(MintPress)—The legal non-profit Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) filed a complaint Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Justice alleging widespread sexual abuse of female prisoners by male guards at Alabama’s Tutwiler Prison for Women.
In a report that included interviews with more than 50 women who served at the prison, EJI, which offers legal aid to those denied just treatment through the legal system, claims it has evidence that guards inflicted serious sexual violence on women, including rape. The report goes on to indicate that some female prisoners had become pregnant as a result.
EJI alleges correctional officers and guards humiliate women who report sexual misconduct, which include taking away women’s possessions and cutting off contact with families. Other women claimed segregation and unwanted medical procedures were also known to be likely inflicted upon those who attempt to speak out.
Lawyers with EJI are calling on the DOJ to investigate widespread abuses, citing violations of the Federal Rape Elimination Act and the Civil Rights Institutionalized Persons Act, which gives the DOJ ultimate authority to investigate instances of abuse or illegality within prisons.
“Rape and sexual assault of incarcerated women is criminal and an outrageous abuse of power,” EJI Director Bryan Stevenson said in a press release. “Any failure by state and federal officials to respond quickly and appropriately to reports of sexual violence will contribute to tragic and shameful conditions of confinement for women.”
The EJI’s complaint includes instances of correctional officers who have been charged and convicted of sexual assault crimes, but indicates that only one served more than five days in jail. According to the organization, more than 20 Tutwiler employees were let go or transferred for taking part in alleged acts of sexual assault.
The lack of punishment, EJI claims, has led to a continued practice of widespread sexual assault in the Tutwiler prison system, especially among those women who attempt to speak out against such violence.
“This troubling cycle of abuse and lack of accountability has established a widespread pattern and practice of custodial sexual misconduct,” Stevenson said in the press release.
This is not the first time the Wetumpka, Ala. prison has been under fire for sexual assault cases. In 2007, the DOJ issued a report detailing sexual violence throughout U.S. prisons. Designed to carry out duties mandated through the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) collects data and analysis of sexual crimes in prisons throughout the country — through data provided by inmates, rather than correctional officers.
The report found that Tutwiler prison had the highest number of instances of ‘non consensual sexual acts per 1,000 inmates,’ with 304 out of 1,000 inmates reporting unwanted sexual violence.
In an interview with CNN, Stefanie Hibbett, a 31-year-old former detainee, said EJI’s allegations are spot on.
“It’s an ongoing thing, a daily thing,” Hibbett told CNN. “You see women raped and beaten, and nothing is ever done.”
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