A federal study has found that prison systems in the United States, including the District's, continue to see sexual misconduct by correctional staff against female prisoners, despite recent laws that have made such sexual abuse a crime.
The study found that 506 allegations of sexual misconduct by corrections staff members were made between 1995 and 1998 in the District, California, Texas and federal prison systems. Eighteen percent of those allegations were sustained, leading to staff resignations or firings. Of the 111 sexual-misconduct allegations by the District's female inmates from December 1995 to June 1998, 12 were sustained, the report found.
The report said the District's troubled Corrections Department did not adequately record allegations of sexual abuse, despite a class-action lawsuit settled in 1995 that detailed sexual assault, harassment and rape in D.C. prisons. Six months after that suit was settled, female inmates performed a striptease for a mostly male group of prison staff, the report said.
"No jurisdiction has had more notorious or serious instances of sexual abuse than the District of Columbia," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who had requested the General Accounting Office report and released its findings yesterday.
Although all four jurisdictions have made certain types of sexual misconduct in prisons a criminal offense, only the federal system reported any prosecutions with convictions between 1995 and 1998. The U.S. attorney's office currently is investigating six allegations of sexual misconduct by D.C. corrections staff, spokesman Channing D. Phillips said yesterday.
The GAO report found none of the four systems "had readily available, comprehensive data or reports on the number, nature, and outcomes of staff-on-inmates sexual misconduct allegations." D.C. officials could not provide those records for the four years studied, and instead reported only the number of allegations filed and sustained for part of that period, the report said.
The report suggested that D.C. corrections officials failed to comply with a December 1994 court order requiring them to notify D.C. police about sexual-misconduct allegations and to document subsequent police investigations. The department's October 1997 policy on sexual misconduct against inmates requires the status of such investigations be documented every 30 days, the report said.
Norton called for the House to require states to keep track of prison sex-abuse allegations and to use federal funds to encourage states to make prison sexual abuse a crime.
Eric R. Lotke, executive director of the D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project, said the number of allegations reported in the four jurisdictions likely is lower than the actual number, because of inmates' fears of retaliation.
Darryl J. Madden, a spokesman for the D.C. Corrections Department, said the District is ahead of many states in having inmate orientation and staff training about sex abuse and in its criminal sanctions against sexual misconduct by prison staff.
"We think the system works well, but there is room for improvement," Madden said.
Norton said she plans to ask D.C. Corrections Director Odie Washington for an explanation of the report's findings, especially regarding the failure to document misconduct. "If you don't know the facts, you can't get the remedy," she said.
CAPTION: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) discusses the sexual abuse of female inmates by corrections workers, as detailed in a new report. With her are Del. Donna Christian Christenson (D-Virgin Islands), left, and Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.).