State Hearing Set on Sexual Abuse Behind Bars; Stop Prisoner Rape Calls Again for an End to Segregation of Female Inmates who Report Abuse.

March 16, 2004

LOS ANGELES - Three months after the nonprofit human rights group Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR) released a hard-hitting report on the sexual abuse of female inmates in the Ohio Reformatory for Women, Ohio's Correctional Institution Inspection Committee will meet Wednesday, March 17, to discuss approaches to preventing sexual assault behind bars. On the eve of the meeting, SPR reiterated its call for Ohio to end the practice of segregating and isolating inmates who report abuse.

"We are gratified to see that this issue is being addressed by the CIIC," said SPR Executive Director Lara Stemple. "One of the most substantive things that could come out of this hearing is the decision to stop putting women into segregation when they allege that they have been raped or abused."

Scheduled to speak at Wednesday's hearing is Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Reginald Wilkinson, who will explain a 10-point plan that the ODRC has developed for "sexual assault abatement."

Among the commitments in the plan is the development of "appropriate guidelines and limitations regarding placing inmate-victims in segregation during investigations."

"It's not clear why the ODRC can't simply abolish a practice that discourages reports of abuse and effectively punishes victims," Stemple said. "But if these guidelines are written carefully and implemented in good faith, it would do much to help allay our concern that segregation can be used to retaliate against inmates who complain of inappropriate sexual contact."

Also contained in the 10-point-plan is language addressing the need to evaluate the "appropriateness and consistency of staff discipline as it relates to the issues of inmate sexual assault." One of the key concerns SPR raised in its December report on ORW was the failure to deal seriously with officers accused of sexual misconduct. In many cases, SPR reported, officers who were known to have had relationships with inmates were neither criminally prosecuted nor terminated as ODRC employees.

"Our hope is that Ohio will begin treating custodial sexual misconduct as the crime that it in fact is, rather than simply looking the other way," Stemple said.