Stephanie Steitzer, Tougher prison sex laws sought in Kentucky, The Louisville Courier, July 26, 2009

Kentucky is one of just three states that consider sexual contact between prison guards and inmates a misdemeanor rather than a felony offense.

The Department of Corrections has tried in recent years to push a bill through the legislature that would increase the penalty from a maximum of 12 months in jail to a maximum of five years.

“We strongly believe there is no such thing as consensual sex (between guards and inmates),” spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said.

Other than Kentucky, only Iowa and Maryland consider custodial sexual contact a misdemeanor, according to a survey by the National Institute of Corrections and American University's Washington College of Law.

Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, said the department's bill, which she sponsored, had support in both the House and Senate during this year's regular session but time ran out before changes made by the House could be examined in the Senate.

She said she doesn't remember there being much, if any, opposition.

“We need to not lag behind (other states), but take a lead and catch up,” she said.

The department is currently investigating sexual-abuse allegations involving as many as 16 Kentucky women housed at the privately run Otter Creek Correctional Center in Wheelwright.

Kentucky State Police also are investigating allegations, reported June 23, that a Hawaiian inmate was sexually assaulted by a corrections officer at the women's-only facility in Floyd County.

A Floyd County grand jury is expected to hear that case next month, state police spokesman Mike Goble said.

In addition, the Hawaiian Department of Public Safety is investigating two alleged incidents at the prison.

The 656-bed facility is owned and operated by Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America. The company has contracts with Kentucky and Hawaii; 433 women from Kentucky and 165 from Hawaii are housed at Otter Creek.

A corrections officer at the facility was found guilty of misdemeanor sexual abuse for subjecting an inmate to sexual contact in September 2007, according to court records.

Darren Green, 41, of Hi Hat, was fired from Otter Creek and ordered to serve 120 days of home incarceration. No further details regarding the incident were included in the records.

The department was not immediately able to say how many corrections officers have been charged with inappropriate sexual contact in recent years.

According to a 2007 survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the U.S. Department of Justice, 38,600 state and federal inmates — nearly 3 percent of the nation's prisoners — reported a sexual incident involving staff.

The annual survey is required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which aimed to curb prison rape. The law requires research into the problem and calls for national standards to be established for prisons and jails.

Proponents of strengthening custodial sexual misconduct laws say sex between an inmate and guard is never consensual because the guard is in a position of authority over the inmate.

“You are not talking about two people who are in an equal position,” said Melissa Rothstein, East Coast program director for Just Detention International, a group working to stop prison rape. “One person literally has the keys to a person's entire way of living.”

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