Six inmates filed a suit Thursday against the state of New York alleging rampant cases of sexual exploitation among women prisoners by correctional officers, and the feeble efforts of administrators to punish offenders or stop it.
As The New York Times reports, the lawsuit is reminiscent of investigations carried out by City Limits in 2011, which highlighted unchecked cases of sexual abuse in prisons by correctional officers who always got away with what they did.
The lawsuit is sated with details of how prison guards forcibly have intercourse with inmates, carrying out varying forms of sexual misconduct in the process, including voyeurism and verbal threats. A class-action status is being sought on behalf of present and future inmates at Bedford Hills, Albion and Taconic correctional facilities.
PRISON FIRE: Fire at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility deemed suspicious. https://t.co/eYhFR8UlPI pic.twitter.com/6gEuGxea3w
— News12WC (@News12WC) December 31, 2015
Despite the “zero tolerance” stance by the Department of Corrections and Community supervision, the suit contends that a different culture that is “functionally indifferent” and made to “persist and flourish” is being encouraged within prison walls, in total violation of the rights of inmates.
Legal Aid Lawyer Veronica Vela said the six plaintiffs in the sexual abuse case “all felt strongly and wanted things to change and were not seeking remedies only for themselves.” Ms. Vela said the rationale behind the lawsuit is that there is no justification for a woman to be sentenced to prison to be abused by officers.
In the lawsuit, the department’s acting commissioner, Anthony J. Annucci, is named alongside four other officials because guards cannot be named as defendants. The suit filed in Manhattan’s Federal District Court seeks no damages. Rather it solicits a judge to oversee and end the “gross pattern of sexual misconduct” in the prisons of the plaintiffs and impose stiffer penalties on officers that err.
Plaintiffs were identified as Jane Jones 1-6, and the officers under investigations by random letters of the alphabet. In one of the cases, “Officer C” of Bedford Hills is accused of physical harassing and sexually abusing a 28-year-old plaintiff for a year. The abuse included recurring acts of sexual intercourse and physical violence. “Officer C” often choked Jane Jones, left her with bruises and violently threw her against the wall. According to the suit, a prior investigator said no action would be taken “because there was no DNA, nothing was caught on the surveillance cameras and because inmate statements were not worth much.”
Kelly Virella, in her 2011 award-winning documentary investigating sexual abuse in prisons, said these encounters need not involve force and in cases could be considered consensual. However, the vast power differential between correctional officers and inmates are clear and state law does not under any condition deem prisoners capable of consenting to sex.
Department spokesperson Thomas Mailey said the allegations would be taken very seriously and investigated thoroughly, with action taken against any perpetrators who had violated agency rules.
Lawyers for the Prisoner’s Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society took up the case along with law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, in a quest to combat the alarming surge of sexual abuse against female prisoners. Lawyers of the plaintiffs have obtained an order from Judge Paul A. Engelmayer allowing the women to anonymously proceed with the lawsuit and be shielded from ridicule or retaliation.
— Eric Sanders (@SandersFirmPC) December 21, 2015
The suit comes on the heels of allegations of corruption and prevalent brutality within the state prison system. In June 2015, two murderers escaped from the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility Dannemora N.Y., sparking off a 21-day manhunt that terrorized the local population and cost millions of dollars. Documented claims by The New York Times said inmates were choked with plastic bags and severely beaten as prison guards sought information about their escape.
[Image via Shutterstock/Maen Zayyad]