Formerly incarcerated female victims of sexual abuse testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday, detailing the horror that many experience behind bars.
Along with the hearing, a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee put out the findings of a bipartisan investigation, which was started in April of this year, regarding the abuse.
The report was the culmination of interviews with top Federal Bureau of Prisons authorities, sexual abuse victims, and whistleblowers. It explained that the subcommittee discovered that Bureau of Prisons workers sexually abused female inmates in at least 19 out of the 29 federal jails that have housed women over the past ten years.
The report also discovered that the agency “failed to prevent, detect, and stop recurring sexual abuse in at least four federal prisons, including abuse by senior prison officials,” noting that the former warden and chaplain at a facility in Dublin, California, both took part in sexually abusing female inmates. Seventeen past or current workers at the facility were being investigated for sexual abuse as of May. Last week, the former warden was convicted on eight criminal charges for his assaults of three female prisoners.
The report announced that the Bureau’s Office of Internal Affairs’ investigative procedures “are seriously flawed,” and there are 8,000 internal affairs cases that have piled up. Of those cases, there are “at least hundreds of sexual abuse cases.” The Bureau, it added, did not hold workers responsible for “misconduct.”
Authorities at the Justice Department are thinking about letting female inmates out of prison early who suffered under the warden of the California prison and other employees at the prison.
“I am open to this consideration that is a very complex issue, which is why it’s under pretty significant review,” Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters told USA Today this week. “I think we’re concerned about consistency, I think we’re concerned about fairness, and so I think that each case is unique.”
The New York Times reported that people close to the situation said the Justice Department wants to increase the ability to let abused women out of prison early due to the assaults.
Deputy attorney general Lisa O. Monaco has pushed leaders at the Bureau to put together a list of prisoners who might be able to get out of prison early under the compassionate release program.
Linda De La Rosa was one of the sexual abuse survivors and testified to the committee that her “life was a living hell.” Her abuser is now in prison on a 135-month sentence, but she pointed out that the man had been accused of sexual attacks in the past while he was abusing her.
Briane Moore, who used to be an inmate at a facility in West Virginia explained through tears how a captain raped her several times while saying he could keep her from moving to a prison near her family.
“While he was raping me, he was raping other women,” Moore said. “I’m still suffering. This has changed the course of my life.”
Another woman, Carolyn Richardson, described how an officer who sexually abused her would threaten to keep food and medical services from her as her vision health worsened.
The ability to abuse women in correctional facilities has also been a reason that many are pushing to keep men who identify as women out of women-only facilities.