The findings of a Senate investigation detailed at a Tuesday committee hearing revealed a pattern of rampant sexual abuse against women incarcerated in federal prisons.
In cases in at least four federal prisons in New York, California, and Florida, multiple women were sexually abused for extended periods of time over months or years. The revelations came just five months after an explosive committee hearing exposing corruption and abuse in the federal prison system.
“They failed to monitor, supervise, discipline, and remove male correctional officers, predators sexually abusing female inmates.”
The abuse was not confined to those four facilities. Three formerly incarcerated women gave testimony on the abuse they faced at the hands of federal prison guards in New York, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
“The system failed at every level, management from the warden on down repeatedly,” said Linda De La Rosa, a woman who was previously incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, a minimum security prison. “They failed to monitor, supervise, discipline, and remove male correctional officers, predators sexually abusing female inmates.”
The Bureau of Prisons, which operates under the Department of Justice, repeatedly failed to investigate known predators, De La Rosa said, and her attacker was known to have abused other women at the facility.
“It is not enough just to call this horrible,” she said. “I believe the problem is the ‘old boys club,’ prison staff, managers, investigators, correctional officers. They all work together for years, if not decades. No one wants to rock the boat, let alone listen to female inmates.”
Tuesday’s hearing in the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations detailed findings from a bipartisan investigation launched in April, including the bombshell that both senior federal prison guards and rank-and-file employees sexually abused incarcerated women in at least two-thirds of federal prisons that hold women.
The Bureau of Prisons “failed to prevent, detect, and stop recurring sexual abuse in at least four federal prisons, including abuse by senior prison officials,” the committee wrote in its report. At California’s Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin, for example, the former warden and chaplain both sexually abused incarcerated women.
The recently appointed Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters said at the hearing that she looking forward to working with the Senate subcommittee’s support to make reforms. She told USA Today that she would consider early release for incarcerated people who had been sexually assaulted.
On Tuesday, the committee, which is a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, reiterated some of its conclusions from the July hearing, including that failures at the highest levels of Bureau of Prisons management enable ongoing and unchecked abuse and corruption within the federal prison system.
The eight-month investigation found that the Bureau of Prisons failed to hold employees accountable for misconduct. The agency’s internal investigative practices “are seriously flawed,” the committee wrote. The Bureau of Prisons’ Office of Internal Affairs currently has a backlog of 8,000 cases, including hundreds of sexual abuse cases, “and does not report case closure rates in a way that would indicate its progress in clearing the backlog.”
While senior Bureau of Prisons officials told the committee that a “culture of abuse” existed within the federal prison system, the agency failed to utilize the mechanisms in place to identify and prevent sexual abuse against incarcerated women.
Audits conducted by the Bureau of Prisons intended to assess sexual abuse within prisons were never systematically analyzed, and the bureau missed “a key opportunity to identify problematic facilities or employees,” the report said.
In closing remarks, Subcommittee Chair Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., told Peters, the new Bureau of Prisons director, that he admired her objectives for reform, and encouraged her to “embrace the possibility that you can turn this agency around with everything that you’ve got.”
Peters’s predecessor, Michael Carvajal, testified to the committee in the previous investigation, which focused on corruption and abuse in a federal prison in Atlanta. Ossoff said Carvajal was “willfully blind” to what was happening in Georgia.
“You will be held accountable for knowing,” Ossoff said to Peters. “And I believe you have an opportunity to establish a legacy as a reformer who saves lives and protects vulnerable people from sexual assault.”
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