US looking into Alabama prison sex abuse claims
Montgomery: Rape, sexual assault and harassment from male guards are a way of life for prisoners at an Alabama women`s prison, according to inmates past and present, and the Justice Department is looking into the allegations.
The Justice Department investigation comes after legal aid group Equal Justice Initiative filed a complaint on May 22 asking it to look into allegations, based on interviews with more than 50 women incarcerated at the maximum-security prison. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined further comment.
Stephanie Hibbett spent a year locked up at the Julia Tutwiler Prison. She said in her time there, men had unrestricted access to the showers and bathrooms and would often make comments about female inmates` bodies, both to the women and among themselves.
She herself was a victim, she says. A guard kissed her and groped her breasts and buttocks while she was cleaning a trailer, she said. That sort of abuse was common, the 31-year-old said.
"A lot of it goes on in the middle of the night when no one thinks anyone is listening," she said. "I didn`t sleep a lot. You`d see a woman get up and go into the bathroom and a guard go in after her and another one stand watch. Nobody would say anything. A lot were too scared."
Alabama Prisons Commissioner Kim Thomas told a news agency that the department isn`t launching a separate investigation into the recent allegations because it already aggressively pursues any reports of sexual abuse. He said the Justice Department has not yet contacted the state about the claims.
"We`ve been very, very proactive in hunting down and investigating thoroughly any complaint we`ve received," Thomas said. "We`ve taken swift administrative action against any officers or employees who are found to have violated this. The first offense means dismissal."
Equal Justice executive director Bryan Stevenson said women are routinely punished for reporting sexual abuse or trying to speak up about it.
The group`s report claims that women who say something are often placed in segregation where they are deprived of contact with the outside world and do not have access to recreation, programs or work assignments.
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