JDI IN THE NEWS - ARCHIVED

Greg Burton, Prison Rapes Covered Up, Inmates Say, The Salt Lake Tribune, November 9, 1997.

While Utah Corrections officials were telling a national accreditation team no prisoner had been raped, the department's own documents show dozens of prisoners reported they had been sexually assaulted, and one prisoner was convicted in court.

State officials told the National Commission on Correctional Health Care that from 1994 to 1996 -- when Utah's inmate population grew faster than in any period in the previous 20 years -- not a single inmate had been raped, sodomized or forced to engage in sexual activity.

The commission accredited Utah's Draper and Gunnison prisons in June 1996, based on a three-day review of prison medical records, a tour of the prison and interviews with inmates, officers, administrators and medical personnel.

"They absolutely are lying," says Salt Lake City attorney Ross "Rocky" Anderson of the prison's claims. "They don't want the public to know what's going on in the prison." What's going on, says a group of former and current inmates, is a struggle to survive in a culture of abuse.

"The whole system is set up for guys to get you," says Edward Boyd, who was paroled in August. "You never know what's coming, and then there it is, bop, somebody's raping you."

In January 1996, inmate Ricardo Rodriguez walked across a cement prison corridor, pushed open Boyd's cell door and demanded sex.

"We can do it one of two ways. You can give it or I can take it from you," Boyd recalls his attacker saying. Boyd refused.

"It was early in the morning," Boyd says. "My roommate was his close buddy, so he jammed the lock. They pushed my face down -- six hands on my pants and back -- spread-eagled."

With the help of Boyd's roommate and a third prisoner, Rodriguez sodomized Boyd.

"I'm still dealing with it," Boyd says. "For a month I planned so many different ways of killing myself. I thought something was wrong with me."

Rodriguez was convicted of forcible sexual abuse in March 1996 and was sentenced from 1 to 15 additional years in prison. Corrections officials did not include this sexual attack in their report to the accreditation commission.

"We didn't write this [accreditation report], and I disagree with it," says Dale Schipaanboord, the prison's clinical services administrator. "I remember [the claim of no sexual assaults] being an issue -- raising eyebrows within our own department."

Schipaanboord says it is possible that a computer search missed rapes at the prison because most cases are referred to University of Utah Medical Center.

Recently appointed Corrections director H.L. "Pete" Haun says he finds it difficult to believe no prisoner was sexually assaulted over that time period. He said he would investigate the matter.

The commission's review culminated in the first-ever accreditation of Utah's prison medical system and came months after legislators passed a law essentially ordering that the prison achieve national accreditation.

Only One Factor: Failing to adhere to the commission's standards for sexual assault alone would not have prevented accreditation -- sexual assault was only one of a number of factors investigators reviewed. But a combination of several substandard factors could have prevented accreditation.

Most information in a typical review is "self reported," says NCCHC President Edward A. Harrison.

"We do not look at the medical records of all the inmates," he says. "The accreditation involves looking at a sampling of the medical records."

Documents obtained under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act show that from 1992 to 1995, allegations of sexual assault were investigated at the prison about 10 times each year.

And in 1996, the Corrections Investigations Bureau investigated about 15 sexual assaults at Draper and Gunnison, according to Corrections' annual report to the Legislature.

Avoid Liability: Anderson says the oversight fits in a long-standing pattern of prison officials attempting to avoid legal liability by denying a problem exists. Anderson represents the mother of a mentally ill inmate who died after being strapped into a restraint chair.

One Utah official who doesn't find it difficult to believe the unblemished record for sexual assault is outgoing prison medical director Robert Jones.

"During the time they did their check, I believe that is the case," he says. "Most inmates probably fear the consequences of reporting. When they do step forward, we have the whole gamut of psychological support."

Jones was part of the Utah team that assisted the NCCHC tour and review. At the time, he also worked part-time for NCCHC analyzing other state prison hospitals seeking or renewing accreditation.

>From 1994 to 1996, the number of Utah inmates grew from about 3,400 to nearly 4,500. That growth must have "put the fear of God" into prison officials, says Don Collins, president of Stop Prison Rape, a national organization based in Los Angeles.

"In that kind of a situation, where you've got more bodies than you can handle, prisons don't want to admit rape happens at all," Collins says. "It infers they don't have complete control over what goes on there. In some cases, authorities make it more difficult to report."

Forced Sex: According to a 1994 study of the Nebraska prison system published by the Journal of Sex Research, 22 percent of male prisoners reported they were "pressured or forced to have sexual contact" and 7.7 percent of the women inmates had been pressured or forced to have sexual contact.

"Most guards treat the prison population like scum who deserve what they get -- in other words they turn a lot of blind eyes," Collins says. "The public doesn't get it either. We go to prison as punishment, not to be punished."

Attorney Anderson also laments the pattern of abuse inside prisons.

"What we breed in our prisons is basically moral anarchy," he says. "We seem to do everything we can to desensitize inmates, and then we expect when they get out, they'll be upstanding citizens."

Boyd's 1996 assault is typical of the climate behind bars.

Targeted, Sold: Several former and current inmates say that the attack branded Boyd a "punk" or "bitch" -- brickyard slang for an inmate who is targeted for repeated rapes and sexual harassment. Such men are taken as girlfriends and sold as prostitutes.

The pecking order is nearly impossible to bridge.

"[He] caught me in the back dock and proceeded to slap me, open handed, and was saying I was his bitch and that was the way it was gonna be," one Utah inmate scrawled on a note to prison investigators. "Two days later [he] said that he had sold me . . . for $ 85."

The few Utah inmates who risk retaliation by telling their stories, describe a system that has institutionalized male-to-male or less frequently, female-to-female, rape. It's a system dominated by a few inmates who deal in drugs, gambling and sex.

"These guys terrify the hell out of these kids," reads one prisoner's statement to Corrections' investigator Ryan Evans.

Nothing to Lose: "You've got a guy that's doing a life sentence and has nothing to lose," the inmate told Evans. "And then guys like me walk in [with] these short sentences and they take full advantage of it. I don't know how you guys go about housing and stuff like that, but stick these guys in with lifers and these guys are going to get killed. And if they fight they are dead."

In an effort to reduce inmate abuse, prison mavens have developed a system for separating abusers.

Inmates entering Draper or Gunnison spend several weeks in R&O -- receiving and orientation -- a 1950s-era cell block where new inmates are secluded from the general population and scrutinized for behavior patterns.

What follows is a three-tiered labeling: Kappa for aggressive inmates, Omega for middle-of-the-road, and Sigma for those likely to be targeted.

Kappas may room with Omegas, and Omegas may room with Sigmas. But the aggressive Kappa is never, at least in theory, put in a cell with a passive Sigma.

"We sometimes misclassify," says prison spokesman Jack Ford. "If a person ends up being aggressive, he can have his classification changed."

One alleged misclassification occurred earlier this year when Robert Ewert, convicted of sexual abuse of a child -- normally a Sigma type crime -- was locked in a cell with Bojidar Bakalov, a former visiting surgeon convicted in 1995 of raping a 35-year-old woman.

Ewert claims Bakalov sodomized and beat him in May 1996 after guards completed nighttime lock-down.

"He wiped himself off, kicked me [and said] 'You are my punk now,' " Ewert says. "I've been ridiculed and ridiculed. Everyone knows about this."

Prison spokesman Ford says Ewert underwent a medical examination which found no physical evidence to corroborate his story. But Ford says Bakalov was moved to maximum security where he is locked in a one-bunk cell. Bakalov has maintained his innocence in the rape of the woman.

After telling prison officials he was willing to discuss Ewert's claims, Bakalov failed to return calls for an interview.

Just Two Options: The only two options for most prison rape victims are silence or seclusion. Many choose silence. Boyd chose seclusion.

"My roommate kept coming in threatening to kill me, threatened my family, saying he had friends on the outside going to kill them if I said anything," Boyd says. "I talked, and got six months of isolation."

Prison officials call it protective custody.

"I got one hour outside a day," Boyd says. "You can't have a Walkman or TV. Basically, you read books, sleep and pace in your cell all day."

Inmates seeking protection, however, are not without other options.

Protective Custody: "Frankly, protective custody is a problem," Ford says. "But we can move them to Gunnison, Cedar City or to county jails."

Besides being one of the many cases left off the accreditation report, Boyd's attack holds another distinction -- it was one of the rare prison sexual assault cases that was successfully prosecuted.

"I've only tried one in the last couple of years," says Richard S. Shepherd, deputy District Attorney for Salt Lake County.

"Juries don't get really enamored with prisoners -- most juries believe in their heart of hearts that those people are out there because they deserve it," he says. "And then there's the fear of retribution. Most inmates don't want to testify."

Still others, who do speak out, rarely reach an audience.

"On January 28 [1996] I was sexually assaulted by a convicted rapist/child molester," wrote Gary Shamy in a letter to The Salt Lake Tribune. "After this incident I attempted suicide at the discovery that the district attorney refuses to pick up the case. Why?

"Am I not a human being because I'm a convicted felon?" he wrote. "I ask society as a whole. Am I so bad that I deserve such cruel and indescribable pain? That I will live with for the rest of my life?"