Current and former guards at female prisons throughout Alabama may soon find themselves in need of defense of rape charges.
The Associated Press is reporting that the federal Department of Justice has launched an investigation into allegations made by at least 50 female prisoners between 2004 and 2011.
Our Birmingham defense attorneys know that if any of these cases are prosecuted, it’s going to be an uphill battle to prove any abuse took place, absent some form of physical evidence. And even in cases where there may be physical evidence (i.e., DNA or a pregnancy), it may be difficult for prosecutors to show that the encounter wasn’t consensual.
Now in prison, the laws are different than on the outside when it comes to sexual contact. In 2004, the state legislature passed a law banning even consensual sex between guards and inmates, and making it a felony to engage in such an act. The maximum penalty for even consensual sex between a corrections officer and an inmate is 10 years in prison.
A number of these complaints have been originating from the Julia Tutwiler Prison. One of the alleged victims who has pressed forward with a complaint is a 31-year-old who had been arrested and convicted for check fraud. She claimed that the male guards had unrestricted access to the female inmates’ bathrooms and showers and would often comment to and about the women regarding their bodies. She said rape and beatings often happened at night, and were rarely reported.
She claimed she was kissed and groped against her will by a guard.
A study in 2007 by the federal Justice Department did find that Tutwiler ranked 11th in the country in terms of the most reported sexual assaults at a women’s prison.
Prison officials say they are doing their best to try to recruit more female employees and to get them dialed in to the basics of the law. Right now, approximately 60 percent of the female prison guard employees are male, according to the Justice Department.
Court records indicate that at least six prison employees have been convicted of sex crimes involving inmates dating back to 2003. In those instances, five were guards and one worked in the laundry room. The charges varied widely – some were accused of sexual harassment, others of rape and sodomy. Of those six, just two were sent to jail, one for six months for impregnating an inmate and another for five days after having sex with a female inmate.
The inmates who complained said even if the sex was consensual, it was often coerced, with guards bringing in alcohol or marijuana in exchange for sexual favors.
These kinds of allegations are extremely serious, and can ruin a correction officer’s career, family relationships and future. There are ways that a skilled defense attorney can challenge the evidence presented. For example, convicts have major credibility issues. If it comes down to one person’s word against another’s, this can be a main point of focus.
Of course, every case is going to be different. An experienced Birmingham criminal defense attorney can help you explore your options.