Newspaper: Women's Prison Workers Run Black Market, The Associated Press, October 4, 2009
A newspaper investigation has uncovered what it describes as a complex black market at the state women's prison in Topeka in which cash and sex are exchanged for contraband.
The Topeka Capital-Journal interviewed current and former female prisoners, past and present corrections employees, lawyers, politicians and civil rights advocates for a story published in its Sunday editions. The paper also reviewed hundreds of confidential and public documents related to activities at the Topeka Correctional Facility.
"I managed to get pretty much anything into that facility that you could think of through guards or drop-offs along the fence," said former inmate Kendra Barnes, who served nine years at the Topeka Correctional Facility on aggravated burglary, theft and robbery convictions before being paroled in late 2008. "Sex for drugs? Sure."
However, Kansas Department of Corrections officials disputed claims from inmates and corrections officers that as many as one-third of the Topeka facility's 250 employees have at one time been involved in contraband activities.
They say a more realistic estimate is 2 percent of the 3,000 employees at the state's eight prisons.
Roger Werholtz, the state secretary of corrections, said sweeping characterizations are dangerous and Kansas isn't much different from other states when it comes to unethical behavior by staff and inmates.
"It's an issue everywhere in the country," Werholtz said.
In September, the U.S. Department of Justice inspector general reported sexual abuse of inmates by staff members in U.S. federal prisons had doubled over the previous eight years. The report found 257 cases were uncovered and referred for prosecution, but only 102 were prosecuted. The cases resulted in 83 convictions against prison employees.
One Kansas case involves former vocational plumbing instructor Anastacio "Ted" Gallardo, who admitted in court that he brought tobacco and drugs to prisoners at the Topeka facility and had sex with at least one inmate.
The crime came to light when an inmate realized she was pregnant.
Gallardo's attorney, John Fakhoury, of Topeka, described the situation as a consensual affair orchestrated by prisoners intent on blackmailing a naive prison employee into trafficking in contraband.
But Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International in Los Angeles, said the power differential that exists between inmates and employees makes consensual sex impossible.
"At Just Detention International, we consider any sexual activity between staff and inmates to be sexual abuse," Stannow said.
Werholtz said the department works hard to prevent abuse. He said employee training and coverage by more than 120 security cameras and listening devices keep the majority of employees from falling prey to temptation.
And he stressed that allegations are taken seriously when they arise. At least eight instances of sexual misconduct at state prisons, including two at the Topeka Correctional Facility, have been forwarded to prosecutors in the past three years, the corrections department said.
Only three of those cases prompted criminal charges. Overall, at least three dozen prison employees were recommended for prosecution for crimes that include trafficking contraband, undue familiarity, aiding an escape, sexual battery and unlawful sexual conduct.
"We refer every time," Werholtz said. "We have terminated and prosecuted male staff for becoming sexually involved with male and female inmates."