Kentucky Makes Staff Sexual Abuse of Inmates a Felony -- Iowa and Maryland Must Do the Same

Bill passed in the wake of recent prisoner rape scandals at state prison

Washington, DC, April 15, 2010. Today, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed into law a bill that makes sexual contact between corrections staff and inmates a felony. The passage of this law makes Kentucky the 48th state in the country to treat staff sexual abuse of prisoners as a felony - only two states still classify such crimes as a misdemeanor, Maryland and Iowa.

"Staff sexual misconduct is a perversion of justice. Prison officials are supposed to keep inmates safe, not rape them" said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International. "Now it's time for Maryland and Iowa to catch up with the rest of the country and make the penalty for staff sexual misconduct match the severity of the crime."

The new law was proposed last year after dozens of female inmates reported rape and other forms of sexual abuse at Otter Creek Correctional Center, a private prison in Kentucky run by Corrections Corporation of America. Last August, Hawaiian officials transferred its prisoners out of the facility and back to Hawaii. Subsequently, the Kentucky Department of Corrections began housing males rather than females at Otter Creek.

"Tragically, staff sexual abuse of inmates occurs in both male and female facilities," noted Stannow. "The keys to stopping prisoner rape are strong policies and committed leadership."

Federal studies estimate that more than 60,000 inmates are sexually victimized in state and federal prisons each year - most of them by corrections staff. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is currently reviewing national standards aimed at ending prisoner rape. Just Detention International and other human rights organizations urge Holder to adopt robust standards quickly.

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