JDI IN THE NEWS - 2004

Alan Johnson, Inmate-Staff Relationships: Efforts Under Way to End Illegal Sex, Prisons Chief Says, Columbus Dispatch, March 18, 2004.

Ohio prisons have taken serious steps to curtail illegal sex between inmates and staff members at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, prisons chief Reginald A. Wilkinson told a legislative committee yesterday.

Many of the allegations of sexual abuse of female inmates reported by Stop Prisoner Rape, a Los Angeles advocacy group, are "based on inaccurate and misleading information,'' Wilkinson said to the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

"Overall, the majority of allegations . . . either do not appear to have taken place, or if verified, were thoroughly investigated,'' he said.

Lara Stemple, executive director of the group, fired back.

"I strongly disagree that these allegations are fabricated,'' Stemple said, calling Wilkinson's comments "disappointing and disingenuous.''

"Director Wilkinson seems to be a professional who is actively working against taking this problem seriously,'' Stemple said.

She took particular issue with Wilkinson's comment that either prison or State Highway Patrol investigators looked into most allegations raised by the group.

"It simply isn't true,'' she said. "We changed the women's names to protect their identity. Only we know who they are.''

The California group, in a report released in December, said illegal sexual activity is common at the women's prison, with some prison employees exchanging cosmetics, perfume and fast food for sex. There are 1,813 women at the prison.

Women who report sexual abuse are often punished, while discipline and prosecution of staff members are rare, the group said.

The charges prompted yesterday's meeting of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, a panel of lawmakers that oversees prison conditions and issues.

Wilkinson described a 10-point plan released last week to stop sexual contact.

The steps include formation of a security review team; a toll-free phone line for prisoners to confidentially report assaults; more information for inmates about sexual assaults, treatment and counseling; more training for employees; increased tracking of employee sex offenders; and departmental compliance with the new federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Wilkinson said the state's actions place Ohio "at the forefront nationally in the effort to seriously reduce and/or eliminate sexual assaults.''

State Sen. Mark L. Mallory, D-Cincinnati, the committee chairman, said he takes Wilkinson "at his word when he says they have looked into matters and they are serious about reducing or eliminating the problem.''

"Certainly, the department does not want the liability that comes from such actions.''

However, Mallory said he plans to discuss the possibility of a third-party review of the situation.

Mallory's committee is expected to make recommendations in June.

Typically, employee offenders are transferred or let go quietly, the California group reported.

Under Ohio law, sexual contact between prison employees and inmates is a felony punishable by one to five years in prison.

Last year, the state investigated 14 alleged sexual relationships between inmates and staff members at the prison near Marysville.

Twelve cases were closed as unfounded, while two remain open.

Systemwide, 41 employees were fired or resigned because of unauthorized relationships with inmates. Of those, eight involved sexual relationships.