Sex Abuse of Inmates: Silent Epidemic

Allegations of first-degree custodial sexual misconduct against a Washington County jail employee are only the latest in a long series of cases involving the sex abuse of inmates by jail personnel. Jill Curry, a civilian employee at the jail, faces felony charges, based on her arrest of July 16, 2014; the nature of the charge indicates that the alleged victim was in custody.

Prison Legal News reported in April of 2014 that Eddie Miller, 60, was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct and received only two years probation in a case where he forced a 34-year-old female prisoner to perform oral sex on him. After Miller was placed on leave, a former coworker filed suit against Multnomah County, alleging that she had made previous complaints of sexual harassment against Miller, and that she had on numerous occasions told her supervisor about Miller’s conduct, but that she had been ignored. Her lawsuit alleged that when she filed a written sex harassment complaint, her supervisors destroyed it.

An Oregonian article in April 29, 2012, by Les Zaitz described a virtual epidemic of sexual abuse of female inmates by prison employees. The article reported that “illegal conduct traces to 2002” and the state had during that time paid a total of $1.2 million in compensation to 17 inmates and former inmates. More remarkably, these sums had been paid “without a word to the public.” Brian Lathan, a Salem attorney who represented many of the victims, described the situation as “an epidemic.” The pattern of suppressing information also involves placing victims in segregation, commonly known as “the hole,” designed “to protect, not punish” the victims. Further, Oregon State Police detectives rattled and intimidated the victims by reading them Miranda rights, as if it was their conduct which was at issue.

John Kroger, who was Oregon’s Attorney General at the time, “rejected repeated requests for an interview” by the Oregonian.

However, the problem stretches beyond Oregon. Prisons and jails across the country have had trouble with their employees in recent years. John Bernard Bland Jr., a former guard at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, engaged in oral sex with an inmate in exchange for preference in cell assignment. He pled guilty on one count of carnal knowledge of an inmate after two other counts were dropped. In Hernando County, Florida Dr. James A. Yelton, a psychologist employed by the Corrections Corporation of America, routinely abused four female inmates over the course of nearly a year. Yelton asked the women to expose themselves as well as give him a kiss or a lap dance. He also stated he was willing to exchange medication for sex. Once he even pinned a woman against a wall and molested her. When the women came forward about their abuse, Yelton only received a few restrictions on his medical license. Sadly, these are but a few examples of the abuses occurring throughout the nation.

The sexual abuse of an inmate has recently been upgraded to a felony by the Oregon state legislature. The great evil of the abuse is the imbalance of power between the prison employees and the inmates. Prison culture discourages “snitching,” even when the report is of official misconduct.  Prisoners are largely at the mercy of employees because employees can report any manner of misconduct against an inmate, and their word is routinely accepted over the word of an inmate.

Prison sex is also a security threat, because such elicit relations often lead to the smuggling of drugs or weapons by prison employees, whose conduct makes them vulnerable to blackmail.

Update (8/20/14): A second Washington County jail worker has been charged with committing sexual misconduct with an inmate. Brett Robinson, 32, turned herself in after a grand jury indicted her on 6 felony counts of first-degree sexual misconduct and 6 misdemeanor counts of first-degree official misconduct. The arrest comes just months after Jill Curry was arrested and similarly charged for having sex with an inmate. The two women are charged with having sexual relations with the same inmate.