If rape isn’t in the guard’s job description, the jail is off the hook

A woman prisoner in West Virginia says she was raped 17 times by a Regional Jail Authority “correctional officer”. She sued both the officer and the Regional Jail Authority. She sued the jail for negligence in hiring, supervising, training and retaining said officer. The jail asked to be dropped from the suit because sexual assault is not in the scope of his duties. Rape is not in his job description, and so …

A lower court agreed with the woman. Last week, the West Virginia Supreme Court voted 4 – 1 in favor of the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority. The woman is called AB, the officer DH. The Supreme Court majority ruled: “We find that D. H.’s alleged acts fall manifestly outside the scope of his authority and duties as a correctional officer. There can be no question that these acts, as alleged, are in no way an `ordinary and natural incident’ of the duties with which he was charged by the WVRJCFA. Respondent has failed to adduce any evidence bringing these alleged acts within the ambit of his employment beyond merely suggesting that his job gave him the opportunity to commit them. As such, we conclude that the WVRJCFA is entitled to immunity for respondent’s claims based on vicarious liability for D. H.’s acts.”

There you have it. Rape is not in the job description, and so the Jail is “entitled to immunity.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis offered the dissenting opinion: “In order to find that the Regional Jail is immune from liability when female inmates are raped with impunity by correctional officials, the majority opinion recast our law on qualified immunity in such a manner as to make it now virtually impossible for any state agency, not just the Regional Jail, to ever be held accountable for tortious conduct committed by employees within the scope of their employment. I do not make this accusation lightly… To add insult to injury, the majority opinion also has concluded specifically that liability cannot be imposed on the Regional Jail merely because it did not have any regulations designed to protect female inmates from being raped. According to the majority opinion, such regulations `easily fall within the category of ‘discretionary’ governmental functions.’ The majority opinion requires a rape victim to specifically point to `a ‘clearly established’ right or law with respect to . . . supervision[.]’ In the final analysis, under the majority opinion, the Regional Jail simply has to bury its head in the sand and never promulgate any regulation designed to protect the bodily integrity of female inmates to ensure its continued impunity from liability… The majority opinion promotes and rewards `gross negligence and deliberate indifference’ to the constitutional right of female inmates to be free of sexual assaults. But, the State cannot be granted absolute immunity merely because no regulation was violated when its employee raped an inmate seventeen times. Just what will it take to protect women from such assaults? Simply put, the Regional Jail was grossly negligent in not having regulations in place that would have protected the plaintiff from being alone with any male correctional officer on seventeen separate occasions.”

Just what will it take to protect women from such assaults? As reports from the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women reveal, this is not an isolated incidence. What if judges considered the `immunity’ of correctional staff before sending women to prison and jail for the slightest perceived offense? What if judges stopped targeting girls for prison and stopped punishing girls for non-status offenses? What if we turn this darkness into light? Just what will it take?


(Photo Credit: MediaMatters.org)

Alabama built a special hell for women, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women

Thanks to an ongoing investigation, the news is beginning to seep out that Alabama has built a special hell for women, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

A 36-page letter of findings laid out a gut wrenching picture of sexual violence at Tutwiler: “For nearly two decades, Tutwiler staff have harmed women in their care with impunity by sexually abusing and sexually harassing them. Staff have raped sodomized, fondled, and exposed themselves to prisoners. They have coerced prisoners to engage in oral sex. Staff engage in voyeurism, forcing women to disrobe and watching them while they use the shower and use the toilet. Staff sexually harass women, subjecting them to a daily barrage of sexually explicit verbal abuse. Tutwiler has a toxic, sexualized environment that permits staff sexual abuse and harassment… Prison officials have failed to curb the sexual abuse and sexual harassment despite possessing actual knowledge of the harm, including a federal statistical analysis identifying sexual misconduct at Tutwiler as occurring at one of the highest rates in the country. Prison officials discourage prisoner reporting of sexual abuse due to actual and perceived retaliation against individuals who make allegations. For example, immediately after making allegations, Tutwiler often places women in segregation and gives them lie detector tests. In some instances, reporting the sexual abuse of one staff member results in additional abuse from other staff members. When confronted with allegations of sexual abuse and harassment, Tutwiler fails to adequately respond or investigate… Systemic deficiencies at Tutwiler directly contribute to staff and prisoner sexual abuse and staff sexual harassment that injures prisoners, and creates a substantial risk of further harm.”

While the intensity of the violence may surprise some, the fact of immediate physical and structural violence against women at Tutwiler has been known for a long time. In July 2011, we wrote about structural violence and overcrowding at Tutwiler and again in June 2013, we wrote about violence against older women at Tutwiler. Historically, the media have been prohibited. But prisoners have reported, both formally and informally, the hell that Alabama had built specifically for women. Women former prisoners talked of rape and of children born of rape. Did the State prosecute the fathers of those children? Occasionally. Did the State force the fathers to pay child support? Seldom, and only when pushed … hard. Who listened? Not the State, not the general citizenry, not the world.

The State built for women a house of horror, but the `free world’ did not feel horror. The State built for women a universe of fear, and the `free world’ felt neither fear nor terror. Why does it take a Federal investigation to pry open, a tiny bit, a prison system that is unconstitutional, terrorist, and evil? Why does the fate and why do the lives of hundreds and thousands of women lie, abandoned and worse, in a mass torture chamber? Why does `the world’ not care?

The Federal government is now investigating the mental and medical `care’ of prisoners at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. They will find more violence, horror, and damage … again.

(Photo Credit: Alabama Reporter)

But some of us are older women prisoners

A new infographic, Aging Behind Bars, focuses attention on the grim realities of the graying prison nation: “Between 2007 and 2010, the number of state and federal prisoners age 65 or older grew 94 times faster than the overall prison population. Between 1981 and 2010, the number of state and federal prisoners age 55 and over increased from 8,853 to 124,900. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to 400,000, an increase of 4,400 percent from 1981.”

Thanks to three-strikes policies and other aberrations, prison is not only the national mental health institution. It’s also fast becoming the national senior “care” facility, except without the care. Elder women live poorly and die hard in those “care facilities”. For example, in California, a few years ago, Helen Loheac, 88 years old, nearly blind and deaf, suffering from late stage Alzheimer’s and in the very last phase of kidney failure, applied for compassionate release. She had a place waiting for her… for ten years. But she was denied parole because she would be a risk to public safety. And so on January 5, 2009, Helen Loheac died of pneumonia in a hospital near the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla. She died shackled at her waist and ankles, two guards at her bedside. It’s called “care.”

In California, elder women prisoners call themselves Golden Girls and they’re organizing. Elder women prisoners in Alabama, residents of the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, are organizing as well. Some of them, like Erline Bibbs, are members of the Longtimers/Insiders. For over a decade, they have been pushing, through the courts and through collective advocacy and activism, to have a role in prison reform. They understand, with their bodies, that the women’s prison population is too large and that there have to be better conditions for women prisoners and for women, more generally. This means building identifying low-risk women prisoners and “sending them out the door”; building more work-release sites, rather than bigger prisoners, so that women prisoners could stay connected with the so-called free world and could have some savings when the get out; building and sustaining well-run drug facilities that would actually pay attention to the particularities of women’s lives, and especially of the lives of women of color and of low income women.

Eleven years ago, Bibbs and others sued the state of Alabama and won. Their overcrowded prison was found to be in violation of the Constitution. The Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women was designed to hold at most 370 prisoners. In 2002, it held a thousand.

So where are the women prisoners of Alabama today, and in particular the elder women prisoners?

Last year, Equal Justice Initiative investigated and found the following. Women prisoners are raped, sexually assaulted, and sexually harassed by the staff. Officials systematically under-report sexual assaults. Women prisoners who report sexual assault are punished, which creates a climate intimidation. Male staff members continually view nude women prisoners, despite the rules, and are never punished or disciplined.

The Federal government sent in an investigative team, and they found the level of sexual violence, harassment, and intimidation [a] as high as ever, [b] pervasive and part of the fabric of the place, [c] part of the physical architecture of the prison. According to the federal investigators, the spatial and architectural “inducements” to sexual violence could be fixed, and at very little cost.

But what is very little cost when talking about women prisoners, and especially older women prisoners? We know that elder care is costly, and yet the numbers continue to grow. We know that sexual violence preys on the vulnerable and does not discriminate among age groups. None of this is new, and none of this is hidden or esoteric knowledge.

In Alabama, some officials and some newspapers are “appalled” by the “shameful”. After over a decade of women prisoners organizing, advocates winning case after case, the Federal government intervening time and again, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women is one of the ten worst prisons in the United States. At Tutwiler, all the prisoners are women, most of them need help rather than imprisonment, and some of them are older.


(Photo Credit: Ron Levine/http://sowkweb.usc.edu)

Women prisoners. What do they want? Justice. When do they want it? Now.


Posted by Justice for The Women of Tutwiler on Thursday, August 2, 2012

Alabama is one of the epicenters of imprisonment in the United States. The government calculates rate of incarceration as the number of prisoners sentenced to more than 1 year per 100,000 U.S. residents. The national rate of incarceration is 502. Alabama’s is 650. The national rate of incarceration of women is 67. Alabama’s is 95. Where the national rate of incarceration women dropped by a little over 1% in the last year, in Alabama, it rose by 9%.

Alabama has one prison for women, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, located in Wetumpka, Alabama. The prison was built in 1942, and designed to hold at the very most 370 women. In 2002, it held over 1,000 women prisoners. That’s when the prisoners sued the state, in what became the Laube v. Campbell case. The women won, District Court Judge Myron Thompson declared the prison “a time bomb ready to explode facility-wide at any unexpected moment”. Judge Thompson found the overcrowding to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

So, what did the State do? It started shipping women out of State, particularly to the South Louisiana Correctional Center, in Basile, Louisiana. Where Alabama’s rate of incarceration is 650, Louisiana’s is 881, the highest in the country. Where Alabama’s rate of incarceration of women is 95, Louisiana’s is 113, second only to that of Oklahoma. But hey, at least they’re not `overcrowded’.

Women would be moved three and four times, without prior notification, in the middle of the night, and without any apparent concern for their situation. Pregnant women were moved, women in rehab programs and educational programs were moved, women in medical treatment programs were moved. The South Louisiana Correctional Center is a for-profit, run by LCS Correction Services. The women who were moved found lots of correction and little to no service. For those in programs, such as educational or treatment programs, time in Basile was time lost, and thus time added on to their prison stay. None of that mattered. What mattered was `reducing the prison population’. What mattered was accounting. The prisoners were numbers, not people, not humans, not women. Just numbers.

That shell game didn’t work, and so now Alabama is experimenting with something called Supervised Reentry Program, which, it is hoped, will reduce the number of women prisoners in Alabama in a more reasonable and sensible way. Basically, the program takes `good prisoners’, and especially those who are in for non-violent offenses, and puts them in supervised residential programs, offers training and counseling, and tries to create a pathway for `reentry’.

If the State had consulted with the women right away, they would have come up, right away, with a more reasonable and sensible program.

Erline Bibbs was one of the women in the Laube v Campbell class. She then became a founding member of the Longtimers/Insiders. The Longtimers/Insiders were women prisoners from Tutwiler who had been shipped to Basile. With the help of the Southern Center for Human Rights, they studied and learned. In Bibbs’ words, the women learned “to organize and … how to make a difference in the right way.”

The women prisoners of Alabama want to see women helped rather than locked up. For themselves, and for other women prisoners, they want to be in the processes of decision-making concerning their own lives. For example, they want to face their victims. They want “the opportunity to present to the parole board in a face-to-face hearing our real selves and how we have changed through the years. We believe our obligations are with the victims’ families, not professional victims’ groups or politicians who use victims for their own gain.”

The women’s class action suit against Alabama charged the State with indifference. These women are the difference. They are the ones to tell the stories of their lives. They must be the authors and the judges of `prison reform’.

What do the women prisoners of Alabama want? Justice. When do they want it? Now.

(Photo Credit: Justice for the Women of Tutwiler / Facebook)