JDI IN THE NEWS - 2003

Steven Walters, Bill Banning Guard Sex With Inmates Approved, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 4, 2003.

MADISON -- The state Legislature gave final approval Wednesday to a bill making it a felony for prison and jail guards to have sex with inmates, ending a four-year push for the change that had been blocked by unions representing guards.

On a voice vote, the state Senate passed the bill, sending it to Gov. Jim Doyle, who will sign it into law, an aide said. The Assembly unanimously passed the measure in April.

Wisconsin had been one of only four states not explicitly prohibiting sexual conduct between prison and jail staff members and inmates.

"We think it's wonderful news," said Lara Stemple, executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape, a national human rights organization. "We agree corrections officers should not be allowed to engage in sexual acts with prisoners. We think this legislation is needed to keep that from happening."

The chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), said opposition to the change from unions representing prison guards collapsed this year, making passage possible.

Democrats, who lost control of the Senate after last year's elections, had blocked votes on Assembly-passed bills in the past.

For the last four years, the bill had been "very controversial," Fitzgerald said. "I know the unions backed off, and that helped."

Martin Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, could not be reached for comment.

In the past, union officials argued it was enough punishment if guards who had sexual contact with inmates lost their jobs for that conduct, so it was not necessary to also make that a crime.

But Fitzgerald said publicity over an incident at the Taycheedah prison for women, in which inmate Jackie Noyes was impregnated by a prison guard overseeing her - and the inmate was ordered to serve nearly a year of solitary confinement - also helped the bill pass. The guard, Matthew Emery, was fired.

The Journal Sentinel reported that Noyes was one of four female inmates placed in solitary confinement for having a personal relationship with guards overseeing them or for trying to report sexual misconduct. All four were released from solitary after the newspaper articles were published.

Under the bill, any prison or jail guards, social workers or other criminal justice system officials who have sexual conduct with inmates they supervise would be guilty of a Class C felony punishable by up to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

Fitzgerald said guards who have sex with inmates betray the public trust because they are in positions of authority over inmates.

He said he began pushing for the change after a district attorney called him, complaining that sexual contact between a guard and inmate was not a crime.