By Christopher Zoukis
Several Ohio state prison guards have been disciplined following at least 19 allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate relationships with female prisoners between 2012 and 2013. Most of the allegations arose shortly after the Dayton Correctional Institution (DCI) switched from a male-only to an all-female prison in 2012, but ongoing problems were cited as of last year.
Investigators with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said they had evidence that confirmed at least seven cases of sexual misconduct, including love letters between guards and prisoners, DNA evidence from semen-stained rags and recorded conversations that resulted in employees being fired, transferred or allowed to resign.
According to Joanna Saul, executive director of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, the state’s non-partisan watchdog agency, “Staff are there, paid, to provide for the security of the inmates, certainly not to be involved with the relationship of an inmate, which, is in itself, a criminal offense. These women come into the system from a background of abuse and trauma and now we’re placing them in another situation of people taking advantage of them.”
The union that represents state prison guards blamed the allegations of sexual misconduct on “poor training,” especially in regard to the shift from a male to female population at DCI.
“Training is critical in any transition, but especially one as involved as moving from an all-male to an all-female prison,” said Sally Meckling, spokeswoman for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. “Training should have been appropriate to such a large-scale change.”
Poorly trained or not, several DCI employees have been disciplined for engaging in inappropriate conduct that would seem somewhat self-explanatory.
Guard Victor Fletcher resigned in August 2013 after investigators learned of love letters and recorded calls between him and DCI prisoner Kofi Cooper. At a 2013 disciplinary hearing, Fletcher acknowledged that he had been warned about the relationship and had engaged in “inappropriate dialogue” with Cooper, but denied having sex with her. He was forced to admit that three-way calls initiated by Cooper were made to his phone number, but denied the male voice cooing “I love yous” to her was his. Fletcher resigned two weeks after receiving a termination notice.
DCI social worker Shawn Johnson quit after a hidden camera in his office recorded him handing out candy and female prisoners “crawling over his desk to grab things.”
Guard Jason Morris was fired and indicted for gross sexual imposition and sexual battery in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court after his DNA was found on a semen-stained rag retained by prisoner Kelley Malicoat. However, the charges were dropped after Malicoat recanted her story, notwithstanding the DNA evidence.
Whether the increased scrutiny of staff at DCI will make a difference is unknown, but prison officials appear resigned to dealing with similar problems in the future. According to Ed Voorhies, managing director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, female prisoners are wily enough to manipulate guards despite their training.
“She’ll carry it to the extreme. The female who gets him to bring the Big Mac, gets him to bring in tobacco. Where does it stop?” he asked.
Presumably, it stops when prison employees stop engaging in sexual misconduct with prisoners, who are legally unable to consent to such inappropriate conduct.
According to a report by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), released in November 2015, the DCI made improvements after an inspection in February 2015 “raised a number of concerns, particularly related to inappropriate relationships between staff and inmates,” among other issues. The CIIC noted the facility had hired a new warden as well as “an excellent PREA Coordinator,” and had passed its first Prison Rape Elimination Act audit.
Still, the CIIC cited a need for continued monitoring at the facility, stating that “sexual misconduct is always a concern at a female institution and even during the inspection, there were reports of an additional administrative staff person under investigation.” Among the CIIC’s recommendations were “continue to develop strategies to reduce PREA allegations.”
Indeed, one month before the CIIC report was released, in October 2015, news reports indicated that the chaplain at DCI, Kenneth B. Bozeman, 52, had been placed on administrative leave following allegations of sexual misconduct.
At least eight DCI employees have been terminated since 2012 for having “inappropriate relationships” with prisoners, including corrections veteran Terrance Griffin, who ironically was responsible for investigating the same misconduct for which he was fired in January 2015. Aaron Hunter, a general activities therapist at DCI, was terminated after an investigation found he had “engaged in inappropriate contact and/or behavior,” while DCI activity therapist administrator Cedric Tolbert was fired on March 9, 2015 for having an “unauthorized personal relationship.”
Other issues cited in the CIIC report included insufficient mental health care and staffing, guards smuggling drugs and other contraband into DCI, and a relatively large increase in use of force incidents. Of particular concern was a lack of surveillance video available to assess if the use of force was warranted.
In addition to ensuring that all surveillance cameras at the prison are operational, the CIIC recommended that DCI conduct more prisoner drug tests and hire additional staff to investigate allegations of employee misconduct.
In March 2015, WDTN Channel 2 News reported that DCI had undergone various audits and assessments since the CIIC inspection, and the new warden was making strides to improve the “overall culture of the facility” – a culture that apparently includes ongoing sexual misconduct by prison employees.
Bozeman, DCI’s former chaplain, was indicted on April 28, 2016 on nine counts of sexual battery involving a female prisoner.
Sources: www.norwalkreflector.com; CIIC Dayton Correctional Institution report (Nov. 12, 2015); http://truthvoice.com; www.whio.com; https://dayton247now.com/; www.wdtn.com
Originally published in Prison Legal News, July 6, 2016.