By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
In August 2016, a grand jury indicted Carolyn Richardson for her role in a conspiracy to procure and distribute oxycodone. A year later, in the early stages of a 12-year federal prison sentence at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York, Richardson, who said she was deeply remorseful and understood an oxycodone addiction fueled her crime, was hospitalized. Experiencing complications from a procedure that caused her eyesight to deteriorate, Richardson required extensive eye treatment and periodic visits to hospitals outside of the prison. A correction officer named Colin Akparanta routinely escorted Richardson to hospital visits and used that time to prey upon her. “He made himself out to be someone I could trust,” Richardson testified before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations this month. She said the officer spoke to her about faith and spirituality and brought her food and medicine. “I believed that here was one person who cared about me when no one else did. I was wrong,” Richardson said. After several months, in or around May 2018, Akparanta began to demand sexual favors in exchange for food and medicine. He switched from working the day to the night shift and entered Richardson’s prison cell at night. “I did not have a cellmate, and he told me that my cell was in a perfect area because the security camera could not see him coming or going,” she recalled. “He was the only officer working the night shift in my unit, which consisted of approximately 40 female prisoners. He used a flashlight to signal me that he was coming to my cell.”
Similar cases of female prison abuse
When Briane Moore, a young single mother, received a 10-year sentence for a drug offense, she said she knew prison would be harsh. Her first stop was the federal prison Aliceville in Alabama, then FCI Alderson in West Virginia – hundreds of miles from her young daughter in Illinois. “I accepted that I would be punished for my crime. It was not easy doing time, but I was sentenced and put in prison for my choices,” Moore remarked. “I was not sentenced to being raped and abused while in prison. This should not have happened to me. Speaking about this is not easy, but I am not powerless anymore. “The day I started to heal was the day that I could talk about what happened to me without being afraid.” Moore said a captain at Alderson, who had raped other inmates, began targeting her. “He was a captain with total control over me. Once, a building officer ordered me to go to the captain’s office. There was a secretary’s office within the captain’s office. But, when I arrived, there was no secretary,” Moore recalled. “The captain closed the door and raped me. On another occasion, the captain himself ordered that I come to his office. I had no choice but to obey. “We always had to follow orders in prison. But, most importantly, I knew the captain could interfere with my transfer and prevent me from being closer to my family – closer to my daughter.” She continued: “The captain also knew that I was aware that I was powerless and was aware that he could interfere with my transfer to be closer to my family and my daughter. He then explicitly reminded me of his control. “In the office, he told me that he knew I wanted a transfer to another prison. He said, ‘The paperwork goes through me.’ He threatened that he would interfere with my transfer if I resisted. Other times, he sexually assaulted me in isolated areas of the prison. It is hard to explain how this felt fully. “The captain, who already had complete control over my day-to-day life, was now enforcing that control over my body and using my desire to see my child to threaten me to stay silent. Finally, the captain made it clear that if I wanted a transfer, I had to accept the abuse.” In 2019, Captain Jerrod Grimes received a 10-year sentence for unlawfully engaging in sexual activity with female inmates at Alderson.
Senate subcommittee study reveals abuse of female prisoners
A bipartisan Senate investigation has revealed how the Federal Bureau of Prisons had failed to address the problem of sexual abuse adequately. In a new report issued by Senate investigators, dozens of witnesses, including survivors of sexual abuse, and former and current prison officials, laid out how rampant abuse is in federal lockups. Wardens, guards, chaplains, and other prison workers have all been accused, charged, or convicted of sexually abusing prisoners. Federal law prohibits sex between prison employees and prisoners, even if it’s consensual. Officials found that employees had abused female prisoners in at least 19 of the 29 federal facilities over the past decade. In June 2021, the Department of Justice revealed that as of 2018, inmates reported 27,826 allegations of sexual victimization, or a 15% increase from 2015. Of the 27,826 allegations, 55% allegedly occurred at the hands of prison staff. Managers in at least four prisons failed to apply federal law intended to detect and reduce sexual assault. Further, officials said hundreds of abuse charges remain among a backlog of 8,000 internal affairs misconducts that haven’t been investigated. More than 5,400 allegations of sexual abuse made by female and male inmates against prison employees have been recorded over the past ten years. MCC in New York, the Federal Correctional Complex Coleman in Florida, Metropolitan Detention Center Brooklyn, and Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, in California, were identified as sites where employees could target female inmates without fear of discipline. Richardson continued: “Even though BOP has a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual abuse, it is extremely difficult for inmates to step up and report the abuse. It feels that there is no real protection from the guards retaliating against you under a pretext or harassing you with their authority. “Even when the abuse is reported, inmates are kept in the dark about the progress of the investigation, and the repeated questioning is jarring – and emotionally scarring to relive the trauma.” Brenda V. Smith, a law professor at the American University’s Washington College of Law, said women in every penal system in the United States, including the federal system, have experienced unequal services and opportunities and physical and sexual abuse. Smith directs the Community Economic and Equity Development Law Clinic and serves as Director of the Project on Addressing Prison Rape. “District of Columbia women prisoners were forced to trade sex in exchange for food, work opportunities, visitation, preparation of reports and recommendations to the court detailing their progress,” Smith told the Senate committee. “Women also challenged their lack of privacy, including cross-gender searches and viewing by male officers often while they were unclothed. “Women complained of being viewed while disrobing or showering by the staff of the opposite gender.” Smith said women also have complained of intrusive pat searches, being importuned for sex, and having to trade sex for food, work assignments, visits with family, and completing paperwork for their probation, parole, or release from custody. “There are common elements of vulnerability in each of these women prisoner’s victimization. First, these women, as you know, often bring multiple well-known vulnerabilities into the correctional setting – past histories of childhood and adult physical and sexual abuse; poverty; involvement with powerful systemic actors like courts, child protection, housing, and immigration authorities that control their existence and their families’ existence; fear and deprivation that is part of the custodial experience,” Smith asserted. “I could name many more elements, as could you. These factors create the levers of pressure that correctional staff can employ to ensure compliance with both legitimate and illegitimate requests.” She continued: “Given this inequality of power, women bargain, capitulate, and comply even as they fear for their lives, their freedom, and often for their families. “Combine these levers with a toxic culture, the forced compliance that is a part of the custodial environment, and powerful system actors who appear to be all-powerful and above rules, regulations, and indeed the law, women make a choice to survive even if survival means rape.”
Senator Jon Ossoff heads investigation subcommittee
Georgia Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, who chaired the subcommittee, noted that the hearing counted as part of a two-year bipartisan effort to investigate conditions of incarceration and detention in the United States. “From corruption at the U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta in Georgia to the Department of Justice’s failure to count almost 1,000 deaths in custody across the country, to abusive and unnecessary gynecological procedures performed on women in Department of Homeland Security custody,” Ossoff stated. “It is important to acknowledge that law enforcement professionals working in our prisons have among the hardest jobs in our country, and I believe the vast majority of BOP employees share our goals of ending sexual abuse once and for all in Federal prisons,” Ossoff said. “I also want to state for the record the subcommittee investigated sexual abuse of women in federal prison because of some of their unique considerations: women are more likely than male prisoners to have suffered from trauma and sexual abuse prior to incarceration, and particularly susceptible to subsequent abuse in a custodial setting. However, the subcommittee fully acknowledges that sexual abuse is not limited to female prisoners.” DOJ officials said they are in the process of overhauling policies that could allow for the compassionate release of inmate victims of prison employee sex abuse.
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent