Colorado's prison system gained national attention recently--unfavorable attention. The 11 June New York Times reported a 1.35 million dollar award to a female inmate who'd been raped by a guard at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility .
A 12 June report in the Denver Post provided more information. It notes that between 2005 and 2007, 62 cases of sexual misconduct by DOC personnel were substantiated and resulted in firings. Presiding Federal Judge David Ebel said that sexual abuse of inmates "remains distressingly common in Colorado prisons."
The details are gruesome. Don't read what follows if you're subject to nightmares. The Post details what the guard, LeShawn Terrell, did to the inmate this way:
Court records say that on Mother's Day 2006, Terrell approached the inmate during her shift in the prison kitchen and told her that in exchange for sex, he would "take care of her."
After the first encounter, Terrell expected her to perform sex acts with him almost every shift, the documents say. In October 2006, the woman refused him. Terrell got angry, raped the prisoner and left her bleeding on the floor of the bakery cooler, court records show.
"For nearly two years following the rape, (she) suffered pain and bleeding when she defecated," Ebel wrote in his decision, handed down Wednesday. "She repeatedly attempted to get help. . . . Rather than doing an examination, the (DOC) medical staff told (her) to use stool softeners, Milk of Magnesia, or hemorrhoid cream."
The inmate had surgery for her injuries after she filed her lawsuit.
What's truly amazing is that the Denver DA cut a deal with the guard, allowed him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor for which he received a 60-day sentence and 5 years probation.
Judge Ebel had a few words for the Denver DA as well: "This court is appalled that despite CDOC's 'zero tolerance' and 'aggressive prosecution' policy — and despite the horrific violence of the Oct. 7, 2006, rape — the Denver District Attorney permitted Terrell to plead to a Class 1 misdemeanor offense that carried a 60-day term of imprisonment."
Before I push the "publish" button on this post, I want readers to know that my personal contact with Colorado DOC personnel has been fairly extensive, and I've found them generally to be professional and decent as they go about their duties. And I hate to see them smeared by the actions of those who haven't upheld the standards expected.
The way for DOC personnel to avoid such smearing is to enforce standards within their sphere of influence. That means watching for the red flags of abuse by co-workers, and informing supervisors when you suspect someone of abuse. As someone who's spent 38 years in the Air Force, I know how easily personal loyalties to co-workers can lead to tolerating lapses in the performance of co-workers. That's why cadets at the Air Force Academy, where I teach, must live by an honor code that prohibits toleration of those who are unwilling to uphold standards.
In the case of the rape victim at DWCF, someone had to have seen the warning signs, someone had to have decided to look the other way, to not even perform a physical examination. There had to have been others who tolerated the abuse, and they should be ashamed.