Federal Hearing on Investigations and Prosecutions of Sexual Assaults of Inmates

August 1, 2006

DETROIT - A startling number of cases of sexual abuse of prisoners are never prosecuted, leading to an atmosphere of impunity for these serious crimes. While severe underreporting and a lack of political will do exist, prison officials' failure to investigate suspected or reported abuse promptly and properly is also to blame.

In Detroit on August 3, 2006, former prisoners who have sought the investigation and prosecution of sexual violence in detention, corrections authorities, prosecutors and other experts on this subject will testify at a public hearing held by the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR), a national human rights organization, is facilitating the participation of two survivors at the hearing -- one who endured years of sexual violence by a corrections officer, and another who experienced an emotional breakdown after her reports of abuse of other prisoners were ignored.

Necole Brown was repeatedly sexually assaulted and threatened by the same corrections officer between 1996 and 2001, while imprisoned in three different facilities in Michigan and while she was out of prison on supervised release. Ms. Brown will testify at the hearing on Thursday that ?the corrections officer constantly threatened me?. He made it clear that either I do what he requests, or I do not go home.? She had seen other inmates suffer retaliation when they reported similar abuse. Once a lawyer began to assist her, she reported her abuser, but despite an abundance of available evidence, the corrections officer was never prosecuted.

The second survivor?s testimony will illustrate the slow response to reports of sexual abuse in some correctional facilities. Despite Dana Ragsdale?s reports to federal prison authorities that a corrections officer was engaging in sexual misconduct with an inmate, she was shocked to find that no investigation was initiated until this employee had sexually assaulted several more prisoners. He finally was prosecuted for three sexual assaults and received a sentence of just four months in prison.

?Despite the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) and increasing public awareness of prisoner rape, men, women and youth behind bars still contend with correctional systems that look the other way and discourage inmates from reporting sexual abuse. Correctional facilities must adopt and fully implement protocols requiring the prompt and effective investigation of sexual violence. Moreover, officials and prosecutors must work together to ensure that corrections personnel are no longer allowed to get away with the sexual assault of detainees,? said SPR Board President T.J. Parsell, who is himself a survivor of rape in a Michigan prison.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported earlier this week that for the year 2005, correctional authorities received 6,241 allegations of sexual violence in prisons and jails, a significant increase over reports in 2004. Staff were arrested or referred for prosecution in 45 percent of substantiated incidents of staff sexual misconduct. (Link to SPR Press Release on BJS report.)

The hearing begins at 9:00 a.m. on August 3, 2006, at the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse at 231 West Lafayette Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan. The two survivors testifying and T.J. Parsell will be available for interviews by appointment. Please contact Edward Cervantes at SPR in Los Angeles at 213-384-1400, ext. 105, Co-Executive Director Kathy Hall-Martinez at 310-210-5138 (cell), or Cynthia Totten at 202-374-7237 (cell) in Detroit for more information.


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