Manya A. Brachear, Will abuser be abused? Experts: Priest at risk in prison, Chicago Tribune, July 23, 2007
Despite concerns expressed by Rev. Daniel McCormack's defense lawyers that their high-profile client is in danger of attack behind bars, the Illinois Department of Corrections has not placed the priest in protective custody.
Instead, the convicted sex offender is one of more than 1,400 inmates working, dining and bunking together inside Jacksonville Correctional Center, an overcrowded minimum-security prison in central Illinois that does not offer segregated quarters for at-risk prisoners.
Experts say McCormack's role as a priest, his status as a first-time offender, the nature of his crime against children and his race combine to put his life in jeopardy. He is also at higher risk of sexual violence, though the notion that McCormack deserves protection from the very type of crime he committed offends some.
Sexual abuse falls into the category of crime "perceived as unacceptable in the inmate community," said Lovisa Stannow, executive director of a group called Stop Prisoner Rape.
Corrections officials say that if there is evidence of imminent danger or an actual assault, McCormack would be transferred to another facility.
"If we feel an inmate has security issues, each facility is equipped to address those issues," said Derek Schnapp, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections.
Assigned to one of 10 bunk beds in a room, McCormack shares space with at least 19 other men. He has a job and access to a day room with TVs. Chances are, some have seen media coverage of the white priest, who molested five boys while assigned to a predominantly black parish on Chicago's West Side.
Although the priest was convicted in five cases, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has substantiated six more claims and continues to investigate others.
That kind of history makes him a marked man, said a former guard who worked at Jacksonville for nearly 20 years.
"I just don't think a priest has been equipped in his life to go through what he's probably going to go through," said Chuck Stout, a representative of the labor union for Jacksonville guards. "Inmates tend to have their own code of justice. It's a different world inside the prison fence or wall."
The case of notorious Boston priest John Geoghan, who was slain in prison, demonstrates what can happen. Geoghan was sentenced to 10 years in 2002 for squeezing a boy's buttocks in a swimming pool, but it was well-known that scores of people had come forward with allegations of abuse against him.
"Everyone in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts knew he was coming to prison," said his lawyer Geoffrey Packard, a district court judge since 2003. "It was a foregone conclusion that this guy was not going to be in the general population."
Placed in a tier with inmates in similar circumstances because of the nature of their crimes or their notoriety, Geoghan had no trouble with his neighbors, Packard said. But Geoghan, 68, racked up enough citations from guards that he eventually landed in protective custody at a maximum-security prison, where an inmate serving a life sentence trapped him in his cell, then stomped and strangled him.
"I'm sure there are a number of people who thought he got exactly what was coming to him," Packard said. "He didn't deserve to be abused certainly in that fatal kind of way."
Just as Geoghan's crime triggered reforms in the nation's Catholic Church, his killing sparked reform in the Massachusetts penal system, as he was killed despite having been placed in protective custody.
The mother of a 10-year-old boy molested by McCormack doesn't have much sympathy for the Chicago priest. In the general prison population, McCormack might get what he deserves, she said in an interview last week, because his 5-year prison sentence seemed less than sufficient to her.
"He's in the right place," she said. "He can let the grown men mess with him."
Brenda Smith, a law professor at American University in Washington who specializes in protective-custody issues, said people who have been victimized or who are repulsed by a particularly heinous crime tend to support the idea that the vengeance will be taken through the informal code of prison.
But the state has a constitutional obligation to protect criminals, she said, as the 8th Amendment precludes cruel and unusual punishment.
"We think of these people [like McCormack] as monsters," Smith said. "But there's something very wrong if they can't be protected in these institutions. There shouldn't be any sort of rough justice within the institution meted out by staff or other offenders."
Another woman whose son McCormack abused wonders why authorities should protect the priest who hurt her child. The boy was just 8 at the time.
"That's the great American judicial system," she said sarcastically. "That's the way it works. ... But you can't protect the person from their own conscience."