Women in Prison:

Sexual Misconduct by Correctional Staff

GGD-99-104: Published: Jun 22, 1999. Publicly Released: Jul 21, 1999.

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Laurie E. Ekstrand
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct in women's prisons, focusing on the: (1) applicable laws, policies, and procedures for addressing such misconduct; and (2) number, nature, and outcome of allegations that have been made in recent years.

GAO noted that: (1) during the 1990s, most U.S. correctional jurisdictions have recognized that staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct is a problem that should not be tolerated; (2) as of April 1999, the federal government, 41 states, and the District of Columbia had passed laws criminalizing certain types of staff sexual misconduct in prisons; (3) most U.S. correctional systems have participated in training to help them develop and implement applicable policies and procedures to address such misconduct; (4) the four correctional systems GAO studied have or were in the process of developing specific policies that prohibit staff sexual misconduct; (5) while laws and policies could help minimize staff sexual misconduct, GAO's work in four jurisdictions indicates that such misconduct still occurs; (6) according to data provided by the 3 largest jurisdictions, during calendar years 1995 to 1998, female inmates in these jurisdictions collectively made a total of 506 allegations of staff sexual misconduct, of which 92 were sustained; (7) most of the sustained allegations resulted in staff resignations or employment terminations; (8) the full extent of staff sexual misconduct is unknown since two of the three jurisdictions did not provide data on all types of allegations; (9) the District of Columbia provided data for December 1995 to June 1998, during which 12 of 111 female-inmate allegations were sustained and resulted in staff resignations or disciplinary actions ranging from suspensions to employment terminations; (10) of the four jurisdictions studied, only Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reported having any criminal prosecutions with convictions under sexual misconduct laws during 1995 to 1998; (11) all four jurisdictions were involved in at least two civil lawsuits related to staff sexual misconduct during this period; (12) officials in the four jurisdictions cited lack of evidence as the primary reason why more allegations were not sustained; (13) the officials told GAO that most allegations involved verbal harassment, improper visual surveillance, improper touching, or consensual sex; (14) the officials noted that allegations involving rape and other types of forced sexual assault were relatively rare; (15) however, none of the four jurisdictions GAO studied had readily available, comprehensive data or reports on the number, nature, and outcomes of staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct allegations; and (16) the absence of such systemic data or reports makes it difficult for lawmakers, corrections management, and others to effectively address staff sexual misconduct issues.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BOP began entering data into its new staff sexual misconduct database in October 2000. Using this data, BOP's first quarterly report of Reported Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Inmates was issued on June 14, 2001. According to BOP, analysis of the data to identify potential trends has begun and is a continual process. BOP noted that this report has been shared with appropriate executive staff within BOP and the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General.

    Recommendation: The Director, BOP, should develop systems and procedures to: (1) monitor and analyze allegations of staff sexual misconduct in federal prisons; and (2) periodically report results to the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General and to appropriate BOP officials (e.g., senior managers and wardens). These analyses and reports should be in sufficient detail to identify and monitor trends and determine whether any corrective actions are needed. For instance, the analyses and reports should quantify all categories of alleged staff sexual misconduct, including allegations of unprofessional or noncriminal conduct, as well as allegations involving potentially criminal conduct.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Bureau of Prisons


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