DOJ Memo: Prison Guards Who Sexually Abuse Inmates Not Punished Harshly Enough

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DOJ Memo Highlights Mishandling of Prosecutions in Prison Inmate Sexual Abuse Cases

DOJ Memo Highlights Mishandling of Prosecutions in Prison Inmate Sexual Abuse Cases

Jan 11, 2023

Department of Justice (DOJ) officials issued a memo Wednesday highlighting flaws in how prosecutors assess reports of sexual abuse from inmates against federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) employees. The memo – entitled Notification of Concerns Regarding the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Treatment of Inmate Statements in Investigations of Alleged Misconduct by BOP Employees – asserted that federal prosecutors need to use “all available tools” to hold BOP employees who sexually or physically abuse inmates in their custody to the fullest extent of the law.

The DOJ memo cited a new law which carries a penalty of as many as 15 years behind bars, according to a report from National Public Radio (NPR).

The Department’s obligation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those in our custody is enduring,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco wrote in the memo.

A recent investigative report from the Associated Press (AP) uncovered rampant allegations of sexual abuse across the BOP’s 122 facilities and approximately 153,000 inmates. 422 complaints of staff-on-inmate sexual abuse were made in 2020, according to the AP. More specifically, the AP report indicated that a “rape club” culture existed at the federal women’s correctional institution in Dublin, California.

The Dublin prison reportedly allowed for a “a permissive and toxic culture… enabling years of sexual misconduct by predatory employees and cover-ups that have largely kept the abuse out of the public eye.

NPR’s report noted that Deputy A.G. Monaco’s directive follows a “high-level review this year that uncovered hundreds of complaints about sexual misconduct by Bureau of Prisons employees over the past five years, but only 45 federal prosecutions during that same period.”

The recurrence of this egregious conduct over multiple facilities poses serious concerns,” according to the review’s findings outlined in the memo.

The DOJ memo decried “weak or nonexistent administrative discipline” against some prison workers as well as “flaws in how prosecutors assessed reports of abuse.”

Emphasizing the need to prevent sexual abuse and misconduct from occurring in the first place, the DOJ report included the following recommendations for the Bureau of Prisons:

  • Develop an early warning system by taking notice of officers who routinely show up late after prison rounds.
  • Increase the presence of security cameras to plug “blind spots” inside prison facilities.
  • Increase pay for wardens who work in the 29 prisons for women across the United States.
  • Develop a hotline that incarcerated women and their families and friends can use to report sexual abuse.
  • Stress the availability of confidential reporting to all inmates.

The DOJ memo also highlighted individual cases where BOP employees accused of sexual abuse or misconduct were not disciplined harshly enough.

“In one case in Florida, authorities declined to prosecute corrections officer Jimmy Highsmith after first receiving tips about him in 2010, only to reverse course years later. In March 2022, a judge sentenced Highsmith to 48 months in prison for repeated sexual misconduct against one incarcerated woman over nine months,” NPR reported.

The memo also advised that the BOP should reevaluate how complaints of sexual abuse made by inmates are investigated (and by whom).

“Currently the prisons assign officers to take initial statements who may be friends or colleagues of the alleged perpetrators, raising questions about conflicts of interest,” NPR said.

“Instead, the Justice Department should consider creating a special unit or task force of sex crimes investigators, a kind of special victims’ unit that could include agents from the FBI or the Inspector General, and align with how many large cities already investigate sexual abuse.”

Dublin, California, Prison Sexual Abuse Survivors Appeal for Compassionate Release

In Dordulian Law Group’s past blog, we provided information on the sexual abuse uncovered at the Dublin Women’s Prison.

Several instances of sexual assault and misconduct at the Bay-area facility were included in the AP’s investigative report:

  • One female inmate reported that a man – her prison work supervisor – taunted her by remarking “let the games begin” after assigning her to work with a maintenance foreman she had accused of rape.
  • One inmate claimed the accused foreman “wanted to get inmates pregnant.”
  • The warden in charge at Dublin kept nude photos on his government-issued cellphone of a woman he is accused of sexually assaulting.
  • One inmate described being “overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, and anger, and cried uncontrollably” after enduring abuse and retaliation at the Dublin prison.
  • One inmate said she contemplated suicide when her cries for help went unheeded. She also reported suffering from severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Since the AP’s report surfaced, five Bureau of Prisons employees have been charged with crimes (including a warden and a chaplain).

Survivors of the Dublin prison sexual abuse as well as their advocates have been fighting for compassionate release.

“They were not sentenced to being raped in prison, and not only were they raped, they turned around at great cost and cooperated with the investigation of this warden and this chaplain,” Kevin Ring, who advocates for people in prison and their families, told NPR. “And you’re going to say we have no power to give them relief, that they’re supposed to heal inside a prison?”

According to the DOJ memo, Colette Peters – Director of the Bureau of Prisons – is in the process of considering whether current prison policy on compassionate release should be modified.

“The working group, led by principal associate deputy attorney general Marshall Miller, met with formerly incarcerated women who survived abuse in prison, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Centro Legal De La Raza, and the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women,” NPR reported.

Filing a Prison or Jail Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

Sexual assault civil claims can be a means for survivors to secure financial compensation for various types of damages:

  • Emotional harm/psychological trauma
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Hospital and medical care expenses (past and future)
  • Counseling or therapy expenses (past and future)
  • Punitive damages
  • Diminished quality of life

Filing a claim for damages against a sexual predator (or an institution which enabled a sexual predator’s behavior) can be empowering for survivors – ensuring justice is obtained on one’s own terms.

Contact DLG’s Los Angeles, California, Sexual Assault Lawyers Today

Dordulian Law Group (DLG) is California’s leading sexual assault and abuse firm representing survivors in all types of claims. With a unique four-tiered support network that is a part of DLG’s expert legal representation, survivors have access to a number of important resources.

DLG’s Four-Tiered SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts) Approach:

  • Tier I: Litigation team led by former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy D.A. for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian. With more than 100 jury trial victories and over 25 years of experience fighting for justice on behalf of survivors, Dordulian and his team of sexual abuse attorneys offer unparalleled experience, dedication, and skill.
  • Tier II: A licensed in-house clinical therapist with more than 15 years of experience assisting survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
  • Tier III: A licensed in-house victim advocate dedicated to the needs of all survivors.
  • Tier IV: A retired LAPD sex crimes detective serving as DLG’s in-house Chief Investigator on all sexual abuse cases.

DLG’s SAJE Team has secured more than $100,000,000.00 in settlements and verdicts for clients while consistently maintaining a 98% winning record. Some of our recent sexual assault case victories include:

Schedule an appointment online for a free consultation today, or call us directly to speak to our top-rated, expert sexual assault attorneys.

Contact us today at 818-322-4056 for a free and confidential consultation regarding your sexual assault or abuse case. There is never any upfront cost to you for our expert legal representation, and we will fight aggressively to secure a maximum financial damages award for your claim.

At DLG, we believe, support, and fight for justice tirelessly on behalf of all sexual assault survivors.


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