‘A gross abuse’: Ossoff details women’s sexual abuse at federal prisons

Published: Dec. 13, 2022 at 9:41 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 13, 2022 at 1:26 PM EST
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WASHINGTON (WRDW/WAGT) - On Tuesday, U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman Jon Ossoff unveiled the results of his eight-month bipartisan investigation into sexual abuse of women in Federal prisons.

The investigation uncovered that federal Bureau of Prisons employees sexually abused female prisoners in at least two-thirds of federal prisons that have held women over the past decade.

It also found the bureau has failed to prevent, detect, and stop recurring sexual abuse, including by senior prison officials.

“Let me be absolutely clear: This situation is intolerable. Sexual abuse of inmates is a gross abuse of human and constitutional rights and cannot be tolerated by the United States Congress,” Ossoff, D-Ga., said at a hearing Tuesday morning. “It is cruel and unusual punishment that violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and basic standards of human decency.”

He told us this should shock the conscience of every Georgian and that it is very clear major reform needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.

READ THE FULL REPORT:

The subcommittee’s bipartisan staff reviewed extensive non-public Bureau of Prisons and whistleblower documents and conducted more than two-dozen interviews with senior bureau leaders, whistleblowers, and survivors of prison sexual abuse.

“Our findings are deeply disturbing,” Ossoff said, and they demonstrate that the bureau “is failing systemically to prevent, detect, and address sexual abuse of prisoners by its own employees.”

He cited the case of the Dublin federal prison in California, where he said both the warden and the chaplain sexually abused female prisoners.

Ossoff says officers who admitted to abuse were even allowed to retire with full benefits.

Despite that, Dublin and another prison where employees were abusing multiple women over an extended period, FCC Coleman in Florida, passed or were found to have exceeded audit criteria meant to detect the risk of sexual abuse in prisons.

In the case of Dublin, the compliance officer himself was sexually abusing prisoners, Ossoff said.

In the case of Coleman, all female prisoners had been transferred out of the facility two days before the audit, making it impossible for the auditor to interview them, Ossoff said.

Amid more than 5,000 allegations of sexual abuse by bureau employees, the investigation found at least 134 against female detainees were substantiated by internal investigations or by criminal prosecutions.

Given the fear of retaliation and “apparent apathy” by senior bureau officials, “I suspect the extent of abuse is significantly wider,” Ossoff said.

“Indeed, we found there is currently a backlog of 8,000 internal affairs cases at the Bureau of Prisons, including at least hundreds of sexual abuse allegations against BOP employees that remain unresolved,” he said.

He said that in July, the former director of the bureau testified before the subcommittee and insisted the bureau was able to keep female prisoners safe from sexual abuse by employees.

“We now know that that statement was unequivocally false,” Ossoff said.

Tuesday’s hearing included statements from three survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of bureau employees: Carolyn Richardson, Briane Moore, and Linda De La Rosa.

All of their abusers have been convicted.

The subcommittee also was to hear from Professor Brenda V. Smith of American University, a national expert on sexual abuse in custodial settings. The panel planned to ask her to put the survivors’ testimony in a broader context.

Also going before the subcommittee was the inspector general for the Department of Justice, Michael Horowitz; and the new bureau Director Colette Peters, who began her tenure in July.

“My fervent hope is that this new federal prison director can make the kind of change that she has pledged to pursue. Rest assured I will hold her accountable if she does not,” he said.

We asked him what the accountability will look like.

“Well, Congress has the power of subpoena. And we have the power of the purse and substantial authorities at our disposal to shine a light on misconduct, and to force change at federal agencies where necessary,” said Ossoff.

WATCH FULL INTERVIEW:

Meredith Anderson's extended interview with Senator Jon Ossoff.