The women interviewed for this report clearly feel they are being punished for reporting sexual abuse by guards. Their belief is supported by the perceptions of other inmates, the testimony of other prison guards, and prisoners' rights advocates. The impact on their participation in rehabilitative programs such as work and school, visitation privileges, and physical and mental health has been profound, but they are not the only ones suffering as a result of the perceived retaliation. The women in Michigan prisons have learned from their fellow inmates' experiences. Put simply, most women in the system are now too scared to report sexual abuse, because they feel the consequences may be more devastating than the abuse itself.
Jane Doe 2 entered the corrections system in 1995. At the time of her incarceration, she spoke very little English. After she had been in the prison for several months, she was approached by a guard who asked her to give him oral sex. She did not want to agree, but because she did not feel comfortable talking with any of the guards or administrators, she went along with the guard's request. The sexual abuse continued over a two-year period until the guard transferred to another facility. As she became more comfortable in the system and her English improved, she decided to seek outside counsel and approached a lawyer about what she could do to stop the abuse. However, once she realized that it would be impossible to file a complaint without her identity being revealed, she decided not to take any action, reportedly saying, "I don't want to end up like Tanika Lynch."90
This woman's story demonstrates the chilling effect that retaliation has on female prisoners. In some cases women choose to live with the sexual abuse rather than risk being targeted for retaliation. In other cases, such as thatof Ronesha Williams, women regret coming forward to make complaints about sexual harassment. Regardless, the word is out that if you choose to file a complaint against a guard for sexual harassment, you may suffer from unrelenting retaliation and even loss of credit for good behavior and have your release date pushed back.
The question arises: why do other corrections officers not speak out against the sexual abuse and retaliation? Under oath, Kennedy-Carpenter talked about the fear corrections officers have about speaking out against the abusive guards:
They're afraid of their supervisor setting them up and getting them fired. They're afraid of some of the dirty officers doing things to them; setting them up, running them off the expressway, all the things they've been doing. A lot of them know what's right and what's wrong, but they don't have the guts to put up with it on a daily basis, the harassment they are going to have.91
When questioned about retaliation against corrections officers who come forward, Kennedy-Carpenter asked in reply:
How are you going to protect them? That's all I want to know. How in the world are you going to protect them in this environment? You are going to have to guarantee them jobs within other state systems here; transfer them to another department . . . because there's no way they're going to be able to function here afterwards.
You can't put them in another prison. There is not an officer here that doesn't know people at twenty other prisons. And word gets out-before that person ever hits the front gate, word will get to that prison that they were a snitch. There's just no way you're going to be able to protect these officers.92
Given that a corrections officer within the system despairs at the possibility of protecting a fellow officer from retaliation if he or she speaks out about the abuse or retaliation, it is clear that prisoners are even less able to protect themselves. No attempt is made to keep the names of prisoners who file grievances against officers confidential. According to Kennedy-Carpenter, officers find out immediately if they have been reported by a prisoner just by checking the docket boards at the control center.93
The suit against the Michigan Department of Corrections continues; however, the toll paid by the women who are bringing the suit is extremely high. Three of these women have attempted suicide and spent a substantial amount of time in the Huron Valley Center. While housed there, the women do not have access to work or school or other programs available to women at the Scott and Crane facilities. Although the Michigan Department of Corrections continues to deny all the charges, its actions place the complainants at clear risk of retaliation and belie a neutral and professional intent. For example, even as the suit is active in the discovery phase, three of the plaintiffs are housed in a unit with one of the defendants.90 Human Rights Watch interview, Molly Reno, attorney for Tanika Lynch, Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 25, 1998. 91 Deposition of Julie Kennedy-Carpenter, April 13, 1998. 92 Ibid. 93 This information confirms a statement made by a former corrections officer interviewed by Human Rights Watch.
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