ACLU and Virginia Sheriff's Department Develop Plan to Prevent Abuse of Female Prisoners

March 19, 1999 12:00 am

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Friday, March 19, 1999

ARLINGTON, VA — Amid mounting evidence that female inmates are routinely subjected to sexual abuse by male guards, the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project today announced the development of a plan with a local sherrif’s department to prevent such abuse.

Under the plan, the Sheriff of Arlington County will work with the ACLU National Prison Project to implement comprehensive policies for the Arlington County Detention Facility to prevent and address sexual misconduct by corrections officers.

“Sexual abuse is a major problem in our nation’s correctional facilities,” said Elizabeth Alexander, Executive Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Many other jails and prisons still lack basic policies in this area. The Sheriff should be commended for this positive step he has taken.”

The new policies will include measures ensuring that the Sheriff’s Office will:

  • treat prisoners’ complaints of sexual harassment confidentially;
  • investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in a professional manner;
  • implement search and surveillance procedures consistent with the sexual harassment policies;
  • protect sexual harassment complainants from retaliation; and
  • discipline offending staff members appropriately.

The Sheriff’s staff will receive special training on how to respond to prisoners’ reports of sexual harassment. Incoming prisoners also will be informed of the sexual harassment policies and procedures.

According to a report issued earlier this month by Amnesty International, [] sexual abuse “is virtually a fact of life for incarcerated women in the U.S,” where 70 percent of the jailers are men. The women’s prison population, now at 138,000, has tripled since 1985, mostly as the result of draconian sentencing laws, even for minor drug crimes, the report said.

Currently, 13 states including Virginia offer no legal protections for women against sexual molestation and abuse. (Those states are: Alabama; Kentucky; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Montana; Nebraska; Oregon; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; Washington; West Virginia; and Wisconsin.)

However, Virginia’s General Assembly recently moved to amend the state code to criminalize a corrections officer’s sexual contact with an inmate. The bill now awaits the Governor’s signature.

“We all recognize that on-the-job sexual harassment of an employee by her supervisor is wrong,” said Giovanna Shay, the Soros Justice Fellow at the National Prison Project. “Sexual misconduct by a corrections officer against an incarcerated person is even more coercive.”

Victor Glasberg and Jeanne Goldberg of Glasberg & Associates in Alexandria, VA, worked on the plan, along with Ms. Shay of the National Prison Project. The National Prison Project is the only organization to litigate on behalf of prisoners at a national level. Since its founding in 1972, the National Prison Project has worked in more than 25 states to improve conditions of confinement.

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