The state’s Department of Corrections harbors an “overt culture of sexual abuse” by prison guards, and department leaders have done little to stop it, according to a lawsuit pending in federal court.
Ten female Colorado prison inmates sued the department last month, claiming repeated acts of sex abuse by male corrections officers.
The complaint details more than a dozen instances in which it claims officers in two prisons — the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility and the since-closed, privately run Brush Correctional Facility — coerced women into performing sex acts on them.
The officers made threats to have the women “written up” or to make life difficult if the women did not submit, according to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Department of Corrections officials failed to take “substantive remedial actions” to stop it, the lawsuit charges.
The department and the company that ran the Brush facility, GRW Corp., continued to employ officers suspected of abuse and failed to improve surveillance systems to reduce blind spots where abuse could occur, the suit says.
“This conduct amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates,” the lawsuit claims. “. . . The conduct is so grossly reckless that future misconduct was and is virtually inevitable.”
The inmates, who are represented by the Denver law firm Irwin and Boesen, are seeking to have the case certified for class-action status.
Katherine Sanguinetti, a Corrections Department spokeswoman, said the department will not comment on ongoing litigation.
The case becomes at least the second one pending in federal court in which a female inmate claims she was coerced into performing sex acts on a Colorado prison officer.
It comes not two years after a federal judge awarded $1.3 million in damages to another Colorado female inmate who alleged sexual assault by a guard. In making that award in 2009, Judge David M. Ebel said the sexual abuse of inmates in Colorado prisons was “distressingly common.”
As part of the settlement, corrections officials were supposed to beef up surveillance systems to eliminate blind spots, said Mari Newman, the plaintiff’s attorney in the 2009 case. The new lawsuit shows sex abuse by guards is still of “endemic proportions,” Newman said.
Sanguinetti said department officials have a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual misconduct by corrections officers.
Since 2009, she said, the department has improved officer training and encouraged inmates to report abuse. Officers, staff members and volunteers who cross the line are prosecuted criminally. The department has sought to eliminate security camera gaps, but Sanguinetti said some blind spots are inevitable.
She said the department welcomes civil judgments against officers who commit abuse.
“This type of thing does raise awareness of these issues,” Sanguinetti said. “For our staff and correctional staff everywhere, it sends a pretty strong message.”
Read more: Female inmates file lawsuit claiming sex abuse by guards – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_17314361#ixzz1DJ3YivTF