Regular readers will know well that I was once a corrections officer. I have experience with juveniles, adults, males, females, state, private and federal inmates. I have learned that privately owned and operated facilities are the worst idea ever conceived. Juveniles and adults are two wholly different populations; kids in corrections will disobey simply to be rebellious and look cool, while adults typically respect the rules at least on their face to avoid losing privileges. Kids who go from juvie to adult systems usually have a tough lesson to learn the first few times they pull something like what they used to before they turned 18 and piss off the rest of the inmates on their block when such shenanigans screw up their routine. Federal inmates with ICE will smile at the officers and say, “see you in six months!” because they’re planning to turn around and sneak right back into the country – they’ve done it many times. In a short period of time, I saw quite a bit. Most of all I learned that career is not for me because I have little to no tolerance for adults who know the rules and will still find complicated ways to flaunt them, then get angry and sue when they’re caught. (My favorite was the inmate who sued when he found out that his gang paraphernalia, including two homemade tattoo guns, was being used in the academy to train new officers.)
Another thing I learned, and learned quickly: inmates, both male and female, will commit just about any shocking sexual act they can contrive to get attention. For the most part, adults in prison will behave because they don’t want to lose their privileges (such as their TV’s, classes, time on the weight racks, etc.). There are always the “close management” populations, however, and they are entirely comprised of inmates who will assault officers in any way they possibly can. In just a few short years I had inmates throw every bodily fluid you can imagine (yes, including feces) at me. I learned that you can use a shard of quartz rock half the size of your pinky fingernail to saw a hole in your arm all the way down to an artery – then wait and pop the artery when officers come in to restrain you, and they’re sprayed with blood. I learned that men can form an erection and ejaculate literally on command if it means seeing a new officer, or a “fish”, blush or become otherwise flustered. I learned that women can be the most disgusting creatures on the planet when they really want to, particularly when “Aunt Flo” is visiting. I learned that any inmate, regardless of age or gender, can become maniacally violent for no reason other than that they don’t like the officer standing in front of them.
I thought I had seen it all. I was wrong. Fourteen correctional nurses and intake officers, all female, are suing their former employer, the Florida Department of Corrections. Why?
Male inmates masturbated in front of them. More specifically, they “gunned” for them, meaning that they ejaculated directly at them.
What’s even more ludicrous is that they are currently about to begin their second trial! In the first, each employee was awarded $45,000 by the jury. The decision was that, “the [Florida Department of Corrections] failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior in the workplace.” The opinion of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals cited such cases as Erickson v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections and Slayton v. Department of Ohio Youth Services, two cases which have very questionable capability of setting a precedent for such a case. In Erickson v. WDC, a non-security employee of a private facility was attacked and raped by an inmate who then escaped with her car. In Slayton v. DOYS, another non-security employee was raped but refused to report the supposed assault and was, in fact, accused by inmates of initiating sexual contact (in few cases would I believe the inmates, but after reading up on that case, I do believe them even though I think they’re as much at fault for partaking as she is in initiating it).
In both of the cases cited for precedent, non-security employees had actually been raped because security staff were found to be negligent. In the case before us – Beckford v. Department of Corrections – no such assault took place. A group of employees tasked with medical duties and classification of inmates witnessed what every officer deals with when walking the block. I am, obviously, a female, and yes, I had inmates gunning for me. It was disgusting. I knew when I got into the job that such incidents would occur, though. I didn’t go in without fair warning. I promise these medical staff were warned of the same thing. Their argument is that the department didn’t do enough to stop the close management inmates “gunning” activities.
The court is remiss to ignore other issues that play into this. When discussing close management or special housing inmates, you’re talking about a group of particularly nasty people who cannot be allowed in the general population because their behavior is dangerous to themselves, other inmates and officers. In special housing units inmates are already confined 23 hours a day inside a cell that contains a bed bolted to the wall, stainless steel sink and toilet, a heavy metal door with a plexiglas window, and a slot through which they can give inmates food or medication. They’re only allowed outside for a single hour a day inside a shaded chain-link fence cage. They never have direct contact with other inmates or officers. It’s not solitary confinement, but it’s as close as prisons can legally get to it. What else were prison officials supposed to do?
They’re not allowed to beat inmates. Punishment isn’t punishment anymore. Inmates are taught that they’re not to blame for their crimes – it’s really their bad upbringing and their life circumstances. From the time we are children these days, everyone is taught that you don’t have to take responsibility for your actions. When prison inmates riot or assault an officer, what punishment do they get from there? There’s little more to do at that point. Maybe tack a few years onto their sentence. They’re already in prison. When I worked in private corrections, those of us who had worked at other facilities before were told that we were not allowed to wear our stab shields (low-grade body armor) because it would make the inmates feel that we didn’t trust them. I kid you not.
Essentially, this lawsuit says that prison facilities are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The Eleventh Circuit refused to see the realities that lie beyond the claims of the female employees. It’s not just about inmates creating a sexually harassing work environment. It’s a testament to the complete and utter lack of accountability of any kind in the American justice system. Inmates can sue if an officer so much as uses a profanity in their presence, and there are many instances where they have won. Every individual, business and government entity in America lives in abject terror of the idea of being sued because you never know if you’ll win or lose, even if you’ve done the right thing.