougher penalties for such crimes. The Topeka instructor was sentenced to two years probation, which hardly seems adequate for his offense.

The recent allegations are an unfortunate negative reflection on a prison system that has tallied many successes in recent years. The governor’s review and the legislative audit should help determine how widespread this problem is, but even a few cases clearly are too many.

Comments

Frank Smith 5 years, 10 months ago

It is indeed an awful situation when women inmates are exploited and employees are corrupted. However the Capital Journal's claims appear to be wild exaggerations.

There is a need for zero tolerance for sexual improprieties in prison. There is no such thing as a consensual relationship in this context. Smuggling that can start with bringing in cigarettes, will almost inevitably progress to carrying drugs, to escape tools such as cell phones.

It is impossible to completely eliminate this behavior but thorough screening, training and fostering a culture which rejects these compromises of integrity can reduce it to an absolute minimum.

There have been two escapes associated with improper relationships. In one case, the Department of Corrections either fired or forced the resignation of an employee whose behavior gave rise to suspicion. She returned to the outside of the prison weeks later to aid an escape.

In the second case, it was a volunteer who had been vetted who engineered the escape, but only a single employee was at fault for letting her out with the inmate concealed in a dog's cage. Both these incidents happened a while ago and precautions to prevent any such incident in the future were implemented.

Lastly, it's hard not to agree that we need to increase the penalties for sexual abuse or misconduct with prisoners. In Kentucky, in a for-profit prison owned by the Corrections Corporation of America, sexual abuse of women inmates has been pervasive. The corporation does little to stem the abuse and the state barely punishes those caught in these breaches of propriety and security. One rapist didn't even bother to go to court and still was sentenced to a year's probation and a fine, neither of which can be expected to be enforced. The continuing behavior is a direct result of the lack of accountability on the part of the state and the corporation.

The Topeka employee who took advantage of the woman inmate absolutely belongs in prison. The judge who pronounced sentence is responsible for this miscarriage of justice, not the Department of Corrections.

These were isolated incidents, and they should be seen as such, rather than this groundless exaggeration that may sell newspapers, but it does not get to the truth.

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