Criminal Justice News

Friday, January 09, 2015

Justice Department Enters Into Settlement Agreement with the State of Kansas to Protect Prisoners at the Topeka Correctional Facility from Sexual Abuse and Misconduct

Today, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division reached an agreement with the state of Kansas to reform the Kansas State Department of Corrections (KDOC) correctional practices at the Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF) to protect its women prisoners from sexual victimization.  The agreement resolves allegations that the state subjects women prisoners at TCF to harm due to sexual abuse and misconduct by correctional staff and other prisoners in violation of their constitutional rights.    

“This agreement will help ensure that women incarcerated at Topeka Correctional Center are safe and protected from sexual exploitation,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division.  “As a result of this agreement, state officials will be required to protect women prisoners from sexual violence and abuse as is required under the Constitution.”

“This will go a long way toward reducing the harm women have experienced while being held at the TCF,” said U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom for the District of Kansas.  “The state of Kansas and the KDOC are to be commended for working with the Justice Department to reform the state’s correctional practices.”  

On Sept. 6, 2012, the Justice Department issued a findings letter concluding that women prisoners were subjected to a pattern or practice of sexual abuse.  This finding was consistent with other state reports that recognized a long-standing problem of sexual assault in the prison.  The findings report identified several systemic failures that led to the pattern of abuse.  The state failed to employ accepted correctional practices designed to protect women prisoners from harm due to sexual abuse and misconduct.  TCF did not have effective procedures to classify and manage predatory guards andand prisoners.  Further, TCF lacked effective investigative and grievance processes, and did not have enough officers, including female officers, to appropriately supervise and monitor prisoners.     

The agreement requires numerous ways to remedy the deficiencies including the requirement that the state to abide by the Prison Rape Elimination Act National Standards.  The agreement details that the state must mandate zero tolerance toward all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment and implement specific policies and procedures designed to prevent, detect, and respond to such conduct.

The state will work to prevent and detect sexual abuse of women prisoners by ensuring adequate levels of staffing supplemented by targeted video monitoring.  The state will also implement a classification system specific to the female population at TCF, and maintain a risk assessment process that adequately identifies potential victims and predators.  The state will maintain a grievance process and by provide multiple internal ways for prisoners to privately report sexual abuse and sexual harassment.

The state will also effectively respond to any allegations of sexual abuse or sexual harassment by adhering to guidelines and timeframes for initiating and concluding investigations; ensuring prompt corrective action following any administrative or criminal finding of sexual abuse or sexual harassment; and holding culpable staff accountable through disciplinary sanctions up to and including termination.

Finally, TCF will ensure that all staff are trained on their responsibilities to prevent sexual abuse, and on how to indentify, detect, report, and respond to allegations of sexual abuse.  The women prisoners at TFC will similarly be educated on these issues.  Implementation of the agreement will be overseen by a monitor who will issue a compliance report every six months. 

The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act authorizes the department to seek a remedy for a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional rights of persons confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility.  Please visit the division website to learn more about this act and other laws enforced by the Civil Rights Division.

This agreement is due to the efforts of the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas and the leadership of the Governor of Kansas, the Kansas State Attorney General’s Office and the Kansas Department of Corrections.

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