Julie Carr Smyth and Scott Hiaasen, Group Claims Abuse of Women Prisoners, Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 11, 2003.

Columbus - Women in Ohio prisons are being sexually attacked, abused and harassed with alarming regularity, a national prisoner-rights group reported yesterday.

The Los Angeles-based Stop Prisoner Rape issued a 15-page report - based largely on uncorroborated testimonials of three former employees of the Ohio Reformatory for Women - alleging a cycle in which sex acts from "forced violent encounters to trading sex for favors" are common and condoned.

State prisons director Reginald Wilkinson admitted sexual misconduct occurs at Marysville, but said he "can't disagree enough" with the picture painted by the anti-rape group.

"There is no pattern of abuse or neglect," he said. "Whenever these incidents occur and we become aware of them, they are reported for prosecution 100 percent of the time." He said prosecutors determine what charges to bring after an Ohio State Highway Patrol investigation.

But Stop Prisoner Rape's executive director Lara Stemple said that many accused prison employees walk away uncharged, and that "a climate of fear" prevents women who have been abused or attacked from coming forward. It is prison policy for victims who report such crimes to be sent to isolation, or "the hole," while the incident is investigated.

"This is a disgusting place," Stemple said. "It is filthy. The walls are smeared with blood and feces, there is no access to the outside. This is incredibly psychologically difficult to endure, particularly in the aftermath of abuse."

Wilkinson acknowledged the practice is not ideal, but said inmates are placed in isolation for their safety.

He said the prisons department is working on a plan to encourage better reporting of such incidents in light of federal prison-reform legislation passed by Congress this year. The law will pay for a survey of the nation's prisons to determine the extent of prison rapes.

Since 2000, 12 corrections officers have resigned or been fired over allegations of sexual misconduct with inmates at the state's three prisons for women - the reformatory, the Franklin Pre-Release Center in Columbus, and the Northeast Pre-Release Center in Cleveland.

Another officer at the Franklin Pre-Release Center is under investigation for allegedly impregnating a 26-year-old inmate there. Cuyahoga County prosecutors indicted three Northeast officers over the past two years on sexual-assault charges, but all three were cleared of wrongdoing after they went to trial.