More than 900 female inmates at an Alabama women’s prison claimed male officers forced them to perform sexual acts in exchange for basic sanitary products, the Justice Department said in a recent report.
According to the Jan. 22 report, inmates at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in central Alabama were forced to shower or use the bathroom while the male officers watched, were organized into “strip shows” and were often spoken to in a sexually offensive manner.
“Officials have been on notice for over eighteen years of the risks to women prisoners and, for over eighteen years, have chosen to ignore them,” the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels, said in a statement to ABC News. “In that time, inmates have been raped, sodomized and fondled by prison staff, yet officials remain deliberately indifferent to the serious and significant need to protect women prisoners.”
The Justice Department began its investigation in February 2013 following what it called a “sordid history of sexual abuse and harassment” at the jail.
The report comes on the heels of a prison corruption scandal in Baltimore, which resulted in the arrest of 14 corrections officers in November for allegedly aiding members of the Black Guerilla Family gang. In that case, several female corrections officers performed sexual acts with a male inmate in exchange for money.
The women in the Alabama prison “feared for their safety” and investigators found a pattern of sexual abuse at the facility dating back to 1942.
“Action needs to be taken immediately,” George Beck Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, said in a statement about the Tutwiler case.
Commissioner Kim Thomas, director of the Alabama Department of Corrections, said her department has “never downplayed the significant and serious nature of these allegations.”
“I do not, however, agree that Tutwiler is operating in a deliberately indifferent or unconstitutional manner,” she said. “We will cooperate with the Department of Justice and continue our efforts to implement changes and recommendations with the goal of improving prison conditions and avoiding potential contested litigation.”