By Prison Legal News

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court’s application of a “de minimis harm” standard in dismissing a Wisconsin detainee’s claim that he was sexually groped.

In April 2008, James Washington, Jr. was a pretrial detainee at a Wisconsin jail when a guard, John P. Hively, allegedly fondled his “testicles and penis through [his] clothing” during a pat down, “then while strip searching him fondled his nude testicles for two or three seconds.” Washington filed a federal lawsuit against Hively, who denied the allegations.

The district court granted Hively’s motion for summary judgment. The court correctly recognized that it could not resolve the factual disputes on summary judgment. However, even presuming “that the defendant grabbed the plaintiff’s genitals in a way that was not related to penological interests,” the district court found Hively was entitled to summary judgment because Washington “presented evidence of only de minimis injury” and had “suffered at most an assault and battery.”

Washington appealed and the Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that “the judge’s references to ‘de minimis injury’ and ‘assault and battery’ inappropriately invoked excessive force cases,” which hold “that ‘de minimis uses of force are non-actionable.’”

The Court of Appeals found that “an unwanted touching of a person’s private parts, intended to humiliate the victim or gratify the assailant’s sexual desires, can violate a prisoner’s constitutional rights whether or not the ‘force’ exerted by the assailant is significant.”

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U.S. Department of Education  Image courtesy csgjusticecenter.org

Correctional education is a fundamental component of rehabilitative programming offered in juvenile justice confinement facilities, most American prisons, and many jails and detention centers. Correctional populations are over-represented with individuals having below average levels of educational attainment—education “behind bars” presents an opportunity for the incarcerated to prepare for success upon release. A wide variety of administering entities operate correctional institutions in the United States, and a wide variety of organizations are the providers of onsite prison education programs. Various federal education programs have supported education in State and local prisons; and in 1991, an Office of Correctional Education (OCE) was created by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, to coordinate and improve these efforts to support educational opportunities in correctional settings. The OCE function currently resides in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL). While OCE has a unique coordinating role for correctional education, other administrative units within the Department of Education, support and oversee specific programs that are based in correctional facilities.

Federal Grant Programs – Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities

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