Reports of sexual abuse and intimidation of
female prisoners by male guards in New York jails and prisons point to the
pressing need to restrict the role of male guards in female facilities.
Amnesty International has received information on
recent cases of alleged sexual misconduct in women's correctional facilities
which appear to be part of a wider problem of sexual abuse by male guards in
New York. The state has taken many steps to prevent sexual abuse and to
improve investigation of sexual misconduct complaints in its prisons,
including improving training and supervision of staff. It has also introduced
state-wide legislation in 1996 criminalizing all forms of sexual contact
between staff and inmates in both prisons and local jails.(1) According to the
Department of Correctional Services, a dozen state prison guards have been
charged in connection with sexual offences since 1999 under the law. Despite
these positive steps, however, rape and sexual abuse continue to be reported.
Amnesty International believes that the
continuing problem of sexual abuse is fuelled by factors such as allowing
unsupervised access of male staff to female facilities; insufficient
disciplinary action against guards who engage in sexual misconduct; women
prisoners not reporting sexual abuse from fear of retaliation; and allowing
practices which are inherently cruel and degrading or are open to abuse, such
as male staff conducting pat down searches of clothed women prisoners.
Moreover, New York state is reported to have among the lowest proportion of
women correctional officers in prisons in the USA -- at eight per cent. While
the state has taken steps to improve sexual abuse in the state prison system,
there is far less oversight in local and municipal jails.
• In July 2000, a guard at a woman's jail in
Rikers Island in New York City was charged with the rape of a 34-year-old inmate. The guard
supervised inmates who worked in the mess hall and kitchen of the Rose M.
Singer Centre, which houses women. The inmate worked in the mess hall.
Local sources have told Amnesty International
that sex between male guards and female prisoners at jails in Rikers Island
occurs frequently, but that such accusations by female prisoners often go
unreported: they usually end in the transfer of the male guard from that
facility or other non-punitive measures. Furthermore, for many female
prisoners, having sexual relations with a male officer is a means of not
losing or even gaining privileges.
• In April 2000 a guard at Albion Correctional
Facility, a state prison, was charged with third-degree rape and official misconduct. This
resulted from a three-month sexual relationship with a female prisoner.
According to information submitted to the court from the victim's attorney,
during the three-month period, the guard was alleged to have attempted to rape
the female prisoner and to sodomize her and commit acts of sexual abuse. The
guard pleaded guilty to official misconduct as the sex was seen as
Amnesty International believes that while the
female prisoner had reportedly admitted that the relationship was consensual,
sexual relations between an officer and an inmate cannot be consensual,
because by law such an act constitutes statutory rape. Advocates of the 1996
bill argued that even if consensual, sexual contact is a crime because the
inmate's subservient position behind bars makes consent impossible.
Amnesty International has also received
information on the following cases:
• In September 1999, a prison guard was
convicted of sexually abusing an 18-year old female
inmate at Albion Correctional Facility. The guard
had been charged with felony sodomy for allegedly forcing the female prisoner
to perform oral sex in a staff bathroom, but was acquitted on this more
serious charge despite DNA evidence. According to media reports, the prisoner
testified that she spat the guard's semen into a lipstick tube and hid it in a
locker after the assault; a forensic scientist testified that there was a
"one-in-54 quadrillion chance" that the semen was not the guard's.
• In January 2000, it was reported that a
Broome County Jail guard will get a conditional discharge and a $1,000 fine under a plea
agreement following charges that he had sex with two female inmates while on
• In March 2000, Westchester County initiated a
policy banning male correction officers from the 10 posts inside the living quarters of the
female prisoners. This was in response to the January 2000 accusations made by
female inmates that four correction officers were guilty of sex crimes
including rape, sodomy and stripping on demand. The policy change was upheld
by a county court despite a non-binding ruling by the federal Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission in July that Westchester County effectively
discriminated against male guards in banning them from women's quarters. An
appeal by the Correctional Officers Benovolent Association is pending.
Amnesty International believes that allegations
of sexual abuse of women prisoners in the USA nearly always involve male staff
who, contrary to international standards, are allowed unsupervised access to
female jail and prison inmates. Rule 53 of the UN Standard Minimum Rules
provides that no male member of staff shall enter part of the institution set
aside for women unless accompanied by a woman officer and that ''Women
prisoners shall be attended and supervised only by women officers''.
In addition to rape, a form of torture under
international law, Amnesty International maintains that there are practices
which are inherently cruel and degrading or are open to abuse, but which are
still allowed in New York. This includes allowing male staff to conduct pat
down searches of clothed women prisoners for contraband and allowing male
staff to patrol areas where women have an expectation of privacy, such as
shower rooms and sleeping areas. And while male officers are not allowed to
strip-search female inmates, local organizations report that in emergency
situations where no female guards are available, such searches are permitted.
Reverend Annie Bovian, Director of Women Advocate
Ministry in Courts and Jail in New York, told Amnesty International that "as
long as you have male correction officers in a female facility, you are going
to get some officers who are going to take advantage of the situation". She
the only means for eliminating the situation is not to allow male officers in
close proximity with the female inmates.
Amnesty International is calling on the
Department of Corrections to ensure female prisoners are supervised only by
female staff as required under international standards, and that preventive
measures are in place so that women are not afraid to report abuses through
fear of reprisals. The organization is also urging the authorities to ensure
that all employees are aware of state law criminalizing sexual relationships
between male guards and female inmates and that any allegations involving a
possible violation of the law be investigated thoroughly with those
responsible brought to justice. The authorities should also take concrete
steps to prevent sexual abuse and to improve the investigation of sexual
Amnesty International is also asking to be
informed of the outcome of any investigation carried out into the allegations
Men form a very large proportion of the staff in
women's facilities in the USA. A 1997 survey of prisons in 40 states found
that on average 59 per cent of the correctional officers working with female
inmates are women.(2) According to the Women in Prison Project of the
Correctional Association of New York (a state monitoring body) New York state
has among the lowest proportion of women correctional officers in prisons in
the USA at only 8 per cent. This is compounded by the fact that most female
officers do not want to be limited to women's facilities. The Women in Prison
Project argues that the state should offer incentives and benefits to
encourage female staff to work in women's facilities.
New York is also one of six states which
routinely permits male officers to pat frisk female inmates(3). In 1998 six
women inmates filed a lawsuit challenging routine body searches by male
correctional officers in New York State Prisons. The law suit contends that
"pat frisks" -- highly intrusive clothed body searches performed by
male officer searching for small items of contraband -- was a "form of
legalized sexual molestation". Most of the plaintiffs said that officers
sometimes groped them in the procedure but that they were too scared to
complain for fear of retaliation. The lawsuit argued that the pat frisks, when
performed by male officers, inflict particularly severe trauma on many women
who have been victims of physical and sexual abuse.(4) The women sought to
have only female correction officers conduct routine pat frisks, as is the
case in most parts of the country. The case is still in litigation.
Legislation is currently being considered which
would prohibit male correctional officers from pat-frisking female inmates
except when an officer has probable cause to believe that a pat-frisk is
necessary to protect the immediate safety of other inmates or prison employees
or to prevent escape.