Archive for Thursday, September 6, 2012

Report: Kansas prison violates inmates’ rights

September 6, 2012, 5:07 p.m. Updated September 7, 2012, 12:12 a.m.


— Sexual misconduct and abuse of inmates at Kansas’ prison for women is “rampant throughout the facility” and persisted even as federal officials investigated problems at the facility, according to a U.S. Justice Department report released Thursday.

The department’s Civil Rights Division concluded that Kansas failed to adequately deal with problems at the Topeka Correctional Facility after the National Institute of Corrections recommended more than two dozen changes in January 2010 and the prison’s top administrator was reassigned. The report also cited a shortage of female officers and said the prison’s policies and staffing are inadequate.

Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, immediately sought to assign blame for the problems to former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who left office in April 2009 to become U.S. health and human services secretary. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said Thursday night that Brownback’s administration has made “immense strides” in improving the prison’s operations since he took office in January 2011.

The Justice Department launched its investigation in April 2011. The findings were reported to Brownback in a letter Thursday from Thomas Perez, the assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights. The letter warned that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder could file a lawsuit if the department does not believe Kansas is properly resolving the problems by late October.

“We conclude that TCF fails to protect women prisoners from harm due to sexual abuse and misconduct from correctional staff and other prisoners in violation of their constitutional rights,” Perez said in his letter. “The women at TCF universally fear for their own safety.”

Security upgrades

Jones-Sontag noted the 17-month lag between the start of the Justice Department’s investigation and Perez’s letter, and said the Brownback administration “moved aggressively to make changes” that included new policies and the installation of 100 new cameras at the prison.

She said that as the Justice Department gains “a more complete picture” of conditions at the prison, “it will become clear that the constitutional rights of TCF inmates are protected by the State of Kansas in the Brownback administration.”

Potential problems at the prison — including sexual misconduct by staff — were highlighted by the Topeka Capital-Journal in a series of stories starting in October 2009, though allegations dated from the Sebelius administration. The newspaper reported that inmates and staff said as many as one-third of its 250 employees had been involved with an illegal black market that included exchanging drugs for sex with female inmates.

At the time, state corrections officials said the extent of the potential problems had been exaggerated. But Perez’s letter said the state and the prison have failed to remedy “the myriad systemic causes of harm to the women prisoners” despite “well-documented” investigations and audits.

As of Wednesday, the prison housed 684 inmates.

“They live in a highly charged sexual environment with repeated and open sexual behavior, including sexual relations between staff and prisoners and non-consensual sexual conduct between the female prisoners, open and notorious sex parties, and public nudity,” Perez said in his letter.

Much of the inappropriate behavior remains unreported because of insufficient staffing, inadequate policies, a fear of retaliation and “a dysfunctional grievance system,” according to the letter, which noted that 68 percent of the prison’s staff is male.

Problems persist

In 2010, during the tenure of Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, the state increased the penalties for staff having sex with inmates, requiring prison time. After Brownback took office and appointed him, Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts conducted an internal investigation, leading to more announced changes.

Yet the Justice Department’s letter said the Department of Corrections and the prison “still have failed to adequately address the deficiencies.”

In June, Brownback and legislative leaders agreed to have the state pay $30,000 to a former Topeka Correctional Facility inmate who was forced by an officer into having sex in 2008. The officer had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual relations and was placed on probation.The Justice Department letter lists 21 steps it expects the Department of Corrections and the prison to take to remedy the problems. They included enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy against sexual abuse and a policy to prevent any employee, contractor or volunteer suspected of sexual misconduct from having contact with inmates until an investigation is completed.


Cait McKnelly 5 years, 8 months ago

This is seriously scary. It amounts to government condoned sexual slavery. I almost wonder if Brownback is purposefully letting it get this bad so he will have an excuse to hand it over to CCA.

chootspa 5 years, 8 months ago

My first thought, too. We all know that privately run prison systems are never never involved in scandal.

Liberty275 5 years, 8 months ago

"It amounts to government condoned sexual slavery."

State-financed sexual slavery. Your tax dollars at work. Aren't you glad they are getting a raise?

Liberty275 5 years, 8 months ago

LOL, it's funny because it's true. Instead of raises, there should be more pink slips.

question4u 5 years, 8 months ago

You mean "the bunch" that had been so grossly underpaid for years that a special measure was taken to try to bring salaries closer to those in surrounding states and the private sector. You've raised an excellent point. You get what you pay for. If pay had been competitive, then more responsible personnel might have been hired in the first place. One thing is certain. We know what has occurred under the strategy of paying non-competitive wages.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 8 months ago

I fully agree, you keep throwing money at losers, the school system, and any other type governmental run agency and the quality of service goes up.

Liberty275 5 years, 8 months ago

How much extra money would you need to not rape inmates?

Mike1949 5 years, 8 months ago

Wasn't it Brownback that cut all State Employee's wages not long ago? Was it caused by the Democrats? Of course not, the prisons have been having problems for years, and I am talking about all the way back to 1980's. I wasn't in Kansas before that, so what happened then have not idea. But typical republican tactic, blame it on someone else. When Kansas goes into bankruptcy, who is Brownback going to blame then?

imastinker 5 years, 8 months ago

I'm beginning to think that this isn't a republican tactic or a democratic tactic - it must be an american tactic. Our president has been blaming other people for the past four years, and lots of people seem to really believe this stuff.

Yes, I am similarly disgusted by Brownback's statement.

Ribs61 5 years, 8 months ago

Why did it take DOJ 15 months to send the letter?

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 8 months ago

Because they gave the state time after the first investigation to clean things up. This letter is a follow up stating that what few changes that have been made are inadequate and that huge problems still persist. If Holder files suit, there is every possibility that every inmate in that facility can file a class action law suit against the state for denial of Constitutional rights. And yes, prisoners DO have Constitutional rights; most notably the right to be free from "cruel and unusual punishment".

Mike Ford 5 years, 8 months ago

cut the funds gop and watch the go into denial and flip the blame neocon change.....

deec 5 years, 8 months ago

Who refused to fund pay raises for state employees for years? That would be the republicans who have controlled the legislature for decades.

ksjayhawk74 5 years, 8 months ago

So if you're a State employee and you rape a prisoner, it's called "unlawful sexual relations". No jail time and I can only guess, no sex offender registration...

headdoctor 5 years, 8 months ago

It doesn't matter when it started, who started it, why or how it came about nor who's watch it was on. It needs to stop. I am not sure Brownback and company care enough about women to really do anything positive.

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