Sexual misconduct and abuse of inmates at Kansas’ prison for women is “rampant throughout the facility” and persisted even as federal officials investigated problems there, according to a U.S. Justice Department report released Thursday.
The department’s Civil Rights Division concluded that Kansas failed to deal adequately with problems at the Topeka Correctional Facility after the National Institute of Corrections recommended more than two dozen changes in January 2010 and the prison’s top administrator was reassigned.
The report also cited a shortage of female officers and said the prison’s policies and staffing are inadequate.
The Justice Department launched its investigation in April 2011. The findings were reported to Gov. Sam Brownback in a letter Thursday from Thomas Perez, the assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights.
The letter warned that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder could file a lawsuit if the department does not believe Kansas is properly resolving the problems by late October.
“We conclude that TCF fails to protect women prisoners from harm due to sexual abuse and misconduct from correctional staff and other prisoners in violation of their constitutional rights,” Perez said in his letter. “The women at TCF universally fear for their own safety.”
Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay said the agency is reviewing the Justice Department’s report and would comment later.
In 2010, the state increased the penalties for staff having sex with inmates, requiring prison time. Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts conducted an internal investigation after Brownback appointed him and in April 2011 announced that 100 new security cameras and new policies had been put in place.
In June, Brownback and legislative leaders agreed to have the state pay $30,000 to a former Topeka Correctional Facility inmate who was forced by an officer into having sex in 2008. The officer had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual relations and was placed on probation.
The Justice Department letter lists 21 steps it expects the Department of Corrections and the prison to take. They included enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy against sexual abuse and a policy to prevent any employee, contractor or volunteer suspected of sexual misconduct from having contact with inmates until an investigation is completed.
Potential problems at the prison were highlighted by the Topeka Capital-Journal in a series of stories in 2009. The newspaper reported that inmates and staff said as many as one-third of the prison’s 250 employees had been involved with an illegal black market that included exchanging drugs for sex with female inmates.
As of Wednesday, the prison housed 684 inmates.
“They live in a highly charged sexual environment with repeated and open sexual behavior, including sexual relations between staff and prisoners and non-consensual sexual conduct between the female prisoners, open and notorious sex parties, and public nudity,” Perez’s letter said.