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Senate Inquiry Documents Widespread Sexual Abuse In Federal Prisons

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In Washington, D.C. Jon Ossoff, the chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, released the findings of an eight-month, bipartisan inquiry into sexual assault against women in federal prisons on Wednesday.

Ossoff’s investigation found at least two-thirds of the federal prisons that have housed women over the past ten years have employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) that sexually abused female inmates.

The BOP also failed to prevent, detect and stop recurring sexual abuse, including that of senior prison officials.

“Let me be absolutely clear: this situation is intolerable. Sexual abuse of inmates is a gross abuse of human and Constitutional rights and cannot be tolerated by the United States Congress,” Ossoff said.

In her testimony to the senate committee, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz spoke about the justice department’s commitment to securing prisons and gave three main principles that will guide their interventions on this issue:

“First, no inmate in federal custody should be subjected to sexual or physical assault while incarcerated. Second, Justice Department personnel, including those working in any capacity at federal prisons, have an obligation to uphold the law. Third, any DOJ personnel who violate their oath of office must be held fully accountable for their actions.”

Horowitz provided an example of a recent successful investigation in California, where a former Warden at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Dublin was convicted on all 8 charges brought against him, including multiple sexual assault offenses.

“The former warden oversaw a toxic culture at FCI Dublin, which prompted my office, working with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California (USAO), to conduct a widespread sexual misconduct investigation at the prison,” Horowitz said. The investigation resulted in criminal charges against five BOP personnel from Dublin.

Horowitz went on to outline the most common investigations and some reforms OIG will be undergoing in order to be more effective in tackling sexual assault crimes.

Sexual assault crimes are often connected to other criminal activity, such as contraband introduction and bribery, she explained. Further, assaults frequently occur in areas of facilities where BOP staff know cameras are not present. And ultimately, leadership failures at one institution may result in multiple sexual assaults at the same facility.

Horowitz added that they have modified internal processes and training to improve the initial assessment of sexual assault allegations, and are developing a data analytics tool to help identify patterns of misconduct that may otherwise go undetected.

Three formerly incarcerated women also testified in front of the Senate committee as witnesses, including Carolyn Richardson, who was in Federal BOP custody from August 2016 through October 2022 after being sentenced to 12 years for conspiracy to procure and distribute oxycodone. She was released after filing a motion for compassionate release after the neglect and abuse she endured at Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.

“I felt utterly powerless. I was a vision-impaired prisoner who was relying on Akparanta [a former MCC correction officer] for basic life needs and transportation to medical appointments,” Richardson said in her testimony.

“For about six months, Akparanta regularly demanded sexual favors from me including numerous instances of digital penetration, oral sex, and fondling. He became increasingly rough and cruel in the way that he treated me,” Richardson testified.

In responding to the investigation and committing to “combatting misconduct at the bureau of prisons,” BOP Director Colette S. Peters testified to the committee that the BOP will take these findings seriously.

“We are committed to protecting the safety and security of those in our care and to holding accountable those who violate the law,” Peters said. “Every person has the right to be safe from sexual misconduct, and I am committed to combatting sexual misconduct in our facilities.”

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