JDI IN THE NEWS - 2004

Glenn May and Mike Wereschagin, Jail Sex Scandals Spark Debate, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 29, 2004.

Sex scandals at the Allegheny County Jail and other correctional facilities are fueling a national debate about whether male jail guards should be allowed to supervise female prisoners.

Eleven guards -- many of them accused of swapping sex for cigarettes as far back as 1995 -- are awaiting trial in Allegheny County.

In October, three guards and a sheriff's deputy at Abbeville County Detention Center, in Abbeville, S.C., were charged with trading cigarettes for sex with female inmates.

In Michigan, a group of 31 female inmates who suffered abuse by guards won a $4 million verdict and an order mandating the state change the way its women's prisons are managed. As a result, male guards could be barred from entering the women's living quarters, said the inmates' lawyer, Deborah LaBelle.

Some say prohibiting male guards from supervising female prisoners is impractical and possibly illegal.

"Federal law says you can't discriminate against employees as far as treating men and women differently in the work force," said Allegheny County Deputy Warden Edward Urban.

Chuck Mandarino, president of the Allegheny County Prison Employees Independent Union, said segregating duties by gender would discriminate against staff and job applicants and be entirely impractical in a mixed-gender facility.

Such restrictions also would worsen staffing shortages at many jails nationwide, said Charles Kehoe, president of the American Correctional Association, a trade group representing 18,000 jail and prison administrators, corrections officers and other staff.

Kehoe said he knows of no prison or jail among the nation's more than 8,000 correctional facilities where the entire staff -- guards, cooks and managers -- is of one gender.

Segregating guard duties based on gender can become a slippery slope, said Cathy Wise, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a 200-year-old prison watchdog group. Issues arise as to whether women can guard male inmates and whom homosexual guards should be allowed to oversee, she said.

While advocates for reform, jail officials and even guards agree that there is substantial risk of sexual abuse when men supervise female prisoners, few solutions are available.

"Sexual abuse inside correctional institutions has been happening since time immemorial," said Lara Stemple, executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape, an advocacy group based in California. "I think the chances of one thing being a quick fix are slim, but most institutions aren't doing enough and many are doing nothing at all."

Allen J. Beck, chief of corrections statistics for the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, is the architect of a forthcoming national survey designed to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault at jails and prisons nationwide.

Beck doesn't give much weight to statistics cited by Stop Prisoner Rape showing that up to 20 percent of male inmates and anywhere from 7 percent to 27 percent of female inmates are sexually abused, either by guards or other inmates.

The few surveys done on state prisons have used foggy definitions of abuse and have had poor inmate response rates, said Beck, who estimates 2 percent or 3 percent of inmates suffer abuse.

Some federal statistics will be available later this year, with full survey results expected in 2006. Correctional facilities deemed to have high levels of inmate sexual assault in Beck's survey could be in trouble with the federal government.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act, signed by President Bush in September, created the National Prison Rape Reduction Commission, which has the power to subpoena officials at correctional facilities with high incidences of inmate sexual abuse.

Enforcement at the state level is another story.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections inspects county jails annually, but inspectors only look to make sure the jail is operating under the "minimum operating standards," said department spokeswoman Susan McNaughton.

Those minimum standards include no explicit requirement that prison officials prevent male guards from raping female inmates, she said.

Even if the state had such a requirement, the department could do little to enforce it.

If a jail violates a minimum requirement -- for shoddy food preparation, for instance -- the inspector would issue a warning and tell jail officials to submit a plan to fix the problem. If a second inspection finds no progress, the jail gets a second warning. And if the jail still hasn't fixed the problem after three years, the inspector can issue a citation.

"That could be used in court," McNaughton said, but only if someone else files suit against the jail.

Fred Rosemeyer, interim warden at the Allegheny County Jail who on Thursday will brief the jail's oversight board about the sex scandal, pledged that inmate abuse will not happen on his watch.

The nine members of the board, who are responsible under state law for "the health and safekeeping of inmates," are reluctant to talk about the situation.

Only one, Dara Ware Allen, a Penn State University administrator, agreed to an interview, and she downplayed the scope of the problem.

"I don't think it is a major problem," Allen said. "I think that there are instances that give a system a bad name."